Part 3 out of 6
"Yes, ... I gasped out, ... I know, but I thought I saw her ... did she
not come in ... that door?"
"Yes, sir, she entered by that door and went out by the opposite one,
that one over there," said she, pointing to a door opening on New
I suppressed an oath, and rushed out of the door opening on this new
street, as if I expected to find Mlle. de Chateaudun patiently waiting
for me to join her on the pavement. My head was in such a whirl that I
had not the remotest idea of where I was going, and I wandered
recklessly through little streets that I had never heard of before--it
made no difference to me whether I ran into Scylla or Charybdis--I cared
not what became of me.
Like the fool that repeats over and over again the same words without
understanding their meaning, I kept saying: "The fiend of a woman! the
fiend of a woman!" At this moment all my love seemed turned to hate! but
when this hate had calmed down to chill despair, I began to reflect with
agonizing fear that perhaps Irene had seen me at the Odeon with those
dreadful women. I felt that I was ruined in her eyes for ever! She would
never listen to my attempt at vindication or apologies--women are so
unforgiving when a man strays for a moment from the path of propriety,
and they regard little weaknesses in the light of premeditated crimes,
too heinous for pardon--Irene would cry out with the poet:
"Tu te fais criminel pour te justifier!"
You are fortunate, my dear Edgar, in having found the woman you have
always dreamed of and hoped for; you will have all the charms of love
without its troubles; it is folly to believe that love is strengthened
by its own torments and stimulated by sorrows. A storm is only admired
by those on shore; the suffering sailors curse the raging sea and pray
for a calm.
Your letter, my dear Edgar, is filled with that calm happiness that is
the foundation of all true love; in return, I can only send you an
account of my despair. Friendship is often a union of these two
Enjoy your happy lot, my friend; your reputation is made. You have a
good name, an enviable and an individual philosophy, borrowed neither
from the Greeks nor the Germans. Your future is beautiful; cherish the
sweetest dreams; the woman you love will realize them all.
Night is a bad counsellor, so I dare not make any resolutions, or come
to any decision at this dark hour. I shall wait for the sun to enlighten
In my despair I have the mournful consolation of knowing that Irene is
in Paris. This great city has no undiscovered secrets; everything and
every person hid in its many houses is obliged sooner or later to appear
in the streets. I form the most extravagant projects; I will buy, if
necessary, the indiscretion of all the discreet lips that guard the
doors; I shall recruit an army of salaried spies. On the coast of the
Coromandel there is a tribe of Indians whose profession is to dive into
the Gulf of Bengal, that immense bathing-tub of the sun, and search for
a beautiful pearl that lies buried among the coral beds at the bottom of
the ocean. It is a pearl of great price, as valuable as the finest
diamond.... Irene is my pearl of great price, and I will search for and
find her in this great ocean of men and houses called Paris.... After
thinking and wondering till I am dizzy and sick at heart, I have come to
the conclusion that Irene is acting in this manner to test my love--this
thought consoles me a little, and I try to drown my sorrow in the
thought of our mutual happiness, when I shall have triumphantly passed
through the ordeal.
The most charming of women is willing to believe that everybody loves
except her lover.
ROGER DE MONBERT.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
PARIS, June 2d--Midnight.
Oh! How indignant I am! How angry and mortified are my feelings! Good
Heavens! how his shameful conduct makes me hate and despise him!... I
will try to be calm--to collect my scattered thoughts and give you a
clear account of what has just occurred--tell you how all of my plans
are destroyed--how I am once more alone in this cruel world, more sad,
more discouraged and more hopeless than I ever was in my darkest days of
misery and poverty.... but I cannot be calm--it is impossible for me to
control my indignation when I think of the shameful behavior of this
man--of his gross impertinence--his insolent duplicity.... Well, I went
to the Odeon; M. de Monbert was there, I saw him, he certainly made no
attempt to conceal his presence; you know he plumes himself upon being
open and frank--never hides anything from the world--wishes people to
see him in his true character, &c., precisely what I saw to-night. Yes,
Valentine, there he was as tipsy as a coachman--with those little
hair-brained de S.'s, the eldest simply tipsy as a lord, the young one,
George, was drunk, very drunk. This is not all, the fascinating Prince
was escort to two fashionable beauties, two miserable creatures of
distressing notoriety, two of those shameless women whom we cannot fail
to recognise on account of their scandalous behavior in public; sort of
market-women disguised as fashion-plates--half apple-venders, half
coquettes, who tap men on the cheek with their scented gloves and
intersperse their conversation with dreadful oaths from behind their
bouquets and Pompadour fans! ... these creatures talked in shrill tones,
laughed out loud enough to be heard by every one around--joined in the
chorus of the Choir of Antigone with the old men of Thebes!... People
in the gallery said: "they must have dined late," that was a charitable
construction to put upon their shameful conduct--I thought to myself,
this is their usual behavior--they are always thus.
I must tell you, so you can better appreciate my angry mortification,
that just as we were stepping into the carriage the servant handed me
the letters that I had sent him to bring from the Hotel de Langeac.
Among the number was one from M. de Monbert, written several days after
I had left Paris; this letter is worthy of being sent to Grenoble; I
enclose it. While reading it, my dear Valentine, don't forget that I
read it at the theatre, and my reading was constantly interrupted by the
vulgar conversation and noisy laughter of M. de Monbert and his choice
companions, and that each high-flown sentence of this hypocritical note
had at the same time a literal and free translation in the scandalous
remarks, bursts of laughter, and stupid puns of the despicable man who
had written it.
I confess that this flow of wit interfered with my perusal of these
touching reproaches; the brilliant improvisations of the orator
prevented me from becoming too much affected by the elegiacs of the
Here is the note that I was trying to decipher through my tears when
Monsieur de Monbert swaggered into the theatre.
"Is this a test of love--a woman's vengeance or an idle caprice,
Mademoiselle? My mind is not calm enough to solve the enigma. Be
merciful and drive me not to madness! To-morrow may be too late--then
your words of reason might be responded to by the jargon of insanity!
Beware! and cast aside your cloak of mystery before the sun once more
goes down upon my frenzy. All is desolation and darkness within and
without--nothing appears bright to my eyes, and my soul is wrapped in
gloom. In your absence I cease to live, but it seems as if my deep love
gives me still enough strength to hold a wandering pen that my mind no
longer guides. With my love I gave you my soul and mind--what remains to
me would excite your pity. I implore you to restore me to life.
"You cannot comprehend the ecstasy of a man who loves you, and the
despair of a man who loses you. Before knowing you I never could have
imagined these two extremes, separated by a whole world and brought
together in one instant. To be envied by the angels--to breathe the air
of heaven--to seek among the divine joys for a name to give one's
happiness, and suddenly, like Lucifer, to be dashed by a thunderbolt
into an abyss of darkness, and suffer the living death of the damned!
"This is your work!
"No, it cannot be a jest, it is not a vengeance; one does not jest with
real love, one does does not take vengeance on an innocent man; then it
must be a test! a test! ah well, it has been borne long enough, and my
bleeding heart cries out to you for mercy. If you prolong this ordeal,
you will soon have no occasion to doubt my love!... your grief will be
Yes, you are right this time, my dear Prince; my sorrow is remorse, deep
remorse; I shall never forgive myself for having been momentarily
touched by your hear-trending moans and for having shed real tears over
your dramatic pathos.
I was seated in the corner of our box, trembling with emotion and
weeping over these tender reproaches--yes, I wept!--he seemed so sad, so
true to me--I was in an humble frame of mind, thoroughly convinced by
this touching appeal that I had been wicked and unjust to doubt so
faithful a heart. I was overcome by the magnitude of my offence--at
having caused this great despair by my cruelty. Each word of this
elaborate dirge was a dagger to my heart; I credulously admired the
eloquence and simplicity of the style; I accepted as beautiful writing
all these striking images--these antitheses full of passion and
pretension: "_Reason responded to by insanity_." "_The power of love
that gives him strength to hold a pen. Extremes separated by a whole
world and brought together in an instant, and this living death that he
suffers, this name for his past happiness that had to be sought for
among the joys of heaven!_"
I accepted as gospel truth all these high-flown fictions, and was
astonished at nothing until I came to the _Lucifer_ part; that, I
confess, rather startled me--but the finishing tirade composed me. I
thought it fascinating, thrilling, heart-rending! In my enthusiastic
pity I was, by way of expiation, admiring the whole letter when I was
disturbed by a frightful noise made by people entering the adjoining
box. I felt angry at their insulting my sadness with their heartless
gayety. I continue to read, admire and weep--my neighbors continue to
laugh and make a noise. Amidst this uproar I recognise a familiar
voice--I listen--it is certainly the Prince de Monbert--I cannot be
mistaken. Probably he has come here with strangers--he has travelled so
much that he is obliged to do the honors of Paris to grand ladies who
were polite to him abroad--but from what part of the world could these
grand ladies have come? They seem to be indulging in a queer style of
conversation. One of them boldly looked in our box, and exclaimed, "Four
women! Four monsters!" I recognised her as a woman I had seen at the
Versailles races--all was explained.
Then they played a sort of farce for their own pleasure, to the great
annoyance of the audience. I will give you a sample of it, so you can
have an idea of the wit and good taste displayed by these gentlemen. The
most intoxicated of the young men asked, between two yawns, who were the
authors of _Antigone?_ "Sophocles," said M. de Monbert. "But there are
two, are there not?" "Two _Antigones?_" said the Prince laughing; "yes,
there is Ballanche's." "Ah, yes! Ballanche, that is his name," cried out
the ignorant creature; "I knew I saw two names on the hand-bill! Do you
"I am not acquainted with Sophocles," said the Prince, becoming more and
more jovial, "but I know Ballanche; I have seen him at the Academy."
This brilliant witticism was wonderfully successful; they all clapped so
loud and laughed so hilariously that the audience became very angry, and
called out, "Silence!" "Silence!" For a moment the noisy were quiet, but
soon they were worse than ever, acting like maniacs. At the end of each
scene, little George de S., who is a mere school-boy, cried out in
deafening tones: "Bravo! Ballanche!" then turning to the neighboring
boxes he said: "My friends, applaud; you must encourage the author;" and
the two bold women clapped their hands and shrieked out, "Let us
encourage Ballanche! Bravo! Ballanche!" It was absurd.
