Part 4 out of 6
loved him! and this thought made my eyes fill with tears. Ah! never,
never did such an idea cross my mind when I was with Edgar, or near
Roger.... Now you must acknowledge, my dear Valentine, that I am right
when I say that: It is he! It is he!
We had been absorbed an hour in these confidential reveries, forgetting
the persons around us, the place we were in, who we were ourselves, and
the whole world!
The universe had disappeared, leaving us only the delicate perfume of
the orange blossoms around us, and the soft light of the stars peeping
forth from the sky above us.
We returned to the parlor and I was seated near the centre-table, when
Edgar came up to me and said:
"What is the matter with you this evening? You seem depressed; are you
"I have a slight cold."
"What a tiresome general--he continued--he monopolizes all my evening,
... a tiresome hero is _so_ hard to entertain!"
I forgot to tell you we had a general to dinner.
"Raymond, come here ... it is your turn to keep the warrior awake." ...
M. de Villiers approached the table and began to examine the bouquet I
had brought. "Ah! I recognise these flowers!" he looked at me and I
blushed. "I do too," said Edgar, without taking in the true sense of the
words, and he pointed to the prettiest flowers in the bouquet, and
said: "these are the flowers of the _pelargonium diadematum coccineum_."
I exclaimed at the dreadful name. M. de Villiers repeated: "_Pelargonium
diadematum coccineum_!" in an undertone, with a most fascinating smile,
and said: "Oh! I did not mean that!" ... I could not help looking at him
and smiling in complicity; now why should Edgar be so learned?
I suppose you think it very childish to write you these particulars, but
the most trifling details of this day are precious to me, and I must
confide them to some one. Towards midnight we separated, and I rejoiced
at being alone with my happiness. The emotion I felt was so lively that
I hastened to carry it far away from everybody, even from him, its
author. I wished for solitude that I might ask myself what had caused
this agitation--nothing of importance had occurred this day, no word of
engagement for the future had been made, and yet my whole life wore a
different aspect ... my usually calm heart was throbbing violently--my
mind always so uneasy was settled; who had thus changed my fate?... A
stranger ... and what had he done to merit this sudden preference? He
had picked up some flowers ... But this stranger wore on his brow the
aureola of the dreamed-of ideal, his musical voice had the imperative
accent of a master, and from the first moment he looked at me, there
existed between us that mysterious affinity of fraternal instincts, that
spontaneous alliance of two hearts suddenly mated, unfailing gratitude,
irresistible sympathy, mutual echo, reciprocal exchange, quick
appreciation, ardent and sublime harmony, that creates in one
moment--the poets are right--that creates in one moment eternal love!
To restore my tranquillity, I sat down to write to you, but had not the
courage to put my thoughts on paper, and I remained there all night,
trembling and meditative, oppressed by this powerful emotion; I did not
think, I did not pray, I did not live; I loved, and absorbed in loving,
taking no note of time, I sat there till daybreak; at five o'clock I
heard a noise of rakes and scythes in the garden, and wishing to cool
my hot eyes with a breath of fresh air, I descended to the terrace.
Everybody was asleep in the chateau and all the blinds closed, but I
opened the glass door leading into the garden, and after walking up and
down the gravel-path, crossed the bridge over the brook, and went by way
of the little thicket where I had rested yesterday; I was led by some
magnetic attraction to the covered spring; I did not go up the
poplar-walk, but took a little by-path seldom used by any one, and
almost covered with grass; I reached the spring, and suddenly ... before
me ... I saw him ... Valentine!... he was there alone, ... sitting on
the bench by the fountain, with his beautiful eyes fastened on the spot
where he had seen me the day before! And oh, the sad wistfulness of his
look went straight to my heart! I stood still, happy, yet frightened; I
wished to flee; I felt that my presence was a confession, a proof of his
empire; I was right when I said he called me and I obeyed the call!...
He looked up and saw me, ... and oh, how pale he turned,... he seemed
more alarmed than I had been the day previous! His agitation restored my
calmness; it convinced me that during these hours of separation our
thoughts had been the same, and that our love was mutual. He arose and
approached me, saying:--
"This is your favorite place, madame, and I will not intrude any longer,
but before I go you can reward this great sacrifice by a single word:
confess frankly that you are not astonished at finding me here?" I was
silent, but my blushes answered for me. As he stood there looking at me
I heard a noise near us; it was only a deer coming to drink at the
spring; but I trembled so violently that M. de Villiers saw by my alarm
that it would distress me to be found alone with him; he was moving
away, when I made a sign for him to remain, which meant: Stay, and
continue to think of me.... I then quickly returned to the chateau. I
have seen him since; we passed the day together, with Madame de Meilhan
and her son, playing on the piano, or entertaining the country
neighbors, but under it all enjoying the same fascinating
preoccupation, an under-current of bliss, a secret intoxication. Edgar
is uneasy and Madame de Meilhan is contented; the serious love of her
son alarmed her; she sees with pleasure an increasing rivalry that may
destroy it. I know not what is about to happen, but I dread anything
unpleasant occurring to interrupt my sweet contentment; any
explanations, humiliations, adieux, departures--a thousand
annoyances,... but it matters not, I am happy, I am in love, and I know
there is nothing so satisfying, so sweet as being in love!
This time I say nothing of yourself, my dear Valentine, of yourself, nor
of our old friendship, but is not each word of this letter a proof of
tender devotion? I confide to you every thought and emotion of my
heart--so foolish that one would dare not confess them to a mother. Is
not this the same as saying to you: You are the beloved sister of my
Give my dear little goddaughter Irene a kiss for me. Oh, I am so glad
she is growing prettier every day!
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ MONSIEUR EDGAR DE MEILHAN
Richeport, Pont de l'Arche (Eure).
Paris, July 8th 18--.
Dear Edgar,--Stupidity was invented by our sex. When a woman deceives or
deserts us,--synonymous transgressions,--we are foolish enough to
prolong to infinity our despair, instead of singing with Metastasio--
"Grazie all' inganni tuoi
Al fin respir' o Nice!"
Alas! such is man! Women have more pride. If I had deserted Mlle. de
Chateaudun she certainly would not have searched the highways and byways
to discover me. I fear there is a great deal of vanity at the bottom of
our manly passions. Vanity is the eldest son of love. I shall develop
this theory upon some future occasion. One must be calm when one
philosophizes. At present I am obliged to continue in my folly, begging
reason to await my return.
In the intense darkness of despair, one naturally rushes towards the
horizon where shines some bright object, be it lighthouse, star,
phosphorus or jack-o'-lantern. Will it prove a safe haven or a dangerous
rock? Fate,--Chance,--to thee we trust!
My faithful agents are ever watchful. I have just received their
despatches, and they inspire me with the hope that at last the thick
mist is about to be dispersed. I will spare you all the minute details
written by faithful servants, who have more sagacity than epistolary
style, and give you a synopsis:--Mlle. de Chateaudun left for Rouen a
month ago. She engaged two seats in the car. She was seen at the
depot--her maid was with her. There is no longer any doubt--Irene is at
Rouen; I have proofs of it in my hand.
An old family servant, devoted to me, is living at Rouen. I will make
his house the centre of my observations, and will not compromise the
result by any negligence or recklessness on part.
The inexorable logic of victorious combinations will be revealed to me
on the first night of my solitude. I am about to start; address me no
longer at Paris. Railways were invented for the benefit of love affairs.
A lover laid the first rail, and a speculator laid the last. Happily
Rouen is a faubourg of Paris! This advantage of rapid locomotion will
permit me to pass two hours at Richeport with you, and have the delight
of pressing Raymond's hand. Two hours of my life gained by losing them
with my oldest and best friend. I will be overjoyed to once more see the
noble Raymond, the last of knight-errants, doubtless occupied in
painting in stone-color some old manor where Queen Blanche has left
traditions of the course of true love.
How dreadful it is, dear Edgar, to endeavor to unravel a mystery when a
woman is at the bottom of it! Yes, Irene is at Rouen, I am convinced of
that fact. Rouen is a large city, full of large houses, small houses,
hotels and churches; but love is a grand inquisitor, capable of
searching the city in twenty-four hours, and making the receiver of
stolen property surrender Mlle. de Chateaudun. Then what will happen?
Have I the right to institute a scheme of this strange nature about a
young woman? Is she alone at Rouen? And if misfortune does not mislead
me by these certain traces, is there anything in reserve for me worse
than losing her?
Oh! if such be the case, then is the time to pray God for strength to
repeat the other two verses of the poet:--
"Col mio rival istesso,
Posso di te parlar!"
Farewell, for a short time, dear Edgar. I fly to fathom this mystery.
ROGER DE MONBERT.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel of the Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
RICHEPORT, July 6th, 18--.
MADAME: Need I tell you that I left your house profoundly touched by
your goodness, and bearing away in my heart one of the most precious
memories that shall survive my youth? What can I tell you that you have
not already learnt from my distress and emotion at the hour of parting?
Tears came to my eyes as I pressed M. de Braimes's hand, that loyal hand
which had so often pressed my father's, and when I turned back to get
one last look at you, surrounded by your beautiful children, who waved
me a final adieu, I felt as if I had left behind me the better part of
myself; for a moment I reproached you for having cured me so quickly. My
friends have nicknamed me Don Quixote, I do not exactly know why; but
this I do know, that with the prospect of a reward like unto that which
you have offered me, any one would accept the office of redresser of
wrongs and slayer of giants, even at the risk of having to jump into the
fire occasionally to save a Lady Penock.
More generous than the angels, you have awarded me, on earth, the palm
which is reserved for martyrs in heaven. You appeared before me like one
of those benevolent fairies which exorcise evil genii. 'Tis true that
you do not wear the magic ring, but your wit alleviates suffering and
proclaims a truce to pain. Till now I have laughed at the stoics who
declare that suffering is not an evil; seated at my pillow, one smile
from you converted me to their belief. Hitherto I have believed that
patience and resignation were virtues beyond my strength and courage;
without an effort, you have taught me that patience is sweet and
resignation easy to attain. I have been persuaded that health is the
greatest boon given to man: you have proved its fallacy. And M. de
Braimes has shown himself your faithful accomplice, not to speak of your
dear little ones, who, for a month past, have converted my room into a
flower-garden and a bird-cage, where they were the sweetest flowers and
the gayest birds. Finally, as if my life, restored by your tender care,
was not enough, you have added to it the priceless jewel of your
friendship. A thousand thanks and blessings! With you happiness entered
into my destiny. You were the dawn announcing a glorious sunrise, the
prelude to the melodies which, since yesterday, swell in my bosom. If I
take pleasure in recognising your gentle influence in the secret delight
that pervades my being, do not deprive me of the illusion. I believe,
with my mother, in mysterious influences. I believe that, as there are
miserable beings who, unwittingly, drag misfortune after them and sow it
over their pathway, there are others, on the other hand, who, marked by
the finger of God, bear happiness to all whom they meet. Happy the
wanderer who, like me, sees one of those privileged beings cross his
path! Their presence, alone, brings down blessings from heaven and the
earth blossoms under their footsteps.
