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  • 1842
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would take my love, such as it is, and death.

While he was whispering this in my ear, his arm round me, my head resting on his shoulder, the cries of a bat, surprised by an owl, disturbed us. This death-cry struck me with such terror that Felipe carried me half-fainting to my bed. But don’t be alarmed! Though this augury of evil still resounds in my soul, I am quite myself this morning. As soon as I was up, I went to Felipe, and, kneeling before him, my eyes fixed on his, his hands clasped in mine, I said to him:–

“My love, I am a child, and Renee may be right after all. It may be only your love that I love in you; but at least I can assure you that this is the one feeling of my heart, and that I love you as it is given me to love. But if there be aught in me, in my lightest thought or deed, which jars on your wishes or conception of me, I implore you to tell me, to say what it is. It will be a joy to me to hear you and to take your eyes as the guiding-stars of my life. Renee has frightened me, for she is a true friend.”

Macumer could not find voice to reply, tears choked him.

I can thank you now, Renee. But for your letter I should not have known the depths of love in my noble, kingly Macumer. Rome is the city of love; it is there that passion should celebrate its feast, with art and religion as confederates.

At Venice we shall find the Duc and Duchesse de Soria. If you write, address now to Paris, for we shall leave Rome in three days. The ambassador’s was a farewell party.

P. S.–Dear, silly child, your letter only shows that you knew nothing of love, except theoretically. Learn then that love is a quickening force which may produce fruits so diverse that no theory can embrace or co-ordinate them. A word this for my little Professor with her armor of stays.

XL

THE COMTESSE DE L’ESTORADE TO THE BARONNE DE MACUMER January 1827.

My father has been elected to the Chamber, my father-in-law is dead, and I am on the point of my second confinement; these are the chief events marking the end of the year for us. I mention them at once, lest the sight of the black seal should frighten you.

My dear, your letter from Rome made my flesh creep. You are nothing but a pair of children. Felipe is either a dissembling diplomat or else his love for you is the love a man might have for a courtesan, on whom he squanders his all, knowing all the time that she is false to him. Enough of this. You say I rave, so I had better hold my tongue. Only this would I say, from the comparison of our two very different destinies I draw this harsh moral–Love not if you would be loved.

My dear, when Louis was elected to the provincial Council, he received the cross of the Legion of Honor. That is now nearly three years ago; and as my father–whom you will no doubt see in Paris during the course of the session–has asked the rank of Officer of the Legion for his son-in-law, I want to know if you will do me the kindness to take in hand the bigwig, whoever he may be, to whom this patronage belongs, and to keep an eye upon the little affair. But, whatever you do, don’t get entangled in the concerns of my honored father. The Comte de Maucombe is fishing for the title of Marquis for himself; but keep your good services for me, please. When Louis is a deputy–next winter that is–we shall come to Paris, and then we will move heaven and earth to get some Government appointment for him, so that we may be able to save our income by living on his salary. My father sits between the centre and the right; a title will content him. Our family was distinguished even in the days of King Rene, and Charles X. will hardly say no to a Maucombe; but what I fear is that my father may take it into his head to ask some favor for my younger brother. Now, if the marquisate is dangled out of his reach, he will have no thoughts to spare from himself.

January 15th.

Ah! Louise, I have been in hell. If I can bear to tell you of my anguish, it is because you are another self; even so, I don’t know whether I shall ever be able to live again in thought those five ghastly days. The mere word “convulsions” makes my very heart sick. Five days! to me they were five centuries of torture. A mother who has not been through this martyrdom does not know what suffering is. So frenzied was I that I even envied you, who never had a child!

The evening before that terrible day the weather was close, almost hot, and I thought my little Armand was affected by it. Generally so sweet and caressing, he was peevish, cried for nothing, wanted to play, and then broke his toys. Perhaps this sort of fractiousness is the usual sign of approaching illness with children. While I was wondering about it, I noticed Armand’s cheeks flush, but this I set down to teething, for he is cutting four large teeth at once. So I put him to bed beside me, and kept constantly waking through the night. He was a little feverish, but not enough to make me uneasy, my mind being still full of the teething. Towards morning he cried “Mamma!” and asked by signs for something to drink; but the cry was spasmodic, and there were convulsive twitchings in the limbs, which turned me to ice. I jumped out of bed to fetch him a drink. Imagine my horror when, on my handing him the cup, he remained motionless, only repeating “Mamma!” in that strange, unfamiliar voice, which was indeed by this time hardly a voice at all. I took his hand, but it did not respond to my pressure; it was quite stiff. I put the cup to his lips; the poor little fellow gulped down three or four mouthfuls in a convulsive manner that was terrible to see, and the water made a strange sound in his throat. He clung to me desperately, and I saw his eyes roll, as though some hidden force within were pulling at them, till only the whites were visible; his limbs were turning rigid. I screamed aloud, and Louis came.

“A doctor! quick! . . . he is dying,” I cried.

Louis vanished, and my poor Armand again gasped, “Mamma! Mamma!” The next moment he lost all consciousness of his mother’s existence. The pretty veins on his forehead swelled, and the convulsions began. For a whole hour before the doctors came, I held in my arms that merry baby, all lilies and roses, the blossom of my life, my pride, and my joy, lifeless as a piece of wood; and his eyes! I cannot think of them without horror. My pretty Armand was a mere mummy–black, shriveled, misshapen.

A doctor, two doctors, brought from Marseilles by Louis, hovered about like birds of ill omen; it made me shudder to look at them. One spoke of brain fever, the other saw nothing but an ordinary case of convulsions in infancy. Our own country doctor seemed to me to have the most sense, for he offered no opinion. “It’s teething,” said the second doctor.–“Fever,” said the first. Finally it was agreed to put leeches on his neck and ice on his head. It seemed to me like death. To look on, to see a corpse, all purple or black, and not a cry, not a movement from this creature but now so full of life and sound–it was horrible!

At one moment I lost my head, and gave a sort of hysterical laugh, as I saw the pretty neck which I used to devour with kisses, with the leeches feeding on it, and his darling head in a cap of ice. My dear, we had to cut those lovely curls, of which we were so proud and with which you used to play, in order to make room for the ice. The convulsions returned every ten minutes with the regularity of labor pains, and then the poor baby writhed and twisted, now white, now violet. His supple limbs clattered like wood as they struck. And this unconscious flesh was the being who smiled and prattled, and used to say Mamma! At the thought, a storm of agony swept tumultuously over my soul, like the sea tossing in a hurricane. It seemed as though every tie which binds a child to its mother’s heart was strained to rending. My mother, who might have given me help, advice, or comfort, was in Paris. Mothers, it is my belief, know more than doctors do about convulsions.

After four days and nights of suspense and fear, which almost killed me, the doctors were unanimous in advising the application of a horrid ointment, which would produce open sores. Sores on my Armand! who only five days before was playing about, and laughing, and trying to say “Godmother!” I would not have it done, preferring to trust in nature. Louis, who believes in doctors, scolded me. A man remains the same through everything. But there are moments when this terrible disease takes the likeness of death, and in one of these it seemed borne in upon me that this hateful remedy was the salvation of Armand. Louise, the skin was so dry, so rough and parched, that the ointment would not act. Then I broke into weeping, and my tears fell so long and so fast, that the bedside was wet through. And the doctors were at dinner!

Seeing myself alone with the child, I stripped him of all medical appliances, and seizing him like a mad woman, pressed him to my bosom, laying my forehead against his, and beseeching God to grant him the life which I was striving to pass into his veins from mine. For some minutes I held him thus, longing to die with him, so that neither life nor death might part us. Dear, I felt the limbs relaxing; the writhings ceased, the child stirred, and the ghastly, corpselike tints faded away! I screamed, just as I did when he was taken ill; the doctors hurried up, and I pointed to Armand.

“He is saved!” exclaimed the oldest of them.

What music in those words! The gates of heaven opened! And, in fact, two hours later Armand came back to life; but I was utterly crushed, and it was only the healing power of joy which saved me from a serious illness. My God! by what tortures do you bind a mother to her child! To fasten him to our heart, need the nails be driven into the very quick? Was I not mother enough before? I, who wept tears of joy over his broken syllables and tottering steps, who spent hours together planning how best to perform my duty, and fit myself for the sweet post of mother? Why these horrors, these ghastly scenes, for a mother who already idolized her child?

As I write, our little Armand is playing, shouting, laughing. What can be the cause of this terrible disease with children? Vainly do I try to puzzle it out, remembering that I am again with child. Is it teething? Is it some peculiar process in the brain? Is there something wrong with the nervous system of children who are subject to convulsions? All these thoughts disquiet me, in view alike of the present and the future. Our country doctor holds to the theory of nervous trouble produced by teething. I would give every tooth in my head to see little Armand’s all through. The sight of one of those little white pearls peeping out of the swollen gum brings a cold sweat over me now. The heroism with which the little angel bore his sufferings proves to me that he will be his mother’s son. A look from him goes to my very heart.

Medical science can give no satisfactory explanation as to the origin of this sort of tetanus, which passes off as rapidly as it comes on, and can apparently be neither guarded against nor cured. One thing alone, as I said before, is certain, that it is hell for a mother to see her child in convulsions. How passionately do I clasp him to my heart! I could walk for ever with him in my arms!

To have suffered all this only six weeks before my confinement made it much worse; I feared for the coming child. Farewell, my dear beloved. Don’t wish for a child–there is the sum and substance of my letter!

XLI

THE BARONNE DE MACUMER TO THE VICOMTESSE DE L’ESTORADE Paris.

Poor sweet,–Macumer and I forgave you all your naughtiness when we heard of your terrible trouble. I thrilled with pain as I read the details of the double agony, and there seem compensations now in being childless.

I am writing at once to tell you that Louis has been promoted. He can now wear the ribbon of an officer of the Legion. You are a lucky woman, Renee, and you will probably have a little girl, since that used to be your wish!

The marriage of my brother with Mlle. de Mortsauf was celebrated on our return. Our gracious King, who really is extraordinarily kind, has given my brother the reversion of the post of first gentleman of the chamber, which his father-in-law now fills, on the one condition that the scutcheon of the Mortsaufs should be placed side by side with that of the Lenoncourts.

“The office ought to go with the title,” he said to the Duc de Lenoncourt-Givry.

My father is justified a hundred-fold. Without the help of my fortune nothing of all this could have taken place. My father and mother came from Madrid for the wedding, and return there, after the reception which I give to-morrow for the bride and bridegroom.

The carnival will be a very gay one. The Duc and Duchesse de Soria are in Paris, and their presence makes me a little uneasy. Marie Heredia is certainly one of the most beautiful women in Europe, and I don’t like the way Felipe looks at her. Therefore I am doubly lavish of sweetness and caresses. Every look and gesture speak the words which I am careful my lips should not utter, “/She/ could not love like this!” Heaven knows how lovely and fascinating I am! Yesterday Mme. de Maufrigneuse said to me:

“Dear child, who can compete with you?”