Madame Taverneau and her friends were indignant; they had heard the
compliment bestowed upon us--"Four women. Four monsters!" This rapid
appreciation of our elegant appearance did not make them feel indulgent
towards our scandalous neighbors. Near us were several newspaper men who
gave the names of the Prince de Monbert, the Messrs. de S., and their
two beauties. These journalists spoke with bitter contempt of what they
called the young lions of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, of the rude
manners of the aristocracy, of the ridiculous scruples of those proud
legitimists, who feared to compromise themselves in the interests of
their country, and yet were compromised daily by a thousand
extravagances; then they related falsehoods that were utterly without
foundation, and yet were made to appear quite probable by the
disgraceful conduct of the young men before us. You may imagine how
cruelly I suffered, both as a fiancee and as a legitimist. I blushed for
our party in the presence of the enemy; I felt the insult offered to me
personally less than I did the abuse brought upon our cause. In
listening to those deserved sneers I detested Messrs. de S. as much as I
did Roger. I decided during this hour of vexation and shame that I would
rather always remain simple Madame Gruerin than become the Princess de
What do you think of this despair, the result of champagne? Ought I not
to be touched by it? How sweet it is to see one's self so deeply
It is quite poetical and even mythological; Ariadne went no further than
this. She demanded of Bacchus consolation for the sorrows caused by
love. How beautifully _he_ sang the hymn to Bacchus in the last act of
Antigone! He has a fine tenor voice; until now I was not aware of his
possessing this gift. How happy he seemed among his charming
companions! Valentine, was I not right in saying that the trial of
discouragement is infallible? In love despair is a snare; to cease to
hope is to cease to feign; a man returns to his nature as soon as
hypocrisy is useless. The Prince has proved to me that he prefers low
society, that it is his natural element; that he had completely
metamorphosed himself so as to appear before us as an elegant, refined,
Oh! this evening he certainly was sincere; his real character was on the
surface; he made no effort to restrain himself; he was perfectly at
home, in his element; and one cannot disguise his delight at being in
his element. There is a carelessness in his movements that betrays his
self-satisfaction; he struts and spreads himself with an air of
confidence; he seems to float in the air, to swim on the crest of the
wave ... People can conceal their delight when they have recognised an
adored being among a crowd ... can avoid showing that a piece of
information casually heard is an important fact that they have been
trying to discover for weeks; ... can hide sudden fear, deep vexation,
great joy; but they cannot hide this agreeable impression, this
beatitude that they feel upon suddenly returning to their element, after
long days of privation and constraint. Well, my dear, the element of
Monsieur de Monbert is low company. I take credit to myself for not
saying anything more.
I have often observed these base proclivities in persons of the same
high condition of life as the Prince. Men brought up in the most refined
and cultivated society, destined to fill important positions in life,
take the greatest pleasure in associating-with common people; they
impose elegance upon themselves as a duty, and indulge in vulgarity as a
recreation; they have a spite against these charming qualities they are
compelled to assume, and indemnify themselves for the trouble of
acquiring them by rendering them mischievously useless when they seek
low society and attempt to shine where their brilliancy is
unappreciated. This low tendency of human nature explains the eternal
struggle between nature and education; explains the taste, the passion
of intelligent distinguished men for bad company; the more reserved and
dignified they are in their manners, the more they seek the society of
worthless men and blemished women. Another reason for this low
proclivity is the vanity of men; they like to be admired and flattered,
although they know their admirers are utterly worthless and despicable.
All these turpitudes would be unimportant if our poor nobility were
still triumphantly occupying their rightful position; but while they are
struggling to recover their prestige what can be done with such
representatives? Oh, I hated those little fools who by their culpable
folly compromised so noble a cause! Can they not see that each of their
silly blunders furnishes an arm against the principles they defend,
against their party, against us all? They are at war with a country that
distrusts their motives and detests and envies their advantages ... and
they amuse themselves by irritating the country by their aggressive
hostility and blustering idleness. By thus displaying their ill manners
and want of sense, it seems as if they wished to justify all the
accusations of their enemies and gain what they really deserve, a worse
reputation than they already bear. They are accused of being ignorant
... they are illiterate! They are accused of being impudent ... They are
insolent! They are accused of being beasts ... They show themselves to
be brutes! And yet not much is exacted of them, because they are known
to be degenerate. Only half what is required from others is expected
from them. They are not asked for heroism or talent, or genius: they are
only expected to behave with dignity, they cannot even assume it! They
are not asked to add to the lustre of their names, they are only
entreated to respect them--and they drag them in the mire! Ah, these
people make me die of shame and indignation.
It is from this nursery of worthless, idle young fops that I, Irene de
Chateaudun, will be forced to choose a husband. No, never will I suffer
the millions that Providence has bestowed upon me to be squandered upon
ballet-dancers and the scum of Paris! If it be absolutely necessary that
my fortune should be enjoyed by women, I will bestow it upon a convent,
where I will retire for the rest of my life; but I certainly would
prefer becoming the wife of a poor, obscure, but noble-minded student,
thirsting for glory and ambitious of making illustrious his plebeian
name, seeking among the dust of ages for the secret of fame ... than to
marry one of the degenerate scions of an old family, who crawl around
crushed by the weight of their formidable name; these little burlesque
noblemen who retain nothing of their high position but pride and vanity;
who can neither think, act, work nor suffer for their country; these
disabled knights who wage war against bailiffs and make their names
notorious in the police offices and tap-rooms of the Boulevard.
It is glorious to feel flowing in one's veins noble, heroic blood, to be
intoxicated with youthful pride when studying the history of one's
country, to see one's school-mates forced to commit to memory as a duty,
the brilliant record of the heroic deeds of our ancestors! To enter upon
a smooth path made easy and pleasant for us by those gone before; to be
already armed with the remembrance of noble deeds, laden with generous
promises; to have praiseworthy engagements to fulfil, grand hopes to
realize; to have in the past powerful protectors, inspiring models that
one can invoke in the hour of crisis like exceptional patrons, like
saints belonging exclusively to one's own family; to have one's conduct
traced out by masters of whom we are proud; to have nothing to
imagine--nothing to originate, no good example to set, nothing to do but
to nobly continue the work grandly commenced, to keep up the tradition,
to follow the old routine--it is especially glorious when the tradition
is of honor, when the routine is of glory.
But who comprehends these sentiments now? Who dares utter these noble
words without an ironical smile? Only a few helpless believers like
myself who still energetically but vainly protest against these
degradations. Some go to Algeria to prove their hereditary bravery and
obtain the Cross of Honor they are deprived of here; others retire to
their chateaux and study the fine arts, thus enjoying the only generous
resource of discouraged souls; surrounded by the true and the beautiful,
they try to forget an ungrateful and degenerate party. Others, disciples
of Sully, temper their strength by hard work in the fruitful study of
sacred science, and become enthusiastic, absorbed husbandmen, in order
to conceal their misanthropy. But what can they do? Fight all alone for
a deserted cause? What can the best officers accomplish without
You see, Valentine, I forget my own sorrows in thinking of our common
woes; when I reflect upon the sad state of public affairs, I find Roger
doubly culpable. Possessing so brilliant a mind, such superb talents, he
could by his influence bring these young fools back to the path of
honor. How unpardonable it is in him to lead them further astray by his
Oh, Valentine! I feel that I am not fitted to live in times like these.
Everything displeases me. The people of past ages seemed unintelligent,
impracticable the people of the present day are coarse and
hypocritical--the former understand nothing, the latter pervert
everything. The former had not the attainments that I require, the
latter have not the delicacy that I exact. The world is ugly; I have
seen enough of it. It is sad to think of one so young as I, just
entering upon life, having my head weighed down by the cares and
disappointments of sixty years! For a blonde head this weight is very
What! in this grand world, not one noble being, not one elevated soul
possessed of high aspirations and a holy respect for love!
For a young woman to own millions and be compelled to hoard them because
she has no one to bestow them upon! To be rich, young, free, generous,
and forced to live alone because no worthy partner can be found!...
Valentine, is not this a sad case?
Now my anger is gone--I am only sad, but I am mortally sad.... I know
not what to do.... Would I could fly to your arms! Ah! mother! my
mother! why am I left to struggle all alone in this unfeeling world!
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
Saint Dominique Street, Paris.
RICHEPORT, June 8th 18--.
She is here! Sound the trumpets, beat the drums!
The same day that you found Irene, I recovered Louise!
In making my tenth pilgrimage from Richeport to Pont de l'Arche, I
caught a glimpse from afar of Madame Taverneau's plump face encased in a
superb bonnet embellished with flaming ribbons! The drifting sea-weed
and floating fruit which were the certain indication to Christopher
Columbus of the presence of his long-dreamed-of land, did not make his
heart bound with greater delight than mine at the sight of Madame
Taverneau's bonnet! For that bonnet was the sign of Louise's return.
Oh! how charming thou didst appear to me then, frightful tulle cabbage,
with thy flaunting strings like unto an elephant's ears, and thy
enormous bows resembling those pompons with which horses' heads are
decorated! How much dearer to me wert thou than the diadem of an
empress, a vestal's fillet, the ropes of pearls twined among the jetty
locks of Venice's loveliest patricians, or the richest head-dress of
antique or modern art!
Ah, but Madame Taverneau was handsome! Her complexion, red as a beet,
seemed to me fresh as a new-blown rose,--so the poets always say,--I
could have embraced her resolutely, so happy was I.
The thought that Madame Taverneau might have returned alone flashed
through my mind ere I reached the threshold, and I felt myself grow
pale, but a glance through the half-open door drove away my terror.
There, bending over her table, was Louise, rolling grains of rice in red
sealing-wax in order to fill the interstices between the seals that she
had gotten from me, and among which figured marvellously well your crest
so richly and curiously emblazoned.
A slender thread of light falling upon the soft contour of her
features, carved in cameo their pure and delicate outline. When she saw
me a faint blush brightened her pallor like a drop of crimson in a cup
of milk; she was charming, and so distinguished-looking that, putting
aside the pencils, the vase of flowers, the colors and the glass of
clear water beside her, I should never have dreamt that a simple
screen-painter sat before me.
Isn't it strange, when so many fashionable women in the highest position
look like apple-sellers or old-clothes women in full dress, that a girl
in the humblest walks of life should have the air of a princess, in
spite of her printed cotton gown!
With me, dear Roger, Louise Guerin the grisette has vanished; but Louise
Guerin, a charming and fascinating creature whom any one would be proud
to love, has taken her place. You know that with all my oddities, my
wilfulness, my _Huronisms_ as you call them, the slightest equivocal
word, the least approach to a bold jest, uttered by feminine lips shocks
me. Louise has never, in the many conversations that I have had with
her, alarmed my captious modesty; and often the most innocent young
girls, the virtuous mothers of a family, have made me blush up to my
eyes. I am by no means so prudish; I discourse upon Trimalcion's feast
and the orgies of the twelve Caesars, but certain expressions, used by
every one, never pass my lips; I imagine that I see toads and serpents
drop from the tongues of those who speak them: only roses and pearls
fall from Louise's lips. How many women have fallen in my eyes from the
rank of a goddess to the condition of a fishwoman, by one word whose
ignominy I might try in vain to make them understand!
I have told you all this, my dear Roger, so that you may see how from an
ordinary railway adventure, a slight flirtation, has resulted a serious
and genuine love. I treat myself and things with rough frankness, and
closely scan my head and heart, and arrive at the same result--I am
desperately in love with Louise. The result does not alarm me; I have
never shrunk from happiness. It is my peculiar style of courage, which
is rarer than you imagine; I have seen men who would seek the bubble
reputation even in the cannon's mouth, who had not the courage to be
Since her return Louise appears thoughtful and agitated; a change has
come over the spirit of her dream. It is evident that her journey has
thrown new light upon her situation. Something important has taken place
in her life. What is it? I neither know nor care to know. I accept
Louise as I find her with her present surroundings. Perhaps absence has
revealed to her, as it has to me, that another existence is necessary to
her. This at least is certain, she is less shy, less reserved, more
confiding; there is a tender grace in her manner unfelt before. When we
walk in the garden, she leans upon my arm, instead of touching it with
the tips of her fingers. Now, when I am with her, her cold reserve
begins to thaw, and instead of going on with her work, as formerly, she
rests her head on her hand and gazes at me with a dreamy fixedness
singular to behold. She seems to be mentally deliberating something, and
trying to come to a conclusion. May Eros, with his golden arrows, grant
that it prove favorable to me! It will prove so, or human will has no
power, and the magnetic fluid is an error!
