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The Duchesse de Langeais by Honore de Balzac

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The Duchesse de Langeais by Honore de Balzac



In a Spanish city on an island in the Mediterranean, there stands
a convent of the Order of Barefoot Carmelites, where the rule
instituted by St. Theresa is still preserved with all the first
rigour of the reformation brought about by that illustrious
woman. Extraordinary as this may seem, it is none the less true.

Almost every religious house in the Peninsula, or in Europe for
that matter, was either destroyed or disorganised by the outbreak
of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars; but as this
island was protected through those times by the English fleet,
its wealthy convent and peaceable inhabitants were secure from
the general trouble and spoliation. The storms of many kinds
which shook the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century
spent their force before they reached those cliffs at so short a
distance from the coast of Andalusia.

If the rumour of the Emperor's name so much as reached the shore
of the island, it is doubtful whether the holy women kneeling in
the cloisters grasped the reality of his dream-like progress of
glory, or the majesty that blazed in flame across kingdom after
kingdom during his meteor life.

In the minds of the Roman Catholic world, the convent stood out
pre-eminent for a stern discipline which nothing had changed; the
purity of its rule had attracted unhappy women from the furthest
parts of Europe, women deprived of all human ties, sighing after
the long suicide accomplished in the breast of God. No convent,
indeed, was so well fitted for that complete detachment of the
soul from all earthly things, which is demanded by the religious
life, albeit on the continent of Europe there are many convents
magnificently adapted to the purpose of their existence. Buried
away in the loneliest valleys, hanging in mid-air on the steepest
mountainsides, set down on the brink of precipices, in every
place man has sought for the poetry of the Infinite, the solemn
awe of Silence; in every place man has striven to draw closer to
God, seeking Him on mountain peaks, in the depths below the
crags, at the cliff's edge; and everywhere man has found God.
But nowhere, save on this half-European, half-African ledge of
rock could you find so many different harmonies, combining so to
raise the soul, that the sharpest pain comes to be like other
memories; the strongest impressions are dulled, till the sorrows
of life are laid to rest in the depths.

The convent stands on the highest point of the crags at the
uttermost end of the island. On the side towards the sea the
rock was once rent sheer away in some globe-cataclysm; it rises
up a straight wall from the base where the waves gnaw at the
stone below high-water mark. Any assault is made impossible by
the dangerous reefs that stretch far out to sea, with the
sparkling waves of the Mediterranean playing over them. So, only
from the sea can you discern the square mass of the convent built
conformably to the minute rules laid down as to the shape,
height, doors, and windows of monastic buildings. From the side
of the town, the church completely hides the solid structure of
the cloisters and their roofs, covered with broad slabs of stone
impervious to sun or storm or gales of wind.

The church itself, built by the munificence of a Spanish family,
is the crowning edifice of the town. Its fine, bold front gives
an imposing and picturesque look to the little city in the sea.
The sight of such a city, with its close-huddled roofs, arranged
for the most part amphitheatre-wise above a picturesque harbour,
and crowned by a glorious cathedral front with triple-arched
Gothic doorways, belfry towers, and filigree spires, is a
spectacle surely in every way the sublimest on earth. Religion
towering above daily life, to put men continually in mind of the
End and the way, is in truth a thoroughly Spanish conception.
But now surround this picture by the Mediterranean, and a burning
sky, imagine a few palms here and there, a few stunted evergreen
trees mingling their waving leaves with the motionless flowers
and foliage of carved stone; look out over the reef with its
white fringes of foam in contrast to the sapphire sea; and then
turn to the city, with its galleries and terraces whither the
townsfolk come to take the air among their flowers of an evening,
above the houses and the tops of the trees in their little
gardens; add a few sails down in the harbour; and lastly, in the
stillness of falling night, listen to the organ music, the
chanting of the services, the wonderful sound of bells pealing
out over the open sea. There is sound and silence everywhere;
oftener still there is silence over all.

The church is divided within into a sombre mysterious nave and
narrow aisles. For some reason, probably because the winds are
so high, the architect was unable to build the flying buttresses
and intervening chapels which adorn almost all cathedrals, nor
are there openings of any kind in the walls which support the
weight of the roof. Outside there is simply the heavy wall
structure, a solid mass of grey stone further strengthened by
huge piers placed at intervals. Inside, the nave and its little
side galleries are lighted entirely by the great stained-glass
rose-window suspended by a miracle of art above the centre
doorway; for upon that side the exposure permits of the display
of lacework in stone and of other beauties peculiar to the style
improperly called Gothic.

The larger part of the nave and aisles was left for the
townsfolk, who came and went and heard mass there. The choir was
shut off from the rest of the church by a grating and thick folds
of brown curtain, left slightly apart in the middle in such a way
that nothing of the choir could be seen from the church except
the high altar and the officiating priest. The grating itself
was divided up by the pillars which supported the organ loft; and
this part of the structure, with its carved wooden columns,
completed the line of the arcading in the gallery carried by the
shafts in the nave. If any inquisitive person, therefore, had
been bold enough to climb upon the narrow balustrade in the
gallery to look down into the choir, he could have seen nothing
but the tall eight-sided windows of stained glass beyond the high

At the time of the French expedition into Spain to establish
Ferdinand VII once more on the throne, a French general came to
the island after the taking of Cadiz, ostensibly to require the
recognition of the King's Government, really to see the convent
and to find some means of entering it. The undertaking was
certainly a delicate one; but a man of passionate temper, whose
life had been, as it were, but one series of poems in action, a
man who all his life long had lived romances instead of writing
them, a man pre-eminently a Doer, was sure to be tempted by a
deed which seemed to be impossible.

To open the doors of a convent of nuns by lawful means! The
metropolitan or the Pope would scarcely have permitted it! And
as for force or strategem--might not any indiscretion cost him
his position, his whole career as a soldier, and the end in view
to boot? The Duc d'Angouleme was still in Spain; and of all the
crimes which a man in favour with the Commander-in-Chief might
commit, this one alone was certain to find him inexorable. The
General had asked for the mission to gratify private motives of
curiosity, though never was curiosity more hopeless. This final
attempt was a matter of conscience. The Carmelite convent on the
island was the only nunnery in Spain which had baffled his

As he crossed from the mainland, scarcely an hour's distance, he
felt a presentiment that his hopes were to be fulfilled; and
afterwards, when as yet he had seen nothing of the convent but
its walls, and of the nuns not so much as their robes; while he
had merely heard the chanting of the service, there were dim
auguries under the walls and in the sound of the voices to
justify his frail hope. And, indeed, however faint those so
unaccountable presentiments might be, never was human passion
more vehemently excited than the General's curiosity at that
moment. There are no small events for the heart; the heart
exaggerates everything; the heart weighs the fall of a
fourteen-year-old Empire and the dropping of a woman's glove in
the same scales, and the glove is nearly always the heavier of
the two. So here are the facts in all their prosaic simplicity.
The facts first, the emotions will follow.

An hour after the General landed on the island, the royal
authority was re-established there. Some few Constitutional
Spaniards who had found their way thither after the fall of Cadiz
were allowed to charter a vessel and sail for London. So there
was neither resistance nor reaction. But the change of
government could not be effected in the little town without a
mass, at which the two divisions under the General's command were
obliged to be present. Now, it was upon this mass that the
General had built his hopes of gaining some information as to the
sisters in the convent; he was quite unaware how absolutely the
Carmelites were cut off from the world; but he knew that there
might be among them one whom he held dearer than life, dearer
than honour.

His hopes were cruelly dashed at once. Mass, it is true, was
celebrated in state. In honour of such a solemnity, the curtains
which always hid the choir were drawn back to display its riches,
its valuable paintings and shrines so bright with gems that they
eclipsed the glories of the ex-votos of gold and silver hung up
by sailors of the port on the columns in the nave. But all the
nuns had taken refuge in the organ-loft. And yet, in spite of
this first check, during this very mass of thanksgiving, the most
intimately thrilling drama that ever set a man's heart beating
opened out widely before him.

The sister who played the organ aroused such intense enthusiasm,
that not a single man regretted that he had come to the service.
Even the men in the ranks were delighted, and the officers were
in ecstasy. As for the General, he was seemingly calm and
indifferent. The sensations stirred in him as the sister played
one piece after another belong to the small number of things
which it is not lawful to utter; words are powerless to express
them; like death, God, eternity, they can only be realised
through their one point of contact with humanity. Strangely
enough, the organ music seemed to belong to the school of
Rossini, the musician who brings most human passion into his art.

Some day his works, by their number and extent, will receive the
reverence due to the Homer of music. From among all the scores
that we owe to his great genius, the nun seemed to have chosen
Moses in Egypt for special study, doubtless because the spirit of
sacred music finds therein its supreme expression. Perhaps the
soul of the great musician, so gloriously known to Europe, and
the soul of this unknown executant had met in the intuitive
apprehension of the same poetry. So at least thought two
dilettanti officers who must have missed the Theatre Favart in

At last in the Te Deum no one could fail to discern a French soul
in the sudden change that came over the music. Joy for the
victory of the Most Christian King evidently stirred this nun's
heart to the depths. She was a Frenchwoman beyond mistake. Soon
the love of country shone out, breaking forth like shafts of
light from the fugue, as the sister introduced variations with
all a Parisienne's fastidious taste, and blended vague
suggestions of our grandest national airs with her music. A
Spaniard's fingers would not have brought this warmth into a
graceful tribute paid to the victorious arms of France. The
musician's nationality was revealed.

"We find France everywhere, it seems," said one of the men.

The General had left the church during the Te Deum; he could not
listen any longer. The nun's music had been a revelation of a
woman loved to frenzy; a woman so carefully hidden from the
world's eyes, so deeply buried in the bosom of the Church, that
hitherto the most ingenious and persistent efforts made by men
who brought great influence and unusual powers to bear upon the
search had failed to find her. The suspicion aroused in the
General's heart became all but a certainty with the vague
reminiscence of a sad, delicious melody, the air of Fleuve du
Tage. The woman he loved had played the prelude to the ballad in
a boudoir in Paris, how often! and now this nun had chosen the
song to express an exile's longing, amid the joy of those that
triumphed. Terrible sensation! To hope for the resurrection of
a lost love, to find her only to know that she was lost, to catch
a mysterious glimpse of her after five years--five years, in
which the pent-up passion, chafing in an empty life, had grown
the mightier for every fruitless effort to satisfy it!