And really, madame, you do possess the faculty of dissipating fatal
enchantments. Like the morning star, which disperses the mighty
gatherings of goblins and gnomes, you have shone upon my horizon and
Lady Penock has vanished like a shadow. Thanks to you, I crossed France
with impunity from the borders of Isere to the borders of the Creuse,
and then to the banks of the Seine, without encountering the implacable
islander who pursued me from the fields of Latium to the foot of the
Grande Chartreuse. I must not forget to state that at Voreppe, where I
stopped to change horses, the keeper of the ruined inn, recognising my
carriage, politely presented me with a bill for damages; so much for a
broken glass, so much for a door beaten in, so much for a shattered
ladder. I commend to M. de Braimes this brilliant stroke of one of his
constituents; it is an incident forgotten by Cervantes in the history of
In spite of my character of knight-errant, I reached my dear mountains
without any other adventure. I had not visited them for three years, and
the sight of their rugged tops rejoiced my heart. You would like the
country; it is poor, but poetic. You would enjoy its green solitudes,
its uncultivated fields, its silent valleys and little lakes enshrined
like sheets of crystal in borders of sage and heather. Its chief charm
to me is its obscurity; no curiosity-hunter or ordinary tourist has ever
frightened away the dryads from its chestnut groves or the naiads from
its fresh streams. Even a flitting poet has scarcely ever betrayed its
rural mysteries. My chateau has none of the grandeur that you have,
perhaps, ascribed to it. Picture to yourself a pretty country-house,
lightly set on a hill-top, and pensively overlooking the Creuse flowing
at its feet under an arbor of alder-bushes and flowering ash. Such as it
is, imbedded in woods which shelter it from the northern blasts and
protect it from the heats of the summer solstice; there--if the hope
that inspires me is not an illusion of my bewildered brain; if the light
that dazzles me is not a chance spark from chimerical fires, there,
among the scenes where I first saw the light, I would hide my happiness.
You see, madame, that my hand trembles as I write. One evening you and I
were walking together, under the trees in your garden; your children
played about us like young kids upon the green sward. As we walked we
talked, and insensibly began to speak of that vague need of loving which
torments our youth. You said that love was a grave undertaking, and that
often our whole life depended upon our first choice. I spoke of my
aspirations towards those unknown delights, which haunted me with their
seductive visions as Columbus was haunted by visions of a new world.
Gravely and pensively you listened to me, and when I began to trace the
image of the oft-dreamed-of woman, so vainly sought for in the
ungrateful domain of reality, I remember that you smiled as you said:
"Do not despair, she exists; you will meet her some day." Were you
speaking earnestly then? Is it she? Keep still, do not even breathe, she
might fly away.
After a few days spent in revisiting the scenes of my childhood, and
breathing afresh the sweet perfumes still hovering around infancy's
cradle, I left for Paris, where I scarcely rested The manner in which I
employed the few hours passed in that hot city would doubtless surprise
you, madame. My carriage rolled rapidly through the wealthy portion of
the city, and following my directions was soon lost in the gloomy
solitude of the Marais.
I alighted in the wilderness of a deserted street before a melancholy
and dejected-looking house, and as I raised the heavy latch of the
massive door, my heart beat as if I were about to meet, after a long
absence, an aged mother who wept for my return, or a much-loved sister.
I took a key from its nail in the porter's lodge and began to climb the
stair, which, viewed from below, looked more picturesque than inviting,
particularly when one proposed to ascend to the very top. Fortunately, I
am a mountaineer; I bounded up that wide ladder with as light a step as
if it had been a marble stairway, with richly wrought balustrade. At the
end of the ascent I hurriedly opened a door, and, perfectly at home,
entered a small room. I paused motionless upon the threshold, and
glanced feelingly around. The room contained nothing but a table covered
with books and dust, a stiff oak arm-chair, a hard and
uninviting-looking lounge, and on the mantel-piece, in two earthen
vases, designed by Ziegler, the only ornaments of this poor retreat, a
few dry, withered asters. No one expected me, I expected no one. There I
remained until evening, waiting for nightfall, thinking the sun would
never set and the day never end. Finally, as the night deepened, I
leaned on the sill of the only window, and with an emotion I cannot
describe, watched the stars peep forth one by one. I would have given
them all for a sight of the one star which will never shine again. Shall
I tell you about it, madame, and would you comprehend me? You know
nothing of my life; you do not know that, during two years, I lived in
that garret, poor, unknown, with no other friend than labor, no other
companion than the little light which appeared and disappeared regularly
every evening through the branches of a Canada pine. I did not know
then, neither do I know now, who watched by that pale gleam, but I felt
for it a nameless affection, a mysterious tenderness. On leaving my
retreat, I sent it, through the trees, a long farewell, and the not
seeing it on my return distressed me as the loss of a brother. What has
become of you, little shining beacon, who illumined the gloom of my
studious nights? Did a storm extinguish you? or has God, whom I invoked
for you, granted my prayer, and do you shine with a less troubled ray in
happier climes? It is a long story; and I know a fresher and a more
charming one, which I will speedily tell you.
I took the train the next day (that was yesterday) for Richeport, where
M. de Meilhan had invited me to meet him. You know M. de Meilhan without
ever having seen him. You are familiar with his verses and you like
them. I profess to love the man as much as his talents. Our friendship
is of long standing; I assisted at the first lispings of his muse; I saw
his young glory grow and expand; I predicted from the first the place
that he now holds in the poetic pleiad, the honor of a great nation. To
hear him you would say that he was a pitiless scoffer; to study him you
would soon find, under this surface of rancorless irony, more candor and
simplicity than he is himself aware of, and which few people possess who
boast of their faith and belief. He has the mind of a sceptic and the
believing soul of a neophyte.
In less than three hours I reached Pont de l'Arche. Railroads have been
much abused; it is charitable to presume that those honest people who do
so have no relatives, friends nor sweethearts away from them. M. de
Meilhan and his mother were waiting for me at the depot; the first
delights of meeting over--for you must remember that I have not seen my
poet for three years--I leave you to imagine the peals of laughter that
greeted the mention of Lady Penock's formidable name. Edgar, who knew of
my adventure and was excited by the joy of seeing me again, amused
himself by startling the echoes with loud and repeated "Shockings!" We
drove along in an open carriage, laughing, talking, pressing each
other's hands, asking question upon question, while Madame de Meilhan,
after having shared our gayety, seemed to watch with interest the
exhibition of our mutual delight. This scene had the most beautiful
surroundings in the world; an exquisite country, which in order to be
fully appreciated, visited, described, sung of in prose and verse,
should be fifteen hundred miles from France.
My mind is naturally gay, my heart sad. When I laugh, something within
me suffers and repines; it is by no means rare for me to pass suddenly
and without transition from the wildest gayety to the profoundest
sadness and melancholy. On our arrival at Richeport we found several
visitors at the chateaux, among the number a general, solemnly resigned
to the pleasures of a day in the country. To escape this illustrious
warrior, who was engaged upon the battle of Friedland, Edgar made off
between two cavalry charges and carried me into the park, where we were
soon joined by Madame de Meilhan and her guest, the terrible general at
Interrupted for a moment by the skilful retreat of the young poet, the
battle of Friedland began again with redoubled fury. The paths of the
park are narrow; the warrior marched in front with Edgar, who wiped the
drops from his brow and exhausted himself in vain efforts to release his
arm from an iron grasp; Madame de Meilhan and those who accompanied her
represented the corps d'armee; I formed the rear guard; balls whistled
by, battalions struggled, we heard the cries of the wounded and were
stifled by the smell of powder; wishing to avoid the harrowing sight of
such dreadful carnage, I slackened my pace and was agreeably surprised
to find, at a turn in the path, that I had deserted my colors; I
listened and heard only the song of the bulfinch; I took a long breath
and breathed only the odor of the woods; I looked above the birches and
aspens for a cloud of smoke which would put me upon the track of the
combatants; I saw only the blue sky smiling through the trees; I was
alone; by one of those reactions of which I spoke, I sank insensibly
into a deep revery.
It was intensely hot; I threw myself upon the grass, under the shadow of
a thick hedge, and there lay listening to nature's faint whispers, and
the beating of my own heart. The joy that I had just felt in meeting
Edgar again, made the void in my heart, which friendship can never fill,
all the more painful; my senses, subdued by the heat, chanted in endless
elegies the serious and soothing conversation that we had had one
evening under your lindens. Whether I had a presentiment of some
approaching change in my destiny, or whether I was simply overcome by
the heat, I know not, but I was restless; my restlessness seemed to
anticipate some indefinite happiness, and from afar the wind bore to me
in warm puffs the cheering refrain: "She exists, she exists, you will
I at last remembered that I had only been Madame de Meilhan's guest a
few hours, and that my abrupt disappearance must appear, to say the
least, strange to her. On the other hand, Edgar, whom I had
treacherously abandoned in the greatest danger, would have serious
grounds of complaint against me. I arose, and driving away the winged
dreams that hovered around me, like a swarm of bees round a hive,
prepared to join my corps, with the cowardly hope that when I arrived,
the engagement might be over and the victory won. Unfortunately, or
rather fortunately, I was unacquainted with the windings of the park,
and wandered at random through its verdant labyrinths, the sun pouring
down upon my devoted head until I heard the silvery murmur of a
neighboring stream, babbling over its pebbly bed. Attracted by the
freshness of the spot, I approached and in the midst of a confusion of
iris, mint and bindweed, I saw a blonde head quenching its thirst at the
stream. I could only see a mass of yellow hair wound in heavy golden
coils around this head, and a little hand catching the water like an
opal cup, which it afterwards raised to two lips as fresh as the crystal
stream which they quaffed. Her face and figure being entirely concealed
by the aquatic plants which grew around the spring, I took her for a
child, a girl of twelve or more, the daughter perhaps of one of the
persons whom I had left upon the battle-field of Friedland. I advanced a
few steps nearer, and in my softest voice, for I was afraid of
frightening her, said: "Mademoiselle, can you tell me if Madame de
Meilhan is near here?" At these words I saw a young and beautiful
creature, tall, slender, erect, lift herself like a lily from among the
reeds, and trembling and pale, examine me with the air of a startled
gazelle. I stood mute and motionless, gazing at her. Surely she
possessed the royal beauty of the lily. An imagination enamored of the
melodies of the antique muse would have immediately taken her for the
nymph of that brook. Like two blue-bells in a field of ripe grain, her
large blue eyes were as limpid as the stream which reflected the azure
of the sky. On her brow sat the pride of the huntress Diana. Her
attitude and the expression of her face betrayed a royalty which desired
to conceal its greatness, a strange mixture of timorous boldness and
superb timidity--and over it all, the brilliancy of youth--a nameless
charm of innocence and childishness tempered in a charming manner the
dignity of her noble presence.
I turned away, charmed and agitated, not having spoken a word. After
wandering about sometime longer I finally discovered the little army
corps, marching towards the chateau, the general always ahead. As I had
anticipated, the battle was about over, a few shots fired at the
fugitives were alone heard. Edgar saw me in the distance, and looked
furious. "Ah traitor!" said he, "you have lagged behind! I am riddled
with balls; I have six bullets in my breast," "Monsieur," cried the
general, "at what juncture did you leave the combat?" "You see," said
Edgar to me, "that the torture is about to commence again." "General,"
observed Madame de Meilhan, "I think that the munitions are exhausted
and dinner is ready." "Very well," gravely replied the hero, "we will
take Lubeck at dessert." "Alas! we are taken;" said Edgar, heaving a
sigh that would have lifted off a piece of the Cordilleras.
M. de Meilhan left the group of promenaders and joined me; we walked
side by side. You can imagine, madame, how anxious I was to question
Edgar; you can also comprehend the feeling of delicacy which restrained
me. My poet worships beauty; but it is a pagan worship of color and
form. The result is, a certain boldness of detail not always excusable
by grace of expression, in his description of a beautiful woman; too
lively an enthusiasm for the flesh; too great a satisfaction in drawing
lines and contours not to shock the refined. A woman poses before him
like a statue or rather like a Georgian in a slave-market, and from the
manner in which he analyzes and dissects her, you would say that he
wanted either to sell or buy her. I allude now to his speech only, which
is lively, animated but rather French its picturesque crudity. As a poet
he sculptures like Phidias, and his verse has all the dazzling purity of
I preferred to apply to Madame de Meilhan. On our return to the chateau
I questioned her, and learned that my beautiful unknown was named Madame
Louise Guerin. At that word "Madame" my heart contracted. Wherefore? I
could not tell. Afterwards I learned that she was a widow and poor, that
she lived by the labor of those pretty fingers which I had seen dabbling
in the water. Further than that, Madame de Meilhan knew nothing, her
remarks were confined to indulgent suppositions and benevolent comments.
