Part 3 out of 3
arouse your conscience. If you had no conscience left, I should
not reproach you at all; but you are so young! You must feel
some life still in your heart; or so I like to believe. While I
think of you as depraved enough to do a wrong which the law does
not punish, I do not think you so degraded that you cannot
comprehend the full meaning of my words. I resume."
As he spoke the Duchess heard the smothered sound of a pair of
bellows. Those mysterious figures which she had just seen were
blowing up the fire, no doubt; the glow shone through the
curtain. But Montriveau's lurid face was turned upon her; she
could not choose but wait with a fast-beating heart and eyes
fixed in a stare. However curious she felt, the heat in Armand's
words interested her even more than the crackling of the
"Madame," he went on after a pause, "if some poor wretch
commits a murder in Paris, it is the executioner's duty, you
know, to lay hands on him and stretch him on the plank, where
murderers pay for their crimes with their heads. Then the
newspapers inform everyone, rich and poor, so that the former are
assured that they may sleep in peace, and the latter are warned
that they must be on the watch if they would live. Well, you
that are religious, and even a little of a bigot, may have masses
said for such a man's soul. You both belong to the same family,
but yours is the elder branch; and the elder branch may occupy
high places in peace and live happily and without cares. Want or
anger may drive your brother the convict to take a man's life;
you have taken more, you have taken the joy out of a man's life,
you have killed all that was best in his life--his dearest
beliefs. The murderer simply lay in wait for his victim, and
killed him reluctantly, and in fear of the scaffold; but YOU . .
. ! You heaped up every sin that weakness can commit against
strength that suspected no evil; you tamed a passive victim, the
better to gnaw his heart out; you lured him with caresses; you
left nothing undone that could set him dreaming, imagining,
longing for the bliss of love. You asked innumerable sacrifices
of him, only to refuse to make any in return. He should see the
light indeed before you put out his eyes! It is wonderful how
you found the heart to do it! Such villainies demand a display
of resource quite above the comprehension of those bourgeoises
whom you laugh at and despise. They can give and forgive; they
know how to love and suffer. The grandeur of their devotion
dwarfs us. Rising higher in the social scale, one finds just as
much mud as at the lower end; but with this difference, at the
upper end it is hard and gilded over.
"Yes, to find baseness in perfection, you must look for a noble
bringing up, a great name, a fair woman, a duchess. You cannot
fall lower than the lowest unless you are set high above the rest
of the world.--I express my thoughts badly; the wounds you dealt
me are too painful as yet, but do not think that I complain. My
words are not the expression of any hope for myself; there is no
trace of bitterness in them. Know this, madame, for a
certainty--I forgive you. My forgiveness is so complete that you
need not feel in the least sorry that you came hither to find it
against your will. . . . But you might take advantage of other
hearts as child-like as my own, and it is my duty to spare them
anguish. So you have inspired the thought of justice. Expiate
your sin here on earth; God may perhaps forgive you; I wish that
He may, but He is inexorable, and will strike."
The broken-spirited, broken-hearted woman looked up, her eyes
filled with tears.
"Why do you cry? Be true to your nature. You could look on
indifferently at the torture of a heart as you broke it. That
will do, madame, do not cry. I cannot bear it any longer. Other
men will tell you that you have given them life; as for myself, I
tell you, with rapture, that you have given me blank extinction.
Perhaps you guess that I am not my own, that I am bound to live
for my friends, that from this time forth I must endure the cold
chill of death, as well as the burden of life? Is it possible
that there can be so much kindness in you? Are you like the
desert tigress that licks the wounds she has inflicted?"
The Duchess burst out sobbing.
"Pray spare your tears, madame. If I believed in them at all,
it would merely set me on my guard. Is this another of your
artifices? or is it not? You have used so many with me; how can
one think that there is any truth in you? Nothing that you do or
say has any power now to move me. That is all I have to say."
Mme de Langeais rose to her feet, with a great dignity and
humility in her bearing.
"You are right to treat me very hardly," she said, holding out
a hand to the man who did not take it; "you have not spoken
hardly enough; and I deserve this punishment."
"_I_ punish you, madame! A man must love still, to punish, must
he not? From me you must expect no feeling, nothing resembling
it. If I chose, I might be accuser and judge in my cause, and
pronounce and carry out the sentence. But I am about to fulfil a
duty, not a desire of vengeance of any kind. The cruellest
revenge of all, I think, is scorn of revenge when it is in our
power to take it. Perhaps I shall be the minister of your
pleasures; who knows? Perhaps from this time forth, as you
gracefully wear the tokens of disgrace by which society marks out
the criminal, you may perforce learn something of the convict's
sense of honour. And then, you will love!"
The Duchess sat listening; her meekness was unfeigned; it was no
coquettish device. When she spoke at last, it was after a
"Armand," she began, "it seems to me that when I resisted
love, I was obeying all the instincts of woman's modesty; I
should not have looked for such reproaches from YOU. I was weak;
you have turned all my weaknesses against me, and made so many
crimes of them. How could you fail to understand that the
curiosity of love might have carried me further than I ought to
go; and that next morning I might be angry with myself, and
wretched because I had gone too far? Alas! I sinned in
ignorance. I was as sincere in my wrongdoing, I swear to you, as
in my remorse. There was far more love for you in my severity
than in my concessions. And besides, of what do you complain? I
gave you my heart; that was not enough; you demanded, brutally,
that I should give my person----"
"Brutally?" repeated Montriveau. But to himself he said, "If
I once allow her to dispute over words, I am lost."
"Yes. You came to me as if I were one of those women. You
showed none of the respect, none of the attentions of love. Had
I not reason to reflect? Very well, I reflected. The
unseemliness of your conduct is not inexcusable; love lay at the
source of it; let me think so, and justify you to myself.--Well,
Armand, this evening, even while you were prophesying evil, I
felt convinced that there was happiness in store for us both.
Yes, I put my faith in the noble, proud nature so often tested
and proved." She bent lower. "And I was yours wholly," she
murmured in his ear. "I felt a longing that I cannot express to
give happiness to a man so violently tried by adversity. If I
must have a master, my master should be a great man. As I felt
conscious of my height, the less I cared to descend. I felt I
could trust you, I saw a whole lifetime of love, while you were
pointing to death. . . . Strength and kindness always go
together. My friend, you are so strong, you will not be unkind
to a helpless woman who loves you. If I was wrong, is there no
way of obtaining forgiveness? No way of making reparation?
Repentance is the charm of love; I should like to be very
charming for you. How could I, alone among women, fail to know a
woman's doubts and fears, the timidity that it is so natural to
feel when you bind yourself for life, and know how easily a man
snaps such ties? The bourgeoises, with whom you compared me just
now, give themselves, but they struggle first. Very well--I
struggled; but here I am!--Ah! God, he does not hear me!" she
broke off, and wringing her hands, she cried out "But I love
you! I am yours!" and fell at Armand's feet.
"Yours! yours! my one and only master!"
Armand tried to raise her.
"Madame, it is too late! Antoinette cannot save the Duchesse de
Langeais. I cannot believe in either. Today you may give
yourself; tomorrow, you may refuse. No power in earth or heaven
can insure me the sweet constancy of love. All love's pledges
lay in the past; and now nothing of that past exists."
The light behind the curtain blazed up so brightly, that the
Duchess could not help turning her head; this time she distinctly
saw the three masked figures.
"Armand," she said, "I would not wish to think ill of you.
Why are those men there? What are you going to do to me?"
"Those men will be as silent as I myself with regard to the
thing which is about to be done. Think of them simply as my
hands and my heart. One of them is a surgeon----"
"A surgeon! Armand, my friend, of all things, suspense is the
hardest to bear. Just speak; tell me if you wish for my life; I
will give it to you, you shall not take it----"
"Then you did not understand me? Did I not speak just now of
justice? To put an end to your misapprehensions," continued he,
taking up a small steel object from the table, "I will now
explain what I have decided with regard to you."
He held out a Lorraine cross, fastened to the tip of a steel rod.
"Two of my friends at this very moment are heating another
cross, made on this pattern, red-hot. We are going to stamp it
upon your forehead, here between the eyes, so that there will be
no possibility of hiding the mark with diamonds, and so avoiding
people's questions. In short, you shall bear on your forehead
the brand of infamy which your brothers the convicts wear on
their shoulders. The pain is a mere trifle, but I feared a
nervous crisis of some kind, of resistance----"
"Resistance?" she cried, clapping her hands for joy. "Oh no,
no! I would have the whole world here to see. Ah, my Armand,
brand her quickly, this creature of yours; brand her with your
mark as a poor little trifle belonging to you. You asked for
pledges of my love; here they are all in one. Ah! for me there
is nothing but mercy and forgiveness and eternal happiness in
this revenge of yours. When you have marked this woman with your
mark, when you set your crimson brand on her, your slave in soul,
you can never afterwards abandon her, you will be mine for
evermore? When you cut me off from my kind, you make yourself
responsible for my happiness, or you prove yourself base; and I
know that you are noble and great! Why, when a woman loves, the
brand of love is burnt into her soul by her own will.--Come in,
gentlemen! come in and brand her, this Duchesse de Langeais. She
is M. de Montriveau's forever! Ah! come quickly, all of you, my
forehead burns hotter than your fire!"
Armand turned his head sharply away lest he should see the
Duchess kneeling, quivering with the throbbings of her heart. He
said some word, and his three friends vanished.
The women of Paris salons know how one mirror reflects another.
The Duchess, with every motive for reading the depths of Armand's
heart, was all eyes; and Armand, all unsuspicious of the mirror,
brushed away two tears as they fell. Her whole future lay in
those two tears. When he turned round again to help her to rise,
she was standing before him, sure of love. Her pulses must have
throbbed fast when he spoke with the firmness she had known so
well how to use of old while she played with him.
"I spare you, madame. All that has taken place shall be as if
it had never been, you may believe me. But now, let us bid each
other goodbye. I like to think that you were sincere in your
coquetries on your sofa, sincere again in this outpouring of your
heart. Good-bye. I feel that there is no faith in you left in
me. You would torment me again; you would always be the Duchess,
and---- But there, good-bye, we shall never understand each
"Now, what do you wish?" he continued, taking the tone of a
master of the ceremonies--"to return home, or to go back to Mme
de Serizy's ball? I have done all in my power to prevent any
scandal. Neither your servants nor anyone else can possibly know
what has passed between us in the last quarter of an hour. Your
servants have no idea that you have left the ballroom; your
carriage never left Mme de Serizy's courtyard; your brougham may
likewise be found in the court of your own hotel. Where do you
wish to be?"