Who has not known, at least once in his life, what it is to lose
some precious thing; and after hunting through his papers,
ransacking his memory, and turning his house upside down; after
one or two days spent in vain search, and hope, and despair;
after a prodigious expenditure of the liveliest irritation of
soul, who has not known the ineffable pleasure of finding that
all-important nothing which had come to be a king of monomania?
Very good. Now, spread that fury of search over five years; put
a woman, put a heart, put love in the place of the trifle;
transpose the monomania into the key of high passion; and,
furthermore, let the seeker be a man of ardent temper, with a
lion's heart and a leonine head and mane, a man to inspire awe
and fear in those who come in contact with him--realise this, and
you may, perhaps, understand why the General walked abruptly out
of the church when the first notes of a ballad, which he used to
hear with a rapture of delight in a gilt-panelled boudoir, began
to vibrate along the aisles of the church in the sea.

The General walked away down the steep street which led to the
port, and only stopped when he could not hear the deep notes of
the organ. Unable to think of anything but the love which broke
out in volcanic eruption, filling his heart with fire, he only
knew that the Te Deum was over when the Spanish congregation came
pouring out of the church. Feeling that his behaviour and
attitude might seem ridiculous, he went back to head the
procession, telling the alcalde and the governor that, feeling
suddenly faint, he had gone out into the air. Casting about for
a plea for prolonging his stay, it at once occurred to him to
make the most of this excuse, framed on the spur of the moment.
He declined, on a plea of increasing indisposition, to preside at
the banquet given by the town to the French officers, betook
himself to his bed, and sent a message to the Major-General, to
the effect that temporary illness obliged him to leave the
Colonel in command of the troops for the time being. This
commonplace but very plausible stratagem relieved him of all
responsibility for the time necessary to carry out his plans.
The General, nothing if not "catholic and monarchical," took
occasion to inform himself of the hours of the services, and
manifested the greatest zeal for the performance of his religious
duties, piety which caused no remark in Spain.

The very next day, while the division was marching out of the
town, the General went to the convent to be present at vespers.
He found an empty church. The townsfolk, devout though they
were, had all gone down to the quay to watch the embarkation of
the troops. He felt glad to be the only man there. He tramped
noisily up the nave, clanking his spurs till the vaulted roof
rang with the sound; he coughed, he talked aloud to himself to
let the nuns know, and more particularly to let the organist know
that if the troops were gone, one Frenchman was left behind. Was
this singular warning heard and understood? He thought so. It
seemed to him that in the Magnificat the organ made response
which was borne to him on the vibrating air. The nun's spirit
found wings in music and fled towards him, throbbing with the
rhythmical pulse of the sounds. Then, in all its might, the
music burst forth and filled the church with warmth. The Song of
Joy set apart in the sublime liturgy of Latin Christianity to
express the exaltation of the soul in the presence of the glory
of the ever-living God, became the utterance of a heart almost
terrified by its gladness in the presence of the glory of a
mortal love; a love that yet lived, a love that had risen to
trouble her even beyond the grave in which the nun is laid, that
she may rise again as the bride of Christ.

The organ is in truth the grandest, the most daring, the most
magnificent of all instruments invented by human genius. It is a
whole orchestra in itself. It can express anything in response
to a skilled touch. Surely it is in some sort a pedestal on
which the soul poises for a flight forth into space, essaying on
her course to draw picture after picture in an endless series, to
paint human life, to cross the Infinite that separates heaven
from earth? And the longer a dreamer listens to those giant
harmonies, the better he realises that nothing save this
hundred-voiced choir on earth can fill all the space between
kneeling men, and a God hidden by the blinding light of the
Sanctuary. The music is the one interpreter strong enough to
bear up the prayers of humanity to heaven, prayer in its
omnipotent moods, prayer tinged by the melancholy of many
different natures, coloured by meditative ecstasy, upspringing
with the impulse of repentance--blended with the myriad fancies
of every creed. Yes. In those long vaulted aisles the melodies
inspired by the sense of things divine are blent with a grandeur
unknown before, are decked with new glory and might. Out of the
dim daylight, and the deep silence broken by the chanting of the
choir in response to the thunder of the organ, a veil is woven
for God, and the brightness of His attributes shines through it.

And this wealth of holy things seemed to be flung down like a
grain of incense upon the fragile altar raised to Love beneath
the eternal throne of a jealous and avenging God. Indeed, in the
joy of the nun there was little of that awe and gravity which
should harmonise with the solemnities of the Magnificat. She had
enriched the music with graceful variations, earthly gladness
throbbing through the rhythm of each. In such brilliant
quivering notes some great singer might strive to find a voice
for her love, her melodies fluttered as a bird flutters about her
mate. There were moments when she seemed to leap back into the
past, to dally there now with laughter, now with tears. Her
changing moods, as it were, ran riot. She was like a woman
excited and happy over her lover's return.

But at length, after the swaying fugues of delirium, after the
marvellous rendering of a vision of the past, a revulsion swept
over the soul that thus found utterance for itself. With a swift
transition from the major to the minor, the organist told her
hearer of her present lot. She gave the story of long melancholy
broodings, of the slow course of her moral malady. How day by
day she deadened the senses, how every night cut off one more
thought, how her heart was slowly reduced to ashes. The sadness
deepened shade after shade through languid modulations, and in a
little while the echoes were pouring out a torrent of grief.
Then on a sudden, high notes rang out like the voices of angels
singing together, as if to tell the lost but not forgotten lover
that their spirits now could only meet in heaven. Pathetic hope!

Then followed the Amen. No more Joy, no more tears in the air,
no sadness, no regrets. The Amen was the return to God. The
final chord was deep, solemn, even terrible; for the last
rumblings of the bass sent a shiver through the audience that
raised the hair on their heads; the nun shook out her veiling of
crepe, and seemed to sink again into the grave from which she had
risen for a moment. Slowly the reverberations died away; it
seemed as if the church, but now so full of light, had returned
to thick darkness.

The General had been caught up and borne swiftly away by this
strong-winged spirit; he had followed the course of its flight
from beginning to end. He understood to the fullest extent the
imagery of that burning symphony; for him the chords reached deep
and far. For him, as for the sister, the poem meant future,
present, and past. Is not music, and even opera music, a sort of
text, which a susceptible or poetic temper, or a sore and
stricken heart, may expand as memories shall determine? If a
musician must needs have the heart of a poet, must not the
listener too be in a manner a poet and a lover to hear all that
lies in great music? Religion, love, and music--what are they
but a threefold expression of the same fact, of that craving for
expansion which stirs in every noble soul. And these three forms
of poetry ascend to God, in whom all passion on earth finds its
end. Wherefore the holy human trinity finds a place amid the
infinite glories of God; of God, whom we always represent
surrounded with the fires of love and seistrons of gold--music
and light and harmony. Is not He the Cause and the End of all
our strivings?

The French General guessed rightly that here in the desert, on
this bare rock in the sea, the nun had seized upon music as an
outpouring of the passion that still consumed her. Was this her
manner of offering up her love as a sacrifice to God? Or was it
Love exultant in triumph over God? The questions were hard to
answer. But one thing at least the General could not mistake--in
this heart, dead to the world, the fire of passion burned as
fiercely as in his own.

Vespers over, he went back to the alcalde with whom he was
staying. In the all-absorbing joy which comes in such full
measure when a satisfaction sought long and painfully is attained
at last, he could see nothing beyond this--he was still loved!
In her heart love had grown in loneliness, even as his love had
grown stronger as he surmounted one barrier after another which
this woman had set between them! The glow of soul came to its
natural end. There followed a longing to see her again, to
contend with God for her, to snatch her away--a rash scheme,
which appealed to a daring nature. He went to bed, when the meal
was over, to avoid questions; to be alone and think at his ease;
and he lay absorbed by deep thought till day broke.

He rose only to go to mass. He went to the church and knelt
close to the screen, with his forehead touching the curtain; he
would have torn a hole in it if he had been alone, but his host
had come with him out of politeness, and the least imprudence
might compromise the whole future of his love, and ruin the new

The organ sounded, but it was another player, and not the nun of
the last two days whose hands touched the keys. It was all
colourless and cold for the General. Was the woman he loved
prostrated by emotion which wellnigh overcame a strong man's
heart? Had she so fully realised and shared an unchanged,
longed-for love, that now she lay dying on her bed in her cell?
While innumerable thoughts of this kind perplexed his mind, the
voice of the woman he worshipped rang out close beside him; he
knew its clear resonant soprano. It was her voice, with that
faint tremor in it which gave it all the charm that shyness and
diffidence gives to a young girl; her voice, distinct from the
mass of singing as a prima donna's in the chorus of a finale. It
was like a golden or silver thread in dark frieze.

It was she! There could be no mistake. Parisienne now as ever,
she had not laid coquetry aside when she threw off worldly
adornments for the veil and the Carmelite's coarse serge. She
who had affirmed her love last evening in the praise sent up to
God, seemed now to say to her lover, "Yes, it is I. I am here.
My love is unchanged, but I am beyond the reach of love. You
will hear my voice, my soul shall enfold you, and I shall abide
here under the brown shroud in the choir from which no power on
earth can tear me. You shall never see me more!"

"It is she indeed!" the General said to himself, raising his
head. He had leant his face on his hands, unable at first to
bear the intolerable emotion that surged like a whirlpool in his
heart, when that well-known voice vibrated under the arcading,
with the sound of the sea for accompaniment.

Storm was without, and calm within the sanctuary. Still that
rich voice poured out all its caressing notes; it fell like balm
on the lover's burning heart; it blossomed upon the air--the air
that a man would fain breathe more deeply to receive the
effluence of a soul breathed forth with love in the words of the
prayer. The alcalde coming to join his guest found him in tears
during the elevation, while the nun was singing, and brought him
back to his house. Surprised to find so much piety in a French
military man, the worthy magistrate invited the confessor of the
convent to meet his guest. Never had news given the General more
pleasure; he paid the ecclesiastic a good deal of attention at
supper, and confirmed his Spanish hosts in the high opinion they
had formed of his piety by a not wholly disinterested respect.
He enquired with gravity how many sisters there were in the
convent, and asked for particulars of its endowment and revenues,
as if from courtesy he wished to hear the good priest discourse
on the subject most interesting to him. He informed himself as
to the manner of life led by the holy women. Were they allowed
to go out of the convent, or to see visitors?

"Senor," replied the venerable churchman, "the rule is strict.
A woman cannot enter a monastery of the order of St. Bruno
without a special permission from His Holiness, and the rule here
is equally stringent. No man may enter a convent of Barefoot
Carmelites unless he is a priest specially attached to the
services of the house by the Archbishop. None of the nuns may
leave the convent; though the great Saint, St. Theresa, often
left her cell. The Visitor or the Mothers Superior can alone
give permission, subject to an authorisation from the Archbishop,
for a nun to see a visitor, and then especially in a case of
illness. Now we are one of the principal houses, and
consequently we have a Mother Superior here. Among other foreign
sisters there is one Frenchwoman, Sister Theresa; she it is who
directs the music in the chapel."