Then I keep Felipe so well amused, that his sister-in-law must seem as lively as a Spanish cow in comparison. I am the less sorry that a little Abencerrage is not on his way, because the Duchess will no doubt stay in Paris over her confinement, and she won’t be a beauty any longer. If the baby is a boy, it will be called Felipe, in honor of the exile. An unkind chance has decreed that I shall, a second time, serve as godmother.

Good-bye, dear, I shall go to Chantepleurs early this year, for our Italian tour was shockingly expensive. I shall leave about the end of March, and retire to economize in Nivenais. Besides, I am tired of Paris. Felipe sighs, as I do, after the beautiful quiet of the park, our cool meadows, and our Loire, with its sparkling sands, peerless among rivers. Chantepleurs will seem delightful to me after the pomps and vanities of Italy; for, after all, splendor becomes wearisome, and a lover’s glance has more beauty than a /capo d’opera/ or a /bel quadro/!

We shall expect you there. Don’t be afraid that I shall be jealous again. You are free to take what soundings you please in Macumer’s heart, and fish up all the interjections and doubts you can. I am supremely indifferent. Since that day at Rome Felipe’s love for me has grown. He told me yesterday (he is looking over my shoulder now) that his sister-in-law, the Princess Heredia, his destined bride of old, the dream of his youth, had no brains. Oh! my dear, I am worse than a ballet-dancer! If you knew what joy that slighting remark gave me! I have pointed out to Felipe that she does not speak French correctly. She says /esemple/ for /exemple/, /sain/ for /cinq/, /cheu/ for /je/. She is beautiful of course, but quite without charm or the slightest scintilla of wit. When a compliment is paid her, she looks at you as though she didn’t know what to do with such a strange thing. Felipe, being what he is, could not have lived two months with Marie after his marriage. Don Fernand, the Duc de Soria, suits her very well. He has generous instincts, but it’s easy to see he has been a spoilt child. I am tempted to be naughty and make you laugh; but I won’t draw the long bow. Ever so much love, darling.

XLII

RENEE TO LOUISE

My little girl is two months old. She is called Jeanne-Athenais, and has for godmother and godfather my mother, and an old grand-uncle of Louis’.

As soon as I possibly can, I shall start for my visit to Chantepleurs, since you are not afraid of a nursing mother. Your godson can say your name now; he calls it /Matoumer/, for he can’t say /c/ properly. You will be quite delighted with him. He has got all his teeth, and eats meat now like a big boy; he is all over the place, trotting about like a little mouse; but I watch him all the time with anxious eyes, and it makes me miserable that I cannot keep him by me when I am laid up. The time is more than usually long with me, as the doctors consider some special precautions necessary. Alas! my child, habit does not inure one to child-bearing. There are the same old discomforts and misgivings. However (don’t show this to Felipe), this little girl takes after me, and she may yet cut out your Armand.

My father thought Felipe looking very thin, and my dear pet also not quite so blooming. Yet the Duc and Duchesse de Soria have gone; not a loophole for jealousy is left! Is there any trouble which you are hiding from me? Your letter is neither so long nor so full of loving thoughts as usual. Is this only a whim of my dear whimsical friend?

I am running on too long. My nurse is angry with me for writing, and Mlle. Athenais de l’Estorade wants her dinner. Farewell, then; write me some nice long letters.

XLIII

MME. DE MACUMER TO THE COMTESSE DE L’ESTORADE

For the first time in my life, my dear Renee, I have been alone and crying. I was sitting under a willow, on a wooden bench by the side of the long Chantepleurs marsh. The view there is charming, but it needs some merry children to complete it, and I wait for you. I have been married nearly three years, and no child! The thought of your quiver full drove me to explore my heart.

And this is what I find there. “Oh! if I had to suffer a hundred-fold what Renee suffered when my godson was born; if I had to see my child in convulsions, even so would to God that I might have a cherub of my own, like your Athenais!” I can see her from here in my mind’s eye, and I know she is beautiful as the day, for you tell me nothing about her–that is just like my Renee! I believe you divine my trouble.

Each time my hopes are disappointed, I fall a prey for some days to the blackest melancholy. Then I compose sad elegies. When shall I embroider little caps and sew lace edgings to encircle a tiny head? When choose the cambric for the baby-clothes? Shall I never hear baby lips shout “Mamma,” and have my dress pulled by a teasing despot whom my heart adores? Are there to be no wheelmarks of a little carriage on the gravel, no broken toys littered about the courtyard? Shall I never visit the toy-shops, as mothers do, to buy swords, and dolls, and baby-houses? And will it never be mine to watch the unfolding of a precious life–another Felipe, only more dear? I would have a son, if only to learn how a lover can be more to one in his second self.

My park and castle are cold and desolate to me. A childless woman is a monstrosity of nature; we exist only to be mothers. Oh! my sage in woman’s livery, how well you have conned the book of life! Everywhere, too, barrenness is a dismal thing. My life is a little too much like one of Gessner’s or Florian’s sheepfolds, which Rivarol longed to see invaded by a wolf. I too have it in me to make sacrifices! There are forces in me, I feel, which Felipe has no use for; and if I am not to be a mother, I must be allowed to indulge myself in some romantic sorrow.

I have just made this remark to my belated Moor, and it brought tears to his eyes. He cannot stand any joking on his love, so I let him off easily, and only called him a paladin of folly.

At times I am seized with a desire to go on pilgrimage, to bear my longings to the shrine of some madonna or to a watering-place. Next winter I shall take medical advice. I am too much enraged with myself to write more. Good-bye.

XLIV

THE SAME TO THE SAME
Paris, 1829.

A whole year passed, my dear, without a letter! What does this mean? I am a little hurt. Do you suppose that your Louis, who comes to see me almost every alternate day, makes up for you? It is not enough to know that you are well and that everything prospers with you; for I love you, Renee, and I want to know what you are feeling and thinking of, just as I say everything to you, at the risk of being scolded, or censured, or misunderstood. Your silence and seclusion in the country, at the time when you might be in Paris enjoying all the Parliamentary honors of the Comte de l’Estorade, cause me serious anxiety. You know that your husband’s “gift of gab” and unsparing zeal have won for him quite a position here, and he will doubtless receive some very good post when the session is over. Pray, do you spend your life writing him letters of advice? Numa was not so far removed from his Egeria.

Why did you not take this opportunity of seeing Paris? I might have enjoyed your company for four months. Louis told me yesterday that you were coming to fetch him, and would have your third confinement in Paris–you terrible mother Gigogne! After bombarding Louis with queries, exclamations, and regrets, I at last defeated his strategy so far as to discover that his grand-uncle, the godfather of Athenais, is very ill. Now I believe that you, like a careful mother, would be quite equal to angling with the member’s speeches and fame for a fat legacy from your husband’s last remaining relative on the mother’s side. Keep your mind easy, my Renee–we are all at work for Louis, Lenoncourts, Chaulieus, and the whole band of Mme. de Macumer’s followers. Martignac will probably put him into the audit department. But if you won’t tell me why you bury yourself in the country, I shall be cross.

Tell me, are you afraid that the political wisdom of the house of l’Estorade should seem to centre in you? Or is it the uncle’s legacy? Perhaps you were afraid you would be less to your children in Paris? Ah! what I would give to know whether, after all, you were not simply too vain to show yourself in Paris for the first time in your present condition! Vain thing! Farewell.

XLV

RENEE TO LOUISE

You complain of my silence; have you forgotten, then, those two little brown heads, at once my subjects and my tyrants? And as to staying at home, you have yourself hit upon several of my reasons. Apart from the condition of our dear uncle, I didn’t want to drag with me to Paris a boy of four and a little girl who will soon be three, when I am again expecting my confinement. I had no intention of troubling you and upsetting your husband with such a party. I did not care to appear, looking my worst, in the brilliant circle over which you preside, and I detest life in hotels and lodgings.

When I come to spend the session in Paris, it will be in my own house. Louis’ uncle, when he heard of the rank his grand-nephew had received, made me a present of two hundred thousand francs (the half of his savings) with which to buy a house in Paris, and I have charged Louis to find one in your neighborhood. My mother has given me thirty thousand francs for the furnishing, and I shall do my best not to disgrace the dear sister of my election–no pun intended.

I am grateful to you for having already done so much at Court for Louis. But though M. de Bourmont and M. de Polignac have paid him the compliment of asking him to join their ministry, I do not wish so conspicuous a place for him. It would commit him too much; and I prefer the Audit Office because it is permanent. Our affairs here are in very good hands; so you need not fear; as soon as the steward has mastered the details, I will come and support Louis.

As for writing long letters nowadays, how can I. This one, in which I want to describe to you the daily routine of my life, will be a week on the stocks. Who can tell but Armand may lay hold of it to make caps for his regiments drawn up on my carpet, or vessels for the fleets which sail his bath! A single day will serve as a sample of the rest, for they are all exactly alike, and their characteristics reduce themselves to two–either the children are well, or they are not. For me, in this solitary grange, it is no exaggeration to say that hours become minutes, or minutes hours, according to the children’s health.

If I have some delightful hours, it is when they are asleep and I am no longer needed to rock the one or soothe the other with stories. When I have them sleeping by my side, I say to myself, “Nothing can go wrong now.” The fact is, my sweet, every mother spends her time, so soon as her children are out of her sight, in imagining dangers for them. Perhaps it is Armand seizing the razors to play with, or his coat taking fire, or a snake biting him, or he might tumble in running and start an abscess on his head, or he might drown himself in a pond. A mother’s life, you see, is one long succession of dramas, now soft and tender, now terrible. Not an hour but has its joys and fears.

But at night, in my room, comes the hour for waking dreams, when I plan out their future, which shines brightly in the smile of the guardian angel, watching over their beds. Sometimes Armand calls me in his sleep; I kiss his forehead (without rousing him), then his sister’s feet, and watch them both lying in their beauty. These are my merry-makings! Yesterday, it must have been our guardian angel who roused me in the middle of the night and summoned me in fear to Athenais’ cradle. Her head was too low, and I found Armand all uncovered, his feet purple with cold.

“Darling mother!” he cried, rousing up and flinging his arms round me.

There, dear, is one of our night scenes for you.

How important it is for a mother to have her children by her side at night! It is not for a nurse, however careful she may be, to take them up, comfort them, and hush them to sleep again, when some horrid nightmare has disturbed them. For they have their dreams, and the task of explaining away one of those dread visions of the night is the more arduous because the child is scared, stupid, and only half awake. It is a mere interlude in the unconsciousness of slumber. In this way I have come to sleep so lightly, that I can see my little pair and see them stirring, through the veil of my eyelids. A sigh or a rustle wakens me. For me, the demon of convulsions is ever crouching by their beds.

So much for the nights; with the first twitter of the birds my babies begin to stir. Through the mists of dispersing sleep, their chatter blends with the warblings that fill the morning air, or with the swallows’ noisy debates–little cries of joy or woe, which make their way to my heart rather than my ears. While Nais struggles to get at me, making the passage from her cradle to my bed on all fours or with staggering steps, Armand climbs up with the agility of a monkey, and has his arms round me. Then the merry couple turn my bed into a playground, where mother lies at their mercy. The baby-girl pulls my hair, and would take to sucking again, while Armand stands guard over my breast, as though defending his property. Their funny ways, their peals of laughter, are too much for me, and put sleep fairly to flight.