"What do you counsel, Armand?"
"There is no Armand now, Mme la Duchesse. We are strangers to
"Then take me to the ball," she said, still curious to put
Armand's power to the test. "Thrust a soul that suffered in the
world, and must always suffer there, if there is no happiness for
her now, down into hell again. And yet, oh my friend, I love you
as your bourgeoises love; I love you so that I could come to you
and fling my arms about your neck before all the world if you
asked it off me. The hateful world has not corrupted me. I am
young at least, and I have grown younger still. I am a child,
yes, your child, your new creature. Ah! do not drive me forth
out of my Eden!"
Armand shook his head.
"Ah! let me take something with me, if I go, some little thing
to wear tonight on my heart," she said, taking possession of
Armand's glove, which she twisted into her handkerchief.
"No, I am NOT like all those depraved women. You do not know
the world, and so you cannot know my worth. You shall know it
now! There are women who sell themselves for money; there are
others to be gained by gifts, it is a vile world! Oh, I wish I
were a simple bourgeoise, a working girl, if you would rather
have a woman beneath you than a woman whose devotion is
accompanied by high rank, as men count it. Oh, my Armand, there
are noble, high, and chaste and pure natures among us; and then
they are lovely indeed. I would have all nobleness that I might
offer it all up to you. Misfortune willed that I should be a
duchess; I would I were a royal princess, that my offering might
be complete. I would be a grisette for you, and a queen for
He listened, damping his cigars with his lips.
"You will let me know when you wish to go," he said.
"But I should like to stay----"
"That is another matter!"
"Stay, that was badly rolled," she cried, seizing on a cigar
and devouring all that Armand's lips had touched.
"Do you smoke?"
"Oh, what would I not do to please you?"
"Very well. Go, madame."
"I will obey you," she answered, with tears in her eyes.
"You must be blindfolded; you must not see a glimpse of the
"I am ready, Armand," she said, bandaging her eyes.
"Can you see?"
Noiselessly he knelt before her.
"Ah! I can hear you!" she cried, with a little fond gesture,
thinking that the pretence of harshness was over.
He made as if he would kiss her lips; she held up her face.
"You can see, madame."
"I am just a little bit curious."
"So you always deceive me?"
"Ah! take off this handkerchief, sir," she cried out, with the
passion of a great generosity repelled with scorn, "lead me; I
will not open my eyes."
Armand felt sure of her after that cry. He led the way; the
Duchess nobly true to her word, was blind. But while Montriveau
held her hand as a father might, and led her up and down flights
of stairs, he was studying the throbbing pulses of this woman's
heart so suddenly invaded by Love. Mme de Langeais, rejoicing in
this power of speech, was glad to let him know all; but he was
inflexible; his hand was passive in reply to the questionings of
At length, after some journey made together, Armand bade her go
forward; the opening was doubtless narrow, for as she went she
felt that his hand protected her dress. His care touched her; it
was a revelation surely that there was a little love still left;
yet it was in some sort a farewell, for Montriveau left her
without a word. The air was warm; the Duchess, feeling the heat,
opened her eyes, and found herself standing by the fire in the
Comtesse de Serizy's boudoir.
She was alone. Her first thought was for her disordered
toilette; in a moment she had adjusted her dress and restored her
"Well, dear Antoinette, we have been looking for you
everywhere." It was the Comtesse de Serizy who spoke as she
opened the door.
"I came here to breathe," said the Duchess; "it is unbearably
hot in the rooms."
"People thought that you had gone; but my brother Ronquerolles
told me that your servants were waiting for you."
"I am tired out, dear, let me stay and rest here for a minute,"
and the Duchess sat down on the sofa.
"Why, what is the matter with you? You are shaking from head to
The Marquis de Ronquerolles came in.
"Mme la Duchesse, I was afraid that something might have
happened. I have just come across your coachman, the man is as
tipsy as all the Swiss in Switzerland."
The Duchess made no answer; she was looking round the room, at
the chimney-piece and the tall mirrors, seeking the trace of an
opening. Then with an extraordinary sensation she recollected
that she was again in the midst of the gaiety of the ballroom
after that terrific scene which had changed the whole course of
her life. She began to shiver violently.
"M. de Montriveau's prophecy has shaken my nerves," she said.
"It was a joke, but still I will see whether his axe from London
will haunt me even in my sleep. So good-bye, dear.--Good-bye, M.
As she went through the rooms she was beset with enquiries and
regrets. Her world seemed to have dwindled now that she, its
queen, had fallen so low, was so diminished. And what, moreover,
were these men compared with him whom she loved with all her
heart; with the man grown great by all that she had lost in
stature? The giant had regained the height that he had lost for
a while, and she exaggerated it perhaps beyond measure. She
looked, in spite of herself, at the servant who had attended her
to the ball. He was fast asleep.
"Have you been here all the time?" she asked.
As she took her seat in her carriage she saw, in fact, that her
coachman was drunk--so drunk, that at any other time she would
have been afraid; but after a great crisis in life, fear loses
its appetite for common food. She reached home, at any rate,
without accident; but even there she felt a change in herself, a
new feeling that she could not shake off. For her, there was now
but one man in the world; which is to say that henceforth she
cared to shine for his sake alone.
While the physiologist can define love promptly by following out
natural laws, the moralist finds a far more perplexing problem
before him if he attempts to consider love in all its
developments due to social conditions. Still, in spite of the
heresies of the endless sects that divide the church of Love,
there is one broad and trenchant line of difference in doctrine,
a line that all the discussion in the world can never deflect. A
rigid application of this line explains the nature of the crisis
through which the Duchess, like most women, was to pass. Passion
she knew, but she did not love as yet.
Love and passion are two different conditions which poets and men
of the world, philosophers and fools, alike continually confound.
Love implies a give and take, a certainty of bliss that nothing
can change; it means so close a clinging of the heart, and an
exchange of happiness so constant, that there is no room left for
jealousy. Then possession is a means and not an end;
unfaithfulness may give pain, but the bond is not less close; the
soul is neither more nor less ardent or troubled, but happy at
every moment; in short, the divine breath of desire spreading
from end to end of the immensity of Time steeps it all for us in
the selfsame hue; life takes the tint of the unclouded heaven.
But Passion is the foreshadowing of Love, and of that Infinite to
which all suffering souls aspire. Passion is a hope that may be
cheated. Passion means both suffering and transition. Passion
dies out when hope is dead. Men and women may pass through this
experience many times without dishonour, for it is so natural to
spring towards happiness; but there is only one love in a
lifetime. All discussions of sentiment ever conducted on paper
or by word of mouth may therefore be resumed by two
questions--"Is it passion? Is it love?" So, since love comes
into existence only through the intimate experience of the bliss
which gives it lasting life, the Duchess was beneath the yoke of
passion as yet; and as she knew the fierce tumult, the
unconscious calculations, the fevered cravings, and all that is
meant by that word PASSION--she suffered. Through all the
trouble of her soul there rose eddying gusts of tempest, raised
by vanity or self-love, or pride or a high spirit; for all these
forms of egoism make common cause together.
She had said to this man, "I love you; I am yours!" Was it
possible that the Duchesse de Langeais should have uttered those
words--in vain? She must either be loved now or play her part of
queen no longer. And then she felt the loneliness of the
luxurious couch where pleasure had never yet set his glowing
feet; and over and over again, while she tossed and writhed
there, she said, "I want to be loved."
But the belief that she still had in herself gave her hope of
success. The Duchess might be piqued, the vain Parisienne might
be humiliated; but the woman saw glimpses of wedded happiness,
and imagination, avenging the time lost for nature, took a
delight in kindling the inextinguishable fire in her veins. She
all but attained to the sensations of love; for amid her poignant
doubt whether she was loved in return, she felt glad at heart to
say to herself, "I love him!" As for her scruples, religion,
and the world she could trample them under foot! Montriveau was
her religion now. She spent the next day in a state of moral
torpor, troubled by a physical unrest, which no words could
express. She wrote letters and tore them all up, and invented a
thousand impossible fancies.
When M. de Montriveau's usual hour arrived, she tried to think
that he would come, and enjoyed the feeling of expectation. Her
whole life was concentrated in the single sense of hearing.
Sometimes she shut her eyes, straining her ears to listen through
space, wishing that she could annihilate everything that lay
between her and her lover, and so establish that perfect silence
which sounds may traverse from afar. In her tense
self-concentration, the ticking of the clock grew hateful to her;
she stopped its ill-omened garrulity. The twelve strokes of
midnight sounded from the drawing-room.
"Ah, God!" she cried, "to see him here would be happiness.
And yet, it is not so very long since he came here, brought by
desire, and the tones of his voice filled this boudoir. And now
there is nothing."
She remembered the times that she had played the coquette with
him, and how that her coquetry had cost her her lover, and the
despairing tears flowed for long.
Her woman came at length with, "Mme la Duchesse does not know,
perhaps, that it is two o'clock in the morning; I thought that
madame was not feeling well."
"Yes, I am going to bed," said the Duchess, drying her eyes.
"But remember, Suzanne, never to come in again without orders; I
tell you this for the last time."
For a week, Mme de Langeais went to every house where there was a
hope of meeting M. de Montriveau. Contrary to her usual habits,
she came early and went late; gave up dancing, and went to the
card-tables. Her experiments were fruitless. She did not
succeed in getting a glimpse of Armand. She did not dare to
utter his name now. One evening, however, in a fit of despair,
she spoke to Mme de Serizy, and asked as carelessly as she could,
"You must have quarrelled with M. de Montriveau? He is not to
be seen at your house now."
The Countess laughed. "So he does not come here either?" she
returned. "He is not to be seen anywhere, for that matter. He
is interested in some woman, no doubt."
"I used to think that the Marquis de Ronquerolles was one of his
friends----" the Duchess began sweetly.
"I have never heard my brother say that he was acquainted with
Mme de Langeais did not reply. Mme de Serizy concluded from the
Duchess's silence that she might apply the scourge with impunity
to a discreet friendship which she had seen, with bitterness of
soul, for a long time past.