A woman so young, so beautiful, so poor, working for her livelihood,
must be a noble and pure creature. I felt for her a respectful pity,
which her appearance in the drawing-room in all the magnificence of her
beauty, grace and youth, changed into extravagant admiration. Our eyes
met as if we had a secret between us; she appeared, and I yielded to the
charm of her presence. Edgar observed that she was his mother's
companion, who would remain with her until he married. The wretch! if he
had not written such fine verses, I would have strangled him on the
spot. I sat opposite her at dinner, and could observe her at my ease.
She appeared like a young queen at the board of one of her great
vassals. Grave and smiling, she spoke little, but so to the point, and
in so sweet a voice, that I cherished in my heart every word that fell
from her lips, like pearls from a casket. I also was silent and was
astonished, that when she did not speak, any one should dare to open his
lips before her. Edgar's witty sallies seemed to be in the worst
possible taste, and twenty times I was on the point of saying to him:
"Edgar, do you not see that the queen is listening to you?"
At dessert, as the general was preparing to manoeuvre the artillery of
the siege, every one rose precipitately, to escape the capture and
pillage of Lubeck. Edgar rushed into the park, the guests dispersed; and
while Madame de Meilhan, bearing with heroic resignation the
inconveniences attached to her dignity as mistress of the house, fought
by the general's side like Clorinde by the side of Argant, I found
myself alone, with the young widow, upon the terrace of the chateau. We
talked, and a powerful enchantment compelled me to surrender my soul
into her keeping. I amazed myself by confiding to her what I had never
My most cherished and hidden feelings were drawn irresistibly forth from
the inmost recesses of my bosom. When I spoke, I seemed to translate her
thoughts; when she in turn replied, she paraphrased mine. In less than
an hour I learned to know her. She possessed, at the same time, an
experimental mind, which could descend to the root of things, and a
tender and inexperienced heart which life had never troubled.
Theoretically she was governed by a lofty and precocious reason ripened
by misfortune; practically, she was swayed by the dictates of an
innocent and untried soul. Until now, she has lived only in the activity
of her thoughts; the rest of her being sleeps, seeks or awaits. Who is
she? She is not a widow. Albert Guerin is not her name; she has never
been married. Where Madame de Meilhan hesitates, I doubt, I decide. How
does it happen that the mystery with which she is surrounded has to me
all the prestige and lustre of a glowing virtue? How is it that my heart
rejoices at it when my prudence should take alarm? Another mystery,
which I do not undertake to explain. All that I know is, that she is
poor, and that if I had a crown I should wish to ennoble it by placing
it upon that lovely brow.
Do not tell me that this is madness; that love is not born of a look or
a word, that it must germinate in the heart for a season before it can
bear fruit. Enthusiasts live fast. They reach the same end as reason,
and by like paths; only reason drags its weary length along, while
enthusiasm flies on eagle's wing. Besides, this love has long since
budded; it only sought a heart to twine itself around. Is it love? I
deceive myself perhaps. Whence this feeling that agitates me? this
intoxication that has taken possession of me? this radiance that dazzles
me? I saw her again, and the charm increased. How you would love her!
how my mother would have loved her!
In the midst of these preoccupations I have not forgotten, madame, the
instructions that you gave me. That you are interested in Mademoiselle
de Chateaudun's destiny suffices to interest me likewise. The Prince de
Monbert is expected here; I can therefore send you, in a few days, the
information you desire taken on the spot. It has been ten years since I
have seen the Prince; he has a brilliant mind and a loyal heart, and he
has, in his life, seen more tigers and postilions than any other man in
France. I will scrupulously note any change that ten years' travel may
have brought about in his manner of thinking and seeing; but I believe
that I can safely declare beforehand, that nothing can be found in his
frank nature to justify the flight of the strange and beautiful heiress.
Accept, madame, my respectful homage.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS.
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ M. LE COMTE DE VILLIERS,
Pont de l'Arche (Eure).
Rouen, July 10th 18--.
Very rarely in life do we receive letters that we expect; we always
receive those that we don't expect. The expected ones inform us of what
we already know; the unexpected ones tell us of things entirely new. A
philosopher prefers the latter--of which I now send you one.
I passed some hours at Richeport with you and Edgar, and there I made a
discovery that you must have made before me, and a reflection that you
will make after me. I am sixty years old in my feelings--travel ages one
more than anything else--you are twenty-five, according to your
baptismal register. How fortunate you are to have some one able to give
you advice! How unfortunate I am that my experience has been sad enough
to enable me to be that one to give it! But I have a vague presentiment
that my advice will bring you happiness, if followed. We should never
neglect a presentiment. Every man carries in him a spark of Heaven's
intelligence--it is often the torch that illumines the darkness of our
future. This is called presentiment.
Read attentively, and do not disturb yourself about the end. I must
first explain by what means of observation I made my discovery. Then the
denouement will appear in its proper place, which is not at the
The following is what I saw at the Chateau de Richeport. You did not see
it, because you were an actor. I was merely a spectator, and had that
advantage over you.
You, Edgar, and myself were in the parlor at noon. It is the hour in the
country when one takes shelter behind closed blinds to enjoy a friendly
chat. One is always sad, dreamy, meditative at this hour of a lovely
summer-day, and can speak carelessly of indifferent things, and at the
same time have every thought concentrated upon one beloved object.
These are the mysteries of the _Demon de Midi_, so much dreaded by the
There was in one corner of the room a little rosewood-table, so frail
that it could be crushed by the weight of a man's hand. On this table
was a piece of embroidery and a crystal vase filled with flowers.
Suspended over this table was a copy of Camille Roqueplan's picture:
"_The Lion in Love_." In the recess near the window was a piano open,
and evidently just abandoned by a woman; the little stool was
half-overturned by catching in the dress of some one suddenly rising,
and the music open was a soprano air from _Puritani_:--
"Vien diletto, in ciel e luna,
Tutto tace intorno...."
You will see how by inductions I reached the truth. I don't know the
woman of this piano; I nevertheless will swear she exists. Moreover, I
know she is young, pretty, has a good figure, is graceful and easy in
her manner, and is adored by some one in the chateau. If any ordinary
woman had left her embroidery on the table, if she had upset the stool
in leaving the piano, two idle nervous young men like yourselves would
from curiosity and ennui have examined the embroidery, disarranged the
vase of flowers, picked up the stool, and closed the piano. But no hand
dared to meddle with this holy disorder under pretext of arranging it.
These evidences, still fresh and undisturbed, attest a respect that
belongs only to love.
This woman, to me unknown, is then young and pretty, since she is so
ardently loved, and by more than one person, as I shall proceed to
prove. She has a commanding figure, because her embroidery is fine. I
know not if she be maid or wife, but this I do know, if she is not
married, the vestiges that she left in the parlor indicate a great
independence of position and character. If she is married, she is not
governed by her husband, or indeed she may be a widow.
Allow me to recall your conversation with Edgar at dinner. Hitherto I
have remarked that in all discussions of painting, music, literature
and love, your opinions always coincided with Edgar's; to hear you speak
was to hear Edgar, and _vice versa_. In opinions and sentiments you were
twin-brothers. Now listen how you both expressed yourselves before me on
"I believe," said Edgar, "that love is a modern invention, and woman was
invented by Andre Chenier, and perfected by Victor Hugo, Dumas and
Balzac. We owe this precious conquest to the revolution of '89. Before
that, love did not exist; Cupid with his bow and quiver reigned as a
sovereign. There were no women, there were only _beauties_.
"O, miracle des belles,
Je vous enseignerais un nid de tourterelles."
"These two lines have undergone a thousand variations under the pens of
a thousand poets. Women were only commended for their eyes--very
beautiful things when they _are_ beautiful, but they should not be made
the object of exclusive admiration. A beauty possessing no attraction
but beautiful eyes would soon lose her sway over the hearts of men.
Racine has used the words _eye_ and _eyes_ one hundred and sixty-five
times in _Andromache_. Woman has been deprived of her divine crown of
golden or chestnut hair; she has been dethroned by having it covered
with white powder. We have avenged woman for her long neglect; we have
preserved the _eyes_ and added all the other charms. Thus women love us
poets; and in our days Orpheus would not be torn to pieces by snowy
hands on the shores of the Strymon."
"Ah! that is just like you, Edgar," you said, with a sad laugh and a
would-be calm voice. "At dessert you always give us a dish of paradoxes.
I myself greatly prefer Montmorency cherries."
Some minutes after Edgar said:
"The other day I paid a visit to Delacroix. He has commenced a picture
that promises to be superb; my dear traveller, Roger, it will possess
the sky you love--pure indigo, the celestial carpet of the blue god."
"I abhor blue," you said; "I dread ophthalmia. Surfeit of blue compels
the use of green spectacles. I adore the skies of Hobbema and
Backhuysen; one can look at them with the naked eye for twenty years,
and yet never need an oculist in old age."
After some rambling conversation you uttered an eulogy on a sacred air
of Palestrina that you heard sung at the Conservatory concert. When you
had finished, Edgar rested his elbows on the table, his chin on his
hand, and let fall from his lips the following words, warmed by the
spiritual fire of his eyes.
"I have always abhorred church-music," said he. "Sacred music is
proscribed in my house as opium is in China. I like none but sentimental
music. All that does not resemble in some way the _Amor possente nome_
of Rossini must remained buried in the catacombs of the piano. Music was
only created for women and love. Doubtless simplicity is beautiful, but
it so often only belongs to simple people.
"Art is the only passion of a true artist. The music of Palestrina
resembles the music of Rossini about as much as the twitter of the
swallow resembles the song of the nightingale."
It was evident to me, my young friend, that neither of you expressed
your genuine convictions and true opinions. You were sitting opposite,
and yet neither looked at the other while speaking. You both were
handsome and charming, but handsome and charming like two English cocks
before a fight. What particularly struck me was that neither of you ever
said: "What is the matter with you to-day, my friend? you seem to
delight in contradicting me." Edgar did not ask you this question, nor
did you ask it of him. You thought it useless to inquire into the cause
of these half-angry contradictions; you both knew what you were about.
You and Edgar both love the same woman. It is the woman who suddenly
retreated from the piano. Perhaps she left the house after some
disagreeable scene between you two in her presence.
I watched all your movements when we three were together in the parlor.
The tone of your voices, naturally sonorous, sounded harsh and
discordant; you held in your hand a branch of _hibiscus_ that you idly
pulled to pieces. Edgar opened a magazine and read it upside downwards;
it was quite evident that you were a restraint upon each other, and
that I was a restraint upon you both.
At intervals Edgar would cast a furtive glance at the open piano, at the
embroidery, and the vase of flowers; you unconsciously did the same; but
your two glances never met at the same point; when Edgar looked at the
flowers, you looked at the piano; if either of you had been alone, you
would have never taken your eyes off these trifles that bore the
perfumed impression of a beloved woman's hand, and which seemed to
retain some of her personality and to console you in her absence.
You were the last comer in the house adorned by the presence of this
woman; you are also the most reasonable, therefore your own sense and
what is due to friendship must have already dictated your line of
conduct--let me add my advice in case your conscience is not quite
awake--fly! fly! before it is too late--linger, and your self-love, your
interested vanity, will no longer permit you to give place to a friend
who will have become a rival. Passion has not yet taken deep root in
your heart; at present it is nothing more than a fancy, a transitory
preference, a pleasant employment of your idle moments.
In the country, every young woman is more or less disposed to break the
hearts of young men, like you, who gravitate like satellites. Women
delight in this play--but like many other tragic plays, it commences
with smiles but terminates in tears and blood! Moreover, my young
friend, in withdrawing seasonably, you are not only wise, you are
I know that Edgar has been for a long time deeply in love with this
woman; you are merely indulging in a rural flirtation, a momentary
caprice. In a little while, vain rivalry will make you blind, embitter
your disposition, and deceive you as to the nature of your
sentiments--believing yourself seriously in love you will be unable to
withdraw. To-day your pride is not interested; wait not until to-morrow.