"Oh!" said the General, with feigned surprise. "She must have
rejoiced over the victory of the House of Bourbon."

"I told them the reason of the mass; they are always a little
bit inquisitive."

"But Sister Theresa may have interests in France. Perhaps she
would like to send some message or to hear news."

"I do not think so. She would have come to ask me."

"As a fellow-countryman, I should be quite curious to see her,"
said the General. "If it is possible, if the Lady Superior
consents, if----"

"Even at the grating and in the Reverend Mother's presence, an
interview would be quite impossible for anybody whatsoever; but,
strict as the Mother is, for a deliverer of our holy religion and
the throne of his Catholic Majesty, the rule might be relaxed for
a moment," said the confessor, blinking. "I will speak about

"How old is Sister Theresa?" enquired the lover. He dared not
ask any questions of the priest as to the nun's beauty.

"She does not reckon years now," the good man answered, with a
simplicity that made the General shudder.

Next day before siesta, the confessor came to inform the French
General that Sister Theresa and the Mother consented to receive
him at the grating in the parlour before vespers. The General
spent the siesta in pacing to and fro along the quay in the
noonday heat. Thither the priest came to find him, and brought
him to the convent by way of the gallery round the cemetery.
Fountains, green trees, and rows of arcading maintained a cool
freshness in keeping with the place.

At the further end of the long gallery the priest led the way
into a large room divided in two by a grating covered with a
brown curtain. In the first, and in some sort of public half of
the apartment, where the confessor left the newcomer, a wooden
bench ran round the wall, and two or three chairs, also of wood,
were placed near the grating. The ceiling consisted of bare
unornamented joists and cross-beams of ilex wood. As the two
windows were both on the inner side of the grating, and the dark
surface of the wood was a bad reflector, the light in the place
was so dim that you could scarcely see the great black crucifix,
the portrait of Saint Theresa, and a picture of the Madonna which
adorned the grey parlour walls. Tumultuous as the General's
feelings were, they took something of the melancholy of the
place. He grew calm in that homely quiet. A sense of something
vast as the tomb took possession of him beneath the chill
unceiled roof. Here, as in the grave, was there not eternal
silence, deep peace--the sense of the Infinite? And besides this
there was the quiet and the fixed thought of the cloister--a
thought which you felt like a subtle presence in the air, and in
the dim dusk of the room; an all-pervasive thought nowhere
definitely expressed, and looming the larger in the imagination;
for in the cloister the great saying, "Peace in the Lord,"
enters the least religious soul as a living force.

The monk's life is scarcely comprehensible. A man seems
confessed a weakling in a monastery; he was born to act, to live
out a life of work; he is evading a man's destiny in his cell.
But what man's strength, blended with pathetic weakness, is
implied by a woman's choice of the convent life! A man may have
any number of motives for burying himself in a monastery; for him
it is the leap over the precipice. A woman has but one
motive--she is a woman still; she betrothes herself to a Heavenly
Bridegroom. Of the monk you may ask, "Why did you not fight
your battle?" But if a woman immures herself in the cloister,
is there not always a sublime battle fought first?

At length it seemed to the General that that still room, and the
lonely convent in the sea, were full of thoughts of him. Love
seldom attains to solemnity; yet surely a love still faithful in
the breast of God was something solemn, something more than a man
had a right to look for as things are in this nineteenth century?

The infinite grandeur of the situation might well produce an
effect upon the General's mind; he had precisely enough elevation
of soul to forget politics, honours, Spain, and society in Paris,
and to rise to the height of this lofty climax. And what in
truth could be more tragic? How much must pass in the souls of
these two lovers, brought together in a place of strangers, on a
ledge of granite in the sea; yet held apart by an intangible,
unsurmountable barrier! Try to imagine the man saying within
himself, "Shall I triumph over God in her heart?" when a faint
rustling sound made him quiver, and the curtain was drawn aside.

Between him and the light stood a woman. Her face was hidden by
the veil that drooped from the folds upon her head; she was
dressed according to the rule of the order in a gown of the
colour become proverbial. Her bare feet were hidden; if the
General could have seen them, he would have known how appallingly
thin she had grown; and yet in spite of the thick folds of her
coarse gown, a mere covering and no ornament, he could guess how
tears, and prayer, and passion, and loneliness had wasted the
woman before him.

An ice-cold hand, belonging, no doubt, to the Mother Superior,
held back the curtain. The General gave the enforced witness of
their interview a searching glance, and met the dark, inscrutable
gaze of an aged recluse. The Mother might have been a century
old, but the bright, youthful eyes belied the wrinkles that
furrowed her pale face.

"Mme la Duchesse," he began, his voice shaken with emotion,
"does your companion understand French?" The veiled figure
bowed her head at the sound of his voice.

"There is no duchess here," she replied. "It is Sister
Theresa whom you see before you. She whom you call my companion
is my mother in God, my superior here on earth."

The words were so meekly spoken by the voice that sounded in
other years amid harmonious surroundings of refined luxury, the
voice of a queen of fashion in Paris. Such words from the lips
that once spoke so lightly and flippantly struck the General dumb
with amazement.

"The Holy Mother only speaks Latin and Spanish," she added.

"I understand neither. Dear Antoinette, make my excuses to

The light fell full upon the nun's figure; a thrill of deep
emotion betrayed itself in a faint quiver of her veil as she
heard her name softly spoken by the man who had been so hard in
the past.

"My brother," she said, drawing her sleeve under her veil,
perhaps to brush tears away, "I am Sister Theresa."

Then, turning to the Superior, she spoke in Spanish; the General
knew enough of the language to understand what she said perfectly
well; possibly he could have spoken it had he chosen to do so.

"Dear Mother, the gentleman presents his respects to you, and
begs you to pardon him if he cannot pay them himself, but he
knows neither of the languages which you speak----"

The aged nun bent her head slowly, with an expression of angelic
sweetness, enhanced at the same time by the consciousness of her
power and dignity.

"Do you know this gentleman?" she asked, with a keen glance.

"Yes, Mother."

"Go back to your cell, my daughter!" said the Mother
imperiously. The General slipped aside behind the curtain lest
the dreadful tumult within him should appear in his face; even in
the shadow it seemed to him that he could still see the
Superior's piercing eyes. He was afraid of her; she held his
little, frail, hardly-won happiness in her hands; and he, who had
never quailed under a triple row of guns, now trembled before
this nun. The Duchess went towards the door, but she turned

"Mother," she said, with dreadful calmness, "the Frenchman is
one of my brothers."

"Then stay, my daughter," said the Superior, after a pause.

The piece of admirable Jesuitry told of such love and regret,
that a man less strongly constituted might have broken down under
the keen delight in the midst of a great and, for him, an
entirely novel peril. Oh! how precious words, looks, and
gestures became when love must baffle lynx eyes and tiger's
claws! Sister Theresa came back.

"You see, my brother, what I have dared to do only to speak to
you for a moment of your salvation and of the prayers that my
soul puts up for your soul daily. I am committing mortal sin. I
have told a lie. How many days of penance must expiate that lie!

But I shall endure it for your sake. My brother, you do not know
what happiness it is to love in heaven; to feel that you can
confess love purified by religion, love transported into the
highest heights of all, so that we are permitted to lose sight of
all but the soul. If the doctrine and the spirit of the Saint to
whom we owe this refuge had not raised me above earth's anguish,
and caught me up and set me, far indeed beneath the Sphere
wherein she dwells, yet truly above this world, I should not have
seen you again. But now I can see you, and hear your voice, and
remain calm----"

The General broke in, "But, Antoinette, let me see you, you whom
I love passionately, desperately, as you could have wished me to
love you."

"Do not call me Antoinette, I implore you. Memories of the past
hurt me. You must see no one here but Sister Theresa, a creature
who trusts in the Divine mercy." She paused for a little, and
then added, "You must control yourself, my brother. Our Mother
would separate us without pity if there is any worldly passion in
your face, or if you allow the tears to fall from your eyes."

The General bowed his head to regain self-control; when he looked
up again he saw her face beyond the grating--the thin, white, but
still impassioned face of the nun. All the magic charm of youth
that once bloomed there, all the fair contrast of velvet
whiteness and the colour of the Bengal rose, had given place to a
burning glow, as of a porcelain jar with a faint light shining
through it. The wonderful hair in which she took such pride had
been shaven; there was a bandage round her forehead and about her
face. An ascetic life had left dark traces about the eyes, which
still sometimes shot out fevered glances; their ordinary calm
expression was but a veil. In a few words, she was but the ghost
of her former self.

"Ah! you that have come to be my life, you must come out of this
tomb! You were mine; you had no right to give yourself, even to
God. Did you not promise me to give up all at the least command
from me? You may perhaps think me worthy of that promise now
when you hear what I have done for you. I have sought you all
through the world. You have been in my thoughts at every moment
for five years; my life has been given to you. My friends, very
powerful friends, as you know, have helped with all their might
to search every convent in France, Italy, Spain, Sicily, and
America. Love burned more brightly for every vain search. Again
and again I made long journeys with a false hope; I have wasted
my life and the heaviest throbbings of my heart in vain under
many a dark convent wall. I am not speaking of a faithfulness
that knows no bounds, for what is it?--nothing compared with the
infinite longings of my love. If your remorse long ago was
sincere, you ought not to hesitate to follow me today."

"You forget that I am not free."

"The Duke is dead," he answered quickly.

Sister Theresa flushed red.

"May heaven be open to him!" she cried with a quick rush of
feeling. "He was generous to me.--But I did not mean such ties;
it was one of my sins that I was ready to break them all without
scruple--for you."

"Are you speaking of your vows?" the General asked, frowning.
"I did not think that anything weighed heavier with your heart
than love. But do not think twice of it, Antoinette; the Holy
Father himself shall absolve you of your oath. I will surely go
to Rome, I will entreat all the powers of earth; if God could
come down from heaven, I would----"

"Do not blaspheme."

"So do not fear the anger of God. Ah! I would far rather hear
that you would leave your prison for me; that this very night you
would let yourself down into a boat at the foot of the cliffs.
And we would go away to be happy somewhere at the world's end, I
know not where. And with me at your side, you should come back
to life and health under the wings of love."