"So you miss that melancholy personage, do you? I have heard
most extraordinary things of him. Wound his feelings, he never
comes back, he forgives nothing; and, if you love him, he keeps
you in chains. To everything that I said of him, one of those
that praise him sky-high would always answer, `He knows how to
love!' People are always telling me that Montriveau would give
up all for his friend; that his is a great nature. Pooh! society
does not want such tremendous natures. Men of that stamp are all
very well at home; let them stay there and leave us to our
pleasant littlenesses. What do you say, Antoinette?"
Woman of the world though she was, the Duchess seemed agitated,
yet she replied in a natural voice that deceived her fair
"I am sorry to miss him. I took a great interest in him, and
promised to myself to be his sincere friend. I like great
natures, dear friend, ridiculous though you may think it. To
give oneself to a fool is a clear confession, is it not, that one
is governed wholly by one's senses?
Mme de Serizy's "preferences" had always been for commonplace
men; her lover at the moment, the Marquis d'Aiglemont, was a
fine, tall man.
After this, the Countess soon took her departure, you may be sure
Mme de Langeais saw hope in Armand's withdrawal from the world;
she wrote to him at once; it was a humble, gentle letter, surely
it would bring him if he loved her still. She sent her footman
with it next day. On the servant's return, she asked whether he
had given the letter to M. de Montriveau himself, and could not
restrain the movement of joy at the affirmative answer. Armand
was in Paris! He stayed alone in his house; he did not go out
into society! So she was loved! All day long she waited for an
answer that never came. Again and again, when impatience grew
unbearable, Antoinette found reasons for his delay. Armand felt
embarrassed; the reply would come by post; but night came, and
she could not deceive herself any longer. It was a dreadful day,
a day of pain grown sweet, of intolerable heart-throbs, a day
when the heart squanders the very forces of life in riot.
Next day she sent for an answer.
"M. le Marquis sent word that he would call on Mme la
Duchesse," reported Julien.
She fled lest her happiness should be seen in her face, and flung
herself on her couch to devour her first sensations.
"He is coming!"
The thought rent her soul. And, in truth, woe unto those for
whom suspense is not the most horrible time of tempest, while it
increases and multiplies the sweetest joys; for they have nothing
in them of that flame which quickens the images of things, giving
to them a second existence, so that we cling as closely to the
pure essence as to its outward and visible manifestation. What
is suspense in love but a constant drawing upon an unfailing
hope?--a submission to the terrible scourging of passion, while
passion is yet happy, and the disenchantment of reality has not
set in. The constant putting forth of strength and longing,
called suspense, is surely, to the human soul, as fragrance to
the flower that breathes it forth. We soon leave the brilliant,
unsatisfying colours of tulips and coreopsis, but we turn again
and again to drink in the sweetness of orange-blossoms or
volkameria-flowers compared separately, each in its own land, to
a betrothed bride, full of love, made fair by the past and
The Duchess learned the joys of this new life of hers through the
rapture with which she received the scourgings of love. As this
change wrought in her, she saw other destinies before her, and a
better meaning in the things of life. As she hurried to her
dressing-room, she understood what studied adornment and the most
minute attention to her toilet mean when these are undertaken for
love's sake and not for vanity. Even now this making ready
helped her to bear the long time of waiting. A relapse of
intense agitation set in when she was dressed; she passed through
nervous paroxysms brought on by the dreadful power which sets the
whole mind in ferment. Perhaps that power is only a disease,
though the pain of it is sweet. The Duchess was dressed and
waiting at two o clock in the afternoon. At half-past eleven
that night M. de Montriveau had not arrived. To try to give an
idea of the anguish endured by a woman who might be said to be
the spoilt child of civilisation, would be to attempt to say how
many imaginings the heart can condense into one thought. As well
endeavour to measure the forces expended by the soul in a sigh
whenever the bell rang; to estimate the drain of life when a
carriage rolled past without stopping, and left her prostrate.
"Can he be playing with me?" she said, as the clocks struck
She grew white; her teeth chattered; she struck her hands
together and leapt up and crossed the boudoir, recollecting as
she did so how often he had come thither without a summons. But
she resigned herself. Had she not seen him grow pale, and start
up under the stinging barbs of irony? Then Mme de Langeais felt
the horror of the woman's appointed lot; a man's is the active
part, a woman must wait passively when she loves. If a woman
goes beyond her beloved, she makes a mistake which few men can
forgive; almost every man would feel that a woman lowers herself
by this piece of angelic flattery. But Armand's was a great
nature; he surely must be one of the very few who can repay such
exceeding love by love that lasts forever.
"Well, I will make the advance," she told herself, as she
tossed on her bed and found no sleep there; "I will go to him.
I will not weary myself with holding out a hand to him, but I
will hold it out. A man of a thousand will see a promise of love
and constancy in every step that a woman takes towards him. Yes,
the angels must come down from heaven to reach men; and I wish to
be an angel for him."
Next day she wrote. It was a billet of the kind in which the
intellects of the ten thousand Sevignes that Paris now can number
particularly excel. And yet only a Duchesse de Langeais, brought
up by Mme la Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, could have written
that delicious note; no other woman could complain without
lowering herself; could spread wings in such a flight without
draggling her pinions in humiliation; rise gracefully in revolt;
scold without giving offence; and pardon without compromising her
Julien went with the note. Julien, like his kind, was the victim
of love's marches and countermarches.
"What did M. de Montriveau reply?" she asked, as indifferently
as she could, when the man came back to report himself.
"M. le Marquis requested me to tell Mme la Duchesse that it was
Oh the dreadful reaction of the soul upon herself! To have her
heart stretched on the rack before curious witnesses; yet not to
utter a sound, to be forced to keep silence! One of the
countless miseries of the rich!
More than three weeks went by. Mme de Langeais wrote again and
again, and no answer came from Montriveau. At last she gave out
that she was ill, to gain a dispensation from attendance on the
Princess and from social duties. She was only at home to her
father the Duc de Navarreins, her aunt the Princesse de
Blamont-Chauvry, the old Vidame de Pamiers (her maternal
great-uncle), and to her husband's uncle, the Duc de Grandlieu.
These persons found no difficulty in believing that the Duchess
was ill, seeing that she grew thinner and paler and more dejected
every day. The vague ardour of love, the smart of wounded pride,
the continual prick of the only scorn that could touch her, the
yearnings towards joys that she craved with a vain continual
longing--all these things told upon her, mind and body; all the
forces of her nature were stimulated to no purpose. She was
paying the arrears of her life of make-believe.
She went out at last to a review. M. de Montriveau was to be
there. For the Duchess, on the balcony of the Tuileries with the
Royal Family, it was one of those festival days that are long
remembered. She looked supremely beautiful in her languor; she
was greeted with admiration in all eyes. It was Montriveau's
presence that made her so fair.
Once or twice they exchanged glances. The General came almost to
her feet in all the glory of that soldier's uniform, which
produces an effect upon the feminine imagination to which the
most prudish will confess. When a woman is very much in love,
and has not seen her lover for two months, such a swift moment
must be something like the phase of a dream when the eyes embrace
a world that stretches away forever. Only women or young men can
imagine the dull, frenzied hunger in the Duchess's eyes. As for
older men, if during the paroxysms of early passion in youth they
had experience of such phenomena of nervous power; at a later day
it is so completely forgotten that they deny the very existence
of the luxuriant ecstasy--the only name that can be given to
these wonderful intuitions. Religious ecstasy is the aberration
of a soul that has shaken off its bonds of flesh; whereas in
amorous ecstasy all the forces of soul and body are embraced and
blended in one. If a woman falls a victim to the tyrannous
frenzy before which Mme de Langeais was forced to bend, she will
take one decisive resolution after another so swiftly that it is
impossible to give account of them. Thought after thought rises
and flits across her brain, as clouds are whirled by the wind
across the grey veil of mist that shuts out the sun. Thenceforth
the facts reveal all. And the facts are these.
The day after the review, Mme de Langeais sent her carriage and
liveried servants to wait at the Marquis de Montriveau's door
from eight o'clock in the morning till three in the afternoon.
Armand lived in the Rue de Tournon, a few steps away from the
Chamber of Peers, and that very day the House was sitting; but
long before the peers returned to their palaces, several people
had recognised the Duchess's carriage and liveries. The first of
these was the Baron de Maulincour. That young officer had met
with disdain from Mme de Langeais and a better reception from Mme
de Serizy; he betook himself at once therefore to his mistress,
and under seal of secrecy told her of this strange freak.
In a moment the news was spread with telegraphic speed through
all the coteries in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; it reached the
Tuileries and the Elysee-Bourbon; it was the sensation of the
day, the matter of all the talk from noon till night. Almost
everywhere the women denied the facts, but in such a manner that
the report was confirmed; the men one and all believed it, and
manifested a most indulgent interest in Mme de Langeais. Some
among them threw the blame on Armand.
"That savage of a Montriveau is a man of bronze," said they;
"he insisted on making this scandal, no doubt."
"Very well, then," others replied, "Mme de Langeais has been
guilty of a most generous piece of imprudence. To renounce the
world and rank, and fortune, and consideration for her lover's
sake, and that in the face of all Paris, is as fine a coup d'etat
for a woman as that barber's knife-thrust, which so affected
Canning in a court of assize. Not one of the women who blame the
Duchess would make a declaration worthy of ancient times. It is
heroic of Mme de Langeais to proclaim herself so frankly. Now
there is nothing left to her but to love Montriveau. There must
be something great about a woman if she says, `I will have but
one passion.' "
"But what is to become of society, monsieur, if you honour vice
in this way without respect for virtue?" asked the Comtesse de
Granville, the attorney-general's wife.
While the Chateau, the Faubourg, and the Chaussee d'Antin were
discussing the shipwreck of aristocratic virtue; while excited
young men rushed about on horseback to make sure that the
carriage was standing in the Rue de Tournon, and the Duchess in
consequence was beyond a doubt in M. de Montriveau's rooms, Mme
de Langeais, with heavy throbbing pulses, was lying hidden away
in her boudoir. And Armand?--he had been out all night, and at
that moment was walking with M. de Marsay in the Gardens of the
Tuileries. The elder members, of Mme de Langeais's family were
engaged in calling upon one another, arranging to read her a
homily and to hold a consultation as to the best way of putting a
stop to the scandal.