Edgar is your friend, you must respect his prerogatives. A woman gave
you a wise example to follow--she suddenly withdrew from the presence of
you both when she saw a threatening danger.
A pretty woman is always dangerous when she comes to inaugurate the
divinity of her charms in a lonely chateau, in the presence of two
inflammable young men. I detect the cunning of the fair unknown: she
lavishes innocent smiles upon both of you--she equally divides her
coquetries between you; she approaches you to dazzle--she leaves you to
make herself regretted; she entangles you in the illusion of her
brilliant fascination; she moves to seduce your senses; she speaks to
charm your soul; she sings to destroy your reason.
Forget yourself for one instant, my young friend, on this flowery slope,
and woe betide you when you reach the bottom! Be intoxicated by this
feast of sweet words, soft perfumes and radiant smiles, then send me a
report of your soul's condition when you recover your senses! At
present, in spite of your skirmishes of wit, you are still the friend of
Edgar ... hostility will certainly come. Friendship is too feeble a
sentiment to struggle against love. This passion is more violent than
tropical storms--I have felt it--I am one of its victims now! There
lives another woman--half siren, half Circe--who has crossed my path in
life, as you well know. If I had collected in my house as many friends
as Socrates desired to see in his, and all these friends were to become
my rivals, I feel that my jealousy would fire the house, and I would
gladly perish in the flames after seeing them all dead before my eyes.
Oh, fatal preoccupation! I only wished to speak of your affairs, and
here I am talking of my own. The clouds that I heap upon your horizon
roll back towards mine.
In exchange for my advice, render me a service. You know Madame de
Braimes, the friend of Mlle. de Chateaudun. Madame de Braimes is
acquainted with everything that I am ignorant of, and that my happiness
in life depends upon discovering. It is time for the inexplicable to be
explained. A human enigma cannot for ever conceal its answer. Every
trial must end before the despair of him who is tried. Madame de Braimes
is an accomplice in this enigma; her secret now is a burden on her
lips, she must let it fall into your ear, and I will cherish a life-long
gratitude to you both.
Any friend but you would smile at this apparently strange language--I
write you a long chapter of psychological and moral inductions to show
my knowledge about the management of love affairs and affairs
otherwise--I divine all your enigmas; I illuminate the darkness of all
your mysteries, and when it comes to working on my own account, to be
perspicacious for my own benefit, to make discoveries about my own love
affair, I suddenly abdicate, I lose my luminous faculties, I put a band
over my eyes, and humbly beg a friend to lend me the thread of the
labyrinth and guide my steps in the bewildering darkness. All this must
appear singular to you, to me it is quite natural. Through the thousand
dark accidents that love scatters in the path of life, light can only
reach us by means of a friend. We ourselves are helpless; looking at
others we are lynx-eyed, looking at ourselves we are almost blind. It is
the optical nerve of the passions. It is mortifying to thus sacrifice
the highest prerogatives of man at the feet of a woman, to feel
compelled to yield to her caprices and submit to the inexorable
exigencies of love. The artificial life I am leading is odious to me.
Patience is a virtue that died with Job, and I cannot perform the
miracle of resuscitating it.
Take my advice--be prudent--be wise--be generous--leave Richeport and
come to me; we can assist and console each other; you can render me a
great service, I will explain how when we meet--I will remain here for a
few days; do not hesitate to come at once--Between a friend who fears
you and a friend who loves you and claims you--can you hesitate?
ROGER DE MONBERT.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN to Mme. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Pont de L'Arche, July 15th 18--.
Come to my help, my dear Valentine--I am miserable. Each joyless morning
finds me more wretched than I was the previous night. Oh! what a burden
is life to those who are fated to live only for life itself! No sunshine
gilds my horizon with the promises of hope--I expect nothing but sorrow.
Who can I trust now that my own heart has misled me? When error arose
from the duplicity of others I could support the disenchantment--the
deceptive love of Roger was not a bitter surprise, my instinct had
already divined it; I comprehended a want of congeniality between us,
and felt that a rapture would anticipate an alliance: and while thinking
I loved him, I yet said to myself: This is not love.
But now I am my own deceiver--and I awaken to lament the self-confidence
and assurance that were the source of my strength and courage. With
flattering ecstasy I cried: It is he!... Alas! he replied not: It is
she! And now he is gone--he has left me! Dreadful awakening from so
beautiful a dream!
Valentine, burn quickly the letter telling you of my ingenuous hopes, my
confident happiness--yes, burn the foolish letter, so there will remain
no witness of my unrequited love! What! that deep emotion agitating my
whole being, whose language was the tears of joy that dimmed my eyes,
and the counted beatings of my throbbing heart--that master-passion, at
whose behest I trembled while blushes mantled and fled from my cheek,
betraying me to him and him to me; the love whose fire I could not
hide--the beautiful future I foresaw--that world of bliss in which I
began to live--this pure love that gave an impetus to life--this
devotion that I felt was reciprocated.... All, all was but a creation of
my fancy.... and all has vanished ... here I am alone with nothing to
strengthen me but a memory ... the memory of a lost illusion.... Have I
a right to complain? It is the irrevocable law--after fiction,
reality--after a meteor, darkness--after the mirage, a desert!
I loved as a young heart full of faith and tenderness never loved
before--and this love was a mistake; he was a stranger to me--he did not
love me, and I had no excuse for loving him; he is gone, he had a right
to go, and I had no right to detain him--I have not even the right to
mourn his absence. Who is he? A friend of Madame de Meilhan, and a
stranger to me!... He a stranger!... to me!... No, no, he loves me, I
know he does ... but why did he not tell me so! Has some one come
between us? Perhaps a suspicion separates us.... Oh! he may think I am
in love with Edgar! horrible idea! the thought kills me.... I will write
to him; would you not advise it? What shall I tell him? If he were to
know who I am, doubtless his prejudices against me would be removed. Oh!
I will return to Paris--then he will see that I do not love Edgar, since
I leave him never to return where he is. Yet he could not have been
mistaken concerning the feelings existing between his friend and myself;
he must have seen that I was perfectly free: independence cannot be
assumed. If he thought me in love with another, why did he come to bid
me good-bye? why did he come alone to see me? and why did he not allude
to my approaching return to Paris?--why did he not say he would be glad
to meet me again? How pale and sad he was! and yet he uttered not one
word of regret--of distant hope! The servant said: "Monsieur de Villiers
wishes to see madame, shall I send him away as I did Monsieur de
Meilhan?" I was in the garden and advanced to meet him. He said: "I
return to Paris to-morrow, madame, and have come to see if you have any
commands, and to bid you good-bye."
Two long days had passed since I last saw him, and this unexpected visit
startled me so that I was afraid to trust my voice to speak. "They will
miss you very much at Richeport," he added, "and Madame de Meilhan hopes
daily to see you return." I hastily said: "I cannot return to her
house, I am going away from here very soon." He did not ask where, but
gazed at me in a strange, almost suspicious way, and to change the
conversation, said: "We had at Richeport, after you left, a charming
man, who is celebrated for his wit and for being a great traveller--the
Prince de Monbert." ... He spoke as if on an indifferent subject, and
Heaven knows he was right, for Roger at this moment interested me very,
very little. I waited for a word of the future, a ray of hope to
brighten my life, another of those tender glances that thrilled my soul
with joy ... but he avoided all allusion to our past intercourse; he
shunned my looks as carefully as he had formerly sought them.... I was
alarmed.... I no longer understood him.... I looked around to see if we
were not watched, so changed was his manner, so cold and formal was his
speech.... Strange! I was alone with him, but he was not alone with me;
there was a third person between us, invisible to me, but to him
visible, dictating his words and inspiring his conduct.
"Shall you remain long in Paris?" I asked, trembling and dismayed. "I am
not decided at present, madame," he replied. Irritated by this mystery,
I was tempted for a moment to say: "I hope, if you remain in Paris for
any length of time, I shall have the pleasure of seeing you at my
cousin's, the Duchess de Langeac," and then I thought of telling him my
story. I was tired of playing the role of adventuress before him ... but
he seemed so preoccupied, and inattentive to what I said, he so coldly
received my affectionate overtures, that I had not the courage to
confide in him. Would not my confidence be met with indifference? One
thing consoled me--his sadness; and then he had come, not on my account,
but on his own; nothing obliged him to make this visit; it could only
have been inspired by a wish to see me. While he remained near me, in
spite of his strange indifference, I had hope; I believed that in his
farewell there would be one kind word upon which I could live till we
should meet again ... I was mistaken ... he bowed and left me ... left
me without a word ...! Then I felt that all was lost, and bursting into
tears sobbed like a child. Suddenly the servant opened the door and
said: "The gentleman forgot Madame de Meilhan's letters." At that moment
he entered the room and took from the table a packet of letters that the
servant had given him when he first came, but which he had forgotten
when leaving. At the sight of my tears he stood still with an agitated,
alarmed look upon his face; he then gazed at me with a singular
expression of cruel joy sparkling in his eyes. I thought he had come
back to say something to me, but he abruptly left the room. I heard the
door shut, and knew it had shut off my hopes of happiness.
The next day, at the risk of meeting Edgar with him, I remained all day
on the road that runs along the Seine. I hoped he would go that way. I
also hoped he would come once more to see me ... to bring him back I
relied upon my tears--upon those tears shed for him, and which he must
have understood ... he came not! Three days have passed since he left,
and I spend all my time in recalling this last interview, what he said
to me, his tone of voice, his look.... One minute I find an explanation
for everything, my faith revives ... he loves me! he is waiting for
something to happen, he wishes to take some step, he fears some
obstacle, he waits to clear up some doubts ... a generous scruple
restrains him.... The next minute the dreadful truth stares me in the
face. I say to myself: "He is a young man full of imagination, of
romantic ideas ... we met, I pleased him, he would have loved me had I
belonged to his station in life; but everything separates us; he will
forget me." ... Then, revolting against a fate that I can successfully
resist, I exclaim: "I _will_ see him again ... I am young, free, and
beautiful--I must be beautiful, for he told me so--I have an income of a
hundred thousand pounds.... With all these blessings it would be absurd
for me not to be happy. Besides, I love him deeply, and this ardent love
inspires me with great confidence ... it is impossible that so much love
should be born in my heart for no purpose." ... Sometimes this
confidence deserts me, and I despairingly say: "M. de Villiers is a
loyal man, who would have frankly said to me: 'I love you, love me and
let us be happy.'" ... Since he did not say that, there must exist
between us an insurmountable obstacle, a barrier of invincible delicacy;
because he is engaged he cannot devote his life to me, and he must
renounce me for ever. M. de Meilhan comes here every day; I send word I
am too sick to see him; which is the truth, for I would be in Paris now
if I were well enough to travel. I shall not return by the cars, I dread
meeting Roger. I forgot to tell you about his arrival at Richeport; it
is an amusing story; I laughed very much at the time; _then_ I could
laugh, now I never expect to smile again.
Four days ago, I was at Richeport, all the time wishing to leave, and
always detained by Mad. de Meilhan; it was about noon, and we were all
sitting in the parlor--Edgar, M. de Villiers, Mad. de Meilhan and
myself. Ah! how happy I was that day ... How could I foresee any
trouble?... They were listening to an air I was playing from Bellini ...
A servant entered and asked this simple question: "Does madame expect
the Prince de Monbert by the twelve o'clock train?"..... At this name I
quickly fled, without stopping to pick up the piano stool that I
overturned in my hurried retreat. I ran to my room, took my hat and an
umbrella to hide my face should I meet any one, and walked to Pont de
l'Arche. Soon after I heard the Prince had arrived, and dinner was
ordered for five o'clock, so he could leave in the 7.30 train.