We are sometimes alone, but that cursed door is never shut, and Madame
Taverneau paces up and down outside, coming in at odd moments to enliven
the conversation with a witticism, in which exercise the good woman,
unhappily, thinks she excels. She fears that Louise, who is not
accustomed to the usages of society, may tire me. I am neither a Nero
nor a Caligula, but many a time have I mentally condemned the honest
post-mistress to the wild beasts of the Circus!
To get Louise away from this room, whose architecture is by no means
conducive to love-making, I contrived a boating party to the Andelys,
with the respectable view of visiting the ruins of Richard
Coeur-de-Lion's fortress. The ascent is extremely rough, for the donjon
is poised, like an eagle's nest, upon the summit of a steep rock; and I
counted upon Madame Taverneau, strangled in her Sunday stays,
breathless, perspiring, red as a lobster put on hot-water diet, taking
time half-way up the ascent to groan and fan herself with her
Alfred stopped by on his way from Havre, and for once in his life was in
season. I placed the rudder in his hands, begging at the same time that
he would spare me his fascinating smiles, winks and knowing glances. He
promised to be a stock and kept his word, the worthy fellow!
A fresh breeze sprang up in time to take us up the river. We found
Louise and Madame Taverneau awaiting us upon the pier, built a short
time since in order to stem the rush of water from the bridge.
Proud of commanding the embarkation, Alfred established himself with
Madame Taverneau, wrapped in a yellow shawl with a border of green
flowers, in the stern. Louise and I, in order to balance the boat,
seated ourselves in the bows.
The full sail made a sort of tent, and isolated us completely from our
companions. Louise, with only a narrow canvas shaking in the wind
between her and her chaperon, feeling no cause for uneasiness, was less
reserved; a third party is often useful in the beginning of a love idyl.
The most prudish woman in the world will grant slight favors when sure
they cannot be abused.
Our boat glided through the water, leaving a fringe of silver in its
wake. Louise had taken off her glove, and, leaning over the side, let
the water flow in crystal cascades through her ivory fingers; her dress,
which she gathered round her from the too free gambols of the wind,
sculptured her beauty by a closer embrace. A few little wild flowers
scattered their restless leaves over her bonnet, the straw of which, lit
up by a bright sun-ray, shed around her a sort of halo. I sat at her
feet, embracing her with my glance; bathing her in magnetic influences;
surrounding her with an atmosphere of love! I called to my assistance
all the powers of my mind and heart to make her love me and promise to
Softly I whispered to myself: "Come to my succor, secret forces of
nature, spring, youth, delicate perfumes, bright rays! Let soft zephyrs
play around her pure brow; flowers of love, intoxicate her with your
searching odors; let the god of day mingle his golden beams with the
purple of her veins; let all living, breathing things whisper in her ear
that she is beautiful, only twenty, that I am young and that I love
her!" Are poetical tirades and romantic declarations absolutely
necessary to make a lovely woman rest her blushing brow upon a young
My burning gaze fascinated her; she sat motionless under my glance. I
felt my hope sparkle in my eyes; her eyelids slowly drooped; her arms
sank at her side; her will succumbed to mine; aware of her growing
weakness, she made a final effort, covered her eyes with her hand, and
remained several minutes in that attitude in order to recover from the
radiations of my will.
When she had, in a measure, recovered her self-possession, she turned
her head towards the river-bank and called my attention to the charming
effect of a cottage embosomed in trees, from which rickety steps,
moss-grown and picturesquely studded with flowers, led down to the
river. One of Isabey's delicious water-colors, dropped here without his
signature. Louise--for art, no matter how humble, always expands the
mind--has a taste for the beauties of nature, wanting in nearly her
whole sex. A flower-stand filled with roses best pleases the majority of
women, who cultivate a love of flowers in order to provoke anacreontic
and obsolete comparisons from their antiquated admirers.
The banks of the Seine are truly enchanting. The graceful hills are
studded with trees and waving corn-fields; here and there a rock peeps
picturesquely forth; cottages and distant chateaux are betrayed by their
glittering slate roofs; islets as wild as those of the South Sea rise on
the bosom of the waters like verdure-clad rafts, and no Captain Cook has
ever mentioned these Otaheites a half-day's journey from Paris.
Louise intelligently and feelingly admired the shading of the foliage,
the water rippled by a slight breeze, the rapid flight of the
kingfisher, the languid swaying to and fro of the water-lily, the
little forget-me-nots opening their timid blue eyes to the morning sun,
and all the thousand and one beauties dotted along the river's bank. I
let her steep her soul in nature's loveliness, which could only teach
her to love.
In about four hours we reached the Andelys, and after a light lunch of
fresh eggs, cream, strawberries and cherries, we began the ascent to the
fortress of the brave king Richard.
Alfred got along famously with Madame Taverneau, having completely
dazzled her by an account of his high social acquaintance. During the
voyage he had repeated more names than can be found in the Royal
Almanac. The good post-mistress listened with respectful deference,
delighted at finding herself in company with such a highly connected
individual. Alfred, who is not accustomed, among us, to benevolent
listeners, gave himself up to the delight of being able to talk without
fear of interruption from jests and ironical puns. They had charmed each
The stronghold of Richard Coeur-de-Lion recalls, by its situation and
architecture, the castles of the Rhine. The stone-work is so confounded
with the rock that it is impossible to say where nature's work ends or
man's work begins.
We climbed, Louise and I, in spite of the steep ascent, the loose
stones, over the ramparts fallen to decay, the brushwood and all sorts
of obstacles, to the foot of the mass of towers built one within
another, which form the donjon-keep. Louise was obliged more than once,
in scrambling up the rocks, to give me her hand and lean upon my
shoulder. Even when the way was less rugged, she did not put aside her
unconstrained and confiding manner; her timid and intense reserve began
to soften a little.
Madame Taverneau, who is not a sylph, hung with all her weight to
Alfred's arm, and what surprises me is that she did not pull it off.
We made our way through the under-brush, masses of rubbish and crumbling
walls, to the platform of the massive keep, from whence we saw, besides
the superb view, far away in the distance, Madame Taverneau's yellow
shawl, shining through the foliage like a huge beetle.
At this height, so far above the world, intoxicated by the fresh air,
her cheek dyed a deeper red, her hair loosened from its severe
fastenings, Louise was dazzlingly and radiantly beautiful; her bonnet
had fallen off and was only held by the ribbon strings; a handful of
daisies escaped from her careless grasp.
"What a pity," said I, "that I have not a familiar spirit at my service!
We should soon see the stones replaced, the towers rise from the grass
where they have slept so long, and raise their heads in the sunlight;
the drawbridge slide on its hinges, and men-at-arms in dazzling
cuirasses pass and repass behind the battlements. You should sit beside
me as my chatelaine, in the great hall, under a canopy emblazoned with
armorial bearings, the centre of a brilliant retinue of ladies in
waiting, archers and varlets. You should be the dove of this kite's
This fancy made her smile, and she replied: "Instead of amusing yourself
in rebuilding the past, look at the magnificent scene stretched out
In fact, the sky was gorgeous; the sun was sinking behind the horizon,
in a hamlet of clouds, ruined and abandoned to the fury of the names of
sunset; the darkened hills were shrouded in violet tints; through the
light mists of the valley the river shone at intervals like the polished
surface of a Damascus blade. The blue smoke ascended from the chimneys
of the village of Andelys, nestling at the foot of the mountain; the
silvery tones of the bells ringing the Angelus came to us on the evening
breeze; Venus shone soft and pure in the western sky. Madame Taverneau
had not yet joined us; Alfred's fascinations had made her forget her
Louise, uneasy at being so long separated from her chaperon, leaned over
the edge of the battlement. A stone, which only needed the weight of a
tired swallow to dislodge it, rolled from Under Louise's foot, who,
terribly frightened, threw herself in my arms. I held her for a moment
pressed to my heart. She was very pale; her head was thrown back, the
dizziness of lofty heights had taken possession of her.
"Do not let me fall; my head whirls!"
"Fear not," I replied; "I am holding you, and the spirit of the gulf
shall not have you."
"Ouf! What an insane idea, to climb like cats over this old pile of
stones!" cried Alfred, who had finally arrived, dragging after him
Madame Taverneau, who with her shawl looked like a poppy in a
corn-field. We left the tower and gained our boat. Louise threw me a
tearful and grateful glance, and seated herself by Madame Taverneau. A
tug-boat passed us; we hailed it; it threw us a rope, and in a few hours
we were at Pont de l'Arche.
This is a faithful account of our expedition; it is nothing, and yet a
great deal. It is sufficient to show me that I possess some influence
over Louise; that my look fascinates her, my voice affects her, my touch
agitates her; for one moment I held her trembling against my heart; she
did not repulse me. It is true that by a little feminine Jesuitism,
common enough, she might ascribe all this to vertigo, a sort of vertigo
common to youth and love, which has turned more heads than all the
precipices of Mount Blanc!
What a strange creature is Louise! An inexplicable mixture of acute
intelligence and virgin modesty, displaying at the same time an
ignorance and information never imagined. These piquant contrasts make
me admire her all the more. The day after to-morrow Madame Taverneau is
going on business to Rouen. Louise will be alone, and I intend to repeat
the donjon scene, with improvements and deprived of the inopportune
appearance of Madame Taverneau's yellow shawl and the luckless Alfred's
green hunting-dress. What delicious dreams will visit me to-night in my
hammock at Richeport!
My next letter will begin, I hope, with this triumphant line of the
Chevalier de Bertin:
"Elle est a moi, divinites du Pinde!"
Good-bye, my dear Roger. I wish you good luck in your search. Since you
have once seen Irene, she cannot wear Gyges' ring. You may meet her
again; but if you have to make your way through six Boyars, three
Moldavians, eleven bronze statues, ten check-sellers, crush a multitude
of King Charles spaniels, upset a crowd of fruit-stands, go straight as
a bullet towards your beauty; seize her by the tip of her wing, politely
but firmly, like a gendarme; for the Prince Roger de Monbert must not be
the plaything of a capricious Parisian heiress.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES;
Hotel de la Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
PONT DE L'ARCHE, June 18th 18--.