At three o'clock, therefore, M. le Duc de Navarreins, the Vidame
de Pamiers, the old Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, and the Duc de
Grandlieu were assembled in Mme la Duchesse de Langeais's
drawing-room. To them, as to all curious enquirers, the servants
said that their mistress was not at home; the Duchess had made no
exceptions to her orders. But these four personages shone
conspicuous in that lofty sphere, of which the revolutions and
hereditary pretensions are solemnly recorded year by year in the
Almanach de Gotha, wherefore without some slight sketch of each
of them this picture of society were incomplete.
The Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, in the feminine world, was a
most poetic wreck of the reign of Louis Quinze. In her beautiful
prime, so it was said, she had done her part to win for that
monarch his appellation of le Bien-aime. Of her past charms of
feature, little remained save a remarkably prominent slender
nose, curved like a Turkish scimitar, now the principal ornament
of a countenance that put you in mind of an old white glove. Add
a few powdered curls, high-heeled pantoufles, a cap with
upstanding loops of lace, black mittens, and a decided taste for
ombre. But to do full justice to the lady, it must be said that
she appeared in low-necked gowns of an evening (so high an
opinion of her ruins had she), wore long gloves, and raddled her
cheeks with Martin's classic rouge. An appalling amiability in
her wrinkles, a prodigious brightness in the old lady's eyes, a
profound dignity in her whole person, together with the triple
barbed wit of her tongue, and an infallible memory in her head,
made of her a real power in the land. The whole Cabinet des
Chartes was entered in duplicate on the parchment of her brain.
She knew all the genealogies of every noble house in
Europe--princes, dukes, and counts--and could put her hand on the
last descendants of Charlemagne in the direct line. No
usurpation of title could escape the Princesse de
Young men who wished to stand well at Court, ambitious men, and
young married women paid her assiduous homage. Her salon set the
tone of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. The words of this Talleyrand
in petticoats were taken as final decrees. People came to
consult her on questions of etiquette or usages, or to take
lessons in good taste. And, in truth, no other old woman could
put back her snuff-box in her pocket as the Princess could; while
there was a precision and a grace about the movements of her
skirts, when she sat down or crossed her feet, which drove the
finest ladies of the young generation to despair. Her voice had
remained in her head during one-third of her lifetime; but she
could not prevent a descent into the membranes of the nose, which
lent to it a peculiar expressiveness. She still retained a
hundred and fifty thousand livres of her great fortune, for
Napoleon had generously returned her woods to her; so that
personally and in the matter of possessions she was a woman of no
This curious antique, seated in a low chair by the fireside, was
chatting with the Vidame de Pamiers, a contemporary ruin. The
Vidame was a big, tall, and spare man, a seigneur of the old
school, and had been a Commander of the Order of Malta. His neck
had always been so tightly compressed by a strangulation stock,
that his cheeks pouched over it a little, and he held his head
high; to many people this would have given an air of
self-sufficiency, but in the Vidame it was justified by a
Voltairean wit. His wide prominent eyes seemed to see
everything, and as a matter of fact there was not much that they
had not seen. Altogether, his person was a perfect model of
aristocratic outline, slim and slender, supple and agreeable. He
seemed as if he could be pliant or rigid at will, and twist and
bend, or rear his head like a snake.
The Duc de Navarreins was pacing up and down the room with the
Duc de Grandlieu. Both were men of fifty-six or thereabouts, and
still hale; both were short, corpulent, flourishing, somewhat
florid-complexioned men with jaded eyes, and lower lips that had
begun to hang already. But for an exquisite refinement of
accent, an urbane courtesy, and an ease of manner that could
change in a moment to insolence, a superficial observer might
have taken them for a couple of bankers. Any such mistake would
have been impossible, however, if the listener could have heard
them converse, and seen them on their guard with men whom they
feared, vapid and commonplace with their equals, slippery with
the inferiors whom courtiers and statesmen know how to tame by a
tactful word, or to humiliate with an unexpected phrase.
Such were the representatives of the great noblesse that
determined to perish rather than submit to any change. It was a
noblesse that deserved praise and blame in equal measure; a
noblesse that will never be judged impartially until some poet
shall arise to tell how joyfully the nobles obeyed the King
though their heads fell under a Richelieu's axe, and how deeply
they scorned the guillotine of '89 as a foul revenge.
Another noticeable trait in all the four was a thin voice that
agreed peculiarly well with their ideas and bearing. Among
themselves, at any rate, they were on terms of perfect equality.
None of them betrayed any sign of annoyance over the Duchess's
escapade, but all of them had learned at Court to hide their
And here, lest critics should condemn the puerility of the
opening of the forthcoming scene, it is perhaps as well to remind
the reader that Locke, once happening to be in the company of
several great lords, renowned no less for their wit than for
their breeding and political consistency, wickedly amused himself
by taking down their conversation by some shorthand process of
his own; and afterwards, when he read it over to them to see what
they could make of it, they all burst out laughing. And, in
truth, the tinsel jargon which circulates among the upper ranks
in every country yields mighty little gold to the crucible when
washed in the ashes of literature or philosophy. In every rank
of society (some few Parisian salons excepted) the curious
observer finds folly a constant quantity beneath a more or less
transparent varnish. Conversation with any substance in it is a
rare exception, and boeotianism is current coin in every zone.
In the higher regions they must perforce talk more, but to make
up for it they think the less. Thinking is a tiring exercise,
and the rich like their lives to flow by easily and without
effort. It is by comparing the fundamental matter of jests, as
you rise in the social scale from the street-boy to the peer of
France, that the observer arrives at a true comprehension of M.
de Talleyrand's maxim, "The manner is everything"; an elegant
rendering of the legal axiom, "The form is of more consequence
than the matter." In the eyes of the poet the advantage rests
with the lower classes, for they seldom fail to give a certain
character of rude poetry to their thoughts. Perhaps also this
same observation may explain the sterility of the salons, their
emptiness, their shallowness, and the repugnance felt by men of
ability for bartering their ideas for such pitiful small change.
The Duke suddenly stopped as if some bright idea occurred to him,
and remarked to his neighbour--
"So you have sold Tornthon?"
"No, he is ill. I am very much afraid I shall lose him, and I
should be uncommonly sorry. He is a very good hunter. Do you
know how the Duchesse de Marigny is?"
"No. I did not go this morning. I was just going out to call
when you came in to speak about Antoinette. But yesterday she
was very ill indeed; they had given her up, she took the
"Her death will make a change in your cousin's position."
"Not at all. She gave away her property in her lifetime, only
keeping an annuity. She made over the Guebriant estate to her
niece, Mme de Soulanges, subject to a yearly charge."
"It will be a great loss for society. She was a kind woman.
Her family will miss her; her experience and advice carried
weight. Her son Marigny is an amiable man; he has a sharp wit,
he can talk. He is pleasant, very pleasant. Pleasant? oh, that
no one can deny, but--ill regulated to the last degree. Well,
and yet it is an extraordinary thing, he is very acute. He was
dining at the club the other day with that moneyed
Chaussee-d'Antin set. Your uncle (he always goes there for his
game of cards) found him there to his astonishment, and asked if
he was a member. `Yes,' said he, `I don't go into society now; I
am living among the bankers.'--You know why?" added the Marquis,
with a meaning smile.
"No," said the Duke.
"He is smitten with that little Mme Keller, Gondreville's
daughter; she is only lately married, and has a great vogue, they
say, in that set."
"Well, Antoinette does not find time heavy on her hands, it
seems," remarked the Vidame.
"My affection for that little woman has driven me to find a
singular pastime," replied the Princess, as she returned her
snuff-box to her pocket.
"Dear aunt, I am extremely vexed," said the Duke, stopping
short in his walk. "Nobody but one of Buonaparte's men could
ask such an indecorous thing of a woman of fashion. Between
ourselves, Antoinette might have made a better choice."
"The Montriveaus are a very old family and very well connected,
my dear," replied the Princess; "they are related to all the
noblest houses of Burgundy. If the Dulmen branch of the Arschoot
Rivaudoults should come to an end in Galicia, the Montriveaus
would succeed to the Arschoot title and estates. They inherit
through their great-grandfather.
"Are you sure?"
"I know it better than this Montriveau's father did. I told him
about it, I used to see a good deal of him; and, Chevalier of
several orders though he was, he only laughed; he was an
encyclopaedist. But his brother turned the relationship to good
account during the emigration. I have heard it said that his
northern kinsfolk were most kind in every way----"
"Yes, to be sure. The Comte de Montriveau died at St.
Petersburg," said the Vidame. "I met him there. He was a big
man with an incredible passion for oysters."
"However many did he eat?" asked the Duc de Grandlieu.
"Ten dozen every day."
"And did they not disagree with him?"
"Not the least bit in the world."
"Why, that is extraordinary! Had he neither the stone nor gout,
nor any other complaint, in consequence?"
"No; his health was perfectly good, and he died through an
"By accident! Nature prompted him to eat oysters, so probably
he required them; for up to a certain point our predominant
tastes are conditions of our existence."
"I am of your opinion," said the Princess, with a smile.
"Madame, you always put a malicious construction on things,"
returned the Marquis.
"I only want you to understand that these remarks might leave a
wrong impression on a young woman's mind," said she, and
interrupted herself to exclaim, "But this niece, this niece of
"Dear aunt, I still refuse to believe that she can have gone to
M. de Montriveau," said the Duc de Navarreins.
"Bah!" returned the Princess.
"What do you think, Vidame?" asked the Marquis.
"If the Duchess were an artless simpleton, I should think
"But when a woman is in love she becomes an artless simpleton,"
retorted the Princess. "Really, my poor Vidame, you must be
"After all, what is to be done?" asked the Duke.
"If my dear niece is wise," said the Princess, "she will go to
Court this evening--fortunately, today is Monday, and reception
day--and you must see that we all rally round her and give the
lie to this absurd rumour. There are hundreds of ways of
explaining things; and if the Marquis de Montriveau is a
gentleman, he will come to our assistance. We will bring these
children to listen to reason----"
"But, dear aunt, it is not easy to tell M. de Montriveau the
truth to his face. He is one of Buonaparte's pupils, and he has
a position. Why, he is one of the great men of the day; he is
high up in the Guards, and very useful there. He has not a spark
of ambition. He is just the man to say, `Here is my commission,
leave me in peace,' if the King should say a word that he did not
"Then, pray, what are his opinions?"