Politeness required me to send word to Mad. de Meilhan that I would be
detained at Pont de l'Arche. To avoid the entreaties of Edgar I took
refuge at the house of an old fishwoman, near the gate of the town. She
is devoted to me, and I often take her children toys and clothes. At
half-past six, the time for Roger to be taken to the depot, I was at the
window of this house, which was on the road that led to the
cars--presently I heard several familiar voices.... I heard my name
distinctly pronounced.... "Mlle de Chateaudun." ... I concealed myself
behind the half-closed blinds, and attentively listened: "She is at
Rouen," said the Prince.
... "What a strange woman," said M. de Villiers: "Ah! this conduct is
easily explained," said Edgar, "she is angry with him." "Doubtless she
believes me culpable," replied the Prince, "and I wish at all costs to
see her and justify myself." In speaking thus, they all three passed
under the window where I was. I trembled--I dared not look at them....
When they had gone by, I peeped through the shutter and saw them all
standing still and admiring the beautiful bridge with its flower-covered
pillars, and the superb landscape spread before them. Seeing these three
handsome men standing there, all three so elegant, so distinguished! A
wicked sentiment of female vanity crossed my mind; and I said to myself
with miserable pride and triumph: "All three love me ... All three are
thinking of me!" ... Oh! I have been cruelly punished for this
contemptible vanity. Alas! one of the three did not love me--and he was
the one I loved--one of them did not think of me, and he was the one
that filled my every thought. Another sentiment more noble than the
first, saddened my heart. I said: "Here are three devoted friends ...
perhaps they will soon be bitter enemies ... and I the cause." O
Valentine! you cannot imagine how sad and despondent I am. Do not desert
me now that I most need your comforting sympathy! Burn my last letter, I
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to_ MADAME GUERIN,
Pont de l'Arche (Eure).
RICHEPORT, July 10th 18--.
Three times have I been to the post-office since you left the chateau in
such an abrupt and inexplicable manner. I am lost in conjecture about
your sudden departure, which was both unnecessary and unprepared. It is
doubtless because you do not wish to tell me the reason that you refuse
to see me. I know that you are still at Pont de l'Arche, and that you
have never left Madame Taverneau's house. So that when she tells me in a
measured and mysterious tone that you have been absent for some time;
looking at the closed door of your room, behind which I divine your
presence, I am seized with an insane desire to kick down the narrow
plank which separates me from you. Fits of gloomy passion possess me
which illogical obstacles and unjust resistance always excite.
What have I done? What can you have against me? Let me at least know the
crime for which I am punished. On the scaffold they always read the
victim his sentence, equitable or otherwise. Will you be more cruel than
a hangman? Read me my sentence. Nothing is more frightful than to be
executed in a dungeon without knowing for what offence.
For three days--three eternities--I have taxed my memory to an alarming
extent. I have recalled everything that I have said for the last two
weeks, word by word, syllable for syllable, endeavoring to give to each
expression its intonation, its inflection, its sharps and flats. Every
different signification that the music of the voice could give to a
thought, I have analyzed, debated, commented upon twenty times a day.
Not a word, accent nor gesture has enlightened me. I defy the most
embittered and envious spirit to find anything that could offend the
most susceptible pride, the haughtiest majesty. Nothing has occurred in
my familiar intercourse with you that would alarm a sensitive plant or
a mimosa. Therefore, such cannot be the motive for your panic-stricken
flight. I am young, ardent, impetuous; I attach no importance to certain
social conventionalities, but I feel confident that I have never failed
in a religious respect for the holiness of love and modesty. I love
you--I could never, wilfully, have offended you. How could my eyes and
lips have expressed what was neither in my head nor in my heart? If
there is no fire without smoke, as a natural consequence there can be no
smoke without fire!
It is not that--Is it caprice or coquetry? Your mind is too serious and
your soul too honest for such an act; and besides, what would be your
object? Such feline cruelties may suit blase women of the world who are
roused by the sight of moral torture; who give, in the invisible sphere
of the passions, feasts of the Roman empresses, where beating hearts are
torn by the claws of the wild beasts of the soul, unbridled desires,
insatiate hate and maddened jealousy, all the hideous pack of bad
passions. Louise, you have not wished to play such a game with me. It
would be unavailing and dangerous.
Although I have been brought up in what is called the world, I am still
a savage at heart. I can talk as others do of politics, railroads,
social economy, literature. I can imitate civilized gesture tolerably
well; but under this white-glove polish I have preserved the vehemence
and simplicity of barbarism. Unless you have some serious, paramount
reason, not one of those trivial excuses with which ordinary women
revenge themselves upon the lukewarmness of their lovers--do not prolong
my punishment a day, an hour, a minute--speak not to me of reputation,
virtue or duty. You have given me the right to love you--by the light of
the stars, under the sweet-scented acacias, in the sunlight at the
window of Richard's donjon which opens over an abyss. You have conferred
upon me that august priesthood. Your hand has trembled in mine. A
celestial light, kindled by my glance, has shone in your eyes. If only
for a moment, your soul was mine--the electric spark united us.
It may be that this signifies nothing to you. I refuse to acknowledge
any such subtle distinctions--that moment united us for ever. For one
instant you wished to love me; I cannot divide my mind, soul and body
into three distinct parts; all my being worships you and longs to obtain
you. I cannot graduate my love according to its object. I do not know
who you are. You might be a queen of earth or the queen of heaven; I
could not love you otherwise.
Receive me. You need explain nothing if you do not wish; but receive me;
I cannot live without you. What difference does it make to you if I see
Ah! how I suffered, even when you were at the chateau! What evil
influence stood between us? I had a vague feeling that something
important and fatal had happened. It was a sort of presentiment of the
fulfilment of a destiny. Was your fate or mine decided in that hour, or
both? What decisive sentence had the recording angel written upon the
ineffaceable register of the future? Who was condemned and who absolved
in that solemn hour?
And yet no appreciable event happened, nothing appeared changed in our
life. Why this fearful uneasiness, this deep dejection, this
presentiment of a great but unknown danger? I have had that same
instinctive perception of evil, that magnetic terror which slumbering
misers experience when a thief prowls around their hidden treasure; it
seemed as if some one wished to rob me of my happiness.
We were embarrassed in each other's presence; some one acted as a
restraint upon us. Who was it? No one was there but Raymond, one of my
best friends, who had arrived the evening before and was soon to depart
in order to marry his cousin, young, pretty and rich! It is singular
that he, so gentle, so confiding, so unreserved, so chivalrous, should
have appeared to me sharp, taciturn, rough, almost dull,--and my
feelings towards him were full of bitterness and spite. Can friendship
be but lukewarm hate? I fear so, for I often felt a savage desire to
quarrel with Raymond and seize him by the throat. He talked of a blade
of grass, a fly, of the most indifferent object, and I felt wounded as
if by a personality. Everything he did offended me; if he stood up I was
indignant, if he sat down I became furious; every movement of his seemed
a provocation; why did I not perceive this sooner? How does it happen
that the man for whom I entertain such a strong natural aversion should
have been my friend for ten years? How strange that I should not have
been aware of this antipathy sooner!
And you, ordinarily so natural, so easy in your manners, became
constrained; you scarcely answered me when he was present. The simplest
expression agitated you; it seemed as if you had to give an account to
some one of every word, and that you were afraid of a scolding, like a
young girl who is brought by her mother into the drawing-room for the
One evening, I was sitting by you on the sofa, reading to you that
sublime elegy of the great poet, La Tristesse d'Olympio; Raymond
entered. You rose abruptly, like a guilty child, assumed an humble and
repentant attitude, asking forgiveness with your eyes. In what secret
compact, what hidden covenant, had you failed?
The look with which Raymond answered yours doubtless contained your
pardon, for you resumed your seat, but moved away from me so as not to
abuse the accorded grace; I continued to read, but you no longer
listened--you were absorbed in a delicious revery through which floated
vaguely the lines of the poet. I was at your feet, and never have I felt
so far away from you. The space between us, too narrow for another to
occupy, was an abyss.
What invisible hand dashed me down from my heaven? Who drove me, in my
unconsciousness, as far from you as the equator from the pole? Yesterday
your eyes, bathed in light and life, turned softly towards me; your hand
rested willingly in mine. You accepted my love, unavowed but understood;
for I hate those declarations which remind one of a challenge. If one
has need to say that he loves, he is not worth loving; speech is
intended for indifferent beings; talking is a means of keeping silent;
you must have seen, in my glance, by the trembling of my voice, in my
sudden changes of color, by the impalpable caress of my manner, that I
love you madly.
It was when Raymond looked at you that I began to appreciate the depth
of my passion. I felt as if some one had thrust a red-hot iron into my
heart. Ah! what a wretched country France is! If I were in Turkey, I
would bear you off on my Arab steed, shut you up in a harem, with walls
bristling with cimetars, surrounded by a deep moat; black eunuchs should
sleep before the threshold of your chamber, and at night, instead of
dogs, lions should guard the precincts!
Do not laugh at my violence, it is sincere; no one will ever love you
like me. Raymond cannot--a sentimental Don Quixote, in search of
adventures and chivalrous deeds. In order to love a woman, he must have
fished her out of the spray of Niagara; or dislocated his shoulder in
stopping her carriage on the brink of a precipice; or snatched her out
of the hands of picturesque bandits, costumed like Fra Diavolo; he is
only fit for the hero of a ten-volume English novel, with a long-tailed
coat, tight gray pantaloons and top-boots. You are too sensible to
admire the philanthropic freaks of this modern paladin, who would be
ridiculous were he not brave, rich and handsome; this moral Don Juan,
who seduces by his virtue, cannot suit you.
When shall I see you? Our moments of happiness in this life are so
short; I have lost three days of Paradise by your persistence in
concealing yourself. What god can ever restore them to me?
Louise, I have only loved, till now, marble shadows, phantoms of beauty;
but what is this love of sculpture and painting compared with the
passion that consumes me? Ah! how bittersweet it is to be deprived at
once of will, strength and reason, and trembling, kneeling, vanquished,
to surrender the key of one's heart into the hands of the beautiful
victor! Do not, like Elfrida, throw it into the torrent!
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE BE BRAIMES,
Hotel of the Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
ROUEN, July 12th 18--
MADAME:--If you should find in these hastily written lines expressions
of severity that might wound you in one of your tenderest affections, I
beg you to ascribe them to the serious interest with which you have
inspired me for a person whom I do do not know. Madame, the case is
serious, and the comedy, performed for the gratification of childish
vanity, might, if prolonged, end in a tragedy. Let Mademoiselle de
Chateaudun know immediately that her peace of mind, her whole future is
at stake. You have not a day, not an hour, not an instant to lose in
exerting your influence. I answer for nothing; haste, O haste! Your
position, your high intelligence, your good sense give you, necessarily,
the authority of an elder sister or a mother over Mademoiselle de
Chateaudun; exercise it if you would save that reckless girl. If she
acts from caprice, nothing can justify it; if she is playing a game it
is a cruel one, with ruin in the end; if she is subjecting M. de Monbert
to a trial, it has lasted long enough.
I accompanied M. de Monbert to Rouen; I lived in daily, hourly
intercourse with him, and had ample opportunities for studying his
character; he is a wounded lion. Never having had the honor of meeting
Mademoiselle de Chateaudun, I cannot tell whether the Prince is the man
to suit her; Mademoiselle de Chateaudun alone can decide so delicate a
question. But I do assert that M. de Monbert is not the man to be
trifled with, and whatever decision Mademoiselle de Chateaudun may come
to, it is her duty and due to her dignity to put an end to his suspense.
If she must strike, let her strike quickly, and not show herself more
pitiless than the executioner, who, at least, puts a speedy end to his
victim's misery. M. de Monbert, a gentleman in the highest acceptation
of the word, would not be what he now is, if he had been treated with
the consideration that his sincere distress so worthy of pity, his true
love so worthy of respect, commanded. Let her not deceive herself; she
has awakened, not one of those idle loves born in a Parisian atmosphere,
which die as they have lived, without a struggle or a heart-break, but a
strong and deep passion that if trifled with may destroy her. I
acknowledge that there is something absurd in a prince on the eve of
marrying a young and beautiful heiress finding himself deserted by his
fiancee with her millions; but when one has seen the comic hero of this
little play, the scene changes. The smile fades from the lips; the jest
is silent; terror follows in the footsteps of gayety, and the foolish
freak of the lovely fugitive assumes the formidable proportions of a
frightful drama. M. de Monbert is not what he is generally supposed to
be, what I supposed him before seeing him after ten years' separation.