"You must not talk like this," said Sister Theresa; "you do
not know what you are to me now. I love you far better than I
ever loved you before. Every day I pray for you; I see you with
other eyes. Armand, if you but knew the happiness of giving
yourself up, without shame, to a pure friendship which God
watches over! You do not know what joy it is to me to pray for
heaven's blessing on you. I never pray for myself: God will do
with me according to His will; but, at the price of my soul, I
wish I could be sure that you are happy here on earth, and that
you will be happy hereafter throughout all ages. My eternal life
is all that trouble has left me to offer up to you. I am old now
with weeping; I am neither young nor fair; and in any case, you
could not respect the nun who became a wife; no love, not even
motherhood, could give me absolution. . . . What can you say to
outweigh the uncounted thoughts that have gathered in my heart
during the past five years, thoughts that have changed, and worn,
and blighted it? I ought to have given a heart less sorrowful to

"What can I say? Dear Antoinette, I will say this, that I love
you; that affection, love, a great love, the joy of living in
another heart that is ours, utterly and wholly ours, is so rare a
thing and so hard to find, that I doubted you, and put you to
sharp proof; but now, today, I love you, Antoinette, with all my
soul's strength. . . . If you will follow me into solitude, I
will hear no voice but yours, I will see no other face."

"Hush, Armand! You are shortening the little time that we may
be together here on earth."

"Antoinette, will you come with me?"

"I am never away from you. My life is in your heart, not
through the selfish ties of earthly happiness, or vanity, or
enjoyment; pale and withered as I am, I live here for you, in the
breast of God. As God is just, you shall be happy----"

"Words, words all of it! Pale and withered? How if I want you?

How if I cannot be happy without you? Do you still think of
nothing but duty with your lover before you? Is he never to come
first and above all things else in your heart? In time past you
put social success, yourself, heaven knows what, before him; now
it is God, it is the welfare of my soul! In Sister Theresa I
find the Duchess over again, ignorant of the happiness of love,
insensible as ever, beneath the semblance of sensibility. You do
not love me; you have never loved me----"

"Oh, my brother----!"

"You do not wish to leave this tomb. You love my soul, do you
say? Very well, through you it will be lost forever. I shall
make away with myself----"

"Mother!" Sister Theresa called aloud in Spanish, "I have lied
to you; this man is my lover!"

The curtain fell at once. The General, in his stupor, scarcely
heard the doors within as they clanged.

"Ah! she loves me still!" he cried, understanding all the
sublimity of that cry of hers. "She loves me still. She must
be carried off. . . ."

The General left the island, returned to headquarters, pleaded
ill-health, asked for leave of absence, and forthwith took his
departure for France.

And now for the incidents which brought the two personages in
this Scene into their present relation to each other.

The thing known in France as the Faubourg Saint-Germain is
neither a Quarter, nor a sect, nor an institution, nor anything
else that admits of a precise definition. There are great houses
in the Place Royale, the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and the Chaussee
d'Antin, in any one of which you may breathe the same atmosphere
of Faubourg Saint-Germain. So, to begin with, the whole Faubourg
is not within the Faubourg. There are men and women born far
enough away from its influences who respond to them and take
their place in the circle; and again there are others, born
within its limits, who may yet be driven forth forever. For the
last forty years the manners, and customs, and speech, in a word,
the tradition of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, has been to Paris
what the Court used to be in other times; it is what the Hotel
Saint-Paul was to the fourteenth century; the Louvre to the
fifteenth; the Palais, the Hotel Rambouillet, and the Place
Royale to the sixteenth; and lastly, as Versailles was to the
seventeenth and the eighteenth.

Just as the ordinary workaday Paris will always centre about some
point; so, through all periods of history, the Paris of the
nobles and the upper classes converges towards some particular
spot. It is a periodically recurrent phenomenon which presents
ample matter for reflection to those who are fain to observe or
describe the various social zones; and possibly an enquiry into
the causes that bring about this centralisation may do more than
merely justify the probability of this episode; it may be of
service to serious interests which some day will be more deeply
rooted in the commonwealth, unless, indeed, experience is as
meaningless for political parties as it is for youth.

In every age the great nobles, and the rich who always ape the
great nobles, build their houses as far as possible from crowded
streets. When the Duc d'Uzes built his splendid hotel in the Rue
Montmartre in the reign of Louis XIV, and set the fountain at his
gates--for which beneficent action, to say nothing of his other
virtues, he was held in such veneration that the whole quarter
turned out in a body to follow his funeral--when the Duke, I say,
chose this site for his house, he did so because that part of
Paris was almost deserted in those days. But when the
fortifications were pulled down, and the market gardens beyond
the line of the boulevards began to fill with houses, then the
d'Uzes family left their fine mansion, and in our time it was
occupied by a banker. Later still, the noblesse began to find
themselves out of their element among shopkeepers, left the Place
Royale and the centre of Paris for good, and crossed the river to
breathe freely in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where palaces were
reared already about the great hotel built by Louis XIV for the
Duc de Maine--the Benjamin among his legitimated offspring. And
indeed, for people accustomed to a stately life, can there be
more unseemly surroundings than the bustle, the mud, the street
cries, the bad smells, and narrow thoroughfares of a populous
quarter? The very habits of life in a mercantile or
manufacturing district are completely at variance with the lives
of nobles. The shopkeeper and artisan are just going to bed when
the great world is thinking of dinner; and the noisy stir of life
begins among the former when the latter have gone to rest. Their
day's calculations never coincide; the one class represents the
expenditure, the other the receipts. Consequently their manners
and customs are diametrically opposed.

Nothing contemptuous is intended by this statement. An
aristocracy is in a manner the intellect of the social system, as
the middle classes and the proletariat may be said to be its
organising and working power. It naturally follows that these
forces are differently situated; and of their antagonism there is
bred a seeming antipathy produced by the performance of different
functions, all of them, however, existing for one common end.

Such social dissonances are so inevitably the outcome of any
charter of the constitution, that however much a Liberal may be
disposed to complain of them, as of treason against those sublime
ideas with which the ambitious plebeian is apt to cover his
designs, he would none the less think it a preposterous notion
that M. le Prince de Montmorency, for instance, should continue
to live in the Rue Saint-Martin at the corner of the street which
bears that nobleman's name; or that M. le Duc de Fitz-James,
descendant of the royal house of Scotland, should have his hotel
at the angle of the Rue Marie Stuart and the Rue Montorgueil.
Sint ut sunt, aut non sint, the grand words of the Jesuit, might
be taken as a motto by the great in all countries. These social
differences are patent in all ages; the fact is always accepted
by the people; its "reasons of state" are self-evident; it is
at once cause and effect, a principle and a law. The common
sense of the masses never deserts them until demagogues stir them
up to gain ends of their own; that common sense is based on the
verities of social order; and the social order is the same
everywhere, in Moscow as in London, in Geneva as in Calcutta.
Given a certain number of families of unequal fortune in any
given space, you will see an aristocracy forming under your eyes;
there will be the patricians, the upper classes, and yet other
ranks below them. Equality may be a RIGHT, but no power on earth
can convert it into FACT. It would be a good thing for France if
this idea could be popularised. The benefits of political
harmony are obvious to the least intelligent classes. Harmony
is, as it were, the poetry of order, and order is a matter of
vital importance to the working population. And what is order,
reduced to its simplest expression, but the agreement of things
among themselves--unity, in short? Architecture, music, and
poetry, everything in France, and in France more than in any
other country, is based upon this principle; it is written upon
the very foundations of her clear accurate language, and a
language must always be the most infallible index of national
character. In the same way you may note that the French popular
airs are those most calculated to strike the imagination, the
best-modulated melodies are taken over by the people; clearness
of thought, the intellectual simplicity of an idea attracts them;
they like the incisive sayings that hold the greatest number of

France is the one country in the world where a little phrase may
bring about a great revolution. Whenever the masses have risen,
it has been to bring men, affairs, and principles into agreement.

No nation has a clearer conception of that idea of unity which
should permeate the life of an aristocracy; possibly no other
nation has so intelligent a comprehension of a political
necessity; history will never find her behind the time. France
has been led astray many a time, but she is deluded, woman-like,
by generous ideas, by a glow of enthusiasm which at first
outstrips sober reason.

So, to begin with, the most striking characteristic of the
Faubourg is the splendour of its great mansions, its great
gardens, and a surrounding quiet in keeping with princely
revenues drawn from great estates.

And what is this distance set between a class and a whole
metropolis but visible and outward expression of the widely
different attitude of mind which must inevitably keep them apart?

The position of the head is well defined in every organism. If
by any chance a nation allows its head to fall at its feet, it is
pretty sure sooner or later to discover that this is a suicidal
measure; and since nations have no desire to perish, they set to
work at once to grow a new head. If they lack the strength for
this, they perish as Rome perished, and Venice, and so many other

This distinction between the upper and lower spheres of social
activity, emphasised by differences in their manner of living,
necessarily implies that in the highest aristocracy there is real
worth and some distinguishing merit. In any state, no matter
what form of "government" is affected, so soon as the patrician
class fails to maintain that complete superiority which is the
condition of its existence, it ceases to be a force, and is
pulled down at once by the populace. The people always wish to
see money, power, and initiative in their leaders, hands, hearts,
and heads; they must be the spokesmen, they must represent the
intelligence and the glory of the nation. Nations, like women,
love strength in those who rule them; they cannot give love
without respect; they refuse utterly to obey those of whom they
do not stand in awe. An aristocracy fallen into contempt is a
roi faineant, a husband in petticoats; first it ceases to be
itself, and then it ceases to be.

And in this way the isolation of the great, the sharply marked
distinction in their manner of life, or in a word, the general
custom of the patrician caste is at once the sign of a real
power, and their destruction so soon as that power is lost. The
Faubourg Saint-Germain failed to recognise the conditions of its
being, while it would still have been easy to perpetuate its
existence, and therefore was brought low for a time. The
Faubourg should have looked the facts fairly in the face, as the
English aristocracy did before them; they should have seen that
every institution has its climacteric periods, when words lose
their old meanings, and ideas reappear in a new guise, and the
whole conditions of politics wear a changed aspect, while the
underlying realities undergo no essential alteration.

These ideas demand further development which form an essential
part of this episode; they are given here both as a succinct
statement of the causes, and an explanation of the things which
happen in the course of the story.