"Really," sighed the Princess, "the King is, as he always has
been, a Jacobin under the Lilies of France."
"Oh! not quite so bad," said the Vidame.
"Yes; I have known him for a long while. The man that pointed
out the Court to his wife on the occasion of her first state
dinner in public with, `These are our people,' could only be a
black-hearted scoundrel. I can see Monsieur exactly the same as
ever in the King. The bad brother who voted so wrongly in his
department of the Constituent Assembly was sure to compound with
the Liberals and allow them to argue and talk. This
philosophical cant will be just as dangerous now for the younger
brother as it used to be for the elder; this fat man with the
little mind is amusing himself by creating difficulties, and how
his successor is to get out of them I do not know; he holds his
younger brother in abhorrence; he would be glad to think as he
lay dying, `He will not reign very long----' "
"Aunt, he is the King, and I have the honour to be in his
"But does your post take away your right of free speech, my
dear? You come of quite as good a house as the Bourbons. If the
Guises had shown a little more resolution, His Majesty would be a
nobody at this day. It is time I went out of this world, the
noblesse is dead. Yes, it is all over with you, my children,"
she continued, looking as she spoke at the Vidame. "What has my
niece done that the whole town should be talking about her? She
is in the wrong; I disapprove of her conduct, a useless scandal
is a blunder; that is why I still have my doubts about this want
of regard for appearances; I brought her up, and I know
Just at that moment the Duchess came out of her boudoir. She had
recognised her aunt's voice and heard the name of Montriveau.
She was still in her loose morning-gown; and even as she came in,
M. de Grandlieu, looking carelessly out of the window, saw his
niece's carriage driving back along the street. The Duke took
his daughter's face in both hands and kissed her on the forehead.
"So, dear girl," he said, "you do not know what is going on?"
"Has anything extraordinary happened, father dear?"
"Why, all Paris believes that you are with M. de Montriveau."
"My dear Antoinette, you were at home all the time, were you
not?" said the Princess, holding out a hand, which the Duchess
kissed with affectionate respect.
"Yes, dear mother; I was at home all the time. And," she
added, as she turned to greet the Vidame and the Marquis, "I
wished that all Paris should think that I was with M. de
The Duke flung up his hands, struck them together in despair, and
folded his arms.
"Then, cannot you see what will come of this mad freak?" he
asked at last.
But the aged Princess had suddenly risen, and stood looking
steadily at the Duchess, the younger woman flushed, and her eyes
fell. Mme de Chauvry gently drew her closer, and said, "My
little angel, let me kiss you!"
She kissed her niece very affectionately on the forehead, and
continued smiling, while she held her hand in a tight clasp.
"We are not under the Valois now, dear child. You have
compromised your husband and your position. Still, we will
arrange to make everything right."
"But, dear aunt, I do not wish to make it right at all. It is
my wish that all Paris should say that I was with M. de
Montriveau this morning. If you destroy that belief, however ill
grounded it may be, you will do me a singular disservice."
"Do you really wish to ruin yourself, child, and to grieve your
"My family, father, unintentionally condemned me to irreparable
misfortune when they sacrificed me to family considerations. You
may, perhaps, blame me for seeking alleviations, but you will
certainly feel for me."
"After all the endless pains you take to settle your daughters
suitably!" muttered M. de Navarreins, addressing the Vidame.
The Princess shook a stray grain of snuff from her skirts. "My
dear little girl," she said, "be happy, if you can. We are not
talking of troubling your felicity, but of reconciling it with
social usages. We all of us here assembled know that marriage is
a defective institution tempered by love. But when you take a
lover, is there any need to make your bed in the Place du
Carrousel? See now, just be a bit reasonable, and hear what we
have to say."
"I am listening."
"Mme la Duchesse," began the Duc de Grandlieu, "if it were any
part of an uncle's duty to look after his nieces, he ought to
have a position; society would owe him honours and rewards and a
salary, exactly as if he were in the King's service. So I am not
here to talk about my nephew, but of your own interests. Let us
look ahead a little. If you persist in making a scandal--I have
seen the animal before, and I own that I have no great liking for
him--Langeais is stingy enough, and he does not care a rap for
anyone but himself; he will have a separation; he will stick to
your money, and leave you poor, and consequently you will be a
nobody. The income of a hundred thousand livres that you have
just inherited from your maternal great-aunt will go to pay for
his mistresses' amusements. You will be bound and gagged by the
law; you will have to say Amen to all these arrangements.
Suppose M. de Montriveau leaves you----dear me! do not let us put
ourselves in a passion, my dear niece; a man does not leave a
woman while she is young and pretty; still, we have seen so many
pretty women left disconsolate, even among princesses, that you
will permit the supposition, an all but impossible supposition I
quite wish to believe.----Well, suppose that he goes, what will
become of you without a husband? Keep well with your husband as
you take care of your beauty; for beauty, after all, is a woman's
parachute, and a husband also stands between you and worse. I am
supposing that you are happy and loved to the end, and I am
leaving unpleasant or unfortunate events altogether out of the
reckoning. This being so, fortunately or unfortunately, you may
have children. What are they to be? Montriveaus? Very well;
they certainly will not succeed to their father's whole fortune.
You will want to give them all that you have; he will wish to do
the same. Nothing more natural, dear me! And you will find the
law against you. How many times have we seen heirs-at-law
bringing a law-suit to recover the property from illegitimate
children? Every court of law rings with such actions all over
the world. You will create a fidei commissum perhaps; and if the
trustee betrays your confidence, your children have no remedy
against him; and they are ruined. So choose carefully. You see
the perplexities of the position. In every possible way your
children will be sacrificed of necessity to the fancies of your
heart; they will have no recognised status. While they are
little they will be charming; but, Lord! some day they will
reproach you for thinking of no one but your two selves. We old
gentlemen know all about it. Little boys grow up into men, and
men are ungrateful beings. When I was in Germany, did I not hear
young de Horn say, after supper, `If my mother had been an honest
woman, I should be prince-regnant!' `IF?' We have spent our
lives in hearing plebeians say IF. IF brought about the
Revolution. When a man cannot lay the blame on his father or
mother, he holds God responsible for his hard lot. In short,
dear child, we are here to open your eyes. I will say all I have
to say in a few words, on which you had better meditate: A woman
ought never to put her husband in the right."
"Uncle, so long as I cared for nobody, I could calculate; I
looked at interests then, as you do; now, I can only feel."
"But, my dear little girl," remonstrated the Vidame, "life is
simply a complication of interests and feelings; to be happy,
more particularly in your position, one must try to reconcile
one's feelings with one's interests. A grisette may love
according to her fancy, that is intelligible enough, but you have
a pretty fortune, a family, a name and a place at Court, and you
ought not to fling them out of the window. And what have we been
asking you to do to keep them all?--To manoeuvre carefully
instead of falling foul of social conventions. Lord! I shall
very soon be eighty years old, and I cannot recollect, under any
regime, a love worth the price that you are willing to pay for
the love of this lucky young man."
The Duchess silenced the Vidame with a look; if Montriveau could
have seen that glance, he would have forgiven all.
"It would be very effective on the stage," remarked the Duc de
Grandlieu, "but it all amounts to nothing when your jointure and
position and independence is concerned. You are not grateful, my
dear niece. You will not find many families where the relatives
have courage enough to teach the wisdom gained by experience, and
to make rash young heads listen to reason. Renounce your
salvation in two minutes, if it pleases you to damn yourself;
well and good; but reflect well beforehand when it comes to
renouncing your income. I know of no confessor who remits the
pains of poverty. I have a right, I think, to speak in this way
to you; for if you are ruined, I am the one person who can offer
you a refuge. I am almost an uncle to Langeais, and I alone have
a right to put him in the wrong."
The Duc de Navarreins roused himself from painful reflections.
"Since you speak of feeling, my child," he said, "let me
remind you that a woman who bears your name ought to be moved by
sentiments which do not touch ordinary people. Can you wish to
give an advantage to the Liberals, to those Jesuits of
Robespierre's that are doing all they can to vilify the noblesse?
Some things a Navarreins cannot do without failing in duty to his
house. You would not be alone in your dishonour----"
"Come, come!" said the Princess. "Dishonour? Do not make
such a fuss about the journey of an empty carriage, children, and
leave me alone with Antoinette. Ail three of you come and dine
with me. I will undertake to arrange matters suitably. You men
understand nothing; you are beginning to talk sourly already, and
I have no wish to see a quarrel between you and my dear child.
Do me the pleasure to go."
The three gentlemen probably guessed the Princess's intentions;
they took their leave. M. de Navarreins kissed his daughter on
the forehead with, "Come, be good, dear child. It is not too
late yet if you choose."
"Couldn't we find some good fellow in the family to pick a
quarrel with this Montriveau?" said the Vidame, as they went
When the two women were alone, the Princess beckoned her niece to
a little low chair by her side.
"My pearl," said she, "in this world below, I know nothing
worse calumniated than God and the eighteenth century; for as I
look back over my own young days, I do not recollect that a
single duchess trampled the proprieties underfoot as you have
just done. Novelists and scribblers brought the reign of Louis
XV into disrepute. Do not believe them. The du Barry, my dear,
was quite as good as the Widow Scarron, and the more agreeable
woman of the two. In my time a woman could keep her dignity
among her gallantries. Indiscretion was the ruin of us, and the
beginning of all the mischief. The philosophists--the nobodies
whom we admitted into our salons--had no more gratitude or sense
of decency than to make an inventory of our hearts, to traduce us
one and all, and to rail against the age by way of a return for
our kindness. The people are not in a position to judge of
anything whatsoever; they looked at the facts, not at the form.
But the men and women of those times, my heart, were quite as
remarkable as at any other period of the Monarchy. Not one of
your Werthers, none of your notabilities, as they are called,
never a one of your men in yellow kid gloves and trousers that
disguise the poverty of their legs, would cross Europe in the
dress of a travelling hawker to brave the daggers of a Duke of
Modena, and to shut himself up in the dressing-room of the
Regent's daughter at the risk of his life. Not one of your
little consumptive patients with their tortoiseshell eyeglasses
would hide himself in a closet for six weeks, like Lauzun, to
keep up his mistress's courage while she was lying in of her
child. There was more passion in M. de Jaucourt's little finger
than in your whole race of higglers that leave a woman to better
themselves elsewhere! Just tell me where to find the page that
would be cut in pieces and buried under the floorboards for one
kiss on the Konigsmark's gloved finger!