His blood has been inflamed by torrid suns; he has preserved, in a
measure, the manners and fierce passions of the distant peoples that he
has visited; he hides it all under the polish of grace and elegance;
affable and ready for anything, one would never suspect, to see him, the
fierce and turbulent passions warring in his breast; he is like those
wells in India, which he told me of this morning; they are surrounded by
flowers and luxuriant foliage; go down into one of them and you will
quickly return pale and horror-stricken. Madame, I assure you that this
man suffers everything that it is possible to suffer here below. I watch
his despair; it terrifies me. Wounded love and pride do not alone prey
upon him; he is aware that Mademoiselle de Chateaudun may believe him
guilty of serious errors; he demands to be allowed to justify himself in
her eyes; he is exasperated by the consciousness of his unrecognised
innocence. Condemn him, if you will, but at least let him be heard in
his own defence. I have seen him writhe in agony and give way to groans
of rage and despair. When calm, he is more terrible to contemplate; his
silence is the pause before a tempest. Yesterday, on returning,
discouraged, after a whole day spent in fruitless search, he took my
hand and raised it abruptly to his eyes. "Raymond," said he, "I have
never wept," and my hand was wet. If you love Mademoiselle de
Chateaudun, if her future happiness is dear to you, if her heart can
only be touched through you, warn her, madame, warn her immediately;
tell her plainly what she has to expect; time presses.
It is a question of nothing less than anticipating an irreparable
misfortune. There is but one step from love to hate; hate which takes
revenge is still love. Tell this child that she is playing with thunder;
tell her the thunder mutters, and will soon burst over her head. If
Mademoiselle de Chateaudun should have a new love for her excuse, if she
has broken her faith to give it to another, unhappy, thrice unhappy she!
M. de Monbert has a quick eye and a practised hand; mourning would
follow swiftly in the wake of her rejoicing, and Mademoiselle de
Chateaudun might order her widow's weeds and her bridal robes at the
This, madame, is all that I have to say. The foolish rapture with which
my last letter teemed is not worth speaking of. A broken hope, crushed,
extinguished; a happiness vanished ere fully seen! During the four days
that I was at Richeport, I began to remark the existence between M. de
Meilhan and myself of a sullen, secret, unavowed but real irritation,
when a letter from M. de Monbert solved the enigma by convincing me that
I was in the way under that roof. Fool, why did I not see it myself and
sooner? Blind that I was, not to perceive from the first that this young
man loved that woman! Why did I not instantly divine that this young
poet could not live unscathed near so much beauty, grace and sweetness?
Did I think, unhappy man that I am, that she was only fair to me; that I
alone had eyes to admire her, a heart to worship and understand her?
Yes, I did think it; I believed blindly that she bloomed for me alone;
that she had not existed before our meeting; that no look, save mine,
had ever rested upon her; that she was, in fact, my creation; that I
had formed her of my thoughts, and vivified her with the fire of my
dreams. Even now, when we are parted for ever, I believe, that if God
ever created two beings for each other, we are those two beings, and if
every soul has a sister spirit, her soul is the sister spirit of mine.
M. de Meilhan loves her; who would not love her? But what he loves in
her is visible beauty: the slope of her shoulders, the perfection of her
contours. His love could not withstand a pencil-stroke which might
destroy the harmony of the whole. Beautiful as she is, he would desert
her for the first canvas or the first statue he might encounter. Her
rivals already people the galleries of the Louvre; the museums of the
world are filled with them. Edgar feels but one deep and true love; the
love of Art, so deep that it excludes or absorbs all others in his
heart. A fine prospect alone charms him, if it recalls a landscape of
Ruysdael or of Paul Huet, and he prefers to the loveliest model, her
portrait, provided it bears the signature of Ingres or Scheffer. He
loves this woman as an artist; he has made her the delight of his eyes;
she would have been the joy of my whole life. Besides, Edgar does not
possess any of the social virtues. He is whimsical by nature, hostile to
the proprieties, an enemy to every well-beaten track. His mind is always
at war with his heart; his sincerest inspirations have the scoffing
accompaniment of Don Juan's romance. No, he cannot make the happiness of
this Louise so long sought for, so long hoped for, found, alas! to be
irremediably lost. Louise deceives herself if she thinks otherwise. But
she does not think so. What is so agonizing in the necessity that
separates us, is the conviction that such a separation blasts two
destinies, silently united. I do not repine at the loss of my own
happiness alone, but above all, over that of this noble creature. I am
convinced that when we met, we recognised each other; she mentally
exclaimed, "It is he!" when I told myself, "It is she!" When I went to
bid her farewell, a long, eternal farewell, I found her pale, sad; the
tears rolled, unchecked, down her cheeks. She loves me, I know it; I
feel it; and still I must depart! she wept and I was forced to be
silent! One single word would have opened Paradise to us, and that word
I could not utter! Farewell, sweet dream, vanished for ever! And thou,
stern and stupid honor, I curse thee while I serve thee, and execrate
while I sacrifice all to thee. Ah! do not think that I am resigned; do
not believe that pride can ever fill up the abyss into which I have
voluntarily cast myself; do not hope that some day I shall find
self-satisfaction as a recompense for my abnegation. There are moments
when I hate myself and rebel against my own imbecility. Why depart? What
is Edgar to me? still less, what interest have I in his love episodes? I
love; I feel myself loved in return; what have I to do with anything
Contempt for my cowardly virtue is the only price that I have received
for my sacrifice, and I twit myself with this thought of Pascal: "Man is
neither an angel nor a brute, and the misfortune is that when he wishes
to make himself an angel, he becomes a brute!" Be silent, my heart! At
least it shall never be said that the descendant of a race of cavaliers
entered his friend's house to rob him of his happiness.
I am sad, madame. The bright ray seen for a moment, has but made the
darkness into which I have fallen, more black and sombre; I am
unutterably sad! What is to become of me? Where shall I drag out my
weary days? I do not know. Everything wearies and bores me, or rather
all things are indifferent to me. I think I will travel. Wherever I go,
your image will accompany me, consoling me, if I can be consoled. At
first I thought that I would carry you my heart to comfort; but my
unhappiness is dear to me, and I do not wish to be cured of it.
I press M. de Braimes's hand, and clasp your charming children warmly to
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
Poste Restante (Rouen).
Richeport, July 23d 18--.
I am mad with rage, wild with grief! That Louise! I do not know what
keeps me from setting fire to the house that conceals her! I must go
away; I shall commit some insane act, some crime, if I remain! I have
written her letter after letter; I have tried in every way to see her;
all my efforts unavailing! It is like beating your head against a wall!
Coquette and prude!--appalling combination, too common a monstrosity,
She will not see me! all is over! nothing can overcome her stupid,
obstinacy which she takes for virtue. If I could only have spoken to her
once, I should have said--I don't know what, but I should have found
words to make her return to me. But she entrenches herself behind her
obstinacy; she knows that I would vanquish her; she has no good
arguments with which to answer me; for I love her madly, desperately,
frantically! Passion is eloquent. She flies from me! O perfidy and
cowardice! she dare not face the misery she has caused, and veils her
eyes when she strikes!
I am going to America. I will dull my mental grief by physical
exhaustion; I will subdue the soul through the body; I will ascend the
giant rivers whose bosoms bloom with thousands of islands; penetrate
into the virgin forests where no trapper has yet set his foot; I will
hunt the buffalo with the savage, and swim upon that ocean of shaggy
heads and sharp horns; I will gallop at full speed over the prairie,
pursued by the smoke of the burning grass. If the memory of Louise
refuses to leave me, I will stop my horse and await the flames! I will
carry my love so far away that it must perforce leave me.
I feel it, my life is wrecked for ever!--I cannot live in a world where
Louise is not mine! Perhaps the young universe may contain a panacea
for my anguish! Solitude shall pour its balm in my wound; once away from
this civilization which stifles me, nature will cradle me in her
motherly arms; the elements will resume their empire over me; ocean,
sky, flowers, foliage will draw off the feverish electricity that
excites my nerves; I will become absorbed in the grand whole, I will no
longer live; I will vegetate and succeed in attaining the content of the
plant that opens its leaves to the sun. I feel that I must stop my
brain, suspend the beating of my heart, or I shall go raving mad.
I shall sail from Havre. A year from now write to me at the English fort
in the Rocky Mountains, and I will join you in whatever corner of the
globe you have gone to bury your despair over the loss of Irene de
EDGAR DE MEILHAN
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to_ MADAME GUERIN,
RICHEPORT, July 23d 18--.
Louise, I write to you, although the resolution that I have taken
should, no doubt, he silently carried out; but the swimmer struggling
with the waves in mid-ocean cannot help, although he knows it is
useless, uttering a last wild cry ere he sinks forever beneath the
flood. Perhaps a sail may appear on the desert horizon and his last
despairing shout be heard! It is so hard to believe ourselves finally
condemned and to renounce all hope of pardon! My letter will be of no
avail, and yet I cannot help sending it.
I am going to leave France, change worlds and skies. My passage is taken
for America. The murmur of ocean and forest must soothe my despair. A
great sorrow requires immensity. I would suffocate here. I should
expect, at every turn, to see your white dress gleaming among the trees.
Richeport is too much associated with you for me to dwell here longer;
your memory has exiled me from it for ever. I must put a huge
impossibility between myself and you; six thousand miles hardly suffice
to separate us.
If I remained, I should resort to all manner of mad schemes to recover
my happiness; no one gives up his cherished dream with more reluctance
than I, especially when a word could make it a reality.
Louise, Louise, why do you avoid me and close your heart against me! You
have not understood, perhaps, how much I love you? Has not my devotion
shone in my eyes? I have not been able, perhaps, to convey to you what I
felt? You have no more comprehended my adoration than the insensate idol
the prayers of the faithful prostrated before it.
Nevertheless, I was convinced that I could make you happy; I thought
that I appreciated the longings of your soul, and would be able to
satisfy them all.
What crime have I committed against heaven to be punished with this
biting despair? Perhaps I have failed to appreciate some sincere
affection, repulsed unwittingly some simple, tender heart that your
coldness now avenges; perhaps you are, unconsciously, the Nemesis of
some forgotten fault.
How fearful it is to suffer from rejected love! To say to oneself: "The
loved one exists, far from me, without me; she is young, smiling,
lovely--to others; my despair is only an annoyance to her, I am
necessary to her in nothing; my absence leaves no void in her life; my
death would only provoke from her an expression of careless pity; my
good and noble qualities have made no impression upon her; my verses,
the delight of other young hearts, she has never read; my talents are as
destructive to me as if they were crimes; why seek a hell in another
world; is it not here?"
And besides, what infinite tenderness, what perpetual care, what timid
and loving persistence, what obedience to every unexpressed wish, what
prompt realization of even the slightest fancy! for what! for a careless
glance, a smile that the thought of another brings to her lips! How can
it be helped! he who is not beloved is always in the wrong.
I go away, carrying the iron in my wound; I will not drag it out, I
prefer to die with it. May you live happy, may the fearful suffering
that you have caused me never be expiated. I would have it so; society
punishes murder of the body, heaven punishes murders of the soul. May
your hidden assassination escape Divine vengeance as long as possible.
Farewell, Louise, farewell.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel de la Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
PARIS, July 27th 18--.
Valentine, I am very uneasy. Why have I not heard from you for a month?