Then we play the ogress game; mother ogress eats up the white, soft flesh with hugs, and rains kisses on those rosy shoulders and eyes brimming over with saucy mischief; we have little jealous tiffs too, so pretty to see. It has happened to me, dear, to take up my stockings at eight o’clock and be still bare-footed at nine!

Then comes the getting up. The operation of dressing begins. I slip on my dressing-gown, turn up my sleeves, and don the mackintosh apron; with Mary’s assistance, I wash and scrub my two little blossoms. I am sole arbiter of the temperature of the bath, for a good half of children’s crying and whimpering comes from mistakes here. The moment has arrived for paper fleets and glass ducks, since the only way to get children thoroughly washed is to keep them well amused. If you knew the diversions that have to be invented before these despotic sovereigns will permit a soft sponge to be passed over every nook and cranny, you would be awestruck at the amount of ingenuity and intelligence demanded by the maternal profession when one takes it seriously. Prayers, scoldings, promises, are alike in requisition; above all, the jugglery must be so dexterous that it defies detection. The case would be desperate had not Providence to the cunning of the child matched that of the mother. A child is a diplomatist, only to be mastered, like the diplomatists of the great world, through his passions! Happily, it takes little to make these cherubs laugh; the fall of a brush, a piece of soap slipping from the hand, and what merry shouts! And if our triumphs are dearly bought, still triumphs they are, though hidden from mortal eye. Even the father knows nothing of it all. None but God and His angels–and perhaps you–can fathom the glances of satisfaction which Mary and I exchange when the little creatures’ toilet is at last concluded, and they stand, spotless and shining, amid a chaos of soap, sponges, combs, basins, blotting-paper, flannel, and all the nameless litter of a true English “nursery.”

For I am so far a convert as to admit that English women have a talent for this department. True, they look upon the child only from the point of view of material well-being; but where this is concerned, their arrangements are admirable. My children must always be bare- legged and wear woollen socks. There shall be no swaddling nor bandages; on the other hand, they shall never be left alone. The helplessness of the French infant in its swaddling-bands means the liberty of the nurse–that is the whole explanation. A mother, who is really a mother, is never free.

There is my answer to your question why I do not write. Besides the management of the estate, I have the upbringing of two children on my hands.

The art of motherhood involves much silent, unobtrusive self-denial, an hourly devotion which finds no detail too minute. The soup warming before the fire must be watched. Am I the kind of woman, do you suppose, to shirk such cares? The humblest task may earn a rich harvest of affection. How pretty is a child’s laugh when he finds the food to his liking! Armand has a way of nodding his head when he is pleased that is worth a lifetime of adoration. How could I leave to any one else the privilege and delight, as well as the responsibility, of blowing on the spoonful of soup which is too hot for my little Nais, my nursling of seven months ago, who still remembers my breast? When a nurse has allowed a child to burn its tongue and lips with scalding food, she tells the mother, who hurries up to see what is wrong, that the child cried from hunger. How could a mother sleep in peace with the thought that a breath, less pure than her own, has cooled her child’s food–the mother whom Nature has made the direct vehicle of food to infant lips. To mince a chop for Nais, who has just cut her last teeth, and mix the meat, cooked to a turn, with potatoes, is a work of patience, and there are times, indeed, when none but a mother could succeed in making an impatient child go through with its meal.

No number of servants, then, and no English nurse can dispense a mother from taking the field in person in that daily contest, where gentleness alone should grapple with the little griefs and pains of childhood. Louise, the care of these innocent darlings is a work to engage the whole soul. To whose hand and eyes, but one’s own, intrust the task of feeding, dressing, and putting to bed? Broadly speaking, a crying child is the unanswerable condemnation of mother or nurse, except when the cry is the outcome of natural pain. Now that I have two to look after (and a third on the road), they occupy all my thoughts. Even you, whom I love so dearly, have become a memory to me.

My own dressing is not always completed by two o’clock. I have no faith in mothers whose rooms are in apple-pie order, and who themselves might have stepped out of a bandbox. Yesterday was one of those lovely days of early April, and I wanted to take my children for a walk, while I was still able–for the warning bell is in my ears. Such an expedition is quite an epic to a mother! One dreams of it the night before! Armand was for the first time to put on a little black velvet jacket, a new collar which I had worked, a Scotch cap with the Stuart colors and cock’s feathers; Nais was to be in white and pink, with one of those delicious little baby caps; for she is a baby still, though she will lose that pretty title on the arrival of the impatient youngster, whom I call my beggar, for he will have the portion of a younger son. (You see, Louise, the child has already appeared to me in a vision, so I know it is a boy.)

Well, caps, collars, jackets, socks, dainty little shoes, pink garters, the muslin frock with silk embroidery,–all was laid out on my bed. Then the little brown heads had to be brushed, twittering merrily all the time like birds, answering each other’s call. Armand’s hair is in curls, while Nais’ is brought forward softly on the forehead as a border to the pink-and-white cap. Then the shoes are buckled; and when the little bare legs and well-shod feet have trotted off to the nursery, while two shining faces (/clean/, Mary calls them) and eyes ablaze with life petition me to start, my heart beats fast. To look on the children whom one’s own hand has arrayed, the pure skin brightly veined with blue, that one has bathed, laved, and sponged and decked with gay colors of silk or velvet–why, there is no poem comes near to it! With what eager, covetous longing one calls them back for one more kiss on those white necks, which, in their simple collars, the loveliest woman cannot rival. Even the coarsest lithograph of such a scene makes a mother pause, and I feast my eyes daily on the living picture!

Once out of doors, triumphant in the result of my labors, while I was admiring the princely air with which little Armand helped baby to totter along the path you know, I saw a carriage coming, and tried to get them out of the way. The children tumbled into a dirty puddle, and lo! my works of art are ruined! We had to take them back and change their things. I took the little one in my arms, never thinking of my own dress, which was ruined, while Mary seized Armand, and the cavalcade re-entered. With a crying baby and a soaked child, what mind has a mother left for herself?

Dinner time arrives, and as a rule I have done nothing. Now comes the problem which faces me twice every day–how to suffice in my own person for two children, put on their bibs, turn up their sleeves, and get them to eat. In the midst of these ever-recurring cares, joys, and catastrophes, the only person neglected in the house is myself. If the children have been naughty, often I don’t get rid of my curl-papers all day. Their tempers rule my toilet. As the price of a few minutes in which I write you these half-dozen pages, I have had to let them cut pictures out of my novels, build castles with books, chessmen, or mother-of-pearl counters, and give Nais my silks and wools to arrange in her own fashion, which, I assure you, is so complicated, that she is entirely absorbed in it, and has not uttered a word.

Yet I have nothing to complain of. My children are both strong and independent; they amuse themselves more easily then you would think. They find delight in everything; a guarded liberty is worth many toys. A few pebbles–pink, yellow, purple, and black, small shells, the mysteries of sand, are a world of pleasure to them. Their wealth consists in possessing a multitude of small things. I watch Armand and find him talking to the flowers, the flies, the chickens, and imitating them. He is on friendly terms with insects, and never wearies of admiring them. Everything which is on a minute scale interests them. Armand is beginning to ask the “why” of everything he sees. He has come to ask what I am saying to his godmother, whom he looks on as a fairy. Strange how children hit the mark!

Alas! my sweet, I would not sadden you with the tale of my joys. Let me give you some notion of your godson’s character. The other day we were followed by a poor man begging–beggars soon find out that a mother with her child at her side can’t resist them. Armand has no idea what hunger is, and money is a sealed book to him; but I have just bought him a trumpet which had long been the object of his desires. He held it out to the old man with a kingly air, saying:

“Here, take this!”

What joy the world can give would compare with such a moment?

“May I keep it?” said the poor man to me. “I too, madame, have had children,” he added, hardly noticing the money I put into his hand.

I shudder when I think that Armand must go to school, and that I have only three years and a half more to keep him by me. The flowers that blossom in his sunny childhood will fall before the scythe of a public school system; his gracious ways and bewitching candor will lose their spontaneity. They will cut the curls that I have brushed and smoothed and kissed so often! What will they do with the thinking being that is Armand?

And what of you? You tell me nothing of your life. Are you still in love with Felipe? For, as regards the Saracen, I have no uneasiness. Good-bye; Nais has just had a tumble, and if I run on like this, my letter will become a volume.

XLVI

MME. DE MACUMER TO THE COMTESSE DE L’ESTORADE 1829.

My sweet, tender Renee, you will have learned from the papers the terrible calamity which has overwhelmed me. I have not been able to write you even a word. For twenty days I never left his bedside; I received his last breath and closed his eyes; I kept holy watch over him with the priests and repeated the prayers for the dead. The cruel pangs I suffered were accepted by me as a rightful punishment; and yet, when I saw on his calm lips the smile which was his last farewell to me, how was it possible to believe that I had caused his death!

Be it so or not, he is gone, and I am left. To you, who have known us both so well, what more need I say? These words contain all. Oh! I would give my share of Heaven to hear the flattering tale that my prayers have power to bring him back to life! To see him again, to have him once more mine, were it only for a second, would mean that I could draw breath again without mortal agony. Will you not come soon and soothe me with such promises? Is not your love strong enough to deceive me?

But stay! it was you who told me beforehand that he would suffer through me. Was it so indeed? Yes, it is true, I had no right to his love. Like a thief, I took what was not mine, and my frenzied grasp has crushed the life out of my bliss. The madness is over now, but I feel that I am alone. Merciful God! what torture of the damned can exceed the misery in that word?

When they took him away from me, I lay down on the same bed and hoped to die. There was but a door between us, and it seemed to me I had strength to force it! But, alas! I was too young for death; and after forty days, during which, with cruel care and all the sorry inventions of medical science, they slowly nursed me back to life, I find myself in the country, seated by my window, surrounded with lovely flowers, which he made to bloom for me, gazing on the same splendid view over which his eyes have so often wandered, and which he was so proud to have discovered, since it gave me pleasure. Ah! dear Renee, no words can tell how new surroundings hurt when the heart is dead. I shiver at the sight of the moist earth in my garden, for the earth is a vast tomb, and it is almost as though I walked on /him/! When I first went out, I trembled with fear and could not move. It was so sad to see his flowers, and he not there!

My father and mother are in Spain. You know what my brothers are, and you yourself are detained in the country. But you need not be uneasy about me; two angels of mercy flew to my side. The Duc and the Duchesse de Soria hastened to their brother in his illness, and have been everything that heart could wish. The last few nights before the end found the three of us gathered, in calm and wordless grief, round the bed where this great man was breathing his last, a man among a thousand, rare in any age, head and shoulders above the rest of us in everything. The patient resignation of my Felipe was angelic. The sight of his brother and Marie gave him a moment’s pleasure and easing of his pain.