"Really, it would seem today that the roles are exchanged, and
women are expected to show their devotion for men. These modern
gentlemen are worth less, and think more of themselves. Believe
me, my dear, all these adventures that have been made public, and
now are turned against our good Louis XV, were kept quite secret
at first. If it had not been for a pack of poetasters,
scribblers, and moralists, who hung about our waiting-women, and
took down their slanders, our epoch would have appeared in
literature as a well-conducted age. I am justifying the century
and not its fringe. Perhaps a hundred women of quality were
lost; but for every one, the rogues set down ten, like the
gazettes after a battle when they count up the losses of the
beaten side. And in any case I do not know that the Revolution
and the Empire can reproach us; they were coarse, dull,
licentious times. Faugh! it is revolting. Those are the
brothels of French history.
"This preamble, my dear child," she continued after a pause,
"brings me to the thing that I have to say. If you care for
Montriveau, you are quite at liberty to love him at your ease,
and as much as you can. I know by experience that, unless you
are locked up (but locking people up is out of fashion now), you
will do as you please; I should have done the same at your age.
Only, sweetheart, I should not have given up my right to be the
mother of future Ducs de Langeais. So mind appearances. The
Vidame is right. No man is worth a single one of the sacrifices
which we are foolish enough to make for their love. Put yourself
in such a position that you may still be M. de Langeais's wife,
in case you should have the misfortune to repent. When you are
an old woman, you will be very glad to hear mass said at Court,
and not in some provincial convent. Therein lies the whole
question. A single imprudence means an allowance and a wandering
life; it means that you are at the mercy of your lover; it means
that you must put up with insolence from women that are not so
honest, precisely because they have been very vulgarly
sharp-witted. It would be a hundred times better to go to
Montriveau's at night in a cab, and disguised, instead of sending
your carriage in broad daylight. You are a little fool, my dear
child! Your carriage flattered his vanity; your person would
have ensnared his heart. All this that I have said is just and
true; but, for my own part, I do not blame you. You are two
centuries behind the times with your false ideas of greatness.
There, leave us to arrange your affairs, and say that Montriveau
made your servants drunk to gratify his vanity and to compromise
The Duchess rose to her feet with a spring. "In Heaven's name,
aunt, do not slander him!"
The old Princess's eyes flashed.
"Dear child," she said, "I should have liked to spare such of
your illusions as were not fatal. But there must be an end of
all illusions now. You would soften me if I were not so old.
Come, now, do not vex him, or us, or anyone else. I will
undertake to satisfy everybody; but promise me not to permit
yourself a single step henceforth until you have consulted me.
Tell me all, and perhaps I may bring it all right again."
"Aunt, I promise----"
"To tell me everything?"
"Yes, everything. Everything that can be told."
"But, my sweetheart, it is precisely what cannot be told that I
want to know. Let us understand each other thoroughly. Come,
let me put my withered old lips on your beautiful forehead. No;
let me do as I wish. I forbid you to kiss my bones. Old people
have a courtesy of their own. . . . There, take me down to my
carriage," she added, when she had kissed her niece.
"Then may I go to him in disguise, dear aunt?"
"Why--yes. The story can always be denied," said the old
This was the one idea which the Duchess had clearly grasped in
the sermon. When Mme de Chauvry was seated in the corner of her
carriage, Mme de Langeais bade her a graceful adieu and went up
to her room. She was quite happy again.
"My person would have snared his heart; my aunt is right; a man
cannot surely refuse a pretty woman when she understands how to
That evening, at the Elysee-Bourbon, the Duc de Navarreins, M. de
Pamiers, M. de Marsay, M. de Grandlieu, and the Duc de
Maufrigneuse triumphantly refuted the scandals that were
circulating with regard to the Duchesse de Langeais. So many
officers and other persons had seen Montriveau walking in the
Tuileries that morning, that the silly story was set down to
chance, which takes all that is offered. And so, in spite of the
fact that the Duchess's carriage had waited before Montriveau's
door, her character became as clear and as spotless as Mambrino's
sword after Sancho had polished it up.
But, at two o'clock, M. de Ronquerolles passed Montriveau in a
deserted alley, and said with a smile, "She is coming on, is
your Duchess. Go on, keep it up!" he added, and gave a
significant cut of the riding whip to his mare, who sped off like
a bullet down the avenue.
Two days after the fruitless scandal, Mme de Langeais wrote to M.
de Montriveau. That letter, like the preceding ones, remained
unanswered. This time she took her own measures, and bribed M.
de Montriveau's man, Auguste. And so at eight o'clock that
evening she was introduced into Armand's apartment. It was not
the room in which that secret scene had passed; it was entirely
different. The Duchess was told that the General would not be at
home that night. Had he two houses? The man would give no
answer. Mme de Langeais had bought the key of the room, but not
the man's whole loyalty.
When she was left alone she saw her fourteen letters lying on an
old-fashioned stand, all of them uncreased and unopened. He had
not read them. She sank into an easy-chair, and for a while she
lost consciousness. When she came to herself, Auguste was
holding vinegar for her to inhale.
"A carriage; quick!" she ordered.
The carriage came. She hastened downstairs with convulsive
speed, and left orders that no one was to be admitted. For
twenty-four hours she lay in bed, and would have no one near her
but her woman, who brought her a cup of orange-flower water from
time to time. Suzette heard her mistress moan once or twice, and
caught a glimpse of tears in the brilliant eyes, now circled with
The next day, amid despairing tears, Mme de Langeais took her
resolution. Her man of business came for an interview, and no
doubt received instructions of some kind. Afterwards she sent
for the Vidame de Pamiers; and while she waited, she wrote a
letter to M. de Montriveau. The Vidame punctually came towards
two o'clock that afternoon, to find his young cousin looking
white and worn, but resigned; never had her divine loveliness
been more poetic than now in the languor of her agony.
"You owe this assignation to your eighty-four years, dear
cousin," she said. "Ah! do not smile, I beg of you, when an
unhappy woman has reached the lowest depths of wretchedness. You
are a gentleman, and after the adventures of your youth you must
feel some indulgence for women."
"None whatever," said he.
"Everything is in their favour."
"Ah! Well, you are one of the inner family circle; possibly you
will be the last relative, the last friend whose hand I shall
press, so I can ask your good offices. Will you, dear Vidame, do
me a service which I could not ask of my own father, nor of my
uncle Grandlieu, nor of any woman? You cannot fail to
understand. I beg of you to do my bidding, and then to forget
what you have done, whatever may come of it. It is this: Will
you take this letter and go to M. de Montriveau? will you see him
yourself, give it into his hands, and ask him, as you men can ask
things between yourselves--for you have a code of honour between
man and man which you do not use with us, and a different way of
regarding things between yourselves--ask him if he will read this
letter? Not in your presence. Certain feelings men hide from
each other. I give you authority to say, if you think it
necessary to bring him, that it is a question of life or death
for me. If he deigns----"
"DEIGNS!" repeated the Vidame.
"If he deigns to read it," the Duchess continued with dignity,
"say one thing more. You will go to see him about five o'clock,
for I know that he will dine at home today at that time. Very
good. By way of answer he must come to see me. If, three hours
afterwards, by eight o'clock, he does not leave his house, all
will be over. The Duchesse de Langeais will have vanished from
the world. I shall not be dead, dear friend, no, but no human
power will ever find me again on this earth. Come and dine with
me; I shall at least have one friend with me in the last agony.
Yes, dear cousin, tonight will decide my fate; and whatever
happens to me, I pass through an ordeal by fire. There! not a
word. I will hear nothing of the nature of comment or
advice----Let us chat and laugh together," she added, holding
out a hand, which he kissed. "We will be like two grey-headed
philosophers who have learned how to enjoy life to the last
moment. I will look my best; I will be very enchanting for you.
You perhaps will be the last man to set eyes on the Duchesse de
The Vicomte bowed, took the letter, and went without a word. At
five o'clock he returned. His cousin had studied to please him,
and she looked lovely indeed. The room was gay with flowers as
if for a festivity; the dinner was exquisite. For the
grey-headed Vidame the Duchess displayed all the brilliancy of
her wit; she was more charming than she had ever been before. At
first the Vidame tried to look on all these preparations as a
young woman's jest; but now and again the attempted illusion
faded, the spell of his fair cousin's charm was broken. He
detected a shudder caused by some kind of sudden dread, and once
she seemed to listen during a pause.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Hush!" she said.
At seven o'clock the Duchess left him for a few minutes. When
she came back again she was dressed as her maid might have
dressed for a journey. She asked her guest to be her escort,
took his arm, sprang into a hackney coach, and by a quarter to
eight they stood outside M. de Montriveau's door.
Armand meantime had been reading the following letter:--
"MY FRIEND,--I went to your rooms for a few minutes without your
knowledge; I found my letters there, and took them away. This
cannot be indifference, Armand, between us; and hatred would show
itself quite differently. If you love me, make an end of this
cruel play, or you will kill me, and afterwards, learning how
much you were loved, you might be in despair. If I have not
rightly understood you, if you have no feeling towards me but
aversion, which implies both contempt and disgust, then I give up
all hope. A man never recovers from those feelings. You will
have no regrets. Dreadful though that thought may be, it will
comfort me in my long sorrow. Regrets? Oh, my Armand, may I
never know of them; if I thought that I had caused you a single
regret----But, no, I will not tell you what desolation I should
feel. I should be living still, and I could not be your wife; it
would be too late!
"Now that I have given myself wholly to you in thought, to whom
else should I give myself?--to God. The eyes that you loved for
a little while shall never look on another man's face; and may
the glory of God blind them to all besides. I shall never hear
human voices more since I heard yours--so gentle at the first, so
terrible yesterday; for it seems to me that I am still only on
the morrow of your vengeance. And now may the will of God
consume me. Between His wrath and yours, my friend, there will
be nothing left for me but a little space for tears and prayers.
"Perhaps you wonder why I write to you? Ah! do not think ill of
me if I keep a gleam of hope, and give one last sigh to happy
life before I take leave of it forever. I am in a hideous
position. I feel all the inward serenity that comes when a great
resolution has been taken, even while I hear the last growlings
of the storm. When you went out on that terrible adventure which
so drew me to you, Armand, you went from the desert to the oasis
with a good guide to show you the way. Well, I am going out of
the oasis into the desert, and you are a pitiless guide to me.