Are you in any trouble? Is one of your dear children ill? Are you no
longer at Grenoble? Have you taken your trip without me? The last would
be the most acceptable reason for your silence. You have not received my
letters, and ignorance of my sorrows accounts for your not writing to
console me. Yet never have I been in greater need of the offices of
friendship. The resolution I have just taken fills me with alarm. I
acted against my judgment, but I could not do otherwise. I was
influenced by an agonized mother, whose hallowed grief persuaded me
against my will to espouse her interests. Why have I not a friend here
to interpose in my behalf and save me from myself? But, after all, does
it make any difference what becomes of me? Hope is dead within me. I no
longer dream of happiness. At last the sad mystery is explained.... M.
de Villiers is not free; he is engaged to his cousin.... Oh, he does not
love her, I am sure, but he is a slave to his plighted troth, and of
course she loves him and will not release him ... Can he, for a
stranger, sacrifice family ties and a love dating from his childhood?
Ah! if he really loved me, he would have had the courage to make this
sacrifice; but he only felt a tender sympathy for me, lively enough to
fill him with everlasting regret, not strong enough to inspire him with
a painful resolution. Thus two beings created for each other meet for a
moment, recognise one another, and then, unwillingly, separate, carrying
in their different paths of life a burden of eternal regrets! And they
languish apart in their separate spheres, unhappy and attached to
nothing but the memory of the past--made wretched for life by the
accidents of a day!
They are as the passengers of different ships, meeting for an hour in
the same port, who hastily exchange a few words of sympathy, then pass
away to other latitudes, under other skies--some to the North, others to
the South, to the land of ice--to the cradle of the sun--far, far away
from each other, to die. Is it then true that I shall never see him
again? Oh, my God! how I loved him! I can never forgive him for not
accepting this love that I was ready to lavish upon him.
I will now tell you what I have resolved to do. If I waver a moment I
shall not have the courage to keep my promise. Madame de Meilhan is
coming after me; I could not, after causing her such sorrow, resist the
tears of this unhappy mother. She was in despair; her son had suddenly
left her, and in spite of the secrecy of his movements, she discovered
that he was at Havre and had taken passage there for America, on the
steamer Ontario. She hoped to reach Havre in time to see her son, and
she relied upon me to bring him home. I am distressed at causing her so
much uneasiness, but what can I say to console her? I will at best be
generous; Edgar's sorrow is like my own; as he suffers for me, I suffer
for another; I cannot see his anguish, so like my own, without profound
pity; this pity will doubtless inspire me with eloquence enough to
persuade him to remain in France and not break his mother's heart by
desertion. Besides, I have promised, and Madame de Meilhan relies upon
me. How beautiful is maternal love! It crushes the loftiest pride, it
overthrows with one cry the most ambitious plans; this haughty woman is
subjugated by grief; she calls me her daughter; she gladly consents to
this marriage which, a short time ago, she said would ruin her son's
prospects, and which she looked upon with horror; she weeps, she
supplicates. This morning she embraced me with every expression of
devotion and cried out: "Give me back my son! Oh, restore to me my
son!... You love him, ... he loves you, ... he is handsome, charming,
talented.... I shall never see him again if you let him go away; tell
him you love him; have you the cruelty to deprive me of my only son?"
What could I say? how could I make an idolizing mother understand that I
did not love her son?... If I had dared to say, "It is not he that I
love, it is another," ... she would have said: "It is false; there is
not a man on earth preferable to my son." She wept over the letter that
Edgar wrote me before leaving. Valentine, this letter was noble and
touching. I could not restrain my own tears when I read it. Finally, I
was forced to yield. I am to accompany Madame de Meilhan to Havre; I
hope we will reach there before the steamer leaves!... Edgar will not go
to America, ... and I!... Oh, why is he the one to love me thus?... She
has come for me! Adieu; write to me, my dear Valentine, ... I am so
miserable. If you were only here! What will become of me? Adieu!
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel de la Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
Paris, Aug. 2d 18--.
It is fortunate for me to-day, my dear Valentine, that I have the
reputation of being a truthful person, professing a hatred of falsehood,
otherwise you would not believe the strange facts that I am about to
relate to you. I now expect to reap the fruits of my unvarying
sincerity. Having always shown such respect for truth, I deserve to be
believed when I assert what appears to be incredible.
What startling events have occurred in a few hours! My destiny has been
changed by my peeping through a hole!! Without one word of comment I
will state exactly what happened, and you must not accuse me of highly
coloring my pictures; they are lively enough in themselves without any
assistance from me. Far from adding to their brilliancy, I shall
endeavor to tone them down and give them an air of probability. We left
Pont de l'Arche the other day with sad and anxious hearts; during the
journey Mad. de Meilhan, as if doubting the strength of my resolution
and the ardor of my devotion, dilated enthusiastically upon the merits
of her son. She boasted of his generosity, of his disinterestedness and
sincerity; she mentioned the names of several wealthy young ladies whom
he had refused to marry during the last two or three years. She spoke of
his great success as a poet and a brilliant man. She impressed upon me
that a noble love could exercise such a happy influence upon his genius,
and said it was in my power to make him a good and happy man for life,
by accepting this love, which she described to me in such touching
language, that I felt moved and impressed, if not with love, at least
with tender appreciation. She said Edgar had never loved any one as he
had loved me--this passion had changed all his ideas--he lived for me
alone. To indure him to listen to any one it was necessary to bring my
name in the conversation so as to secure his ear; he spent his days and
nights composing poems in my honor. He should have returned to Paris in
response to the beautiful Marquise de R.'s sighs and smiles, but he
never had the courage to leave me; for me he had pitilessly sacrificed
this woman, who was lovely, witty and the reigning belle of Paris. She
mournfully told me of the wild foolish things he would do upon his
return to Richeport, after having made fruitless attempts to see me at
Pont de l'Arche; his cruelty to his favorite horse, his violence against
the flowers along the path, that he would cut to pieces with his whip;
his sullen, mute despair; his extravagant talk to her; her own
uneasiness; her useless prayers; and finally this fatal departure that
she had vainly endeavored to prevent. She saw that I was affected by
what she said, she seized my hand and called down blessing's upon me,
thanking me a thousand times passionately and imperiously, as if to
compel me to accede to her wishes.
I sorrowfully reflected upon all this trouble that I had caused, and was
frightened at the conviction that I had by a few engaging smiles and a
little harmless coquetry inspired so violent a passion. Thinking thus, I
did justice to Edgar, and acknowledged that some reparation was due to
him. He must have taken all these deceptive smiles to himself; when I
first arrived at Pont de l'Arche, I had no scruples about being
attractive, I expected to leave in a few days never to return again.
Since then I had without pity refused his love, it is true; but could he
believe this proud disdain to be genuine, when, after this decisive
explanation, he found me tranquilly established at his mother's house?
And there could he follow the different caprices of my mind, divine
those temptations of generosity which first moved me in his favor, and
then discover this wild love that was suddenly born in my soul for a
phantom that I had only seen for a few hours?.... Had he not, on the
contrary, a right to believe that I loved him, and to exclaim against
the infamy, cruelty and perfidy of my refusing to see him, and my
endeavors to convince him that I cared nothing for him? He was right to
accuse me, for appearances were all against me--my own conduct condemned
me. I must acknowledge myself culpable, and submit to the sentence that
has been pronounced against me. I resigned myself sadly to repair the
wrong I had committed. One hope still remained to me: Edgar brought back
by me would be restored to his mother, but Edgar would cease to love me
when he knew my real name. There is a difference between loving an
adventuress, whose affections can be trifled with, and loving a woman of
high birth and position, who must be honorably sought in marriage. Edgar
has an invincible repugnance to matrimony; he considers this august
institution as a monstrous inconvenience, very immoral, a profane
revelation of the most sacred secrets of life; he calls it a public
exhibition of affection; he says no one has a right to proclaim his
preference for one woman. To call a woman: my wife! what revolting
indiscretion! To call children: my children! what disgusting fatuity! In
his eyes nothing is more horrible than a husband driving in the Champs
Elysees with his family, which is tantamount to telling the passers-by:
This woman seated by my side is the one I have chosen among all women,
and to whom I am indebted for all pleasure in life; and this little girl
who resembles her so much, and this little boy, the image of me, are the
bonds of love between us. The Orientals, he added, whom we call
barbarians, are more modest than we; they shut up their wives; they
never appear in public with them, they never let any one see the objects
of their tenderness, and they introduce young men of twenty, not as
their sons, but as the heirs of their names and fortunes.
Recalling these remarkable sentiments of M. de Meilhan, I said to
myself: he will never marry. But Mad. de Meilhan, who was aware of her
son's peculiar thoeries, assured me that they were very much modified,
and that one day in speaking of me, he had angrily exclaimed: "Oh! I
wish I were her husband, so I could shut her up, and prevent any one
seeing her!" Now I understand why a man marries! This was not very
reassuring, but I devoted myself like a victim, and for a victim there
is no half sacrifice. Generosity, like cruelty, is absolute.
After a night of anxious travel, we reached Havre at about ten in the
morning. We drove rapidly to the office of the American steamers. Madame
de Meilhan rushed frantically about until she found the sleepy clerk,
who told her that M. de Meilhan had taken passage on the _Ontario_.
"When does this vessel leave?"
"I cannot tell you," said the gaping clerk.
We ran to the pier and tremblingly asked: "Can you tell us if the
American vessel _Ontario_ sails to-day?"
The old sailor replied to us in nautical language which we could not
understand. Another man said: "The _Ontario_ is pretty far out by this
time!" We ran to the other end of the pier and found a crowd of people
watching a cloud that was gradually disappearing in the distance. "I see
nothing now," said one of the people. But I saw a little ... little
smoke ... and I could distinctly see a flag with a large O on it....
Madame de Meilhan, pale and breathless, had not the strength to ask the
name of the fatal vessel that was almost out of sight ... I could only
gasp out the word "_Ontario?"_ ...
"Precisely so, madame, but don't be uneasy ... it is a fast vessel, and
your friends will land in America before two weeks are passed. You look
astonished, but it is the truth, the _Ontario_ is never behind time!"
Madame de Meilhan fell fainting in my arms. She was lifted to our
carriage and soon restored to consciousness, but was so overcome that
she seemed incapable of comprehending the extent of her misfortune. We
drove to the nearest hotel, and I remained in her room silently weeping
and reproaching myself for having destroyed the happiness of this
During these first moments of stupor Madame de Meilhan showed no
indignation at my presence; but no sooner had she recovered the use of
her senses than she burst into a storm of abuse; calling me a detestable
intriguer, a low adventuress who, by my stage tricks, had turned the
head of her noble son; I would be the cause of his death--that fatal
country would never give back her son; what a pity to see so superior a
man, a pride and credit to his country, perish, succumb, to the snares
of an obscure prude, who had not the sense to be his mistress, who was
incapable of loving him for a single day; an ambitious schemer, who had
determined to entrap him into marriage, but unhesitatingly sacrificed
him to M. de Villiers as soon as she found M. de Villiers was the richer
of the two, ... and many other flattering accusations she made, that
were equally ill-deserved. I quietly listened to all this abuse, and
went on preparing a glass of _eau sucree_ for the poor weeping fury,
whose conduct inspired me with generous pity. When she had finished her
tirade, I silently handed her the orange water to calm her anger, and I
looked at her ... my look expressed such firm gentle pride, such
generous indulgence, such invulnerable dignity, that she felt herself
completely disarmed. She took my hand and said, as she dried her tears:
"You must forgive me, I am _so_ unhappy!" Then I tried to console her; I
told her I would write to her son, and she would soon have him back, as
my letter would reach New York by the time he landed, and then it would
only take him two weeks to return. This promise calmed her; then I
persuaded her to lie down and recover from the fatigue of travelling all
night. When I saw her poor swollen eyelids fairly closed, I left her to
enjoy her slumbers and retired to my own room. I rested awhile and then
rang to order preparations for our departure; but instead of the servant
answering the bell, a pretty little girl, about eight years old, entered
my room; upon seeing me she drew back frightened.
"What do you want, my child?" I said, drawing her within the door.
"Nothing, madame," she said.
"But you must have come here for something?"
"I did not know that madame was in her room."