The stateliness of the castles and palaces where nobles dwell;
the luxury of the details; the constantly maintained
sumptuousness of the furniture; the "atmosphere" in which the
fortunate owner of landed estates (a rich man before he was born)
lives and moves easily and without friction; the habit of mind
which never descends to calculate the petty workaday gains of
existence; the leisure; the higher education attainable at a much
earlier age; and lastly, the aristocratic tradition that makes of
him a social force, for which his opponents, by dint of study and
a strong will and tenacity of vocation, are scarcely a match-all
these things should contribute to form a lofty spirit in a man,
possessed of such privileges from his youth up; they should stamp
his character with that high self-respect, of which the least
consequence is a nobleness of heart in harmony with the noble
name that he bears. And in some few families all this is
realised. There are noble characters here and there in the
Faubourg, but they are marked exceptions to a general rule of
egoism which has been the ruin of this world within a world. The
privileges above enumerated are the birthright of the French
noblesse, as of every patrician efflorescence ever formed on the
surface of a nation; and will continue to be theirs so long as
their existence is based upon real estate, or money; domaine-sol
and domaine-argent alike, the only solid bases of an organised
society; but such privileges are held upon the understanding that
the patricians must continue to justify their existence. There
is a sort of moral fief held on a tenure of service rendered to
the sovereign, and here in France the people are undoubtedly the
sovereigns nowadays. The times are changed, and so are the
weapons. The knight-banneret of old wore a coat of chain armour
and a hauberk,; he could handle a lance well and display his
pennon, and no more was required of him; today he is bound to
give proof of his intelligence. A stout heart was enough in the
days of old; in our days he is required to have a capacious
brain-pan. Skill and knowledge and capital--these three points
mark out a social triangle on which the scutcheon of power is
blazoned; our modern aristocracy must take its stand on these.

A fine theorem is as good as a great name. The Rothschilds, the
Fuggers of the nineteenth century, are princes de facto. A great
artist is in reality an oligarch; he represents a whole century,
and almost always he is a law to others. And the art of words,
the high pressure machinery of the writer, the poet's genius, the
merchant's steady endurance, the strong will of the statesman who
concentrates a thousand dazzling qualities in himself, the
general's sword--all these victories, in short, which a single
individual will win, that he may tower above the rest of the
world, the patrician class is now bound to win and keep
exclusively. They must head the new forces as they once headed
the material forces; how should they keep the position unless
they are worthy of it? How, unless they are the soul and brain
of a nation, shall they set its hands moving? How lead a people
without the power of command? And what is the marshal's baton
without the innate power of the captain in the man who wields it?

The Faubourg Saint-Germain took to playing with batons, and
fancied that all the power was in its hands. It inverted the
terms of the proposition which called it into existence. And
instead of flinging away the insignia which offended the people,
and quietly grasping the power, it allowed the bourgeoisie to
seize the authority, clung with fatal obstinacy to its shadow,
and over and over again forgot the laws which a minority must
observe if it would live. When an aristocracy is scarce a
thousandth part of the body social, it is bound today, as of old,
to multiply its points of action, so as to counterbalance the
weight of the masses in a great crisis. And in our days those
means of action must be living forces, and not historical

In France, unluckily, the noblesse were still so puffed up with
the notion of their vanished power, that it was difficult to
contend against a kind of innate presumption in themselves.
Perhaps this is a national defect. The Frenchman is less given
than anyone else to undervalue himself; it comes natural to him
to go from his degree to the one above it; and while it is a rare
thing for him to pity the unfortunates over whose heads he rises,
he always groans in spirit to see so many fortunate people above
him. He is very far from heartless, but too often he prefers to
listen to his intellect. The national instinct which brings the
Frenchman to the front, the vanity that wastes his substance, is
as much a dominant passion as thrift in the Dutch. For three
centuries it swayed the noblesse, who, in this respect, were
certainly pre-eminently French. The scion of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, beholding his material superiority, was fully
persuaded of his intellectual superiority. And everything
contributed to confirm him in his belief; for ever since the
Faubourg Saint-Germain existed at all--which is to say, ever
since Versailles ceased to be the royal residence--the Faubourg,
with some few gaps in continuity, was always backed up by the
central power, which in France seldom fails to support that side.

Thence its downfall in 1830.

At that time the party of the Faubourg Saint-Germain was rather
like an army without a base of operation. It had utterly failed
to take advantage of the peace to plant itself in the heart of
the nation. It sinned for want of learning its lesson, and
through an utter incapability of regarding its interests as a
whole. A future certainty was sacrificed to a doubtful present
gain. This blunder in policy may perhaps be attributed to the
following cause.

The class-isolation so strenuously kept up by the noblesse
brought about fatal results during the last forty years; even
caste-patriotism was extinguished by it, and rivalry fostered
among themselves. When the French noblesse of other times were
rich and powerful, the nobles (gentilhommes) could choose their
chiefs and obey them in the hour of danger. As their power
diminished, they grew less amenable to discipline; and as in the
last days of the Byzantine Empire, everyone wished to be emperor.

They mistook their uniform weakness for uniform strength.

Each family ruined by the Revolution and the abolition of the law
of primogeniture thought only of itself, and not at all of the
great family of the noblesse. It seemed to them that as each
individual grew rich, the party as a whole would gain in
strength. And herein lay their mistake. Money, likewise, is
only the outward and visible sign of power. All these families
were made up of persons who preserved a high tradition of
courtesy, of true graciousness of life, of refined speech, with a
family pride, and a squeamish sense of noblesse oblige which
suited well with the kind of life they led; a life wholly filled
with occupations which become contemptible so soon as they cease
to be accessories and take the chief place in existence. There
was a certain intrinsic merit in all these people, but the merit
was on the surface, and none of them were worth their face-value.

Not a single one among those families had courage to ask itself
the question, "Are we strong enough for the responsibility of
power?" They were cast on the top, like the lawyers of 1830;
and instead of taking the patron's place, like a great man, the
Faubourg Saint-Germain showed itself greedy as an upstart. The
most intelligent nation in the world perceived clearly that the
restored nobles were organising everything for their own
particular benefit. From that day the noblesse was doomed. The
Faubourg Saint-Germain tried to be an aristocracy when it could
only be an oligarchy--two very different systems, as any man may
see for himself if he gives an intelligent perusal to the list of
the patronymics of the House of Peers.

The King's Government certainly meant well; but the maxim that
the people must be made to WILL everything, even their own
welfare, was pretty constantly forgotten, nor did they bear in
mind that La France is a woman and capricious, and must be happy
or chastised at her own good pleasure. If there had been many
dukes like the Duc de Laval, whose modesty made him worthy of the
name he bore, the elder branch would have been as securely seated
on the throne as the House of Hanover at this day.

In 1814 the noblesse of France were called upon to assert their
superiority over the most aristocratic bourgeoisie in the most
feminine of all countries, to take the lead in the most highly
educated epoch the world had yet seen. And this was even more
notably the case in 1820. The Faubourg Saint-Germain might very
easily have led and amused the middle classes in days when
people's heads were turned with distinctions, and art and science
were all the rage. But the narrow-minded leaders of a time of
great intellectual progress all of them detested art and science.

They had not even the wit to present religion in attractive
colours, though they needed its support. While Lamartine,
Lamennais, Montalembert, and other writers were putting new life
and elevation into men's ideas of religion, and gilding it with
poetry, these bunglers in the Government chose to make the
harshness of their creed felt all over the country. Never was
nation in a more tractable humour; La France, like a tired woman,
was ready to agree to anything; never was mismanagement so
clumsy; and La France, like a woman, would have forgiven wrongs
more easily than bungling.

If the noblesse meant to reinstate themselves, the better to
found a strong oligarchy, they should have honestly and
diligently searched their Houses for men of the stamp that
Napoleon used; they should have turned themselves inside out to
see if peradventure there was a Constitutionalist Richelieu
lurking in the entrails of the Faubourg; and if that genius was
not forthcoming from among them, they should have set out to find
him, even in the fireless garret where he might happen to be
perishing of cold; they should have assimilated him, as the
English House of Lords continually assimilates aristocrats made
by chance; and finally ordered him to be ruthless, to lop away
the old wood, and cut the tree down to the living shoots. But,
in the first place, the great system of English Toryism was far
too large for narrow minds; the importation required time, and in
France a tardy success is no better than a fiasco. So far,
moreover, from adopting a policy of redemption, and looking for
new forces where God puts them, these petty great folk took a
dislike to any capacity that did not issue from their midst; and,
lastly, instead of growing young again, the Faubourg
Saint-Germain grew positively older.

Etiquette, not an institution of primary necessity, might have
been maintained if it had appeared only on state occasions, but
as it was, there was a daily wrangle over precedence; it ceased
to be a matter of art or court ceremonial, it became a question
of power. And if from the outset the Crown lacked an adviser
equal to so great a crisis, the aristocracy was still more
lacking in a sense of its wider interests, an instinct which
might have supplied the deficiency. They stood nice about M. de
Talleyrand's marriage, when M. de Talleyrand was the one man
among them with the steel-encompassed brains that can forge a new
political system and begin a new career of glory for a nation.
The Faubourg scoffed at a minister if he was not gently born, and
produced no one of gentle birth that was fit to be a minister.
There were plenty of nobles fitted to serve their country by
raising the dignity of justices of the peace, by improving the
land, by opening out roads and canals, and taking an active and
leading part as country gentlemen; but these had sold their
estates to gamble on the Stock Exchange. Again the Faubourg
might have absorbed the energetic men among the bourgeoisie, and
opened their ranks to the ambition which was undermining
authority; they preferred instead to fight, and to fight unarmed,
for of all that they once possessed there was nothing left but
tradition. For their misfortune there was just precisely enough
of their former wealth left them as a class to keep up their
bitter pride. They were content with their past. Not one of
them seriously thought of bidding the son of the house take up
arms from the pile of weapons which the nineteenth century flings
down in the market-place. Young men, shut out from office, were
dancing at Madame's balls, while they should have been doing the
work done under the Republic and the Empire by young,
conscientious, harmlessly employed energies. It was their place
to carry out at Paris the programme which their seniors should
have been following in the country. The heads of houses might
have won back recognition of their titles by unremitting
attention to local interests, by falling in with the spirit of
the age, by recasting their order to suit the taste of the times.

But, pent up together in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where the
spirit of the ancient court and traditions of bygone feuds
between the nobles and the Crown still lingered on, the
aristocracy was not whole-hearted in its allegiance to the
Tuileries, and so much the more easily defeated because it was
concentrated in the Chamber of Peers, and badly organised even
there. If the noblesse had woven themselves into a network over
the country, they could have held their own; but cooped up in
their Faubourg, with their backs against the Chateau, or spread
at full length over the Budget, a single blow cut the thread of a
fast-expiring life, and a petty, smug-faced lawyer came forward
with the axe. In spite of M. Royer-Collard's admirable
discourse, the hereditary peerage and law of entail fell before
the lampoons of a man who made it a boast that he had adroitly
argued some few heads out of the executioner's clutches, and now
forsooth must clumsily proceed to the slaying of old

There are examples and lessons for the future in all this. For
if there were not still a future before the French aristocracy,
there would be no need to do more than find a suitable
sarcophagus; it were something pitilessly cruel to burn the dead
body of it with fire of Tophet.

But though the surgeon's scalpel is ruthless, it sometimes gives
back life to a dying man; and the Faubourg Saint-Germain may wax
more powerful under persecution than in its day of triumph, if it
but chooses to organise itself under a leader.