And yet you only, my friend, can understand how melancholy it is
to look back for the last time on happiness--to you, and you
only, I can make moan without a blush. If you grant my entreaty,
I shall be happy; if you are inexorable, I shall expiate the
wrong that I have done. After all, it is natural, is it not,
that a woman should wish to live, invested with all noble
feelings, in her friend's memory? Oh! my one and only love, let
her to whom you gave life go down into the tomb in the belief
that she is great in your eyes. Your harshness led me to
reflect; and now that I love you so, it seems to me that I am
less guilty than you think. Listen to my justification, I owe it
to you; and you that are all the world to me, owe me at least a
"I have learned by my own anguish all that I made you suffer by
my coquetry; but in those days I was utterly ignorant of love.
YOU know what the torture is, and you mete it out to me! During
those first eight months that you gave me you never roused any
feeling of love in me. Do you ask why this was so, my friend? I
can no more explain it than I can tell you why I love you now.
Oh! certainly it flattered my vanity that I should be the subject
of your passionate talk, and receive those burning glances of
yours; but you left me cold. No, I was not a woman; I had no
conception of womanly devotion and happiness. Who was to blame?
You would have despised me, would you not, if I had given myself
without the impulse of passion? Perhaps it is the highest height
to which we can rise--to give all and receive no joy; perhaps
there is no merit in yielding oneself to bliss that is foreseen
and ardently desired. Alas, my friend, I can say this now; these
thoughts came to me when I played with you; and you seemed to me
so great even then that I would not have you owe the gift to
pity----What is this that I have written?
"I have taken back all my letters; I am flinging them one by one
on the fire; they are burning. You will never know what they
confessed--all the love and the passion and the madness----
"I will say no more, Armand; I will stop. I will not say
another word of my feelings. If my prayers have not echoed from
my soul through yours, I also, woman that I am, decline to owe
your love to your pity. It is my wish to be loved, because you
cannot choose but love me, or else to be left without mercy. If
you refuse to read this letter, it shall be burnt. If, after you
have read it, you do not come to me within three hours, to be
henceforth forever my husband, the one man in the world for me;
then I shall never blush to know that this letter is in your
hands, the pride of my despair will protect my memory from all
insult, and my end shall be worthy of my love. When you see me
no more on earth, albeit I shall still be alive, you yourself
will not think without a shudder of the woman who, in three
hours' time, will live only to overwhelm you with her tenderness;
a woman consumed by a hopeless love, and faithful--not to
memories of past joys--but to a love that was slighted.
"The Duchesse de la Valliere wept for lost happiness and
vanished power; but the Duchesse de Langeais will be happy that
she may weep and be a power for you still. Yes, you will regret
me. I see clearly that I was not of this world, and I thank you
for making it clear to me.
"Farewell; you will never touch MY axe. Yours was the
executioner's axe, mine is God's; yours kills, mine saves. Your
love was but mortal, it could not endure disdain or ridicule;
mine can endure all things without growing weaker, it will last
eternally. Ah! I feel a sombre joy in crushing you that believe
yourself so great; in humbling you with the calm, indulgent smile
of one of the least among the angels that lie at the feet of God,
for to them is given the right and the power to protect and watch
over men in His name. You have but felt fleeting desires, while
the poor nun will shed the light of her ceaseless and ardent
prayer about you, she will shelter you all your life long beneath
the wings of a love that has nothing of earth in it.
"I have a presentiment of your answer; our trysting place shall
be--in heaven. Strength and weakness can both enter there, dear
Armand; the strong and the weak are bound to suffer. This
thought soothes the anguish of my final ordeal. So calm am I
that I should fear that I had ceased to love you if I were not
about to leave the world for your sake.
"Dear Vidame," said the Duchess as they reached Montriveau's
house, "do me the kindness to ask at the door whether he is at
home." The Vidame, obedient after the manner of the eighteenth
century to a woman's wish, got out, and came back to bring his
cousin an affirmative answer that sent a shudder through her.
She grasped his hand tightly in hers, suffered him to kiss her on
either cheek, and begged him to go at once. He must not watch
her movements nor try to protect her. "But the people passing
in the street," he objected.
"No one can fail in respect to me," she said. It was the last
word spoken by the Duchess and the woman of fashion.
The Vidame went. Mme de Langeais wrapped herself about in her
cloak, and stood on the doorstep until the clocks struck eight.
The last stroke died away. The unhappy woman waited ten, fifteen
minutes; to the last she tried to see a fresh humiliation in the
delay, then her faith ebbed. She turned to leave the fatal
"Oh, God!" the cry broke from her in spite of herself; it was
the first word spoken by the Carmelite.
Montriveau and some of his friends were talking together. He
tried to hasten them to a conclusion, but his clock was slow, and
by the time he started out for the Hotel de Langeais the Duchess
was hurrying on foot through the streets of Paris, goaded by the
dull rage in her heart. She reached the Boulevard d'Enfer, and
looked out for the last time through falling tears on the noisy,
smoky city that lay below in a red mist, lighted up by its own
lamps. Then she hailed a cab, and drove away, never to return.
When the Marquis de Montriveau reached the Hotel de Langeais, and
found no trace of his mistress, he thought that he had been
duped. He hurried away at once to the Vidame, and found that
worthy gentleman in the act of slipping on his flowered
dressing-gown, thinking the while of his fair cousin's happiness.
Montriveau gave him one of the terrific glances that produced the
effect of an electric shock on men and women alike.
"Is it possible that you have lent yourself to some cruel hoax,
monsieur?" Montriveau exclaimed. "I have just come from Mme de
Langeais's house; the servants say that she is out."
"Then a great misfortune has happened, no doubt," returned the
Vidame, "and through your fault. I left the Duchess at your
"At a quarter to eight."
"Good evening," returned Montriveau, and he hurried home to ask
the porter whether he had seen a lady standing on the doorstep
"Yes, my Lord Marquis, a handsome woman, who seemed very much
put out. She was crying like a Magdalen, but she never made a
sound, and stood as upright as a post. Then at last she went,
and my wife and I that were watching her while she could not see
us, heard her say, `Oh, God!' so that it went to our hearts,
asking your pardon, to hear her say it."
Montriveau, in spite of all his firmness, turned pale at those
few words. He wrote a few lines to Ronquerolles, sent off the
message at once, and went up to his rooms. Ronquerolles came
just about midnight.
Armand gave him the Duchess's letter to read.
"Well?" asked Ronquerolles.
"She was here at my door at eight o'clock; at a quarter-past
eight she had gone. I have lost her, and I love her. Oh! if my
life were my own, I could blow my brains out."
"Pooh, pooh! Keep cool," said Ronquerolles. "Duchesses do
not fly off like wagtails. She cannot travel faster than three
leagues an hour, and tomorrow we will ride six.--Confound it!
Mme de Langeais is no ordinary woman," he continued. "Tomorrow
we will all of us mount and ride. The police will put us on her
track during the day. She must have a carriage; angels of that
sort have no wings. We shall find her whether she is on the road
or hidden in Paris. There is the semaphore. We can stop her.
You shall be happy. But, my dear fellow, you have made a
blunder, of which men of your energy are very often guilty. They
judge others by themselves, and do not know the point when human
nature gives way if you strain the cords too tightly. Why did
you not say a word to me sooner? I would have told you to be
punctual. Good-bye till tomorrow," he added, as Montriveau said
nothing. "Sleep if you can," he added, with a grasp of the
But the greatest resources which society has ever placed at the
disposal of statesmen, kings, ministers, bankers, or any human
power, in fact, were all exhausted in vain. Neither Montriveau
nor his friends could find any trace of the Duchess. It was
clear that she had entered a convent. Montriveau determined to
search, or to institute a search, for her through every convent
in the world. He must have her, even at the cost of all the
lives in a town. And in justice to this extraordinary man, it
must be said that his frenzied passion awoke to the same ardour
daily and lasted through five years. Only in 1829 did the Duc de
Navarreins hear by chance that his daughter had travelled to
Spain as Lady Julia Hopwood's maid, that she had left her service
at Cadiz, and that Lady Julia never discovered that Mlle Caroline
was the illustrious duchess whose sudden disappearance filled the
minds of the highest society of Paris.
The feelings of the two lovers when they met again on either side
of the grating in the Carmelite convent should now be
comprehended to the full, and the violence of the passion
awakened in either soul will doubtless explain the catastrophe of
In 1823 the Duc de Langeais was dead, and his wife was free.
Antoinette de Navarreins was living, consumed by love, on a ledge
of rock in the Mediterranean; but it was in the Pope's power to
dissolve Sister Theresa's vows. The happiness bought by so much
love might yet bloom for the two lovers. These thoughts sent
Montriveau flying from Cadiz to Marseilles, and from Marseilles
A few months after his return to France, a merchant brig, fitted
out and munitioned for active service, set sail from the port of
Marseilles for Spain. The vessel had been chartered by several
distinguished men, most of them Frenchmen, who, smitten with a
romantic passion for the East, wished to make a journey to those
lands. Montriveau's familiar knowledge of Eastern customs made
him an invaluable travelling companion, and at the entreaty of
the rest he had joined the expedition; the Minister of War
appointed him lieutenant-general, and put him on the Artillery
Commission to facilitate his departure.
Twenty-fours hours later the brig lay to off the north-west shore
of an island within sight of the Spanish coast. She had been
specially chosen for her shallow keel and light mastage, so that
she might lie at anchor in safety half a league away from the
reefs that secure the island from approach in this direction. If
fishing vessels or the people on the island caught sight of the
brig, they were scarcely likely to feel suspicious of her at
once; and besides, it was easy to give a reason for her presence
without delay. Montriveau hoisted the flag of the United States
before they came in sight of the island, and the crew of the
vessel were all American sailors, who spoke nothing but English.
One of M. de Montriveau's companions took the men ashore in the
ship's longboat, and made them so drunk at an inn in the little
town that they could not talk. Then he gave out that the brig
was manned by treasure-seekers, a gang of men whose hobby was
well known in the United States; indeed, some Spanish writer had
written a history of them. The presence of the brig among the
reefs was now sufficiently explained. The owners of the vessel,
according to the self-styled boatswain's mate, were looking for
the wreck of a galleon which foundered thereabouts in 1778 with a
cargo of treasure from Mexico. The people at the inn and the
authorities asked no more questions.