“Darling,” he said to me with the simple frankness which never deserted him, “I had almost gone from life without leaving to Fernand the Barony of Macumer; I must make a new will. My brother will forgive me; he knows what it is to love!”

I owe my life to the care of my brother-in-law and his wife; they want to carry me off to Spain!

Ah! Renee, to no one but you can I speak freely of my grief. A sense of my own faults weighs me to the ground, and there is a bitter solace in pouring them out to you, poor, unheeded Cassandra. The exactions, the preposterous jealousy, the nagging unrest of my passion wore him to death. My love was the more fraught with danger for him because we had both the same exquisitely sensitive nature, we spoke the same language, nothing was lost on him, and often the mocking shaft, so carelessly discharged, went straight to his heart. You can have no idea of the point to which he carried submissiveness. I had only to tell him to go and leave me alone, and the caprice, however wounding to him, would be obeyed without a murmur. His last breath was spent in blessing me and in repeating that a single morning alone with me was more precious to him than a lifetime spent with another woman, were she even the Marie of his youth. My tears fall as I write the words.

This is the manner of my life now. I rise at midday and go to bed at seven; I linger absurdly long over meals; I saunter about slowly, standing motionless, an hour at a time, before a single plant; I gaze into the leafy trees; I take a sober and serious interest in mere nothings; I long for shade, silence, and night; in a word, I fight through each hour as it comes, and take a gloomy pleasure in adding it to the heap of the vanquished. My peaceful park gives me all the company I care for; everything there is full of glorious images of my vanished joy, invisible for others but eloquent to me.

“I cannot away with you Spaniards!” I exclaimed one morning, as my sister-in-law flung herself on my neck. “You have some nobility that we lack.”

Ah! Renee, if I still live, it is doubtless because Heaven tempers the sense of affliction to the strength of those who have to bear it. Only a woman can know what it is to lose a love which sprang from the heart and was genuine throughout, a passion which was not ephemeral, and satisfied at once the spirit and the flesh. How rare it is to find a man so gifted that to worship him brings no sense of degradation! If such supreme fortune befall us once, we cannot hope for it a second time. Men of true greatness, whose strength and worth are veiled by poetic grace, and who charm by some high spiritual power, men made to be adored, beware of love! Love will ruin you, and ruin the woman of your heart. This is the burden of my cry as I pace my woodland walks.

And he has left me no child! That love so rich in smiles, which rained perpetual flowers and joy, has left no fruit. I am a thing accursed. Can it be that, even as the two extremes of polar ice and torrid sand are alike intolerant of life, so the very purity and vehemence of a single-hearted passion render it barren as hate? Is it only a marriage of reason, such as yours, which is blessed with a family? Can Heaven be jealous of our passions? There are wild words.

You are, I believe, the one person whose company I could endure. Come to me, then; none but Renee should be with Louise in her sombre garb. What a day when I first put on my widow’s bonnet! When I saw myself all arrayed in black, I fell back on a seat and wept till night came; and I weep again as I recall that moment of anguish.

Good-bye. Writing tires me; thoughts crowd fast, but I have no heart to put them into words. Bring your children; you can nurse baby here without making me jealous; all that is gone, /he/ is not here, and I shall be very glad to see my godson. Felipe used to wish for a child like little Armand. Come, then, come and help me to bear my woe.

XLVII

RENEE TO LOUISE
1829.

My darling,–When you hold this letter in your hands, I shall be already near, for I am starting a few minutes after it. We shall be alone together. Louis is obliged to remain in Provence because of the approaching elections. He wants to be elected again, and the Liberals are already plotting against his return.

I don’t come to comfort you; I only bring you my heart to beat in sympathy with yours, and help you to bear with life. I come to bid you weep, for only with tears can you purchase the joy of meeting him again. Remember, he is traveling towards Heaven, and every step forward which you take brings you nearer to him. Every duty done breaks a link in the chain that keeps you apart.

Louise, in my arms you will once more raise your head and go on your way to him, pure, noble, washed of all those errors, which had no root in your heart, and bearing with you the harvest of good deeds which, in his name, you will accomplish here.

I scribble these hasty lines in all the bustle of preparation, and interrupted by the babies and by Armand, who keeps saying, “Godmother, godmother! I want to see her,” till I am almost jealous. He might be your child!

SECOND PART

XLVIII

THE BARONNE DE MACUMER TO THE COMTESSE DE L’ESTORADE October 15, 1833.

Yes, Renee, it is quite true; you have been correctly informed. I have sold my house, I have sold Chantepleurs, and the farms in Seine-et- Marne, but no more, please! I am neither mad nor ruined, I assure you.

Let us go into the matter. When everything was wound up, there remained to me of my poor Macumer’s fortune about twelve hundred thousand francs. I will account, as to a practical sister, for every penny of this.

I put a million in the Three per Cents when they were at fifty, and so I have got an income for myself of sixty thousand francs, instead of the thirty thousand which the property yielded. Then, only think what my life was. Six months of the year in the country, renewing leases, listening to the grumbles of the farmers, who pay when it pleases them, and getting as bored as a sportsman in wet weather. There was produce to sell, and I always sold it at a loss. Then, in Paris, my house represented a rental of ten thousand francs; I had to invest my money at the notaries; I was kept waiting for the interest, and could only get the money back by prosecuting; in addition I had to study the law of mortgage. In short, there was business in Nivernais, in Seine- et-Marne, in Paris–and what a burden, what a nuisance, what a vexing and losing game for a widow of twenty-seven!

Whereas now my fortune is secured on the Budget. In place of paying taxes to the State, I receive from it, every half-year, in my own person, and free from cost, thirty thousand francs in thirty notes, handed over the counter to me by a dapper little clerk at the Treasury, who smiles when he sees me coming!

Supposing the nation went bankrupt? Well, to begin with:

‘Tis not mine to see trouble so far from my door.

At the worst, too, the nation would not dock me of more than half my income, so I should still be as well off as before my investment, and in the meantime I shall be drawing a double income until the catastrophe arrives. A nation doesn’t become bankrupt more than once in a century, so I shall have plenty of time to amass a little capital out of my savings.

And finally, is not the Comte de l’Estorade a peer of this July semi- republic? Is he not one of those pillars of royalty offered by the “people” to the King of the French? How can I have qualms with a friend at Court, a great financier, head of the Audit Department? I defy you to arraign my sanity! I am almost as good at sums as your citizen king.

Do you know what inspires a woman with all this arithmetic? Love, my dear!

Alas! the moment has come for unfolding to you the mysteries of my conduct, the motives of which have baffled even your keen sight, your prying affection, and your subtlety. I am to be married in a country village near Paris. I love and am loved. I love as much as a woman can who knows love well. I am loved as much as a woman ought to be by the man she adores.

Forgive me, Renee, for keeping this a secret from you and from every one. If your friend evades all spies and puts curiosity on a false track, you must admit that my feeling for poor Macumer justified some dissimulation. Besides, de l’Estorade and you would have deafened me with remonstrances, and plagued me to death with your misgivings, to which the facts might have lent some color. You know, if no one else does, to what pitch my jealousy can go, and all this would only have been useless torture to me. I was determined to carry out, on my own responsibility, what you, Renee, will call my insane project, and I would take counsel only with my own head and heart, for all the world like a schoolgirl giving the slip to her watchful parents.

The man I love possesses nothing but thirty thousand francs’ worth of debts, which I have paid. What a theme for comment here! You would have tried to make Gaston out an adventurer; your husband would have set detectives on the dear boy. I preferred to sift him for myself. He has been wooing me now close on two years. I am twenty-seven, he is twenty-three. The difference, I admit, is huge when it is on the wrong side. Another source of lamentation!

Lastly, he is a poet, and has lived by his trade–that is to say, on next to nothing, as you will readily understand. Being a poet, he has spent more time weaving day-dreams, and basking, lizard-like, in the sun, than scribing in his dingy garret. Now, practical people have a way of tarring with the same brush of inconstancy authors, artists, and in general all men who live by their brains. Their nimble and fertile wit lays them open to the charge of a like agility in matters of the heart.

Spite of the debts, spite of the difference in age, spite of the poetry, an end is to be placed in a few days to a heroic resistance of more than nine months, during which he has not been allowed even to kiss my hand, and so also ends the season of our sweet, pure love- making. This is not the mere surrender of a raw, ignorant, and curious girl, as it was eight years ago; the gift is deliberate, and my lover awaits it with such loyal patience that, if I pleased, I could postpone the marriage for a year. There is no servility in this; love’s slave he may be, but the heart is not slavish. Never have I seen a man of nobler feeling, or one whose tenderness was more rich in fancy, whose love bore more the impress of his soul. Alas! my sweet one, the art of love is his by heritage. A few words will tell his story.

My friend has no other name than Marie Gaston. He is the illegitimate son of the beautiful Lady Brandon, whose fame must have reached you, and who died broken-hearted, a victim to the vengeance of Lady Dudley –a ghastly story of which the dear boy knows nothing. Marie Gaston was placed by his brother Louis in a boarding-school at Tours, where he remained till 1827. Louis, after settling his brother at school, sailed a few days later for foreign parts “to seek his fortune,” to use the words of an old woman who had played the part of Providence to him. This brother turned sailor used to write him, at long intervals, letters quite fatherly in tone, and breathing a noble spirit; but a struggling life never allowed him to return home. His last letter told Marie that he had been appointed Captain in the navy of some American republic, and exhorted him to hope for better days.

Alas! since then three years have passed, and my poor poet has never heard again. So dearly did he love his brother, that he would have started to look for him but for Daniel d’Arthez, the well-known author, who took a generous interest in Marie Gaston, and prevented him carrying out his mad impulse. Nor was this all; often would he give him a crust and a corner, as the poet puts it in his graphic words.

For, in truth, the poor lad was in terrible straits; he was actually innocent enough to believe–incredible as it seems–that genius was the shortest road to fortune, and from 1828 to 1833 his one aim has been to make a name for himself in letters. Naturally his life was a frightful tissue of toil and hardships, alternating between hope and despair. The good advice of d’Arthez could not prevail against the allurements of ambition, and his debts went on growing like a snowball. Still he was beginning to come into notice when I happened to meet him at Mme. d’Espard’s. At first sight he inspired me, unconsciously to himself, with the most vivid sympathy. How did it come about that this virgin heart has been left for me? The fact is that my poet combines genius and cleverness, passion and pride, and women are always afraid of greatness which has no weak side to it. How many victories were needed before Josephine could see the great Napoleon in the little Bonaparte whom she had married.

Poor Gaston is innocent enough to think he knows the measure of my love! He simply has not an idea of it, but to you I must make it clear; for this letter, Renee, is something in the nature of a last will and testament. Weigh well what I am going to say, I beg of you.