I have only time to send you a line with the box of ribbons The trunk
will go to-morrow by the stage. I would have sent it before, but the
children's boots were not done. It is impossible to get anything done
now--the storekeepers say they can't get workmen, the workmen say they
can't get employment. Blanchard will be in Paris to superintend its
packing. If you are not pleased with your things, especially the blue
dress and mauve bonnet, I despair of ever satisfying you. I did not take
your sashes to Mlle. _Vatelin_. It was Prince de Monbert's fault; in
passing along the Boulevards I saw him talking to a gentleman--I turned
into Panorama street--he followed me, and to elude him I went into the
Chinese store. M. de Monbert remained outside; I bought some tea, and
telling the woman I would send for it, went out by the opposite door
which opens on Vivienne street. The Prince, who has been away from Paris
for ten years, was not aware of this store having two exits, so in this
way I escaped him. This hateful prince is also the cause of my returning
here. The day after that wretched evening at the Odeon, I went to
inquire about my cousin. There I found that Madame de Langeac had left
Fontainebleau and gone to Madame de H.'s, where they are having private
theatricals. She returns to Paris in ten days, where she begs me to wait
for her. I also heard that M. de Monbert had had quite a scene with the
porter on the same morning--insisting that he had seen me, and that he
would not be put off by lying servants any longer; his language and
manner quite shocked the household. The prospect of a visit from him
filled me with fright. I returned to my garret--Madame Taverneau was
anxiously waiting for my return, and carried me off without giving me
anytime for reflection; so I am here once more. Perhaps you think that
in this rural seclusion, under the shade of these willows, I ought to
find tranquillity? Just the reverse. A new danger threatens me; I escape
from a furious prince, to be ensnared by a delirious poet. I went away
leaving M. de Meilhan gracious, gallant, but reasonable; I return to
find him presuming, passionate, foolish. It makes me think that absence
increases my attractiveness, and separation clothes me with new charms.
This devotion is annoying, and I am determined to nip it in the bud; it
fills me with a horrible dread that in no way resembles the charming
fear I have dreamed of. The young poet takes a serious view of the
flattery I bestowed upon him only in order to discover what his friend
had written about me; he has persuaded himself that I love him, and I
despair of being able to dispel the foolish notion.
I have uselessly assumed the furious air of an angry Minerva, the
majestic deportment of the Queen of England opening Parliament, the
prudish, affected behavior of a school-mistress on promenade; all this
only incites his hopes. If it were love it might be seductive and
dangerous, but it is nothing more than magnetism.... You may laugh, but
it is surely this and nothing else; he acts as if he were under some
spell of fascination; he looks at me in a malevolent way that he thinks
irresistible.... But I find it unendurable. I shall end by frankly
telling him that in point of magnetism I am no longer free ... "that I
love another," as the vaudeville says, and if he asks who is this other,
I shall smilingly tell him, "it is the famous disciple of Mesmer, Dr.
Yesterday his foolish behavior was very near causing my death. Alarmed
by an embarrassing tete-a-tete in the midst of an old castle we were
visiting, I mounted the window-sill in one of the towers to call Madame
Taverneau, whom I saw at the foot of the hill; the stone on which I
stood gave way, and if M. de Meilhan had not shown great presence of
mind and caught me, I would have fallen down a precipice forty feet
deep! Instant death would have been the result. Oh! how frightened I
was! I tremble yet. My terror was so great that I would have fainted if
I had had a little more confidence; but another fear made me recover
from this. Fortunately I am going away from here, and this trifling will
Yes, certainly I will accompany you to Geneva. Why can't we go as far as
Lake Como? What a charming trip to take, and what comfort we will enjoy
in my nice carriage! You must know that my travelling-carriage is a
wonder; it is being entirely renovated, and directly it is finished, I
will jump in it and fly to your arms. Of course you will ask what I am
to do with a travelling-carriage--I who have never made but one journey
in my life, and that from the Marais to the Faubourg Saint Honore? I
will reply, that I bought this carriage because I had the opportunity;
it is a chef-d'oeuvre. There never was a handsomer carriage made in
London. It was invented--and you will soon see what a splendid invention
it is--for an immensely rich English lady who is always travelling, and
who is greatly distressed at having to sell it, but she believes herself
pursued by an audacious young lover whom she wishes to get rid of, and
as he has always recognised her by her carriage, she parts with it in
order to put him off her track. She is an odd sort of woman whom they
call Lady Penock; she resembles Levassor in his English roles; that is
to say, she is a caricature. Levassor would not dare to be so
Good-bye, until I see you. When I think that in one month we shall be
together again, I forget all my sorrows.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ MONSIEUR DE MEILHAN,
PARIS, June 19th 18--.
It is useless to slander the police; we are obliged to resort to them in
our dilemmas; the police are everywhere, know everything, and are
infallible. Without the police Paris would go to ruin; they are the
hidden fortification, the invisible rampart of the capital; its numerous
agents are the detached forts. Fouche was the Vauban of this wonderful
system, and since Fouche's time, the art has been steadily approaching
perfection. There is to-day, in every dark corner of the city an eye
that watches over our fifty-four gates, and an ear that hears the
pulsations of all the streets, those great arteries of Paris.
The incapacity of my own agents making me despair of discovering
anything; I went to the Polyphemus of Jerusalem street, a giant whose
ever open eye watches every Ulysses. They told me in the office--Return
in three days.
Three centuries that I had to struggle through! How many centuries I
have lived during the last month!
The police! Why did not this luminous idea enter my mind before?
At this office of public secrets they said to me: Mlle. de Chateaudun
left Paris five days ago. On the 12th she passed the night at Sens; she
then took the route to Burgundy; changed horses at Villevallier, and on
the 14th stopped at the chateau of Madame de Lorgeville, seven miles
The particularity of this information startled me. What wonderful
clock-work! What secret wheels! What intelligent mechanism! It is the
machine of Marly applied to a human river. At Rome a special niche would
have been devoted to the goddess of Police.
What a lesson to us! How circumspect it should make us! Our walls are
diaphanous, our words are overheard; our steps are watched ...
everything said and done reaches by secret informers and invisible
threads the central office of Jerusalem street. It is enough to make one
_At the chateau of Mad. de Lorgeville_!
I walked along repeating this sentence to myself, with a thousand
variations: At the chateau of Mad. de Lorgeville.
After a decennial absence, I know nobody in Paris--I am just as much of
a stranger as the ambassador of Siam.... Who knows Mad. de Lorgeville?
M. de Balaincourt is the only person in Paris who can give me the
desired information--he is a living court calendar. I fly to see M. de
This oracle answers me thus: Mad. de Lorgeville is a very beautiful
woman, between twenty-four and twenty-six years of age. She possesses a
magnificent _mezzo-soprano_ voice, and twenty thousand dollars income.
She learnt miniature painting from Mad. Mirbel, and took singing lessons
from Mad. Damoyeau. Last winter she sang that beautiful duo from Norma,
with the Countess Merlin, at a charity concert.
I requested further details.
Madame de Lorgeville is the sister of the handsome Leon de Varezes.
Oh! ray of light! glimmer of sun through a dark cloud!
The handsome Leon de Varezes! The ugly idea of troubadour beauty! A fop
fashioned by his tailor, and who passes his life looking at his figure
reflected in four mirrors as shiny and cold as himself!
I pressed M. de Balaincourt's hand and once again plunged into the
vortex of Paris.
If the handsome Leon were only hideous I would feel nothing but
indifference towards him, but he has more sacred rights to my hatred, as
you will see.
Three months ago this handsome Leon made a proposal of marriage to Mlle.
de Chateaudun--she refused him. This is evidently a preconcerted plan;
or it is a ruse. The handsome Leon had a lady friend well known by
everybody but himself, and he has deferred this marriage in order to
gild, after the manner of Ruolz, his last days of bachelorhood;
meanwhile Mlle. de Chateaudun received her liberty, and during this
truce I have played the role of suitor. Either of these conjectures is
probable--both may be true--one is sufficient to bring about a
This fact is certain, the handsome Leon is at the waters of Ems enjoying
his expiring hours of single-blessedness in the society of his painted
friend, and his family are keeping Mile. de Chateaudun at the Chateau de
Lorgeville till the season at Ems is over. In a few days the handsome
Leon, on pretence of important business, will leave his Dulcinea, and,
considering himself freed from an unlawful yoke, will come to the
Chateau de Lorgeville to offer his innocent hand and pure homage to
Mile. de Chateaudun. In whatever light the matter is viewed, I am a
dupe--a butt! I know well that people say: "_Prince Roger is a good
fellow_" With this reputation a man is exposed to all the feline
wickedness of human nature, but when once aroused "the good fellow" is
transformed, and all turn pale in his presence.
No, I can never forgive a woman who holds before me a picture of bliss,
and then dashes it to the ground--she owes me this promised happiness,
and if she tries to fly from me I have a right to cry "stop thief."
Ah! Mlle. de Chateaudun, you thought you could break my heart, and leave
me nothing to cherish but the phantom of memory! Well! I promise you
another ending to your play than you looked for! We will meet again!
Stupid idiot that I was, to think of writing her an apology to vindicate
my innocent share of the scene at the Odeon! Vindication well spared!
How she would have laughed at my honest candor!... She shall not have an
opportunity of laughing! Dear Edgar, in writing these disconsolate lines
I have lost the calmness that I had imposed upon myself when I began my
letter. I feel that I am devoured by that internal demon that bears a
woman's name in the language of love--jealousy! Yes, jealousy fills my
soul with bitterness, encircles my brow with a band of iron, and makes
me feel a frenzied desire to murder some fellow-being! During my travels
I lost the tolerant manners of civilization. I have imbibed the rude
cruelty of savages--my jealousy is filled with the storms and fire of
What do you pale effeminate young men know of jealousy? Is not your
professor of jealousy the actor who dashes about on the stage with a
I have studied the monster under other masters; tigers have taught me
how to manage this passion.
Dear Edgar, once night overtook us amidst the ruins of the fort that
formerly defended the mouth of the river Caveri in Bengal. It was a dark
night illumined by a single star like the lamp of the subterranean
temple of Elephanta. But this lone star was sufficient to throw light
upon the formidable duel that took place before us upon the sloping bank
of the ruined fort.
It was the season of love ... how sweet is the sound of these words!
A tawny monster with black spots, belonging to the fair sex of her noble
race, was calmly quenching her thirst in the river Caveri--after she had
finished drinking she squatted on her hind feet and stretched her
forepaws in front of her breast--sphinx-like--and luxuriously rubbed her
head in and out among the soft leaves scattered on the riverside.
At a little distance the two lovers watched--not with their eyes but
with their nostrils and ears, and their sharp growl was like the breath
of the khamsin passing through the branches of the euphorbium and the
nopal. The two monsters gradually reached the paroxysm of amorous rage;
they flattened their ears, sharpened their claws, twisted their tails
like flexible steel, and emitted sparks of fire from eyes and skin.
During this prelude the tigress stretched herself out with stoical
indifference, pretending to take no interest in the scene--as if she
were the only animal of her race in the desert. At intervals she would
gaze with delight at the reflected image of her grace and beauty in the
A roar that seemed to burst from the breast of a giant crushed beneath a
rock, echoed through the solitude. One of the tigers described an
immense circle in the air and then fell upon the neck of his rival. The
two tawny enemies stood up on their hind legs, clenching each other like
two wrestlers, body to body, muzzle to muzzle, teeth to teeth, and
uttering shrill, rattling cries that cut through the air like the
clashing of steel blades. Ordinary huntsmen would have fired upon this
monstrous group. We judged it more noble to respect the powerful hate of
this magnificent love. As usual the aggressor was the strongest; he
threw his rival to the ground, crushed him with his whole weight, tore
him with his claws, and then fastening his long teeth in his victim's
throat, laid him dead upon the grass--uttering, as he did so, a cry of
triumph that rang through the forest like the clarion of a conqueror.