"What did you come to do in here?"
"I came, as I did yesterday, to see."
"To see what?"
"In there ... the Turks ..."
"The Turks? What! am I surrounded by Turks?"
"Oh! they are not in the little room adjoining yours; but through this
little room you can look into the large saloon where they all stay and
have music ... will madame permit me to pass through?"
"This way. There is a little door behind this toilet-table; I open it,
go in, get up on the table and look at the Turks."
The child rolled aside the toilet-table, entered the little room, and in
a few minutes came running back to me and exclaimed:
"Oh! they are so beautiful! does not madame wish to see them?"
In a short time she returned again.
"The musicians are all asleep," she said ... "but, madame, the Turks are
crazy--they don't sleep--they don't speak--they make horrible
faces--they roll their eyes--they have such funny ways--one of them
looks like my uncle when he has the fever--Oh! that one must be crazy,
madame-- ... look, he is going to dance! now he is going to die!"
The absurd prattle of the child finally aroused my curiosity. I went
into the little room, and, mounting the table beside her, looked through
a crevice in the wooden partition and clearly saw everything in the
large saloon. It was hung up to a certain height with rich Turkish
stuffs. The floor was covered by a superb Smyrna carpet. In one recess
of the room the musicians were sleeping with their bizarre musical
instruments tightly clasped in their arms. A dozen Turks, magnificently
dressed, were seated on the soft carpet in Oriental fashion, that is to
say, after the manner of tailors. They were supported by piles of
cushions of all sizes and shapes, and seemed to be plunged in ecstatic
One of these dreamy sons of Aurora attracted my attention by his
brilliant costume and flashing arms. By the pale light of the exhausted
lamps and the faint rays of dawning day, almost obscured by the heavy
drapery of the windows, I could scarcely distinguish the features of
this splendid Mussulman, at the same time I thought I had seen him
before. I had seen but few pachas during my life, but I certainly had
met this one somewhere, I looked attentively and saw that his hands were
whiter than those of his compatriots--this was a suspicious fact. After
closely watching this doubtful infidel, this amateur barbarian, I began
to suspect civilization and Europeanism.... One of the musicians asleep
near the window, turned over and his long guitar--a _guzla_, I think it
is called--caught in the curtain and drew it a little open; the sunlight
streamed in the room and an accusing ray fell upon the face of the
spurious young Turk.... It was Edgar de Meilhan! A little cup filled
with a greenish conserve rested on a cushion near by. I remembered that
he had often spoken to me of the wonderful effects of hashish, and of
the violent desire he had of experiencing this fascinating stupefaction;
he had also told me of one of his college friends who had been living in
Smyrna for some years; an original, who had taken upon himself the
mission of re-barbarizing the East. This friend had sent him a number of
Indian poinards and Turkish pipes, and had promised him some tobacco and
hashish. This modern and amateur Turk was named Arthur Granson.... I
asked the innkeeper's little daughter if she knew the name of the man
who had hired the saloon? She said yes, that he was named Monsieur
Granson.... This name and this meeting explained everything.
O Valentine! I will be sincere to the end, ... and confess that Edgar
was wonderfully handsome in this costume!... the magnificent oriental
stuff, the Turkish vest, embroidered in gold and silver, the yatagans,
pistols and poinards studded with jewels, the turban draped with
inimitable art--all these things gave him a majestic, superb, imposing
aspect!... which at first astonished me, ... for we are all children
when we first see beautiful objects, ... but he had a stupid look....
No, never did a sultan of the opera, throwing his handkerchief to his
bayadere ... a German prince of the gymnasium complimented by his
court--a provincial Bajazet listening to the threatening declarations of
Roxana--never did they display in the awkwardness of their roles, in the
stiffness of their movements, an attitude more absurdly ridiculous, an
expression of countenance more ideally stupid. It is difficult to
comprehend how a brilliant mind could so completely absent itself from
its dwelling-place without leaving on the face it was wont to animate, a
single trace, a faint ray of intelligence! Edgar had his eyes raised to
the ceiling, ... and for an instant I think I caught his look, ... but
Heavens! what a look! May I never meet such another! I shall add one
more incident to my recital--important in itself but distasteful to me
to relate--I will tell it in as few words as possible: Edgar was leaning
on two piles of cushions; he seemed to be absorbed in the contemplation
of invisible stars; he was awake, but a beautiful African slave, dressed
like an Indian queen, was sleeping at his feet!
This strange spectacle filled my heart with joy. Instead of being
indignant, I was delighted at this insult to myself. Edgar evidently
forgot me, and truly he had a right to forget me; I was not engaged to
him as I had been to Roger. A young poet has a right to dress like a
Turk, and amuse himself with his friends, to suit his own fancy; but a
noble prince has no right to scandalize the public when the dignity of
his rank has to be striven after and recovered; when the glory of his
name is to be kept untarnished. Oh! this disgusting sight gave rise to
no angry feeling in my bosom, I at once comprehended the advantages of
the situation. No more sacrifice, no more remorse, no more hypocrisy! I
was free; my future was restored to me. Oh, the good Edgar! Oh, the dear
poet! How I loved him ... for not loving me!!
I told the little girl to run quickly and bring me a servant. When the
man came I handed him six louis to sharpen his wits, and then solemnly
gave him my orders: "When they ring for you in that saloon, do you tell
that young Turk with a red vest on ... you will remember him?" "Yes,
madame." "You will tell him that the countess his mother is waiting here
for him, in room No. 7, at the end of the corridor." "Ah! the lady who
was weeping so bitterly?" "The same one." "Madame may rely upon me."
I then paid my bill, and, inquiring the quickest way of leaving Havre, I
fled from the hotel. Walking along Grande Rue de Paris, I saw with
pleasure that the city was filled with strangers, who had come to take
part in the festivities that were taking place at Havre, and that I
could easily mingle in this great crowd and leave the town without being
observed. Uneasy and agitated, I hurried along, and just as I was
passing the theatre I heard some one call me. Imagine my alarm when I
distinctly heard some one call: "Mlle. Irene! Mlle. Irene!" I was so
frightened that I could scarcely move. The call was repeated, and I saw
my faithful Blanchard rushing towards me, breathless and then I
recognised the supplicating voice ... I turned around and weeping, she
exclaimed: "I know everything, Mlle., you are going to America! Take me
with you. This is the first time I have ever been separated from you
since your birth!" I had left the poor woman at Pont de l'Arche, and
she, thinking I was going to America, had followed me. "Be quiet and
follow me," said I, forgetting to tell her that I was not going to
America. I reached the wharf and jumped into a boat; the unhappy
Blanchard, who is a hydrophobe, followed me. "You are afraid?" said I.
"Oh, no, Mlle., I am afraid on the Seine, but at sea it is quite a
different thing." The touching delicacy of this ingenious conceit moved
me to tears. Wishing to shorten the agony of this devoted friend, I told
the oarsman to row us into the nearest port, instead of going further by
water, as I had intended, in order to avoid the Rouen route and the
Prince, the steamboat and M. de Meilhan. As soon as we landed I sent my
faithful companion to the nearest village to hire a carriage, "I must be
in Paris, to-morrow," said I. "Then we are not going to America?" "No."
"So much the better," said she, as she trotted off in high glee to look
for a carriage. I remained alone, gazing at the ocean. Oh! how I enjoyed
the sight! How I would love to live on this charming, terrible azure
desert! I was so absorbed in admiration that I soon forgot my worldly
troubles and the rain tribulations of my obscure life. I was intoxicated
by its wild perfume, its free, invigorating air! I breathed for the
first time! With what delight I let the sea-breeze blow my hair about my
burning brow! How I loved to gaze on its boundless horizon! How
much--laugh at my vanity--how much I felt at home in this immensity! I
am not one of those modest souls that are oppressed and humiliated by
the grandeur of Nature; I only feel in harmony with the sublime, not
through myself, but through the aspirations of my mind. I never feel as
if there was around me, above me, before me, too much air, too much
height, too much space. I like the boundless, luminous horizon to render
solitude and liberty invisible to my eyes.
I know not if every one else is impressed as I was upon seeing the ocean
for the first time. I felt released from all ties, purified of all
hatred, and even of all earthly love; I was freed, calm, strong, armed,
ready to brave all the evils of life, like a being who had received from
God a right to disdain the world. The ocean and the sky have this good
effect upon us--they wean us from worldly pleasures.
Upon reaching Paris, I went at once to your father's to inquire about
you, and had my uneasiness about you set at rest. You must have left
Geneva by this time; I hope soon to receive a letter from you. I am not
staying with my cousin. I am living in my dear little garret. I wish a
long time to elapse before I again become Mlle. de Chateaudun. I wish
time to recover from the rude shocks I have had. What do you think of my
last experience? What a perfect success was my theory of discouragement!
Alas! too perfect. First trial: Western despair and champagne! Second
trial: Eastern despair and hashisch!--Not to speak of the consolatory
accessories, snowy-armed beauties and ebony-armed slaves! I would be
very unsophisticated indeed if I did not consider myself sufficiently
enlightened. I implore you not to speak to me of your hero whom you wish
me to marry; I am determined never to marry. I shall love an image,
cherish a star. The little light has returned. I see it shining as I
write to you. Yes, these poetic loves are all-sufficient for my wounded
soul. One thing disturbs me; they have cut down the large trees in front
of my window. To-morrow, perhaps, I shall at last see the being that
dwells in this fraternal garret.... Valentine--suppose it should be my
long-sought ideal!... I tremble! perhaps a third disenchantment awaits
me.... Good-night, my dear Valentine, I embrace you. I am very tired,
but very happy ... it is so delightful to be relieved of all uneasiness,
to feel that you are not compelled to console any one.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
Poste Restante (Rouen).
PARIS, July 27th 18--.
My dear Roger, at the risk of bringing down upon my head the ridicule
merited by men who fire a pistol above their heads after having left on
their table the night before the most thrilling adieux to the world, I
must confess that I have not gone; you have a perfect right to drive me
out of Europe; I promised to go to America, and you can compel me to
fulfil my promise; be clement, do not overpower me with ridicule; do not
riddle me with the fire of your mocking artillery; my sorrow, even
though I remain in the old world, is none the less crushing.
I must tell you how it all happened.
As all my life I have never been able to comprehend the division of
time, and it's a toss-up whether I distinguish day from night, I turned
my back on the best hotel in Havre, and stopped at one nearest the
wharf, from whence I could see the smoke-stacks of the Ontario, about to
sail for New York. I was leaning on the balcony, in the melancholy
attitude of Raphael's portrait, gazing at the swell of the ocean, with
that feeling of infinite sadness which the strongest heart must yield to
in the presence of that immensity formed of drops of bitter water, like
human tears. I followed, listlessly, with my eyes the movements of a
strange group which had just landed from the Portsmouth packet. They
were richly-dressed Orientals, followed by negro servants and women
enveloped in long veils.
One of these Turks looked up as he passed under my window, saw me, and
exclaimed in very correct French, with a decided Parisian accent: "Why,
it's Edgar de Meilhan!" and, regardless of Oriental dignity, he dashed
into the inn, bounded into my room, rubbed my face against his crisp
black beard, punched me in the stomach with the carved hilts of a
complete collection of yataghans and kandjars, and finally said, seeing
my uncertainty: "Why! don't you know me, your old college chum, your
playmate in childhood, Arthur Granson! Does my turban make such a change
in me? So much the better! Or are you mean enough to stick to the letter
of the proverb which pretends that friends are not Turks? By Allah and
his prophet Mahomet, I shall prove to you that Turks are friends."
During this flood of words I had in truth recognised Arthur Granson, a
good and odd young fellow, whom I am very fond of, and who would surely
please you, for he is the most paradoxical youth to be found in the five
divisions of the globe. And, what is very rare, he acts out his
paradoxes, a whim which his great independence of character and above
all a large fortune permit him to indulge, for gold is liberty; the only
slaves are the poor.
"This much is settled, I will install myself here with my living palette