Armand, and the devoted friends who were helping him in his
difficult enterprise, were all from the first of the opinion that
there was no hope of rescuing or carrying off Sister Theresa by
force or stratagem from the side of the little town. Wherefore
these bold spirits, with one accord, determined to take the bull
by the horns. They would make a way to the convent at the most
seemingly inaccessible point; like General Lamarque, at the
storming of Capri, they would conquer Nature. The cliff at the
end of the island, a sheer block of granite, afforded even less
hold than the rock of Capri. So it seemed at least to
Montriveau, who had taken part in that incredible exploit, while
the nuns in his eyes were much more redoubtable than Sir Hudson
Lowe. To raise a hubbub over carrying off the Duchess would
cover them with confusion. They might as well set siege to the
town and convent, like pirates, and leave not a single soul to
tell of their victory. So for them their expedition wore but two
aspects. There should be a conflagration and a feat of arms that
should dismay all Europe, while the motives of the crime remained
unknown; or, on the other hand, a mysterious, aerial descent
which should persuade the nuns that the Devil himself had paid
them a visit. They had decided upon the latter course in the
secret council held before they left Paris, and subsequently
everything had been done to insure the success of an expedition
which promised some real excitement to jaded spirits weary of
Paris and its pleasures.
An extremely light pirogue, made at Marseilles on a Malayan
model, enabled them to cross the reef, until the rocks rose from
out of the water. Then two cables of iron wire were fastened
several feet apart between one rock and another. These wire
ropes slanted upwards and downwards in opposite directions, so
that baskets of iron wire could travel to and fro along them; and
in this manner the rocks were covered with a system of baskets
and wire-cables, not unlike the filaments which a certain species
of spider weaves about a tree. The Chinese, an essentially
imitative people, were the first to take a lesson from the work
of instinct. Fragile as these bridges were, they were always
ready for use; high waves and the caprices of the sea could not
throw them out of working order; the ropes hung just sufficiently
slack, so as to present to the breakers that particular curve
discovered by Cachin, the immortal creator of the harbour at
Cherbourg. Against this cunningly devised line the angry surge
is powerless; the law of that curve was a secret wrested from
Nature by that faculty of observation in which nearly all human
M. de Montriveau's companions were alone on board the vessel, and
out of sight of every human eye. No one from the deck of a
passing vessel could have discovered either the brig hidden among
the reefs, or the men at work among the rocks; they lay below the
ordinary range of the most powerful telescope. Eleven days were
spent in preparation, before the Thirteen, with all their
infernal power, could reach the foot of the cliffs. The body of
the rock rose up straight from the sea to a height of thirty
fathoms. Any attempt to climb the sheer wall of granite seemed
impossible; a mouse might as well try to creep up the slippery
sides of a plain china vase. Still there was a cleft, a straight
line of fissure so fortunately placed that large blocks of wood
could be wedged firmly into it at a distance of about a foot
apart. Into these blocks the daring workers drove iron cramps,
specially made for the purpose, with a broad iron bracket at the
outer end, through which a hole had been drilled. Each bracket
carried a light deal board which corresponded with a notch made
in a pole that reached to the top of the cliffs, and was firmly
planted in the beach at their feet. With ingenuity worthy of
these men who found nothing impossible, one of their number, a
skilled mathematician, had calculated the angle from which the
steps must start; so that from the middle they rose gradually,
like the sticks of a fan, to the top of the cliff, and descended
in the same fashion to its base. That miraculously light, yet
perfectly firm, staircase cost them twenty-two days of toil. A
little tinder and the surf of the sea would destroy all trace of
it forever in a single night. A betrayal of the secret was
impossible; and all search for the violators of the convent was
doomed to failure.
At the top of the rock there was a platform with sheer precipice
on all sides. The Thirteen, reconnoitring the ground with their
glasses from the masthead, made certain that though the ascent
was steep and rough, there would be no difficulty in gaining the
convent garden, where the trees were thick enough for a
hiding-place. After such great efforts they would not risk the
success of their enterprise, and were compelled to wait till the
moon passed out of her last quarter.
For two nights Montriveau, wrapped in his cloak, lay out on the
rock platform. The singing at vespers and matins filled him with
unutterable joy. He stood under the wall to hear the music of
the organ, listening intently for one voice among the rest. But
in spite of the silence, the confused effect of music was all
that reached his ears. In those sweet harmonies defects of
execution are lost; the pure spirit of art comes into direct
communication with the spirit of the hearer, making no demand on
the attention, no strain on the power of listening. Intolerable
memories awoke. All the love within him seemed to break into
blossom again at the breath of that music; he tried to find
auguries of happiness in the air. During the last night he sat
with his eyes fixed upon an ungrated window, for bars were not
needed on the side of the precipice. A light shone there all
through the hours; and that instinct of the heart, which is
sometimes true, and as often false, cried within him, "She is
"She is certainly there! Tomorrow she will be mine," he said
to himself, and joy blended with the slow tinkling of a bell that
began to ring.
Strange unaccountable workings of the heart! The nun, wasted by
yearning love, worn out with tears and fasting, prayer and
vigils; the woman of nine-and-twenty, who had passed through
heavy trials, was loved more passionately than the lighthearted
girl, the woman of four-and-twenty, the sylphide, had ever been.
But is there not, for men of vigorous character, something
attractive in the sublime expression engraven on women's faces by
the impetuous stirrings of thought and misfortunes of no ignoble
kind? Is there not a beauty of suffering which is the most
interesting of all beauty to those men who feel that within them
there is an inexhaustible wealth of tenderness and consoling pity
for a creature so gracious in weakness, so strong with love? It
is the ordinary nature that is attracted by young, smooth,
pink-and-white beauty, or, in one word, by prettiness. In some
faces love awakens amid the wrinkles carved by sorrow and the
ruin made by melancholy; Montriveau could not but feel drawn to
these. For cannot a lover, with the voice of a great longing,
call forth a wholly new creature? a creature athrob with the life
but just begun breaks forth for him alone, from the outward form
that is fair for him, and faded for all the world besides. Does
he not love two women?--One of them, as others see her, is pale
and wan and sad; but the other, the unseen love that his heart
knows, is an angel who understands life through feeling, and is
adorned in all her glory only for love's high festivals.
The General left his post before sunrise, but not before he had
heard voices singing together, sweet voices full of tenderness
sounding faintly from the cell. When he came down to the foot of
the cliffs where his friends were waiting, he told them that
never in his life had he felt such enthralling bliss, and in the
few words there was that unmistakable thrill of repressed strong
feeling, that magnificent utterance which all men respect.
That night eleven of his devoted comrades made the ascent in the
darkness. Each man carried a poniard, a provision of chocolate,
and a set of house-breaking tools. They climbed the outer walls
with scaling-ladders, and crossed the cemetery of the convent.
Montriveau recognised the long, vaulted gallery through which he
went to the parlour, and remembered the windows of the room. His
plans were made and adopted in a moment. They would effect an
entrance through one of the windows in the Carmelite's half of
the parlour, find their way along the corridors, ascertain
whether the sister's names were written on the doors, find Sister
Theresa's cell, surprise her as she slept, and carry her off,
bound and gagged. The programme presented no difficulties to men
who combined boldness and a convict's dexterity with the
knowledge peculiar to men of the world, especially as they would
not scruple to give a stab to ensure silence.
In two hours the bars were sawn through. Three men stood on
guard outside, and two inside the parlour. The rest, barefooted,
took up their posts along the corridor. Young Henri de Marsay,
the most dexterous man among them, disguised by way of precaution
in a Carmelite's robe, exactly like the costume of the convent,
led the way, and Montriveau came immediately behind him. The
clock struck three just as the two men reached the dormitory
cells. They soon saw the position. Everything was perfectly
quiet. With the help of a dark lantern they read the names
luckily written on every door, together with the picture of a
saint or saints and the mystical words which every nun takes as a
kind of motto for the beginning of her new life and the
revelation of her last thought. Montriveau reached Sister
Theresa's door and read the inscription, Sub invocatione sanctae
matris Theresae, and her motto, Adoremus in aeternum. Suddenly
his companion laid a hand on his shoulder. A bright light was
streaming through the chinks of the door. M. de Ronquerolles
came up at that moment.
"All the nuns are in the church," he said; "they are beginning
the Office for the Dead."
"I will stay here," said Montriveau. "Go back into the
parlour, and shut the door at the end of the passage."
He threw open the door and rushed in, preceded by his disguised
companion, who let down the veil over his face.
There before them lay the dead Duchess; her plank bed had been
laid on the floor of the outer room of her cell, between two
lighted candles. Neither Montriveau nor de Marsay spoke a word
or uttered a cry; but they looked into each other's faces. The
General's dumb gesture tried to say, "Let us carry her away!"
"Quickly" shouted Ronquerolles, "the procession of nuns is
leaving the church. You will be caught!"
With magical swiftness of movement, prompted by an intense
desire, the dead woman was carried into the convent parlour,
passed through the window, and lowered from the walls before the
Abbess, followed by the nuns, returned to take up Sister
Theresa's body. The sister left in charge had imprudently left
her post; there were secrets that she longed to know; and so busy
was she ransacking the inner room, that she heard nothing, and
was horrified when she came back to find that the body was gone.
Before the women, in their blank amazement, could think of making
a search, the Duchess had been lowered by a cord to the foot of
the crags, and Montriveau's companions had destroyed all traces
of their work. By nine o'clock that morning there was not a sign
to show that either staircase or wire-cables had ever existed,
and Sister Theresa's body had been taken on board. The brig came
into the port to ship her crew, and sailed that day.
Montriveau, down in the cabin, was left alone with Antoinette de
Navarreins. For some hours it seemed as if her dead face was
transfigured for him by that unearthly beauty which the calm of
death gives to the body before it perishes.
"Look here," said Ronquerolles when Montriveau reappeared on
deck, "THAT was a woman once, now it is nothing. Let us tie a
cannon ball to both feet and throw the body overboard; and if
ever you think of her again, think of her as of some book that
you read as a boy."
"Yes," assented Montriveau, "it is nothing now but a dream."
"That is sensible of you. Now, after this, have passions; but
as for love, a man ought to know how to place it wisely; it is
only a woman's last love that can satisfy a man's first love."