The tigress remained in the same spot, quietly licking her paw, and when
it was quite wet rubbed it over her muzzle and ears with imperturbable
serenity and charming coquetry.
This scene contained a lesson for both sexes, my dear Edgar. When nature
chooses our masters she chooses wisely.
Heaven preserve you from jealousy! I do not mean to honor by this name
that fickle, unjust, common-place sentiment that we feel when our vanity
assumes the form of love. The jealousy that gnaws my heart is a noble
and legitimate passion. Not to avenge one's self is to give a premium of
encouragement to wicked deeds. The forgiveness of wrongs and injuries
puts certain men and women too much at their ease. Vengeance is
necessary for the protection of society.
Dear Edgar, tell me of your love; fear not to wound me by a picture of
your happiness; my heart is too sympathetic for that. Tell me the traits
that please you most in the object of your tenderness. Let your soul
expand in her sweet smiles--revel in the intoxicating bliss of those
long happy talks filled with the enchanting grace and music of a first
After reading my letter, remove my gloomy picture from your mind--forget
me quietly; let not a thought of my misery mar your present happiness.
I intend to honor the handsome Leon by devoting my personal attention to
his future fate.
ROGER DE MONBERT.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
St. Dominique Street (Paris).
RICHEPORT, June 23d 18--.
You place a confidence in the police worthy the prince you are, dear
Roger; you rely upon their information with a faith that surprises and
alarms me. How do you expect the police to know anything concerning
honest people? Never having watched them, being too much occupied with
scoundrels, they do not know how to go about it. Spies and detectives
are generally miserable wretches, their name even is a gross insult in
our language; they are acquainted with the habits and movements of
thieves, whose dens and haunts they frequent; but what means have they
of fathoming the whimsical motives of a high-born young girl? Their
forte is in making a servant drunk, bribing a porter, following a
carriage or standing sentinel before a door. If Mademoiselle de
Chateaudun has gone away to avoid you, she will naturally suppose that
you will endeavor to follow her. Of course, she has taken every
precaution to preserve her incognita--changing her name, for
instance--which would be sufficient to mystify the police, who, until
applied to by you, have had no object in watching her movements. The
proof that the police are mistaken is the exactitude of the information
that they have given you. It is too much like the depositions of
witnesses in a criminal trial, who say: "Two years ago, at thirty-three
minutes and five seconds after nine o'clock in the evening, I met, in
the dark, a slender man, whose features I could not distinguish, who
wore olive-green pantaloons, with a brownish tinge." I am very much
afraid that your expedition into Burgundy will be of none avail, and
that, haggard-eyed and morose, you will drop in upon a quiet family
utterly amazed at your domiciliary visit.
My dear Prince, endeavor to recollect that you are not in India; the
manners of the Sunda Isles do not prevail here, and I feared from your
letter some desperate act which would put you in the power of your
friends, the police. In Europe we have professors of aesthetics,
Sanscrit, Slavonic, dancing and fencing, but professors of jealousy are
not authorized. There is no chair in the College of France for wild
beasts; lessons expressed in roarings and in blows from savage paws do
very well for the fabulous tiger city of Java legends. If you are
jealous, try to deprive your rival of the railroad grant which he was
about to obtain, or ruin him in his electoral college by spreading the
report that, in his youth, he had written a volume of sonnets. This is
constitutional revenge which will not bring you before the bar of
justice. The courts now-a-days are so tricky that they might give you
some trouble even for suppressing such an insipid fop as Leon de
Varezes. Tigers, whatever you may say, are bad instructors. With regard
to tigers, we only tolerate cats, and then they must have velvet paws.
These counsels of moderation addressed to you, I have profited by
myself, for, in another way, I have reached a fine degree of
exasperation. You suspect, of course, that Louise Guerin is at the
bottom of it, for a woman is always at the bottom of every man's
madness. She is the leaven that ferments all our worst passions.
Madame Taverneau set out for Rouen; I went to see Louise, my heart full
of joy and hope. I found her alone, and at first thought that the
evening would be decisive, for she blushed high on seeing me. But who
the deuce can count upon women! I left her the evening before, sweet,
gentle and confiding; I found her cold, stern, repelling and talking to
me as if she had never seen me before. Her manner was so convincing that
nothing had passed between us, that I found it necessary to take a rapid
mental survey of all the occurrences of our expedition to the Andelys to
prove to myself that I was not somebody else. I may have a thousand
faults, but vanity is not among them. I rarely flatter myself,
consequently I am not prone to believe that every one is thunder-struck,
in the language of the writers of the past century, on beholding me. My
interpretation of glances, smiles, tones of the voice are generally
very faithful; I do not pass over expressions that displease me. I put
this interpretation upon Louise's conduct. I do not feel an insuperable
dislike to M. Edgar de Meilhan. Sure of the meaning of my text, I acted
upon it, but Louise assumed such imposing and royal airs, such haughty
and disdainful poses, that unless I resorted to violence I felt I could
obtain nothing from her. Rage, instead of love, possessed me; my hands
clenched convulsively, driving the nails into my flesh. The scene would
have turned into a struggle. Fortunately, I reflected that such
emphasized declarations of love, with the greater part of romantic and
heroic actions, were not admitted in the Code.
I left abruptly, lest the following elegant announcement should appear
in the police gazettes: "Mr. Edgar de Meilhan, landed proprietor, having
made an attack upon Madame Louise Guerin, screen-painter, &c."--for I
felt the strongest desire to strangle the object of my devotion, and I
think I should have done so had I remained ten minutes longer.
Admire, dear Roger, the wisdom of my conduct, and endeavor to imitate
it. It is more commendable to control one's passions than an army, and
it is more difficult.
My wrath was so great that I went to Mantes to see Alfred! To open the
door of paradise and then shut it in my face, spread before me a
splendid banquet and prevent me from sitting down to it, promise me love
and then offer me prudery, is an infamous, abominable and even
indelicate act. Do you know, dear Roger, that I just escaped looking
like a goose; the rage that possessed me gave a tragic expression to my
features, which alone saved me from ridicule! Such things we never
forgive a woman, and Louise shall pay me yet!
I swear to you that if a woman of my own rank had acted thus towards me,
I should have crushed her without mercy; but Louise's humble position
restrained me. I feel a pity for the weak which will be my ruin; for the
weak are pitiless towards the strong.
Poor Alfred must be an excellent fellow not to have thrown me out of
the window. I was so dull with him, so provoking, so harsh, so scoffing,
that I am astonished that he could endure me for two minutes. My nerves
were in such a state of irritation that I beheaded with my whip more
than five hundred poppies along the road. I who never have committed an
assault upon any foliage, whose conscience is innocent of the murder of
a single flower! For a moment I had a notion to ask a catafalque of the
romantic Marquise. You may judge from that the disordered state of my
faculties and my complete moral prostration.
At last, ashamed of abusing Alfred's hospitality in such a manner, and
feeling incapable of being anything else than irritable, cross-grained
and intractable, I returned to Richeport, to be as gloomy and
disagreeable as I pleased.
Here, dear Roger, I pause--I take time, as the actors say; it is worth
while. As fluently as you may read hieroglyphics, and explain on the
spot the riddles of the sphinx, you can never guess what I found at
Richeport, in my mother's room! A white black-bird? a black swan? a
crocodile? a megalonyx? Priest John or the amorabaquin? No, something
more enchantingly improbable, more wildly impossible. What was it? I
will tell you, for a hundred million guesses would never bring you
nearer the truth.
Near the window, by my mother's side, sat a young woman, bending over an
embroidery frame, threading a needle with red worsted. At the sound of
my voice she raised her head and I recognised--Louise Gruerin!
At this unexpected sight, I stood stupified, like Pradon's Hippolyte.
To see Louise Guerin quietly seated in my mother's room, was as
electrifying as if you, on going home some morning, were to find Irene
de Chateaudun engaged in smoking one of your cigars. Did some strange
chance, some machiavellian combination introduce Louise at Richeport? I
shall soon know.
What a queer way to avoid men, to take up one's abode among them! Only
prudes have such ideas. At any rate it is a gross insult to my powers
of fascination. I am not such a patriarch as all that! My head still
counts a few hairs, and I can walk very well without a cane!
What does it matter, after all? Louise lives under the same roof with
me, my mother treats her in the most gracious manner, like an equal.
And, indeed, one would be deceived by her; she seems more at her ease
here than at Madame Taverneau's, and what would be a restraint on a
woman of her class, on the contrary gives her more liberty. Her manners
have become charming, and I often ask myself if she is not the daughter
of one of Madame de Meilhan's friends. With wonderful tact she
immediately put herself in unison with her surroundings; women alone can
quickly become acclimated in a higher sphere. A man badly brought up
always remains a booby. Any danseuse taken from the foot-lights of the
Opera by the caprice of a great lord, can be made a fine lady. Nature
has doubtless provided for these sudden elevations of fortune by
bestowing upon women that marvellous facility of passing from one
position to another without exhibiting surprise or being thrown out of
their element. Put Louise into a carriage having a countess's crown upon
the panel of the door, and no one would doubt her rank. Speak to her,
and she would reply as if she had had the most brilliant education. The
auspicious opening of a flower transplanted into a soil that suits it,
shone through Louise's whole being. My manner towards her partakes of a
tenderer playfulness, a more affectionate gallantry. After all,
Richeport is better than Pont de l'Arche, for there is nothing like
fighting on your own ground.
Come then, my friend, and be a looker-on at the courteous tournay. We
expect Raymond every day; we have all sorts of paradoxes to convert into
truths; your insight into such matters might assist us. _A bientot_.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel of the Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
RICHEPORT, June 29th 18--.
I am at Richeport, at Madame de Meilhan's house!... This astonishes you,
... so it does me; you don't understand it, ... neither do I. The fact
is, that when you can't control events, the best thing to be done is to
let events control you.
On Sunday I went to hear mass in the beautiful church at Pont de
l'Arche, a splendid ruin that looks like a heap of stony lacework,
lovely guipure torn to pieces; while I was there a lady came in and sat
beside me; it was Madame de Meilhan. I recognised her at once, having
been accustomed to seeing her every Sunday at mass. As it was late, and
the services were almost ended, I thought it very natural that she
should sit by me to avoid walking the length of the aisle to reach her
own pew, so I continued to read my prayers without paying any attention
to her, but she fastened her eyes upon me in such a peculiar way that I,
in my turn, felt compelled to look up at her, and was startled by the
alteration of her face; suddenly she tottered and fell fainting on
Madame Taverneau's shoulder. She was taken out of the church, and the
fresh air soon restored her to consciousness. She seemed agitated when
she saw me near her, but the interest I showed in her sickness seemed to
reassure her; she gracefully thanked me for my kind attention, and then
looked at me in a way that was very embarrassing. I invited her to
return with me to Madame Taverneau's and rest herself; she accepted the
offer, and Madame Taverneau carried her off with great pomp. There
Madame de Meilhan explained how she had walked alone from Richeport in
spite of the excessive heat, at the risk of making herself ill, because
her son had taken the coachman and horses and left home suddenly that
morning without saying where he was going. As she said this she looked
at me significantly. I bore these questioning looks with proud
calmness. I must tell you that the evening before, M de Meilhan had
called on me during the absence of Madame Taverneau and her husband. The
danger of the situation inspired me. I treated him with such coldness, I
reached a degree of dignity so magnificent that the great poet finally
comprehended there are some glaciers inaccessible, even to him. He left
me, furious and disconsolate, but I do him the justice to say that he
was more disconsolate than furious. This real sorrow made me think
deeply. If he loved me seriously, how culpable was my conduct! I had
been too coquettish towards him; he could not know that this coquetry
was only a ruse; that while appearing to be so devoted to him my whole
mind was filled with another. Sincere love should always be respected;
one is not compelled to share it, but then one has no right to insult
The uneasiness of Madame de Meilhan; her conduct towards me--for I was
certain she had purposely come late to mass and taken a seat by me for
the purpose of speaking to me and finding out what sort of a person I
was--the uneasiness of this devoted mother was to me a language more
convincing of the sincerity of her son's sentiments than all the
protestations of love he could have uttered in years. A mother's anxiety
is an unmistakable symptom; it is more significant than all others. The
jealousy of a rival is not so certain an indication; distrustful love
may be deceived, but maternal instinct _never_ is. Now, to induce a
woman of Madame de Meilhan's spirit and character to come agitated and
trembling to see me, ... why, I can say it without vanity, her son must
be madly in love, and she wished at all costs either to destroy or cure
this fatal passion that made him so unhappy.