And now it is easy to give a summary of this semi-political
survey. The wish to re-establish a large fortune was uppermost
in everyone's mind; a lack of broad views, and a mass of small
defects, a real need of religion as a political factor, combined
with a thirst for pleasure which damaged the cause of religion
and necessitated a good deal of hypocrisy; a certain attitude of
protest on the part of loftier and clearer-sighted men who set
their faces against Court jealousies; and the disaffection of the
provincial families, who often came of purer descent than the
nobles of the Court which alienated them from itself--all these
things combined to bring about a most discordant state of things
in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. It was neither compact in its
organisation, nor consequent in its action; neither completely
moral, nor frankly dissolute; it did not corrupt, nor was it
corrupted; it would neither wholly abandon the disputed points
which damaged its cause, nor yet adopt the policy that might have
saved it. In short, however effete individuals might be, the
party as a whole was none the less armed with all the great
principles which lie at the roots of national existence. What
was there in the Faubourg that it should perish in its strength?

It was very hard to please in the choice of candidates; the
Faubourg had good taste, it was scornfully fastidious, yet there
was nothing very glorious nor chivalrous truly about its fall.

In the Emigration of 1789 there were some traces of a loftier
feeling; but in the Emigration of 1830 from Paris into the
country there was nothing discernible but self-interest. A few
famous men of letters, a few oratorical triumphs in the Chambers,
M. de Talleyrand's attitude in the Congress, the taking of
Algiers, and not a few names that found their way from the
battlefield into the pages of history--all these things were so
many examples set before the French noblesse to show that it was
still open to them to take their part in the national existence,
and to win recognition of their claims, if, indeed, they could
condescend thus far. In every living organism the work of
bringing the whole into harmony within itself is always going on.

If a man is indolent, the indolence shows itself in everything
that he does; and, in the same manner, the general spirit of a
class is pretty plainly manifested in the face it turns on the
world, and the soul informs the body.

The women of the Restoration displayed neither the proud
disregard of public opinion shown by the court ladies of olden
time in their wantonness, nor yet the simple grandeur of the
tardy virtues by which they expiated their sins and shed so
bright a glory about their names. There was nothing either very
frivolous or very serious about the woman of the Restoration.
She was hypocritical as a rule in her passion, and compounded, so
to speak, with its pleasures. Some few families led the domestic
life of the Duchesse d'Orleans, whose connubial couch was
exhibited so absurdly to visitors at the Palais Royal. Two or
three kept up the traditions of the Regency, filling cleverer
women with something like disgust. The great lady of the new
school exercised no influence at all over the manners of the
time; and yet she might have done much. She might, at worst,
have presented as dignified a spectacle as English-women of the
same rank. But she hesitated feebly among old precedents, became
a bigot by force of circumstances, and allowed nothing of herself
to appear, not even her better qualities.

Not one among the Frenchwomen of that day had the ability to
create a salon whither leaders of fashion might come to take
lessons in taste and elegance. Their voices, which once laid
down the law to literature, that living expression of a time, now
counted absolutely for nought. Now when a literature lacks a
general system, it fails to shape a body for itself, and dies out
with its period.

When in a nation at any time there is a people apart thus
constituted, the historian is pretty certain to find some
representative figure, some central personage who embodies the
qualities and the defects of the whole party to which he belongs;
there is Coligny, for instance, among the Huguenots, the
Coadjuteur in the time of the Fronde, the Marechal de Richelieu
under Louis XV, Danton during the Terror. It is in the nature of
things that the man should be identified with the company in
which history finds him. How is it possible to lead a party
without conforming to its ideas? or to shine in any epoch unless
a man represents the ideas of his time? The wise and prudent
head of a party is continually obliged to bow to the prejudices
and follies of its rear; and this is the cause of actions for
which he is afterwards criticised by this or that historian
sitting at a safer distance from terrific popular explosions,
coolly judging the passion and ferment without which the great
struggles of the world could not be carried on at all. And if
this is true of the Historical Comedy of the Centuries, it is
equally true in a more restricted sphere in the detached scenes
of the national drama known as the Manners of the Age.

At the beginning of that ephemeral life led by the Faubourg
Saint-Germain under the Restoration, to which, if there is any
truth in the above reflections, they failed to give stability,
the most perfect type of the aristocratic caste in its weakness
and strength, its greatness and littleness, might have been found
for a brief space in a young married woman who belonged to it.
This was a woman artificially educated, but in reality ignorant;
a woman whose instincts and feelings were lofty while the thought
which should have controlled them was wanting. She squandered
the wealth of her nature in obedience to social conventions; she
was ready to brave society, yet she hesitated till her scruples
degenerated into artifice. With more wilfulness than real force
of character, impressionable rather than enthusiastic, gifted
with more brain than heart; she was supremely a woman, supremely
a coquette, and above all things a Parisienne, loving a brilliant
life and gaiety, reflecting never, or too late; imprudent to the
verge of poetry, and humble in the depths of her heart, in spite
of her charming insolence. Like some straight-growing reed, she
made a show of independence; yet, like the reed, she was ready to
bend to a strong hand. She talked much of religion, and had it
not at heart, though she was prepared to find in it a solution of
her life. How explain a creature so complex? Capable of
heroism, yet sinking unconsciously from heroic heights to utter a
spiteful word; young and sweet-natured, not so much old at heart
as aged by the maxims of those about her; versed in a selfish
philosophy in which she was all unpractised, she had all the
vices of a courtier, all the nobleness of developing womanhood.
She trusted nothing and no one, yet there were times when she
quitted her sceptical attitude for a submissive credulity.

How should any portrait be anything but incomplete of her, in
whom the play of swiftly-changing colour made discord only to
produce a poetic confusion? For in her there shone a divine
brightness, a radiance of youth that blended all her bewildering
characteristics in a certain completeness and unity informed by
her charm. Nothing was feigned. The passion or semi-passion,
the ineffectual high aspirations, the actual pettiness, the
coolness of sentiment and warmth of impulse, were all spontaneous
and unaffected, and as much the outcome of her own position as of
the position of the aristocracy to which she belonged. She was
wholly self-contained; she put herself proudly above the world
and beneath the shelter of her name. There was something of the
egoism of Medea in her life, as in the life of the aristocracy
that lay a-dying, and would not so much as raise itself or
stretch out a hand to any political physician; so well aware of
its feebleness, or so conscious that it was already dust, that it
refused to touch or be touched.

The Duchesse de Langeais (for that was her name) had been married
for about four years when the Restoration was finally
consummated, which is to say, in 1816. By that time the
revolution of the Hundred Days had let in the light on the mind
of Louis XVIII. In spite of his surroundings, he comprehended
the situation and the age in which he was living; and it was only
later, when this Louis XI, without the axe, lay stricken down by
disease, that those about him got the upper hand. The Duchesse
de Langeais, a Navarreins by birth, came of a ducal house which
had made a point of never marrying below its rank since the reign
of Louis XIV. Every daughter of the house must sooner or later
take a tabouret at Court. So, Antoinette de Navarreins, at the
age of eighteen, came out of the profound solitude in which her
girlhood had been spent to marry the Duc de Langeais's eldest
son. The two families at that time were living quite out of the
world; but after the invasion of France, the return of the
Bourbons seemed to every Royalist mind the only possible way of
putting an end to the miseries of the war.

The Ducs de Navarreins and de Langeais had been faithful
throughout to the exiled Princes, nobly resisting all the
temptations of glory under the Empire. Under the circumstances
they naturally followed out the old family policy; and Mlle
Antoinette, a beautiful and portionless girl, was married to M.
le Marquis de Langeais only a few months before the death of the
Duke his father.

After the return of the Bourbons, the families resumed their
rank, offices, and dignity at Court; once more they entered
public life, from which hitherto they held aloof, and took their
place high on the sunlit summits of the new political world. In
that time of general baseness and sham political conversions, the
public conscience was glad to recognise the unstained loyalty of
the two houses, and a consistency in political and private life
for which all parties involuntarily respected them. But,
unfortunately, as so often happens in a time of transition, the
most disinterested persons, the men whose loftiness of view and
wise principles would have gained the confidence of the French
nation and led them to believe in the generosity of a novel and
spirited policy--these men, to repeat, were taken out of affairs,
and public business was allowed to fall into the hands of others,
who found it to their interest to push principles to their
extreme consequences by way of proving their devotion.

The families of Langeais and Navarreins remained about the Court,
condemned to perform the duties required by Court ceremonial amid
the reproaches and sneers of the Liberal party. They were
accused of gorging themselves with riches and honours, and all
the while their family estates were no larger than before, and
liberal allowances from the civil list were wholly expended in
keeping up the state necessary for any European government, even
if it be a Republic.

In 1818, M. le Duc de Langeais commanded a division of the army,
and the Duchess held a post about one of the Princesses, in
virtue of which she was free to live in Paris and apart from her
husband without scandal. The Duke, moreover, besides his
military duties, had a place at Court, to which he came during
his term of waiting, leaving his major-general in command. The
Duke and Duchess were leading lives entirely apart, the world
none the wiser. Their marriage of convention shared the fate of
nearly all family arrangements of the kind. Two more
antipathetic dispositions could not well have been found; they
were brought together; they jarred upon each other; there was
soreness on either side; then they were divided once for all.
Then they went their separate ways, with a due regard for
appearances. The Duc de Langeais, by nature as methodical as the
Chevalier de Folard himself, gave himself up methodically to his
own tastes and amusements, and left his wife at liberty to do as
she pleased so soon as he felt sure of her character. He
recognised in her a spirit pre-eminently proud, a cold heart, a
profound submissiveness to the usages of the world, and a
youthful loyalty. Under the eyes of great relations, with the
light of a prudish and bigoted Court turned full upon the
Duchess, his honour was safe.

So the Duke calmly did as the grands seigneurs of the eighteenth
century did before him, and left a young wife of two-and-twenty
to her own devices. He had deeply offended that wife, and in her
nature there was one appalling characteristic--she would never
forgive an offence when woman's vanity and self-love, with all
that was best in her nature perhaps, had been slighted, wounded
in secret. Insult and injury in the face of the world a woman
loves to forget; there is a way open to her of showing herself
great; she is a woman in her forgiveness; but a secret offence
women never pardon; for secret baseness, as for hidden virtues
and hidden love, they have no kindness

This was Mme la Duchesse de Langeais's real position, unknown to
the world. She herself did not reflect upon it. It was the time
of the rejoicings over the Duc de Berri's marriage. The Court
and the Faubourg roused itself from its listlessness and reserve.