At this moment I am confident of being loved as perhaps not another women on this earth, nor have I a shadow of doubt as to the perfect happiness of our wedded life, to which I bring a feeling hitherto unknown to me. Yes, for the first time in my life, I know the delight of being swayed by passion. That which every woman seeks in love will be mine in marriage. As poor Felipe once adored me, so do I now adore Gaston. I have lost control of myself, I tremble before this boy as the Arab hero used to tremble before me. In a word, the balance of love is now on my side, and this makes me timid. I am full of the most absurd terrors. I am afraid of being deserted, afraid of becoming old and ugly while Gaston still retains his youth and beauty, afraid of coming short of his hopes!

And yet I believe I have it in me, I believe I have sufficient devotion and ability, not only to keep alive the flame of his love in our solitary life, far from the world, but even to make it burn stronger and brighter. If I am mistaken, if this splendid idyl of love in hiding must come to an end–an end! what am I saying?–if I find Gaston’s love less intense any day than it was the evening before, be sure of this, Renee, I should visit my failure only on myself; no blame should attach to him. I tell you now it would mean my death. Not even if I had children could I live on these terms, for I know myself, Renee, I know that my nature is the lover’s rather than the mother’s. Therefore before taking this vow upon my soul, I implore you, my Renee, if this disaster befall me, to take the place of mother to my children; let them be my legacy to you! All that I know of you, your blind attachment to duty, your rare gifts, your love of children, your affection for me, would help to make my death–I dare not say easy– but at least less bitter.

The compact I have thus made with myself adds a vague terror to the solemnity of my marriage ceremony. For this reason I wish to have no one whom I know present, and it will be performed in secret. Let my heart fail me if it will, at least I shall not read anxiety in your dear eyes, and I alone shall know that this new marriage-contract which I sign may be my death warrant.

I shall not refer again to this agreement entered into between my present self and the self I am to be. I have confided it to you in order that you might know the full extent of your responsibilities. In marrying I retain full control of my property; and Gaston, while aware that I have enough to secure a comfortable life for both of us, is ignorant of its amount. Within twenty-four hours I shall dispose of it as I please; and in order to save him from a humiliating position, I shall have stock, bringing in twelve thousand francs a year, assigned to him. He will find this in his desk on the eve of our wedding. If he declined to accept, I should break off the whole thing. I had to threaten a rupture to get his permission to pay his debts.

This long confession has tired me. I shall finish it the day after to-morrow; I have to spend to-morrow in the country.

October 20th.

I will tell you now the steps I have taken to insure secrecy. My object has been to ward off every possible incitement to my ever- wakeful jealousy, in imitation of the Italian princess, who, like a lioness rushing on her prey, carried it off to some Swiss town to devour in peace. And I confide my plans to you because I have another favor to beg; namely, that you will respect our solitude and never come to see us uninvited.

Two years ago I purchased a small property overlooking the ponds of Ville d’Avray, on the road to Versailles. It consists of twenty acres of meadow land, the skirts of a wood, and a fine fruit garden. Below the meadows the land has been excavated so as to make a lakelet of about three acres in extent, with a charming little island in the middle. The small valley is shut in by two graceful, thickly-wooded slopes, where rise delicious springs that water my park by means of channels cleverly disposed by my architect. Finally, they fall into the royal ponds, glimpses of which can be seen here and there, gleaming in the distance. My little park has been admirably laid out by the architect, who has surrounded it by hedges, walls, or ha-has, according to the lie of the land, so that no possible point of view may be lost.

A chalet has been built for me half-way up the hillside, with a charming exposure, having the woods of the Ronce on either side, and in front a grassy slope running down to the lake. Externally the chalet is an exact copy of those which are so much admired by travelers on the road from Sion to Brieg, and which fascinated me when I was returning from Italy. The internal decorations will bear comparison with those of the most celebrated buildings of the kind.

A hundred paces from this rustic dwelling stands a charming and ornamental house, communicating with it by a subterranean passage. This contains the kitchen, and other servants’ rooms, stables, and coach-houses. Of all this series of brick buildings, the facade alone is seen, graceful in its simplicity, against a background of shrubbery. Another building serves to lodge the gardeners and masks the entrance to the orchards and kitchen-gardens.

The entrance gate to the property is so hidden in the wall dividing the park from the wood as almost to defy detection. The plantations, already well grown, will, in two or three years, completely hide the buildings, so that, except in winter, when the trees are bare, no trace of habitation will appear to the outside world, save only the smoke visible from the neighboring hills.

The surroundings of my chalet have been modeled on what is called the King’s Garden at Versailles, but it has an outlook on my lakelet and island. The hills on every side display their abundant foliage–those splendid trees for which your new civil list has so well cared. My gardeners have orders to cultivate new sweet-scented flowers to any extent, and no others, so that our home will be a fragrant emerald. The chalet, adorned with a wild vine which covers the roof, is literally embedded in climbing plants of all kinds–hops, clematis, jasmine, azalea, copaea. It will be a sharp eye which can descry our windows!

The chalet, my dear, is a good, solid house, with its heating system and all the conveniences of modern architecture, which can raise a palace in the compass of a hundred square feet. It contains a suite of rooms for Gaston and another for me. The ground-floor is occupied by an ante-room, a parlor, and a dining room. Above our floor again are three rooms destined for the nurseries. I have five first-rate horses, a small light coupe, and a two-horse cabriolet. We are only forty- minutes’ drive from Paris; so that, when the spirit moves us to hear an opera or see a new play, we can start after dinner and return the same night to our bower. The road is a good one, and passes under the shade of our green dividing wall.

My servants–cook, coachman, groom, and gardeners, in addition to my maid–are all very respectable people, whom I have spent the last six months in picking up, and they will be superintended by my old Philippe. Although confident of their loyalty and good faith, I have not neglected to cultivate self-interest; their wages are small, but will receive an annual addition in the shape of a New Year’s Day present. They are all aware that the slightest fault, or a mere suspicion of gossiping, might lose them a capital place. Lovers are never troublesome to their servants; they are indulgent by disposition, and therefore I feel that I can reckon on my household.

All that is choice, pretty, or decorative in my house in the Rue du Bac has been transported to the chalet. The Rembrandt hangs on the staircase, as though it were a mere daub; the Hobbema faces the Rubens in /his/ study; the Titian, which my sister-in-law Mary sent me from Madrid, adorns the boudoir. The beautiful furniture picked up by Felipe looks very well in the parlor, which the architect has decorated most tastefully. Everything at the chalet is charmingly simple, with the simplicity which can’t be got under a hundred thousand francs. Our ground-floor rests on cellars, which are built of millstone and embedded in concrete; it is almost completely buried in flowers and shrubs, and is deliciously cool without a vestige of damp. To complete the picture, a fleet of white swans sail over my lake!

Oh! Renee, the silence which reigns in this valley would bring joy to the dead! One is awakened by the birds singing or the breeze rustling in the poplars. A little spring, discovered by the architect in digging the foundations of the wall, trickles down the hillside over silvery sand to the lake, between two banks of water-cress, hugging the edge of the woods. I know nothing that money can buy to equal it.

May not Gaston come to loathe this too perfect bliss? I shudder to think how complete it is, for the ripest fruits harbor the worms, the most gorgeous flowers attract the insects. Is it not ever the monarch of the forest which is eaten away by the fatal brown grub, greedy as death? I have learned before now that an unseen and jealous power attacks happiness which has reached perfection. Besides, this is the moral of all your preaching, and you have been proved a prophet.

When I went, the day before yesterday, to see whether my last whim had been carried out, tears rose to my eyes; and, to the great surprise of my architect, I at once passed his account for payment.

“But, madame,” he exclaimed, “your man of business will refuse to pay this; it is a matter of three hundred thousand francs.” My only reply was to add the words, “To be paid without question,” with the bearing of a seventeenth-century Chaulieu.

“But,” I said, “there is one condition to my gratitude. No human being must hear from you of the park and buildings. Promise me, on your honor, to observe this article in our contract–not to breathe to a soul the proprietor’s name.”

Now, can you understand the meaning of my sudden journeys, my mysterious comings and goings? Now, do you know whither those beautiful things, which the world supposes to be sold, have flown? Do you perceive the ultimate motive of my change of investment? Love, my dear, is a vast business, and they who would succeed in it should have no other. Henceforth I shall have no more trouble from money matters; I have taken all the thorns out of my life, and done my housekeeping work once for all with a vengeance, so as never to be troubled with it again, except during the daily ten minutes which I shall devote to my old major-domo Philippe. I have made a study of life and its sharp curves; there came a day when death also gave me harsh lessons. Now I want to turn all this to account. My one occupation will be to please /him/ and love /him/, to brighten with variety what to common mortals is monotonously dull.

Gaston is still in complete ignorance. At my request he has, like myself, taken up his quarters at Ville d’Avray; to-morrow we start for the chalet. Our life there will cost but little; but if I told you the sum I am setting aside for my toilet, you would exclaim at my madness, and with reason. I intend to take as much trouble to make myself beautiful for him every day as other women do for society. My dress in the country, year in, year out, will cost twenty-four thousand francs, and the larger portion of this will not go in day costumes. As for him, he can wear a blouse if he pleases! Don’t suppose that I am going to turn our life into an amorous duel and wear myself out in devices for feeding passion; all that I want is to have a conscience free from reproach. Thirteen years still lie before me as a pretty woman, and I am determined to be loved on the last day of the thirteenth even more fondly than on the morrow of our mysterious nuptials. This time no cutting words shall mar my lowly, grateful content. I will take the part of servant, since that of mistress throve so ill with me before.

Ah! Renee, if Gaston has sounded, as I have, the heights and depths of love, my happiness is assured! Nature at the chalet wears her fairest face. The woods are charming; each step opens up to you some fresh vista of cool greenery, which delights the soul by the sweet thoughts it wakens. They breathe of love. If only this be not the gorgeous theatre dressed by my hand for my own martyrdom!

In two days from now I shall be Mme. Gaston. My God! is it fitting a Christian so to love mortal man?

“Well, at least you have the law with you,” was the comment of my man of business, who is to be one of my witnesses, and who exclaimed, on discovering why my property was to be realized, “I am losing a client!”

And you, my sweetheart (whom I dare no longer call my loved one), may you not cry, “I am losing a sister?”

My sweet, address when you write in future to Mme. Gaston, Poste Restante, Versailles. We shall send there every day for letters. I don’t want to be known to the country people, and we shall get our provisions from Paris. In this way I hope we may guard the secret of our lives. Nobody has been seen in the place during the years spent in preparing our retreat; and the purchase was made in the troubled period which followed the revolution of July. The only person who has shown himself here is the architect; he alone is known, and he will not return.

Farewell. As I write this word, I know not whether my heart is fuller of grief or joy. That proves, does it not, that the pain of losing you equals my love for Gaston?

XLIX

MARIE GASTON TO DANIEL D’ARTHEZ
October 1833.

My Dear Daniel,–I need two witnesses for my marriage. I beg of you to come to-morrow evening for this purpose, bringing with you our worthy and honored friend, Joseph Bridau. She who is to be my wife, with an instinctive divination of my dearest wishes, has declared her intention of living far from the world in complete retirement. You, who have done so much to lighten my penury, have been left in ignorance of my love; but you will understand that absolute secrecy was essential.