When she arose to leave, I asked permission to walk back with her to
Richeport, as she was not well enough to go so far alone; she eagerly
accepted my offer, and as we went along, conversing upon indifferent
subjects, her uneasiness gradually disappeared; our conversation seemed
to relieve her mind of its heavy burden.
It happened that truth spoke for itself, as it always does, but
unfortunately is not always listened to. By my manners, the tone of my
voice, my respectful but dignified politeness--which in no way resembled
Mad. Taverneau's servile and obsequious eagerness to please, her humble
deference being that of an inferior to a superior, whilst mine was
nothing more than that due to an old lady from a young one--by these
shades insignificant to the generality of people, but all revealing to
an experienced eye, Mad. de Meilhan at once divined everything, that is
to say, that I was her equal in rank, education and nobility of soul;
she knew it, she felt it. This fact admitted, one thing remained
uncertain; why had I fallen from my rank in society? Was it through
misfortune or error? This was the question she was asking herself.
I knew enough of her projects for the future, her ambition as a mother,
to decide which of the two suppositions would alarm her most. If I were
a light, trifling woman, as she every now and then seemed to hope, her
son was merely engaged in a flirtation that would have no dangerous
result; if on the contrary I was an honorable woman, which she evidently
feared might be the case, her son's future was ruined, and she trembled
for the consequences of this serious passion. Her perplexity amused me.
The country around us was superb, and as we walked along I went into
ecstasies over the beauty of the scenery and the lovely tints of the
sky; she would smile and think: "She is only an artist, an
adventuress--I am saved; she will merely be Edgar's friend, and keep him
all the winter at Richeport." Alas! it is a great pity that she is not
rich enough to spend the winter in Paris with Edgar; she seems miserable
at being separated from him for months at a time.
At a few yards from the chateaux a group of pretty children chasing a
poor donkey around a little island attracted my attention.
"That island formerly belonged to the Richeport estate," said Mad. de
Meilhan; "so did those large meadows you see down below; the height of
my ambition is to buy them back, but to do this Edgar must marry an
This word troubled me, and Mad. de Meilhan seemed annoyed. She evidently
thought: "She is an honest woman, and wants to marry Edgar, I fear," I
took no notice of her sudden coldness of manner, but thought to myself:
How delightful it would be to carry out these ambitious plans, and
gratify every wish of this woman's heart! I have but to utter one word,
and not only would she have this island and these meadows, but she would
possess all this beautiful forest. Oh! how sweet would it be to feel
that you are a small Providence on earth, able to penetrate and
instantly gratify the secret wishes of people you like! Valentine, I
begin to distrust myself; a temptation like this is too dangerous for a
nature like mine; I feel like saying to this noble, impoverished lady:
here, take these meadows, woods and islands that you so tenderly sigh
for--I could also say to this despairing young poet: here, take this
woman that you so madly love, marry her and be happy ... without
remembering that this woman is myself; without stopping to ask if this
happiness I promise him will add to my own.
Generosity is to me dangerously attractive! How I would love to make the
fortune of a noble poet! I am jealous of these foreigners who have
lately given us such lessons in generosity. I would be so happy in
bestowing a brilliant future upon one who chose and loved me in my
obscurity, but to do this love is necessary, and my heart is
broken--dead! I have no love to give.
Then again, M. de Meilhan has so much originality of character, and I
admit only originality of mind. He puts his horse in his chamber, which
is an original idea, to be sure; but I think horses had better be kept
in the stable, where they would certainly be more comfortable. And these
dreadful poets are such positive beings! Poets are not poetical, my dear
... Edgar has become romantic since he has been in love with me, but I
think it is an hypocrisy, and I mistrust his love.
Edgar is undeniably a talented, superior man, and captivating, as the
beautiful Marquise de R. has proved; but I fail to recognise in his love
the ideal I dreamed of. It is not the expression of an eye that he
admires, it is the fine shape of the lids, limpid pupils; it is not the
ingenuous grace of a smile that pleases him, it is the regularity of the
lines, the crimson of the lips; to him beauty of soul adds no charm to a
lovely face. Therefore, this love that a word of mine can render
legitimate, frightens me as if it were a guilty passion; it makes me
uneasy and timid. I know you will ridicule me when I say that upon me
this passionate poet has the same effect as women abounding in
imagination and originality of mind have upon men, who admire but never
marry them. He has none of that affectionate gravity so necessary in a
husband. On every subject our ideas differ; this different way of seeing
things would cause endless disputes between us, or what is sadder yet,
mutual sacrifices. Everybody adores the charming Edgar, I say Edgar, for
it is by this name I daily hear him praised. I wish I could love him
too! He was astonished to find me at his mother's house yesterday. Since
my first visit to Richeport, Mad. de Meilhan would not allow a single
day to pass without my seeing her; each day she contrived a new pretext
to attract me; a piece of tapestry work to be designed, a view of the
Abbey to be painted, a new book to read aloud or some music to try; the
other evening it was raining torrents when I was about leaving and she
insisted upon my staying all night; now she wishes me to remain for her
birthday, which is on the 5th; she continues to watch me closely. Mad.
Taverneau has been questioned--the mute, Blanchard, has been tortured
... Mad. Taverneau replied that she had known me for three years and
that during this time I had never ceased to mourn for the late Albert
Guerin; in her zeal she added that he was a very deserving young man! My
good Blanchard contented herself with saying that I was worth more than
Mad. de Meilhan and all of her family put together. While they study me
I study them. There is no danger in my remaining at Richeport. Edgar
respects his mother--she watches over me. If necessary, I will tell her
everything.... She speaks kindly of Mlle. de Chateaudun--she defends
me.... How I laughed to myself this morning! I heard that M. de Monbert
had secretly applied to the police to discover my whereabouts and the
police sent him to join me at Burgundy!... What could have made any one
think I was there? At whose house will he go to seek me? and whom will
he find instead of me? However, I may be there before long if my cousin
will travel by way of Macon. She will not be ready to start before next
Oh! I am so anxious to see you again! Do not go to Geneva without me.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ MONSIEUR EDGAR DE MEILHAN,
Pont de l'Arche (Eure).
PARIS, July 2d 18--.
Do you believe, my dear Edgar, that it is easy to live when the age of
love is passed? Verily one must be able to love his whole lifetime if he
wishes to live an enchanted life, and die a painless death. What a
seductive game! what unexpected luck! How many moments delightfully
employed! Each day has its particular history; at night we delight in
telling it over to ourselves, and indulge in the wildest conjectures as
to what will be the events of each to-morrow. The reality of to-day
defeats the anticipations of yesterday. We hope one moment and despair
the next--now dejected, now elated. We alternate between death and
The other morning at nine o'clock we stopped at the stage-office at Sens
for ten minutes. I went into the hotel and questioned everybody, and
found they had seen many young ladies of the age, figure and beauty of
Mlle. de Chateaudun.
Happy people they must be!
However, I only asked all these questions to amuse myself during the ten
minutes' relay. My mind was at rest--for the police are infallible;
everything will be explained at the Chateau de Lorgeville. I stopped my
carriage some yards from the gate, got out and walked up the long
avenue, being concealed by the large trees through which I caught
glimpses of the chateau.
It was a large symmetrical building--a stone quadrangle, heavily topped
off by a dark slate roof, and a dejected-looking weathercock that
rebelled against the wind and declined to move.
All the windows in the front of the house were tear-stained at the base
by the winter rains.
A modern entrance, with double flights of steps decorated by four vases
containing four dead aloe-stems buried in straw, betrayed the cultivated
taste of the handsome Leon.
I expected to see the shadow of a living being.... No human outline
broke the tranquil shade of the trees.
An accursed dog, man's worst enemy, barked furiously, and made violent
efforts to break his rope and fly at me.... I hope he is tied with a
gordian knot if he wishes to see the setting sun!
Finally a gardener enjoying a sinecure came to enliven this landscape
without a garden; he strolled down the avenue with the nonchalance of a
workman paid by the handsome Leon.
I am able to distinguish among the gravest faces those that can relax
into a smile at the sight of gold. The gardener passed before me, and
after he had bestowed upon me the expected smile, I said to him:
"Is this Mad. de Lorgeville's chateau?"
He made an affirmative sign. Once more I bowed to the genius of the
Jerusalem street goddess.
I said to the gardener in a solemn tone: "Here is a letter of the
greatest importance; you must hand it to Mlle. de Chateaudun when she is
alone." I then showed him my purse and said: "After that, this money is
"The sweet young lady!" said the gardener, walking off towards the
chateau with the gold in one hand, the letter in the other, and the
purse in his eye--"The good young lady! it is a long time since she has
received a love-letter."
I said to myself, The handsome Leon does not indulge in
letter-writing--he has a good reason for that.
The following is the letter carried by the gardener to the chateau:--
"Desperate situations justify desperate measures. I am willing to
believe that I am still, by your desire, undergoing a terrible ordeal,
but I judge myself sufficiently tried.
"I am ready for everything except the misery of losing you. My last sane
idea is uttered in this warning.
"I must see you; I must speak to you.
"Do not refuse me a few moments' conversation--Mademoiselle, in the name
of Heaven save me! save yourself!
"There is in the neighborhood of the chateau some farmhouse, or shady
grove. Name any spot where I can meet you in an hour. I am awaiting your
answer.... After an hour has passed I will wait for nothing more in this
The gardener walked along with the nonchalance of the man of the
Georgics, as if meditating upon the sum of happiness contained in a
piece of gold. I looked after him with that resignation we feel as the
end of a great trial approaches.
He was soon lost to view, and in the distance I heard a door open and
In a few minutes Mlle. Chateaudun would be reading my letter. I read it
over in my own mind, and rapidly conjectured the impression each word
would make upon her heart.
Through the thick foliage where I was concealed, I had a confused view
of one wing of the chateau; the wall appeared to be covered with green
tapestry torn in a thousand places. I could distinguish nothing clearly
at a distance of twenty yards. Finally I saw approaching a graceful
figure clad in white--and through the trees I caught sight of a blue
scarf--a muslin dress and blue scarf--nothing more, and yet my heart
stood still! My sensations at this moment are beyond analyzation. I felt
an emotion that a man in love will comprehend at once.... A muslin dress
fluttering under the trees where the fountains ripple and the birds
sing! Is there a more thrilling sight?