This was the real beginning of that unheard-of splendour which
the Government of the Restoration carried too far. At that time
the Duchess, whether for reasons of her own, or from vanity,
never appeared in public without a following of women equally
distinguished by name and fortune. As queen of fashion she had
her dames d'atours, her ladies, who modelled their manner and
their wit on hers. They had been cleverly chosen. None of her
satellites belonged to the inmost Court circle, nor to the
highest level of the Faubourg Saint-Germain; but they had set
their minds upon admission to those inner sanctuaries. Being as
yet simple dominations, they wished to rise to the neighbourhood
of the throne, and mingle with the seraphic powers in the high
sphere known as le petit chateau. Thus surrounded, the Duchess's
position was stronger and more commanding and secure. Her
"ladies" defended her character and helped her to play her
detestable part of a woman of fashion. She could laugh at men at
her ease, play with fire, receive the homage on which the
feminine nature is nourished, and remain mistress of herself.

At Paris, in the highest society of all, a woman is a woman
still; she lives on incense, adulation, and honours. No beauty,
however undoubted, no face, however fair, is anything without
admiration. Flattery and a lover are proofs of power. And what
is power without recognition? Nothing. If the prettiest of
women were left alone in a corner of a drawing-room, she would
droop. Put her in the very centre and summit of social grandeur,
she will at once aspire to reign over all hearts--often because
it is out of her power to be the happy queen of one. Dress and
manner and coquetry are all meant to please one of the poorest
creatures extant--the brainless coxcomb, whose handsome face is
his sole merit; it was for such as these that women threw
themselves away. The gilded wooden idols of the Restoration, for
they were neither more nor less, had neither the antecedents of
the petits maitres of the time of the Fronde, nor the rough
sterling worth of Napoleon's heroes, not the wit and fine manners
of their grandsires; but something of all three they meant to be
without any trouble to themselves. Brave they were, like all
young Frenchmen; ability they possessed, no doubt, if they had
had a chance of proving it, but their places were filled up by
the old worn-out men, who kept them in leading strings. It was a
day of small things, a cold prosaic era. Perhaps it takes a long
time for a Restoration to become a Monarchy.

For the past eighteen months the Duchesse de Langeais had been
leading this empty life, filled with balls and subsequent visits,
objectless triumphs, and the transient loves that spring up and
die in an evening's space. All eyes were turned on her when she
entered a room; she reaped her harvest of flatteries and some few
words of warmer admiration, which she encouraged by a gesture or
a glance, but never suffered to penetrate deeper than the skin.
Her tone and bearing and everything else about her imposed her
will upon others. Her life was a sort of fever of vanity and
perpetual enjoyment, which turned her head. She was daring
enough in conversation; she would listen to anything, corrupting
the surface, as it were, of her heart. Yet when she returned
home, she often blushed at the story that had made her laugh; at
the scandalous tale that supplied the details, on the strength of
which she analysed the love that she had never known, and marked
the subtle distinctions of modern passion, not with comment on
the part of complacent hypocrites. For women know how to say
everything among themselves, and more of them are ruined by each
other than corrupted by men.

There came a moment when she discerned that not until a woman is
loved will the world fully recognise her beauty and her wit.
What does a husband prove? Simply that a girl or woman was
endowed with wealth, or well brought up; that her mother managed
cleverly that in some way she satisfied a man's ambitions. A
lover constantly bears witness to her personal perfections. Then
followed the discovery still in Mme de Langeais's early
womanhood, that it was possible to be loved without committing
herself, without permission, without vouchsafing any satisfaction
beyond the most meagre dues. There was more than one demure
feminine hypocrite to instruct her in the art of playing such
dangerous comedies.

So the Duchess had her court, and the number of her adorers and
courtiers guaranteed her virtue. She was amiable and
fascinating; she flirted till the ball or the evening's gaiety
was at an end. Then the curtain dropped. She was cold,
indifferent, self-contained again till the next day brought its
renewed sensations, superficial as before. Two or three men were
completely deceived, and fell in love in earnest. She laughed at
them, she was utterly insensible. "I am loved!" she told
herself. "He loves me!" The certainty sufficed her. It is
enough for the miser to know that his every whim might be
fulfilled if he chose; so it was with the Duchess, and perhaps
she did not even go so far as to form a wish.

One evening she chanced to be at the house of an intimate friend
Mme la Vicomtesse de Fontaine, one of the humble rivals who
cordially detested her, and went with her everywhere. In a
"friendship" of this sort both sides are on their guard, and
never lay their armour aside; confidences are ingeniously
indiscreet, and not unfrequently treacherous. Mme de Langeais
had distributed her little patronising, friendly, or freezing
bows, with the air natural to a woman who knows the worth of her
smiles, when her eyes fell upon a total stranger. Something in
the man's large gravity of aspect startled her, and, with a
feeling almost like dread, she turned to Mme de Maufrigneuse
with, "Who is the newcomer, dear?"

"Someone that you have heard of, no doubt. The Marquis de

"Oh! is it he?"

She took up her eyeglass and submitted him to a very insolent
scrutiny, as if he had been a picture meant to receive glances,
not to return them.

"Do introduce him; he ought to be interesting."

"Nobody more tiresome and dull, dear. But he is the fashion."

M. Armand de Montriveau, at that moment all unwittingly the
object of general curiosity, better deserved attention than any
of the idols that Paris needs must set up to worship for a brief
space, for the city is vexed by periodical fits of craving, a
passion for engouement and sham enthusiasm, which must be
satisfied. The Marquis was the only son of General de
Montriveau, one of the ci-devants who served the Republic nobly,
and fell by Joubert's side at Novi. Bonaparte had placed his son
at the school at Chalons, with the orphans of other generals who
fell on the battlefield, leaving their children under the
protection of the Republic. Armand de Montriveau left school
with his way to make, entered the artillery, and had only reached
a major's rank at the time of the Fontainebleau disaster. In his
section of the service the chances of advancement were not many.
There are fewer officers, in the first place, among the gunners
than in any other corps; and in the second place, the feeling in
the artillery was decidedly Liberal, not to say Republican; and
the Emperor, feeling little confidence in a body of highly
educated men who were apt to think for themselves, gave promotion
grudgingly in the service. In the artillery, accordingly, the
general rule of the army did not apply; the commanding officers
were not invariably the most remarkable men in their department,
because there was less to be feared from mediocrities. The
artillery was a separate corps in those days, and only came under
Napoleon in action.

Besides these general causes, other reasons, inherent in Armand
de Montriveau's character, were sufficient in themselves to
account for his tardy promotion. He was alone in the world. He
had been thrown at the age of twenty into the whirlwind of men
directed by Napoleon; his interests were bounded by himself, any
day he might lose his life; it became a habit of mind with him to
live by his own self-respect and the consciousness that he had
done his duty. Like all shy men, he was habitually silent; but
his shyness sprang by no means from timidity; it was a kind of
modesty in him; he found any demonstration of vanity intolerable.

There was no sort of swagger about his fearlessness in action;
nothing escaped his eyes; he could give sensible advice to his
chums with unshaken coolness; he could go under fire, and duck
upon occasion to avoid bullets. He was kindly; but his
expression was haughty and stern, and his face gained him this
character. In everything he was rigorous as arithmetic; he never
permitted the slightest deviation from duty on any plausible
pretext, nor blinked the consequences of a fact. He would lend
himself to nothing of which he was ashamed; he never asked
anything for himself; in short, Armand de Montriveau was one of
many great men unknown to fame, and philosophical enough to
despise it; living without attaching themselves to life, because
they have not found their opportunity of developing to the full
their power to do and feel.

People were afraid of Montriveau; they respected him, but he was
not very popular. Men may indeed allow you to rise above them,
but to decline to descend as low as they can do is the one
unpardonable sin. In their feeling towards loftier natures,
there is a trace of hate and fear. Too much honour with them
implies censure of themselves, a thing forgiven neither to the
living nor to the dead.

After the Emperor's farewells at Fontainebleau, Montriveau, noble
though he was, was put on half-pay. Perhaps the heads of the War
Office took fright at uncompromising uprightness worthy of
antiquity, or perhaps it was known that he felt bound by his oath
to the Imperial Eagle. During the Hundred Days he was made a
Colonel of the Guard, and left on the field of Waterloo. His
wounds kept him in Belgium he was not present at the disbanding
of the Army of the Loire, but the King's government declined to
recognise promotion made during the Hundred Days, and Armand de
Montriveau left France.

An adventurous spirit, a loftiness of thought hitherto satisfied
by the hazards of war, drove him on an exploring expedition
through Upper Egypt; his sanity or impulse directed his
enthusiasm to a project of great importance, he turned his
attention to that unexplored Central Africa which occupies the
learned of today. The scientific expedition was long and
unfortunate. He had made a valuable collection of notes bearing
on various geographical and commercial problems, of which
solutions are still eagerly sought; and succeeded, after
surmounting many obstacles, in reaching the heart of the
continent, when he was betrayed into the hands of a hostile
native tribe. Then, stripped of all that he had, for two years
he led a wandering life in the desert, the slave of savages,
threatened with death at every moment, and more cruelly treated
than a dumb animal in the power of pitiless children. Physical
strength, and a mind braced to endurance, enabled him to survive
the horrors of that captivity; but his miraculous escape
well-nigh exhausted his energies. When he reached the French
colony at Senegal, a half-dead fugitive covered with rags, his
memories of his former life were dim and shapeless. The great
sacrifices made in his travels were all forgotten like his
studies of African dialects, his discoveries, and observations.
One story will give an idea of all that he passed through. Once
for several days the children of the sheikh of the tribe amused
themselves by putting him up for a mark and flinging horses'
knuckle-bones at his head.

Montriveau came back to Paris in 1818 a ruined man. He had no
interest, and wished for none. He would have died twenty times
over sooner than ask a favour of anyone; he would not even press
the recognition of his claims. Adversity and hardship had
developed his energy even in trifles, while the habit of
preserving his self-respect before that spiritual self which we
call conscience led him to attach consequence to the most
apparently trivial actions. His merits and adventures became
known, however, through his acquaintances, among the principal
men of science in Paris, and some few well-read military men.
The incidents of his slavery and subsequent escape bore witness
to a courage, intelligence, and coolness which won him celebrity
without his knowledge, and that transient fame of which Paris
salons are lavish, though the artist that fain would keep it must
make untold efforts.