This will explain to you why it is that, for the last year, we have seen so little of each other. On the morrow of my wedding we shall be parted for a long time; but, Daniel, you are of stuff to understand me. Friendship can subsist in the absence of the friend. There may be times when I shall want you badly, but I shall not see you, at least not in my own house. Here again /she/ has forestalled our wishes. She has sacrificed to me her intimacy with a friend of her childhood, who has been a sister to her. For her sake, then, I also must relinquish my comrade!

From this fact alone you will divine that ours is no mere passing fancy, but love, absolute, perfect, godlike; love based upon the fullest knowledge that can bind two hearts in sympathy. To me it is a perpetual spring of purest delight.

Yet nature allows of no happiness without alloy; and deep down, in the innermost recess of my heart, I am conscious of a lurking thought, not shared with her, the pang of which is for me alone. You have too often come to the help of my inveterate poverty to be ignorant how desperate matters were with me. Where should I have found courage to keep up the struggle of life, after seeing my hopes so often blighted, but for your cheering words, your tactful aid, and the knowledge of what you had come through? Briefly, then, my friend, she freed me from that crushing load of debt, which was no secret to you. She is wealthy, I am penniless. Many a time have I exclaimed, in one of my fits of idleness, “Oh for some great heiress to cast her eye on me!” And now, in presence of this reality, the boy’s careless jest, the unscrupulous cynicism of the outcast, have alike vanished, leaving in their place only a bitter sense of humiliation, which not the most considerate tenderness on her part, nor my own assurance of her noble nature, can remove. Nay, what better proof of my love could there exist, for her or for myself, than this shame, from which I have not recoiled, even when powerless to overcome it? The fact remains that there is a point where, far from protecting, I am the protected.

This is my pain which I confide to you.

Except in this one particular, dear Daniel, my fondest dreams are more than realized. Fairest and noblest among women, such a bride might indeed raise a man to giddy heights of bliss. Her gentle ways are seasoned with wit, her love comes with an ever-fresh grace and charm; her mind is well informed and quick to understand; in person, she is fair and lovely, with a rounded slimness, as though Raphael and Rubens had conspired to create a woman! I do not know whether I could have worshiped with such fervor at the shrine of a dark beauty; a brunette always strikes me as an unfinished boy. She is a widow, childless, and twenty-seven years of age. Though brimful of life and energy, she has her moods also of dreamy melancholy. These rare gifts go with a proud aristocratic bearing; she has a fine presence.

She belongs to one of those old families who make a fetich of rank, yet loves me enough to ignore the misfortune of my birth. Our secret passion is now of long standing; we have made trial, each of the other, and find that in the matter of jealousy we are twin spirits; our thoughts are the reverberation of the same thunderclap. We both love for the first time, and this bewitching springtime has filled its days for us with all the images of delight that fancy can paint in laughing, sweet, or musing mood. Our path has been strewn with the flowers of tender imaginings. Each hour brought its own wealth, and when we parted, it was to put our thoughts in verse. Not for a moment did I harbor the idea of sullying the brightness of such a time by giving the rein to sensual passion, however it might chafe within. She was a widow and free; intuitively, she realized all the homage implied in this constant self-restraint, which often moved her to tears. Can you not read in this, my friend, a soul of noble temper? In mutual fear we shunned even the first kiss of love.

“We have each a wrong to reproach ourselves with,” she said one day.

“Where is yours?” I asked.

“My marriage,” was her reply.

Daniel, you are a giant among us and you love one of the most gifted women of the aristocracy, which has produced my Armande; what need to tell you more? Such an answer lays bare to you a woman’s heart and all the happiness which is in store for your friend, MARIE GASTON.

L

MME. DE L’ESTORADE TO MME. DE MACUMER

Louise, can it be that, with all your knowledge of the deep-seated mischief wrought by the indulgence of passion, even within the heart of marriage, you are planning a life of wedded solitude? Having sacrificed your first husband in the course of a fashionable career, would you now fly to the desert to consume a second? What stores of misery you are laying up for yourself!

But I see from the way you have set about it that there is no going back. The man who has overcome your aversion to a second marriage must indeed possess some magic of mind and heart; and you can only be left to your illusions. But have you forgotten your former criticism on young men? Not one, you would say, but has visited haunts of shame, and has besmirched his purity with the filth of the streets. Where is the change, pray–in them or in you?

You are a lucky woman to be able to believe in happiness. I have not the courage to blame you for it, though the instinct of affection urges me to dissuade you from this marriage. Yes, a thousand times, yes, it is true that nature and society are at one in making war on absolute happiness, because such a condition is opposed to the laws of both; possibly, also, because Heaven is jealous of its privileges. My love for you forebodes some disaster to which all my penetration can give no definite form. I know neither whence nor from whom it will arise; but one need be no prophet to foretell that the mere weight of a boundless happiness will overpower you. Excess of joy is harder to bear than any amount of sorrow.

Against him I have not a word to say. You love him, and in all probability I have never seen him; but some idle day I hope you will send me a sketch, however slight, of this rare, fine animal.

If you see me so resigned and cheerful, it is because I am convinced that, once the honeymoon is over you will both with one accord, fall back into the common track. Some day, two years hence, when we are walking along this famous road, you will exclaim, “Why, there is the chalet which was to be my home for ever!” And you will laugh your dear old laugh, which shows all your pretty teeth!

I have said nothing yet to Louis; it would be too good an opening for his ridicule. I shall tell him simply that you are going to be married, and that you wish it kept secret. Unluckily, you need neither mother nor sister for your bridal evening. We are in October now; like a brave woman, you are grappling with winter first. If it were not a question of marriage, I should say you were taking the bull by the horns. In any case, you will have in me the most discreet and intelligent of friends. That mysterious region, known as the centre of Africa, has swallowed up many travelers, and you seem to me to be launching on an expedition which, in the domain of sentiment, corresponds to those where so many explorers have perished, whether in the sands or at the hands of natives. Your desert is, happily, only two leagues from Paris, so I can wish you quite cheerfully, “A safe journey and speedy return.”

LI

THE COMTESSE DE L’ESTORADE TO MME. MARIE GASTON 1835.

What has come to you, my dear? After a silence of two years, surely Renee has a right to feel anxious about Louise. So this is love! It brushes aside and scatters to the winds a friendship such as ours! You must admit that, devoted as I am to my children–more even perhaps than you to your Gaston–a mother’s love has something expansive about it which does not allow it to steal from other affections, or interfere with the claims of friendship. I miss your letters, I long for a sight of your dear, sweet face. Oh! Louise, my heart has only conjecture to feed upon!

As regards ourselves, I will try and tell you everything as briefly as possible.

On reading your last letter but one, I find some stinging comments on our political situation. You mocked at us for keeping the post in the Audit Department, which, as well as the title of Count, Louis owed to the favor of Charles X. But I should like to know, please, how it would be possible out of an income of forty thousand livres, thirty thousand of which go with the entail, to give a suitable start in life to Athenais and my poor little beggar Rene. Was it not a duty to live on our salary and prudently allow the income of the estate to accumulate? In this way we shall, in twenty years, have put together about six hundred thousand francs, which will provide portions for my daughter and for Rene, whom I destine for the navy. The poor little chap will have an income of ten thousand livres, and perhaps we may contrive to leave him in cash enough to bring his portion up to the amount of his sister’s.

When he is Captain, my beggar will be able to make a wealthy marriage, and take a position in society as good as his elder brother’s.

These considerations of prudence determined the acceptance in our family of the new order of things. The new dynasty, as was natural, raised Louis to the Peerage and made him a grand officer of the Legion of Honor. The oath once taken, l’Estorade could not be half-hearted in his services, and he has since then made himself very useful in the Chamber. The position he has now attained is one in which he can rest upon his oars till the end of his days. He has a good deal of adroitness in business matters; and though he can hardly be called an orator, speaks pleasantly and fluently, which is all that is necessary in politics. His shrewdness and the extent of his information in all matters of government and administration are fully appreciated, and all parties consider him indispensable. I may tell you that he was recently offered an embassy, but I would not let him accept it. I am tied to Paris by the education of Armand and Athenais–who are now respectively thirteen and nearly eleven–and I don’t intend leaving till little Rene has completed his, which is just beginning.

We could not have remained faithful to the elder branch of the dynasty and returned to our country life without allowing the education and prospects of the three children to suffer. A mother, my sweet, is hardly called on to be a Decius, especially at a time when the type is rare. In fifteen years from now, l’Estorade will be able to retire to La Crampade on a good pension, having found a place as referendary for Armand in the Audit Department.

As for Rene, the navy will doubtless make a diplomatist of him. The little rogue, at seven years old, has all the cunning of an old Cardinal.

Oh! Louise, I am indeed a happy mother. My children are an endless source of joy to me.

Senza brama sicura ricchezza.

Armand is a day scholar at Henry IV.’s school. I made up my mind he should have a public-school training, yet could not reconcile myself to the thought of parting with him; so I compromised, as the Duc d’Orleans did before he became–or in order that he might become– Louis Philippe. Every morning Lucas, the old servant whom you will remember, takes Armand to school in time for the first lesson, and brings him home again at half-past four. In the house we have a private tutor, an admirable scholar, who helps Armand with his work in the evenings, and calls him in the morning at the school hour. Lucas takes him some lunch during the play hour at midday. In this way I am with my boy at dinner and until he goes to bed at night, and I see him off in the morning.

Armand is the same charming little fellow, full of feeling and unselfish impulse, whom you loved; and his tutor is quite pleased with him. I still have Nais and the baby–two restless little mortals–but I am quite as much a child as they are. I could not bring myself to lose the darlings’ sweet caresses. I could not live without the feeling that at any moment I can fly to Armand’s bedside and watch his slumbers or snatch a kiss.

Yet home education is not without its drawbacks, to which I am fully alive. Society, like nature, is a jealous power, and will have not her rights encroached on, or her system set at naught. Thus, children who are brought up at home are exposed too early to the fire of the world; they see its passions and become at home with its subterfuges. The finer distinctions, which regulate the conduct of matured men and women, elude their perceptions, and they take feeling and passion for their guide instead of subordinating those to the code of society; whilst the gay trappings and tinsel which attract so much of the world’s favor blind them to the importance of the more sober virtues. A child of fifteen with the assurance of a man of the world is a thing against all nature; at twenty-five he will be prematurely old, and his precocious knowledge only unfits him for the genuine study on which all solid ability must rest. Life in society is one long comedy, and those who take part in it, like other actors, reflect back impressions which never penetrate below the surface. A mother, therefore, who wishes not to part from her children, must resolutely determine that they shall not enter the gay world; she must have courage to resist their inclinations, as well as her own, and keep them in the background. Cornelia had to keep her jewels under lock and key. Shall I do less for the children who are all the world to me?

Now that I am thirty, the heat of the day is over, the hardest bit of the road lies behind me. In a few years I shall be an old woman, and the sense of duty done is an immense encouragement. It would almost seem as though my trio can read my thoughts and shape themselves accordingly. A mysterious bond of sympathy unites me to these children who have never left my side. If they knew the blank in my life which they have to fill, they could not be more lavish of the solace they bring.