I stood with one foot forward on the gravel-path, and with folded arms
and bowed head I waited. I saw the scarf fringe before seeing the face.
I looked up, and there stood before me a lovely woman ... but it was not
It was Mad. de Lorgeville. She knew me and I recognised her, having
known her before her marriage. She still possessed the beauty of her
girlhood, and marriage had perfected her loveliness by adorning her with
that fascinating grace that is wanting even in Raphael's madonnas.
A peal of merry laughter rooted me to the spot and changed the current
of my ideas. The lady was seized with such a fit of gayety that she
could scarcely speak, but managed to gasp out my name and title in
broken syllables. Like a great many men, I can stand much from women
that I am not in love with.... I stood with arms crossed and hat off,
waiting for an explanation of this foolish reception. After several
attempts, Mad. de Lorgeville succeeded in making her little speech.
After this storm of laughter there was still a ripple through which I
could distinguish the following words, although I did not understand
"Excuse me, monsieur, ... but if you knew ... when you see ... but she
must not see my foolish merriment, ... she cherishes the fancy that she
is still young, ... like all women who are no longer so, ... give me
your arm, ... we were at table ... we always keep a seat for a chance
visitor ... One does not often meet with an adventure like this except
I made an effort to assume that calmness and boldness that saved my life
the day I was made prisoner on the inhospitable coast of Borneo, and the
old Arab king accused me of having attempted the traffic of gold dust--a
capital crime--and said to the fair young chatelaine:
"Madame, there is not much to amuse one in the country; gayety is a
precious thing; it cannot be bought; happy is he who gives it. I
congratulate myself upon being able to present it to you. Can you not
give me back half of it, madame?"
"Yes, monsieur, come and take it yourself," said Madame de Lorgeville;
"but you must use it with discretion before witnesses."
"I can assure you, madame, that I have not come to your chateau in
search of gayety. Allow me to escort you to the door and then retire."
"You are my prisoner, monsieur, and I shall not grant your request. The
arrival of the Prince de Monbert is a piece of good fortune. My husband
and I will not be ungrateful to the good genius that brought you here.
We shall keep you."
"One moment, madame," said I, stopping in front of the chateau; "I
accept the happiness of being retained by you; but will you be good
enough to name the persons I am to meet here?"
"They are all friends of M. de Monbert."
"Friends are the very people I dread, madame."
"But they are all women."
"Women I dread most of all."
"Ah! monsieur, it is quite evident that you have been among savages for
"Savages are the only beings I am not afraid of!"
"Alas! monsieur, I have nothing in that line to offer you. This evening
I can show you some neighbors who resemble the tribes of the Tortoise of
the Great Serpent--these are the only natives I can dispose of. At
present you will only see my husband, two ladies who are almost widows,
and a young lady" ... here Mad. de Lorgeville was seized with a new fit
of laughter ... finally she continued: "A young lady whose name you will
"I know it already, madame."
"Perhaps you do ... to-morrow our company will be increased by two
persons, my brother." ...
"The handsome Leon!"
"Ah you know him!... My brother Leon and his wife." ...
I started so violently that I dropped Mad. de Lorgeville's arm--she
looked frightened, and I said in a painfully constrained voice:
"And his wife.... Mad. de Varezes?... Ah! I did not know that M. de
Varezes was married."
"My brother was married a month ago," said Mad. Lorgeville. "He married
Mlle. de Bligny."
"Are you certain of that, madame?"
This question was asked in a voice and accompanied by an expression of
countenance that would have made a painter or musician desperate, even
were they Rossini or Delacroix.
Mad. de Lorgeville, alarmed a second time by my excited manner, looked
at me with commiseration, as if she thought me crazy! Certainly neither
my face nor manner indicated sanity.
"You ask if I am sure my brother is married!" said Mad. de Lorgeville
with petrified astonishment. "You are surely jesting?"
"Yes, madame, yes," said I, with an exuberance of gayety, "it is a
joke.... I understand it all ... I comprehend everything ... that is to
say--I understand nothing ... but your brother, the excellent Leon de
Varezes, is married--that is all I wanted to know.... What a very
handsome young man he is!... I suppose, madame, that you opened my note
without reading the address ... or did Mlle. de Chateaudun send you here
to meet me?"
"Mlle. de Chateaudun is not here ... excuse this silly laughter ... the
gardener gave your note to one of my guests ... a young lady of
sixty-five summers.... Who by the strangest coincidence is named Mlle.
de Chantverdun.... Now you can account for my amusement ... Mlle. de
Chantverdun is a canoness. She read your letter, and wished for once in
her life to enjoy uttering a shriek of alarm and faint at the sight of a
love letter; so come monsieur," said Mad. de Lorgeville, smilingly
leading me towards the house, "come and make your excuses to Mlle. de
Chantverdun, who has recovered her senses and sent me to her
Involuntarily, my dear Edgar, I indulged in this short monologue after
the manner of the old romancers: O tender love! passion full of
intoxication and torment! love that kills and resuscitates! What a
terrible vacuum thou must leave in life, when age exiles thee from our
heart! Which means that I was resuscitated by Mad. de Lorgeville's last
In a few minutes I was bowing with a moderate degree of respect before
Mlle. de Chantverdun, and making her such adroit excuses that she was
enchanted with me. Happiness had restored my presence of mind--my
deferential manner and apologies delighted the poor old-young lady. I
made her believe that this mistake was entirely owing to a similarity of
names, and that the age of Mile. de Chantverdun was an additional point
This distinction was difficult to manage in its exquisite delicacy; my
skilfulness won the approbation of Mad. de Lorgeville.
We passed a charming afternoon. I had recovered my gayety that trouble
had almost destroyed, and enjoyed myself so much that sunset found me
still at the chateau. Dear Edgar, this time I am not mistaken in my
conjectures. Mile, de Chateaudun is imposing a trying ordeal upon me--I
am more convinced of it than ever; it is the expiation before entering
Paradise. Hasten your love affairs and prepare for marriage--we will
have a double wedding, and we can introduce our wives on the same day.
This would be the crowning of my dearest hopes--a fitting seal to our
ROGER DE MONBERT.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel de la Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
RICHEPORT, July 6th 18--.
It is he! Valentine, it is he! I at once recognised him, and he
recognised me! And our future lives were given to each other in one of
those looks that decide a life. What a day! how agitated I still am! My
hand trembles, my heart beats so violently that I can scarcely write....
It is one o'clock; I did not close my eyes last night and I cannot sleep
to-night. I am so excited, my mind so foolishly disturbed, that sleep is
a state I no longer comprehend; I feel as if I could never sleep again.
Many hours will have to pass before I can extinguish this fire that
burns my eyes, stop this whirl of thoughts rushing through my brain; to
sleep, I must forget, and never, never can I forget his name, his voice,
his face! My dear Valentine, how I wished for you to-day! How proud I
would have been to prove to you the realization of all my dreams and
Ah! I knew I was right; such implicit faith could not be an error; I was
convinced that there existed on earth a being created for me, who would
some day possess and govern my heart! A being who had always possessed
my love, who sought me, and called upon me to respond to his love; and
that we would end by meeting and loving in spite of all obstacles. Yes,
often I felt myself called by some superior power. My soul would leave
me and travel far away in response to some mysterious command. Where did
it go? Then I was ignorant, now I know--it went to Italy, in answer to
the gentle voice, to the behest of Raymond! I was laughed at for what
was called my romantic idea, and I tried to ridicule it myself. I fought
against this fantasy. Alas! I fought so valiantly against it that it was
almost destroyed. Oh! I shudder when I think of it.... A few moments
more ... and I would have been irrevocably engaged; I would no longer
have been worthy of this love for which I had kept myself
irreproachable, in spite of all the temptations of misery, all the
dangers of isolation, and the long-hoped-for day of blissful meeting,
would have been the day of eternal farewell! This averted misfortune
frightened me as if it were still menacing. Poor Roger! I heartily
pardon him now; more than that, I thank him for having so quickly
Edgar!... Edgar!... I hate him when I remember that I tried to love him;
but no, no, there never was anything like love between us! Heavens! what
a difference!... And yet the one of whom I speak with such enthusiasm
... I saw yesterday for the first time ... I know him not ... I know him
not ... and yet I love him!... Valentine, what will you think of me?
This most important day of my life opened in the ordinary way; nothing
foreshadowed the great event that was to decide my fate, that was to
throw so much light upon the dark doubts of my poor heart. This
brilliant sun suddenly burst upon me unheralded by any precursory ray.
Some new guests were expected; a relative of Madame de Meilhan, and a
friend of Edgar, whom they call Don Quixote. This struck me as being a
peculiar nickname, but I did not ask its origin. Like all persons of
imagination, I have no curiosity; I at once find a reason for
everything; I prefer imagining to asking the wherefore of things; I
prefer suppositions to information. Therefore I did not inquire why this
friend was honored with the name of Don Quixote. I explained it to
myself in this wise: A tall, thin young man, resembling the Chevalier de
la Mancha, and who perhaps had dressed himself like Don Quixote at the
carnival, and the name of his disguise had clung to him ever since; I
fancied a silly, awkward youth, with an ugly yellow face, a sort of
solemn jumping-jack, and I confess to no desire to make his
acquaintance. He disturbed me in one respect, but I was quickly
reassured. I am always afraid of being recognised by visitors at the
chateau, and have to exercise a great deal of ingenuity to find out if
we have ever met. Before appearing before them, I inquire if they are
fashionable people, spent last winter in Paris, &c.? I am told Don
Quixote is almost a savage; he travels all the time so as to sustain his
character as knight-errant, and that he spent last winter in Rome....
This quieted my fears ... I did not appear in society until last winter,
so Don Quixote never saw me; knowing we could meet without the
possibility of recognition, I dismissed him from my mind.
Yesterday, at three o'clock, Madame de Meilhan and her son went to the
depot to meet their guests. I was standing at the front door when they
drove off, and Madame de Meilhan called out to me: "My dear Madame
Guerin, I recommend my bouquets to you; pray spare me the eternal
_soucis_ with which the cruel Etienne insists upon filling my rooms; now
I rely upon you for relief."
I smiled at this pun as if I had never heard it before, and promised to
superintend the arrangement of the flowers. I went into the garden and
found Etienne gathering _soucis_, more _soucis_, nothing but _soucis_. I
glanced at his flower-beds, and at once understood the cause of his
predilection for this dreadful flower; it was the only kind that deigned
to bloom in his melancholy garden: This is the secret of many
I thought with horror that Madame de Meilhan would continue to be a prey
to _soucis_ if I did not come to her rescue, so I said: "Etienne, what a
pity to cull them all! they are so effective in a garden; let us go look
for some other flowers--it is a shame to ruin your beautiful beds!" The
flattered Stephen eagerly followed me to a corner of the garden where I
had admired some superb catalpas. He gathered branches of them, with
which I filled the Japanese vases on the mantel, and ornamented the
corners of the parlor, thus converting it into a flowery grove. I also
arranged some Bengal roses and dahlias that had escaped Etienne's
culture, and with the addition of some asters and a very few _soucis_ I
must confess, I was charmed with the result of my labors. But I wanted
some delicate flowers for the pretty vase on the centre table, and
remembering that an old florist, a friend of Madame Taverneau and one
of my professed admirers, lived about a mile from the chateau, I
determined to walk over and describe to him the dreadful condition of
Madame de Meilhan, and appeal to him for assistance. Fortunately I found
him in his green-house, and delighted him by repeating the pun about
filling the house with _soucis_. Provincials have a singular taste for
puns; I never make them, and only repeat them because I love to please.