Armand, who was dull and dreamy during his first three years at school, and caused me some uneasiness, has made a sudden start. Doubtless he realized, in a way most children never do, the aim of all this preparatory work, which is to sharpen the intelligence, to get them into habits of application and accustom them to that fundamental principle of all society–obedience. My dear, a few days ago I had the proud joy of seeing Armand crowned at the great interscholastic competition in the crowded Sorbonne, when your godson received the first prize for translation. At the school distribution he got two first prizes–one for verse, and one for an essay. I went quite white when his name was called out, and longed to shout aloud, “I am his mother!” Little Nais squeezed my hand till it hurt, if at such a moment it were possible to feel pain. Ah! Louise, a day like this might outweigh many a dream of love!

His brother’s triumphs have spurred on little Rene, who wants to go to school too. Sometimes the three children make such a racket, shouting and rushing about the house, that I wonder how my head stands it. I am always with them; no one else, not even Mary, is allowed to take care of my children. But the calling of a mother, if taxing, has so many compensating joys! To see a child leave its play and run to hug one, out of the fulness of its heart, what could be sweeter?

Then it is only in being constantly with them that one can study their characters. It is the duty of a mother, and one which she can depute to no hired teacher, to decipher the tastes, temper, and natural aptitudes of her children from their infancy. All home-bred children are distinguished by ease of manner and tact, two acquired qualities which may go far to supply the lack of natural ability, whereas no natural ability can atone for the loss of this early training. I have already learned to discriminate this difference of tone in the men whom I meet in society, and to trace the hand of a woman in the formation of a young man’s manners. How could any woman defraud her children of such a possession? You see what rewards attend the performance of my tasks!

Armand, I feel certain, will make an admirable judge, the most upright of public servants, the most devoted of deputies. And where would you find a sailor bolder, more adventurous, more astute than my Rene will be a few years hence? The little rascal has already an iron will, whatever he wants he manages to get; he will try a thousand circuitous ways to reach his end, and if not successful then, will devise a thousand and first. Where dear Armand quietly resigns himself and tries to get at the reason of things, Rene will storm, and strive, and puzzle, chattering all the time, till at last he finds some chink in the obstacle; if there is room for the blade of a knife to pass, his little carriage will ride through in triumph.

And Nais? Nais is so completely a second self that I can hardly realize her as distinct from my own flesh and blood. What a darling she is, and how I love to make a little lady of her, to dress her curly hair, tender thoughts mingling the while with every touch! I must have her happy; I shall only give her to the man who loves her and whom she loves. But, Heavens! when I let her put on her little ornaments, or pass a cherry-colored ribbon through her hair, or fasten the shoes on her tiny feet, a sickening thought comes over me. How can one order the destiny of a girl? Who can say that she will not love a scoundrel or some man who is indifferent to her? Tears often spring to my eyes as I watch her. This lovely creature, this flower, this rosebud which has blossomed in one’s heart, to be handed over to a man who will tear it from the stem and leave it bare! Louise, it is you– you, who in two years have not written three words to tell me of your welfare–it is you who have recalled to my mind the terrible possibilities of marriage, so full of anguish for a mother wrapped up, as I am, in her child. Farewell now, for in truth you don’t deserve my friendship, and I hardly know how to write. Oh! answer me, dear Louise.

LII

MME. GASTON TO MME. DE L’ESTORADE
The Chalet.

So, after a silence of two years, you are pricked by curiosity, and want to know why I have not written. My dear Renee, there are no words, no images, no language to express my happiness. That we have strength to bear it sums up all I could say. It costs us no effort, for we are in perfect sympathy. The whole two years have known no note of discord in the harmony, no jarring word in the interchange of feeling, no shade of difference in our lightest wish. Not one in this long succession of days has failed to bear its own peculiar fruit; not a moment has passed without being enriched by the play of fancy. So far are we from dreading the canker of monotony in our life, that our only fear is lest it should not be long enough to contain all the poetic creations of a love as rich and varied in its development as Nature herself. Of disappointment not a trace! We find more pleasure in being together than on the first day, and each hour as it goes by discloses fresh reason for our love. Every day as we take our evening stroll after dinner, we tell each other that we really must go and see what is doing in Paris, just as one might talk of going to Switzerland.

“Only think,” Gaston will exclaim, “such and such a boulevard is being made, the Madeleine is finished. We ought to see it. Let us go to-morrow.”

And to-morrow comes, and we are in no hurry to get up, and we breakfast in our bedroom. Then midday is on us, and it is too hot; a siesta seems appropriate. Then Gaston wishes to look at me, and he gazes on my face as though it were a picture, losing himself in this contemplation, which, as you may suppose, is not one-sided. Tears rise to the eyes of both as we think of our love and tremble. I am still the mistress, pretending, that is, to give less than I receive, and I revel in this deception. To a woman what can be sweeter than to see passion ever held in check by tenderness, and the man who is her master stayed, like a timid suitor, by a word from her, within the limits that she chooses?

You asked me to describe him; but, Renee, it is not possible to make a portrait of the man we love. How could the heart be kept out of the work? Besides, to be frank between ourselves, we may admit that one of the dire effects of civilization on our manners is to make of man in society a being so utterly different from the natural man of strong feeling, that sometimes not a single point of likeness can be found between these two aspects of the same person. The man who falls into the most graceful operatic poses, as he pours sweet nothings into your ear by the fire at night, may be entirely destitute of those more intimate charms which a woman values. On the other hand, an ugly, boorish, badly-dressed figure may mark a man endowed with the very genius of love, and who has a perfect mastery over situations which might baffle us with our superficial graces. A man whose conventional aspect accords with his real nature, who, in the intimacy of wedded love, possesses that inborn grace which can be neither given nor acquired, but which Greek art has embodied in statuary, that careless innocence of the ancient poets which, even in frank undress, seems to clothe the soul as with a veil of modesty–this is our ideal, born of our own conceptions, and linked with the universal harmony which seems to be the reality underlying all created things. To find this ideal in life is the problem which haunts the imagination of every woman–in Gaston I have found it.

Ah! dear, I did not know what love could be, united to youth, talent, and beauty. Gaston has no affectations, he moves with an instinctive and unstudied grace. When we walk alone together in the woods, his arm round my waist, mine resting on his shoulder, body fitting to body, and head touching head, our step is so even, uniform, and gentle, that those who see us pass by night take the vision for a single figure gliding over the graveled walks, like one of Homer’s immortals. A like harmony exists in our desires, our thoughts, our words. More than once on some evening when a passing shower has left the leaves glistening and the moist grass bright with a more vivid green, it has chanced that we ended our walk without uttering a word, as we listened to the patter of falling drops and feasted our eyes on the scarlet sunset, flaring on the hilltops or dyeing with a warmer tone the gray of the tree trunks.

Beyond a doubt our thoughts then rose to Heaven in silent prayer, pleading as it were, for our happiness. At times a cry would escape us at the moment when some sudden bend on the path opened up fresh beauties. What words can tell how honey-sweet, how full of meaning, is a kiss half-timidly exchanged within the sanctuary of nature–it is as though God had created us to worship in this fashion.

And we return home, each more deeply in love than ever.

A love so passionate between old married people would be an outrage on society in Paris; only in the heart of the woods, like lovers, can we give scope to it.

To come to particulars, Gaston is of middle height–the height proper to all men of purpose. Neither stout nor thin, his figure is admirably made, with ample fulness in the proportions, while every motion is agile; he leaps a ditch with the easy grace of a wild animal. Whatever his attitude, he seems to have an instinctive sense of balance, and this is very rare in men who are given to thought. Though a dark man, he has an extraordinarily fair complexion; his jet-black hair contrasts finely with the lustreless tints of the neck and forehead. He has the tragic head of Louis XIII. His moustache and tuft have been allowed to grow, but I made him shave the whiskers and beard, which were getting too common. An honorable poverty has been his safeguard, and handed him over to me, unsoiled by the loose life which ruins so many young men. His teeth are magnificent, and he has a constitution of iron. His keen blue eyes, for me full of tenderness, will flash like lightning at any rousing thought.

Like all men of strong character and powerful mind, he has an admirable temper; its evenness would surprise you, as it did me. I have listened to the tale of many a woman’s home troubles; I have heard of the moods and depression of men dissatisfied with themselves, who either won’t get old or age ungracefully, men who carry about through life the rankling memory of some youthful excess, whose veins run poison and whose eyes are never frankly happy, men who cloak suspicion under bad temper, and make their women pay for an hour’s peace by a morning of annoyance, who take vengeance on us for a beauty which is hateful to them because they have ceased themselves to be attractive,–all these are horrors unknown to youth. They are the penalty of unequal unions. Oh! my dear, whatever you do, don’t marry Athenais to an old man!

But his smile–how I feast on it! A smile which is always there, yet always fresh through the play of subtle fancy, a speaking smile which makes of the lips a storehouse for thoughts of love and unspoken gratitude, a smile which links present joys to past. For nothing is allowed to drop out of our common life. The smallest works of nature have become part and parcel of our joy. In these delightful woods everything is alive and eloquent of ourselves. An old moss-grown oak, near the woodsman’s house on the roadside, reminds us how we sat there, wearied, under its shade, while Gaston taught me about the mosses at our feet and told me their story, till, gradually ascending from science to science, we touched the very confines of creation.

There is something so kindred in our minds that they seem to me like two editions of the same book. You see what a literary tendency I have developed! We both have the habit, or the gift, of looking at every subject broadly, of taking in all its points of view, and the proof we are constantly giving ourselves of the singleness of our inward vision is an ever-new pleasure. We have actually come to look on this community of mind as a pledge of love; and if it ever failed us, it would mean as much to us as would a breach of fidelity in an ordinary home.

My life, full as it is of pleasures, would seem to you, nevertheless, extremely laborious. To begin with, my dear, you must know that Louise-Armande-Marie de Chaulieu does her own room. I could not bear that a hired menial, some woman or girl from the outside, should become initiated–literary touch again!–into the secrets of my bedroom. The veriest trifles connected with the worship of my heart partake of its sacred character. This is not jealousy; it is self- respect. Thus my room is done out with all the care a young girl in love bestows on her person, and with the precision of an old maid. My dressing-room is no chaos of litter; on the contrary, it makes a charming boudoir. My keen eye has foreseen all contingencies. At whatever hour the lord and master enters, he will find nothing to distress, surprise, or shock him; he is greeted by flowers, scents, and everything that can please the eye.

I get up in the early dawn, while he is still sleeping, and, without disturbing him, pass into the dressing-room, where, profiting by my mother’s experience, I remove the traces of sleep by bathing in cold water. For during sleep the skin, being less active, does not perform its functions adequately; it becomes warm and covered with a sort of mist or atmosphere of sticky matter, visible to the eye. From a sponge-bath a woman issues ten years younger, and this, perhaps, is the interpretation of the myth of Venus rising from the sea. So the cold water restores to me the saucy charm of dawn, and, having combed and scented my hair and made a most fastidious toilet, I glide back, snake-like, in order that my master may find me, dainty as a spring morning, at his wakening. He is charmed with this freshness, as of a newly-opened flower, without having the least idea how it is produced.