The old man was fascinated, and rewarded my flattery by making me up a
magnificent bouquet of rare, unknown, nameless, exquisite flowers that
could be found nowhere else; my bouquet was worth a fortune, and what
fortune ever exhaled such perfume? I started off triumphant. I tell you
all this to show how calm and little inclined I was to romance on that
I walked rapidly, for we can hardly help running when in an open field
and pursued by the arrows of the sun; we run till we are breathless, to
find shelter beneath some friendly tree.
I had crossed a large field that separates the property of the florist
from Madame de Meilhan's, and entered the park by a little gate; a few
steps off a fountain rippled among the rocks--a basin surrounded by
shells received its waters. This basin had originally been pretentiously
ornamented, but time and vegetation had greatly improved these efforts
of bad taste. The roots of a grand weeping willow had pitilessly
unmasked the imposture of these artificial rocks, that is, they have
destroyed their skilful masonry; these rocks, built at great expense on
the shore, have gradually fallen into the very middle of the water,
where they have become naturalized; some serve as vases to clusters of
beautiful iris, others serve as resting-places for the tame deer that
run about the park and drink at the stream; aquatic plants, reeds and
entwined convolvulus have invaded the rest; all the pretentious work of
the artist is now concealed; which proves the vanity of the proud
efforts of man. God permits his creatures to cultivate ugliness in their
cities only; in his own beautiful fields he quickly destroys their
miserable attempts. Vainly, under pretext of a fountain, do they heap up
in the woods and valleys masonry upon masonry, rocks upon rocks; vainly
do they lavish money upon their gingerbread work about the limpid
brooks; the water-nymph smilingly watches their labor, and then in her
capricious play amuses herself by changing their hideous productions
into charming structures; their den of a farmer-general into a poet's
nest; and to effect this miracle only three things are necessary--three
things that cost nothing, and which we daily trample under
foot--flowers, grass and pebbles.... Valentine, I know I have been
talking too long about this little lake, but I have an excuse: I love it
much! You shall soon know why....
I heard the purling of the water, and could not resist the seductive
freshness of its voice; I leaned over the rocks of the fountain, took
off my glove and caught in the hollow of my hand the sparkling water
that fell from the cascade, and eagerly drank it. As I was intoxicating
myself with this innocent beverage, I heard a footstep on the path; I
continued to drink without disturbing myself, until the following words
made me raise my head:
"Excuse me, _mademoiselle_, but can you direct me where to find Mad. de
He called me _Mademoiselle_, so I must be recognised; the idea made me
turn pale; I looked with alarm at the young man who uttered these words,
I had never seen him before, but he might have seen me and would betray
me. I was so disconcerted that I dropped half of my flowers in the
water; the current was rapidly whirling them off among the crevices of
the rocks, when he jumped lightly from stone to stone, and rescuing the
fugitive flowers, laid them all carefully by the others on the side of
the fountain, bowed respectfully and retraced his steps down the walk
without renewing his unanswered question. I was, without knowing why,
completely reassured; there was in his look such high-toned loyalty, in
his manner such perfect distinction, and a sort of precaution so
delicately mysterious, that I felt confidence in him. I thought, even if
he does know my name it will make no difference--for he would never
mention having met me--my secret is safe with a man of his character!
You need not laugh at me for prematurely deciding upon his
character,... for my surmises proved correct!
The dinner hour was drawing near, and I hurried back to the chateau to
dress. I was compelled, in spite of myself, to look attractive, on
account of having to put on a lovely dress that the treacherous
Blanchard had spread out on the bed with the determination that I should
wear it; protesting that it was a blessed thing she had brought this
one, as there was not another one fit for me to appear in before Mad. de
Meilhan's guests. It was an India muslin trimmed with twelve little
flounces edged with exquisite Valenciennes lace; the waist was made of
alternate tucks and insertion, and trimmed with lace to match the skirt.
This dress was unsuitable to the humble Madame Guerin--it would be
imprudent to appear in it. How indignant and angry I was with poor
Blanchard! I scolded her all the time she was assisting me to put it on!
Oh! since then how sincerely have I forgiven her! She had brought me a
fashionable sash to wear with the dress, but I resisted the temptation,
and casting aside the elegant ribbon, I put on an old lilac belt and
descended to the parlor where the company were assembled.
The first person I saw, on entering the room, was the young man I had
met by the fountain. His presence disconcerted me. Mad. de Meilhan
relieved my embarrassment by saying: "Ah! here you are! we were just
speaking of you. I wish to introduce to you my dear Don Quixote," I
turned my head towards the other end of the room where Edgar was talking
to several persons, thinking that Don Quixote was one of the number; but
Mad. de Meilhan introduced the young man of the fountain, calling him M.
de Villiers: he was Don Quixote.
He addressed some polite speech to me, but this time he called me
madame, and in uttering this word there was a tone of sadness that
deeply touched me, and the earnest look with which he regarded me I can
never forget--it seemed to say, I know your history, I know you are
unhappy, I know this unhappiness is unjustly inflicted upon you, and you
arouse my tenderest sympathy. I assure you, my dear Valentine, that his
look expressed all this, and much more that I refrain from telling you,
because I know you will laugh at me.
Madame de Meilhan having joined us, he went over to Edgar.
"What do you think of her?" asked Edgar, who did not know that I was
"She is a companion, engaged by my mother to stay here until I marry."
The hidden meaning of this jesting speech seemed to disgust M. de
Villiers; he cast upon his friend a severe and scornful look that
clearly said: You conceited puppy! I think, but am not certain, this
look also signified: Would-be Lovelace! Provincial Don Juan, &c.
At dinner I was placed opposite him, and all during the meal I was
wondering why this handsome, elegant, distinguished-looking young man
should be nicknamed Don Quixote. Thoughtful observation solved the
enigma. Don Quixote was ridiculed for two things: being very ugly and
being too generous. And I confess I felt myself immediately fascinated
by his captivating characteristics.
After dinner we were on the terrace, when he approached me and said with
"I am distressed, madame, to think that without knowing you, I must have
made a disagreeable impression."
"I confess that you startled me."
"How pale you turned!... perhaps you were expecting some one!" ... He
asked this question with a troubled look and such charming anxiety that
I answered quickly--too quickly, perhaps:
"No, monsieur, I did not expect any one."
"You saw me coming up the walk?"
"Yes, I saw you coming."
"But was there any reason why I should have caused you this sudden
fright!... some resemblance, perhaps?--no?--It is strange ... I am
"And I am also very much puzzled, monsieur."
"About me!... What happiness!"
"I wish to know why you are called Don Quixote?"
"Ah! you embarrass me by asking for my great secret, Madame, but I will
confide it to you, since you are kind enough to be interested in me. I
am called Don Quixote because I am a kind of a fool, an original, an
enthusiastic admirer of all noble and holy things, a dreamer of noble
deeds, a defender of the oppressed, a slayer of egotists; because I
believe in all religions, even the religion of love. I think that a man
ought to respect himself out of respect to the woman who loves him; that
he should constantly think of her with devotion, avoid doing anything
that could displease her, and be always, even in her absence, courteous,
pleasing, amiable, I would even say _loveable_, if the word were
admissible; a man who is beloved is, according to my ridiculous ideas, a
sort of dignitary; he should thenceforth behave as if he were an idol,
and deify himself as much as possible. I also have my patriotic
religion; I love my country like an old member of the National Guard....
My friends say I am a real Vaudeville Frenchman. I reply that it is
better to be a real Vaudeville Frenchman than an imitation of English
jockeys, as they are; they call me knight-errant because I reprove them
for speaking coarsely of women. I advise them to keep silent and conceal
their misdeeds. I tell them that their boasted preferences only prove
their blindness and bad taste; that I am more fortunate than they; all
the women of my acquaintance are good and perfect, and my greatest
desire in life is to be worthy of their friendship. I am called Don
Quixote because I love glory and all those who have the ambition to seek
it; because in my eyes there is nothing true but the hopeful future, as
we are deceived at every step we take in the present. Because I
understand inexplicable disinterestedness, generous folly; because I can
understand how one can live for an idea and die for a word; I can
sympathize with all who struggle and suffer for a cherished belief;
because I have the courage to turn my back upon those whom I despise and
am eccentric enough to always speak the truth; I assert that nobody is
worth the hypocrisy of a falsehood; because I am an incorrigible,
systematic, insatiable dupe; I prefer going astray, making a mistake by
doing a good deed, rather than being always distrustful and suspicious;
while I see evil I believe in good; doubtless the evil predominates and
daily increases, but then it is cultivated, and if the same cultivation
were bestowed upon the good perfection would be attained. Finally,
madame, and this is my supreme folly, I believe in happiness and seek it
with credulous hope; I believe that the purest joys are those which are
most dearly bought; but I am ready for any sacrifice, and would
willingly give my life for an hour of this sublime joy that I have so
long dreamed of and still hope to possess.... Now you know why I am
called Don Quixote. To be a knight-errant in the present day is rather
difficult; a certain amount of courage is necessary to dare to say to
unbelievers: I believe; to egotists, I love; to materialists, I dream;
it requires more than courage, it requires audacity and insolence. Yes,
one must commence by appearing aggressive in order to have the right to
appear generous. If I were merely loyal and charitable, my opinions
would not be supported; instead of being called _Don Quixote_, I would
be called _Grandison_ ... and I would be a ruined man! Thus I hasten to
polish my armor and attack the insolent with insolence, the scoffers
with scoffing; I defend my enthusiasm with irony; like the eagle, I let
my claws grow in order to defend my wings." ... Here he stopped....
"Heavens!" he exclaimed, "how could I compare myself to an eagle; I beg
your pardon, madame, for this presumptuous comparison.... You see to
what flights your indulgence leads me" ... and he laughed at his own
enthusiasm, ... but I did not laugh, my feelings were too deeply
Valentine, what I repeat to you is very different from his way of saying
it. What eloquence in his noble words, his tones of voice, his sparkling
eyes! His generous sentiments, so long restrained, were poured forth
with fire; he was happy at finding himself at last understood, at being
able for once in his life to see appreciated the divine treasures of
his heart, to be able to impart all his pet ideas without seeing them
jeered at and their name insulted! Sympathy inspired him with confidence
in me. With delight I recognised myself in his own description. I saw
with pride, in his profound convictions, his strong and holy truths, the
poetical beliefs of my youth, that have always been treated by every one
else as fictions, and foolish illusions; he carried me back to the happy
days of my early life, by repeating to me, like an echo of the past,
those noble words that are no longer heard in the present--those noble
precepts--those beautiful refrains of chivalry in which my infancy was
cradled.... As I listened I said to myself: how my mother would have