The regular toilet of the day is a matter for my maid, and this takes place later in a larger room, set aside for the purpose. As you may suppose, there is also a toilet for going to bed. Three times a day, you see, or it may be four, do I array myself for the delight of my husband; which, again, dear one, is suggestive of certain ancient myths.

But our work is not all play. We take a great deal of interest in our flowers, in the beauties of the hothouse, and in our trees. We give ourselves in all seriousness to horticulture, and embosom the chalet in flowers, of which we are passionately fond. Our lawns are always green, our shrubberies as well tended as those of a millionaire. And nothing I assure you, can match the beauty of our walled garden. We are regular gluttons over our fruit, and watch with tender interest our Montreuil peaches, our hotbeds, our laden trellises, and pyramidal pear-trees.

But lest these rural pursuits should fail to satisfy my beloved’s mind, I have advised him to finish, in the quiet of this retreat, some plays which were begun in his starvation days, and which are really very fine. This is the only kind of literary work which can be done in odd moments, for it requires long intervals of reflection, and does not demand the elaborate pruning essential to a finished style. One can’t make a task-work of dialogue; there must be biting touches, summings-up, and flashes of wit, which are the blossoms of the mind, and come rather by inspiration than reflection. This sort of intellectual sport is very much in my line. I assist Gaston in his work, and in this way manage to accompany him even in the boldest flights of his imagination. Do you see now how it is that my winter evenings never drag?

Our servants have such an easy time, that never once since we were married have we had to reprimand any of them. When questioned about us, they have had wit enough to draw on their imaginations, and have given us out as the companion and secretary of a lady and gentleman supposed to be traveling. They never go out without asking permission, which they know will not be refused; they are contented too, and see plainly that it will be their own fault if there is a change for the worse. The gardeners are allowed to sell the surplus of our fruits and vegetables. The dairymaid does the same with the milk, the cream, and the fresh butter, on condition that the best of the produce is reserved for us. They are well pleased with their profits, and we are delighted with an abundance which no money and no ingenuity can procure in that terrible Paris, where it costs a hundred francs to produce a single fine peach.

All this is not without its meaning, my dear. I wish to fill the place of society to my husband; now society is amusing, and therefore his solitude must not be allowed to pall on him. I believed myself jealous in the old days, when I merely allowed myself to be loved; now I know real jealousy, the jealousy of the lover. A single indifferent glance unnerves me. From time to time I say to myself, “Suppose he ceased to love me!” And a shudder goes through me. I tremble before him, as the Christian before his God.

Alas! Renee, I am still without a child. The time will surely come–it must come–when our hermitage will need a father’s and a mother’s care to brighten it, when we shall both pine to see the little frocks and pelisses, the brown or golden heads, leaping, running through our shrubberies and flowery paths. Oh! it is a cruel jest of Nature’s, a flowering tree that bears no fruit. The thought of your lovely children goes through me like a knife. My life has grown narrower, while yours has expanded and shed its rays afar. The passion of love is essentially selfish, while motherhood widens the circle of our feelings. How well I felt this difference when I read your kind, tender letter! To see you thus living in three hearts roused my envy. Yes, you are happy; you have had wisdom to obey the laws of social life, whilst I stand outside, an alien.

Children, dear and loving children, can alone console a woman for the loss of her beauty. I shall soon be thirty, and at that age the dirge within begins. What though I am still beautiful, the limits of my woman’s reign are none the less in sight. When they are reached, what then? I shall be forty before he is; I shall be old while he is still young. When this thought goes to my heart, I lie at his feet for an hour at a time, making him swear to tell me instantly if ever he feels his love diminishing.

But he is a child. He swears, as though the mere suggestion were an absurdity, and he is so beautiful that–Renee, you understand–I believe him.

Good-bye, sweet one. Shall we ever again let years pass without writing? Happiness is a monotonous theme, and that is, perhaps, the reason why, to souls who love, Dante appears even greater in the /Paradiso/ than in the /Inferno/. I am not Dante; I am only your friend, and I don’t want to bore you. You can write, for in your children you have an ever-growing, every-varying source of happiness, while mine . . . No more of this. A thousand loves.

LIII

MME. DE L’ESTORADE TO MME. GASTON

My dear Louise,–I have read and re-read your letter, and the more deeply I enter into its spirit, the clearer does it become to me that it is the letter, not of a woman, but of a child. You are the same old Louise, and you forget, what I used to repeat over and over again to you, that the passion of love belongs rightly to a state of nature, and has only been purloined by civilization. So fleeting is its character, that the resources of society are powerless to modify its primitive condition, and it becomes the effort of all noble minds to make a man of the infant Cupid. But, as you yourself admit, such love ceases to be natural.

Society, my dear abhors sterility; but substituting a lasting sentiment for the mere passing frenzy of nature, it has succeeded in creating that greatest of all human inventions–the family, which is the enduring basis of all organized society. To the accomplishment of this end, it has sacrificed the individual, man as well as woman; for we must not shut our eyes to the fact that a married man devotes his energy, his power, and all his possession to his wife. Is it not she who reaps the benefit of all his care? For whom, if not for her, are the luxury and wealth, the position and distinction, the comfort and the gaiety of the home?

Oh! my sweet, once again you have taken the wrong turning in life. To be adored is a young girl’s dream, which may survive a few springtimes; it cannot be that of the mature woman, the wife and mother. To a woman’s vanity it is, perhaps, enough to know that she can command adoration if she likes. If you would live the life of a wife and mother, return, I beg of you, to Paris. Let me repeat my warning: It is not misfortune which you have to dread, as others do– it is happiness.

Listen to me, my child! It is the simple things of life–bread, air, silence–of which we do not tire; they have no piquancy which can create distaste; it is highly-flavored dishes which irritate the palate, and in the end exhaust it. Were it possible that I should to-day be loved by a man for whom I could conceive a passion, such as yours for Gaston, I would still cling to the duties and the children, who are so dear to me. To a woman’s heart the feelings of a mother are among the simple, natural, fruitful, and inexhaustible things of life. I can recall the day, now nearly fourteen years ago, when I embarked on a life of self-sacrifice with the despair of a shipwrecked mariner clinging to the mast of his vessel; now, as I invoke the memory of past years, I feel that I would make the same choice again. No other guiding principle is so safe, or leads to such rich reward. The spectacle of your life, which, for all the romance and poetry with which you invest it, still remains based on nothing but a ruthless selfishness, has helped to strengthen my convictions. This is the last time I shall speak to you in this way; but I could not refrain from once more pleading with you when I found that your happiness had been proof against the most searching of all trials.

And one more point I must urge on you, suggested by my meditations on your retirement. Life, whether of the body or the heart, consists in certain balanced movements. Any excess introduced into the working of this routine gives rise either to pain or to pleasure, both of which are a mere fever of the soul, bound to be fugitive because nature is not so framed as to support it long. But to make of life one long excess is surely to choose sickness for one’s portion. You are sick because you maintain at the temperature of passion a feeling which marriage ought to convert into a steadying, purifying influence.

Yes, my sweet, I see it clearly now; the glory of a home consists in this very calm, this intimacy, this sharing alike of good and evil, which the vulgar ridicule. How noble was the reply of the Duchesse de Sully, the wife of the great Sully, to some one who remarked that her husband, for all his grave exterior, did not scruple to keep a mistress. “What of that?” she said. “I represent the honor of the house, and should decline to play the part of a courtesan there.”

But you, Louise, who are naturally more passionate than tender, would be at once the wife and the mistress. With the soul of a Heloise and the passions of a Saint Theresa, you slip the leash on all your impulses, so long as they are sanctioned by law; in a word, you degrade the marriage rite. Surely the tables are turned. The reproaches you once heaped on me for immorally, as you said, seizing the means of happiness from the very outset of my wedded life, might be directed against yourself for grasping at everything which may serve your passion. What! must nature and society alike be in bondage to your caprice? You are the old Louise; you have never acquired the qualities which ought to be a woman’s; self-willed and unreasonable as a girl, you introduce withal into your love the keenest and most mercenary of calculations! Are you sure that, after all, the price you ask for your toilets is not too high? All these precautions are to my mind very suggestive of mistrust.

Oh, dear Louise, if only you knew the sweetness of a mother’s efforts to discipline herself in kindness and gentleness to all about her! My proud, self-sufficing temper gradually dissolved into a soft melancholy, which in turn has been swallowed up by those delights of motherhood which have been its reward. If the early hours were toilsome, the evening will be tranquil and clear. My dread is lest the day of your life should take the opposite course.

When I had read your letter to a close, I prayed God to send you among us for a day, that you might see what family life really is, and learn the nature of those joys, which are lasting and sweeter than tongue can tell, because they are genuine, simple, and natural. But, alas! what chance have I with the best of arguments against a fallacy which makes you happy? As I write these words, my eyes fill with tears. I had felt so sure that some months of honeymoon would prove a surfeit and restore you to reason. But I see that there is no limit to your appetite, and that, having killed a man who loved you, you will not cease till you have killed love itself. Farewell, dear misguided friend. I am in despair that the letter which I hoped might reconcile you to society by its picture of my happiness should have brought forth only a paean of selfishness. Yes, your love is selfish; you love Gaston far less for himself than for what he is to you.

LIV

MME. GASTON TO THE COMTESSE DE L’ESTORADE May 20th.

Renee, calamity has come–no, that is no word for it–it has burst like a thunderbolt over your poor Louise. You know what that means; calamity for me is doubt; certainty would be death.

The day before yesterday, when I had finished my first toilet, I looked everywhere for Gaston to take a little turn with me before lunch, but in vain. I went to the stable, and there I saw his mare all in a lather, while the groom was removing the foam with a knife before rubbing her down.

“Who in the world has put Fedelta in such a state?” I asked.

“Master,” replied the lad.

I saw the mud of Paris on the mare’s legs, for country mud is quite different; and at once it flashed through me, “He has been to Paris.”

This thought raised a swarm of others in my heart, and it seemed as though all the life in my body rushed there. To go to Paris without telling me, at the hour when I leave him alone, to hasten there and back at such speed as to distress Fedelta. Suspicion clutched me in its iron grip, till I could hardly breathe. I walked aside a few steps to a seat, where I tried to recover my self-command.

Here Gaston found me, apparently pale and fluttered, for he immediately exclaimed, “What is wrong?” in a tone of such alarm, that I rose and took his arm. But my muscles refused to move, and I was forced to sit down again. Then he took me in his arms and carried me to the parlor close by, where the frightened servants pressed after us, till Gaston motioned them away. Once left to ourselves, I refused to speak, but was able to reach my room, where I shut myself in, to weep my fill. Gaston remained something like two hours at my door, listening to my sobs and questioning with angelic patience his poor