Montriveau's position suddenly changed towards the end of that
year. He had been a poor man, he was now rich; or, externally at
any rate, he had all the advantages of wealth. The King's
government, trying to attach capable men to itself and to
strengthen the army, made concessions about that time to
Napoleon's old officers if their known loyalty and character
offered guarantees of fidelity. M. de Montriveau's name once
more appeared in the army list with the rank of colonel; he
received his arrears of pay and passed into the Guards. All
these favours, one after another, came to seek the Marquis de
Montriveau; he had asked for nothing however small. Friends had
taken the steps for him which he would have refused to take for

After this, his habits were modified all at once; contrary to his
custom, he went into society. He was well received, everywhere
he met with great deference and respect. He seemed to have found
some end in life; but everything passed within the man, there
were no external signs; in society he was silent and cold, and
wore a grave, reserved face. His social success was great,
precisely because he stood out in such strong contrast to the
conventional faces which line the walls of Paris salons. He was,
indeed, something quite new there. Terse of speech, like a
hermit or a savage, his shyness was thought to be haughtiness,
and people were greatly taken with it. He was something strange
and great. Women generally were so much the more smitten with
this original person because he was not to be caught by their
flatteries, however adroit, nor by the wiles with which they
circumvent the strongest men and corrode the steel temper. Their
Parisian's grimaces were lost upon M. de Montriveau; his nature
only responded to the sonorous vibration of lofty thought and
feeling. And he would very promptly have been dropped but for
the romance that hung about his adventures and his life; but for
the men who cried him up behind his back; but for a woman who
looked for a triumph for her vanity, the woman who was to fill
his thoughts.

For these reasons the Duchesse de Langeais's curiosity was no
less lively than natural. Chance had so ordered it that her
interest in the man before her had been aroused only the day
before, when she heard the story of one of M. de Montriveau's
adventures, a story calculated to make the strongest impression
upon a woman's ever-changing fancy.

During M. de Montriveau's voyage of discovery to the sources of
the Nile, he had had an argument with one of his guides, surely
the most extraordinary debate in the annals of travel. The
district that he wished to explore could only be reached on foot
across a tract of desert. Only one of his guides knew the way;
no traveller had penetrated before into that part of the country,
where the undaunted officer hoped to find a solution of several
scientific problems. In spite of the representations made to him
by the guide and the older men of the place, he started upon the
formidable journey. Summoning up courage, already highly strung
by the prospect of dreadful difficulties, he set out in the

The loose sand shifted under his feet at every step; and when, at
the end of a long day's march, he lay down to sleep on the
ground, he had never been so tired in his life. He knew,
however, that he must be up and on his way before dawn next day,
and his guide assured him that they should reach the end of their
journey towards noon. That promise kept up his courage and gave
him new strength. In spite of his sufferings, he continued his
march, with some blasphemings against science; he was ashamed to
complain to his guide, and kept his pain to himself. After
marching for a third of the day, he felt his strength failing,
his feet were bleeding, he asked if they should reach the place

"In an hour's time," said the guide. Armand braced himself for
another hour's march, and they went on.

The hour slipped by; he could not so much as see against the sky
the palm-trees and crests of hill that should tell of the end of
the journey near at hand; the horizon line of sand was vast as
the circle of the open sea.

He came to a stand, refused to go farther, and threatened the
guide--he had deceived him, murdered him; tears of rage and
weariness flowed over his fevered cheeks; he was bowed down with
fatigue upon fatigue, his throat seemed to be glued by the desert
thirst. The guide meanwhile stood motionless, listening to these
complaints with an ironical expression, studying the while, with
the apparent indifference of an Oriental, the scarcely
perceptible indications in the lie of the sands, which looked
almost black, like burnished gold.

"I have made a mistake," he remarked coolly. "I could not
make out the track, it is so long since I came this way; we are
surely on it now, but we must push on for two hours."

"The man is right," thought M. de Montriveau.

So he went on again, struggling to follow the pitiless native.
It seemed as if he were bound to his guide by some thread like
the invisible tie between the condemned man and the headsman.
But the two hours went by, Montriveau had spent his last drops of
energy, and the skyline was a blank, there were no palm-trees, no
hills. He could neither cry out nor groan, he lay down on the
sand to die, but his eyes would have frightened the boldest;
something in his face seemed to say that he would not die alone.
His guide, like a very fiend, gave him back a cool glance like a
man that knows his power, left him to lie there, and kept at a
safe distance out of reach of his desperate victim. At last M.
Montriveau recovered strength enough for a last curse.

The guide came nearer, silenced him with a steady look, and said,
"Was it not your own will to go where I am taking you, in spite
of us all? You say that I have lied to you. If I had not, you
would not be even here. Do you want the truth? Here it is. WE
BACK. Sound yourself; if you have not courage enough, here is my

Startled by this dreadful knowledge of pain and human strength,
M. de Montriveau would not be behind a savage; he drew a fresh
stock of courage from his pride as a European, rose to his feet,
and followed his guide. The five hours were at an end, and still
M. de Montriveau saw nothing, he turned his failing eyes upon his
guide; but the Nubian hoisted him on his shoulders, and showed
him a wide pool of water with greenness all about it, and a noble
forest lighted up by the sunset. It lay only a hundred paces
away; a vast ledge of granite hid the glorious landscape. It
seemed to Armand that he had taken a new lease of life. His
guide, that giant in courage and intelligence, finished his work
of devotion by carrying him across the hot, slippery, scarcely
discernible track on the granite. Behind him lay the hell of
burning sand, before him the earthly paradise of the most
beautiful oasis in the desert.

The Duchess, struck from the first by the appearance of this
romantic figure, was even more impressed when she learned that
this was that Marquis de Montriveau of whom she had dreamed
during the night. She had been with him among the hot desert
sands, he had been the companion of her nightmare wanderings; for
such a woman was not this a delightful presage of a new interest
in her life? And never was a man's exterior a better exponent of
his character; never were curious glances so well justified. The
principal characteristic of his great, square-hewn head was the
thick, luxuriant black hair which framed his face, and gave him a
strikingly close resemblance to General Kleber; and the likeness
still held good in the vigorous forehead, in the outlines of his
face, the quiet fearlessness of his eyes, and a kind of fiery
vehemence expressed by strongly marked features. He was short,
deep-chested, and muscular as a lion. There was something of the
despot about him, and an indescribable suggestion of the security
of strength in his gait, bearing, and slightest movements. He
seemed to know that his will was irresistible, perhaps because he
wished for nothing unjust. And yet, like all really strong men,
he was mild of speech, simple in his manners, and kindly natured;
although it seemed as if, in the stress of a great crisis, all
these finer qualities must disappear, and the man would show
himself implacable, unshaken in his resolve, terrific in action.
There was a certain drawing in of the inner line of the lips
which, to a close observer, indicated an ironical bent.

The Duchesse de Langeais, realising that a fleeting glory was to
be won by such a conquest, made up her mind to gain a lover in
Armand de Montriveau during the brief interval before the
Duchesse de Maufrigneuse brought him to be introduced. She would
prefer him above the others; she would attach him to herself,
display all her powers of coquetry for him. It was a fancy, such
a merest Duchess's whim as furnished a Lope or a Calderon with
the plot of the Dog in the Manger. She would not suffer another
woman to engross him; but she had not the remotest intention of
being his.

Nature had given the Duchess every qualification for the part of
coquette, and education had perfected her. Women envied her, and
men fell in love with her, not without reason. Nothing that can
inspire love, justify it, and give it lasting empire was wanting
in her. Her style of beauty, her manner, her voice, her bearing,
all combined to give her that instinctive coquetry which seems to
be the consciousness of power. Her shape was graceful; perhaps
there was a trace of self-consciousness in her changes of
movement, the one affectation that could be laid to her charge;
but everything about her was a part of her personality, from her
least little gesture to the peculiar turn of her phrases, the
demure glance of her eyes. Her great lady's grace, her most
striking characteristic, had not destroyed the very French quick
mobility of her person. There was an extraordinary fascination
in her swift, incessant changes of attitude. She seemed as if
she surely would be a most delicious mistress when her corset and
the encumbering costume of her part were laid aside. All the
rapture of love surely was latent in the freedom of her
expressive glances, in her caressing tones, in the charm of her
words. She gave glimpses of the high-born courtesan within her,
vainly protesting against the creeds of the duchess.

You might sit near her through an evening, she would be gay and
melancholy in turn, and her gaiety, like her sadness, seemed
spontaneous. She could be gracious, disdainful, insolent, or
confiding at will. Her apparent good nature was real; she had no
temptation to descend to malignity. But at each moment her mood
changed; she was full of confidence or craft; her moving
tenderness would give place to a heart-breaking hardness and
insensibility. Yet how paint her as she was, without bringing
together all the extremes of feminine nature? In a word, the
Duchess was anything that she wished to be or to seem. Her face
was slightly too long. There was a grace in it, and a certain
thinness and fineness that recalled the portraits of the Middle
Ages. Her skin was white, with a faint rose tint. Everything
about her erred, as it were, by an excess of delicacy.

M. de Montriveau willingly consented to be introduced to the
Duchesse de Langeais; and she, after the manner of persons whose
sensitive taste leads them to avoid banalities, refrained from
overwhelming him with questions and compliments. She received
him with a gracious deference which could not fail to flatter a
man of more than ordinary powers, for the fact that a man rises
above the ordinary level implies that he possesses something of
that tact which makes women quick to read feeling. If the
Duchess showed any curiosity, it was by her glances; her
compliments were conveyed in her manner; there was a winning
grace displayed in her words, a subtle suggestion of a desire to
please which she of all women knew the art of manifesting. Yet
her whole conversation was but, in a manner, the body of the
letter; the postscript with the principal thought in it was still
to come. After half an hour spent in ordinary talk, in which the
words gained all their value from her tone and smiles, M. de
Montriveau was about to retire discreetly, when the Duchess
stopped him with an expressive gesture.

"I do not know, monsieur, whether these few minutes during which
I have had the pleasure of talking to you proved so sufficiently
attractive, that I may venture to ask you to call upon me; I am
afraid that it may be very selfish of me to wish to have you all
to myself. If I should be so fortunate as to find that my house
is agreeable to you, you will always find me at home in the
evening until ten o'clock."

The invitation was given with such irresistible grace, that M. de
Montriveau could not refuse to accept it. When he fell back
again among the groups of men gathered at a distance from the
women, his friends congratulated him, half laughingly, half in
earnest, on the extraordinary reception vouchsafed him by the
Duchesse de Langeais. The difficult and brilliant conquest had
been made beyond a doubt, and the glory of it was reserved for
the Artillery of the Guard. It is easy to imagine the jests,
good and bad, when this topic had once been started; the world of
Paris salons is so eager for amusement, and a joke lasts for such
a short time, that everyone is eager to make the most of it while
it is fresh.

All unconsciously, the General felt flattered by this nonsense.
From his place where he had taken his stand, his eyes were drawn
again and again to the Duchess by countless wavering reflections.

He could not help admitting to himself that of all the women
whose beauty had captivated his eyes, not one had seemed to be a
more exquisite embodiment of faults and fair qualities blended in
a completeness that might realise the dreams of earliest manhood.

Is there a man in any rank of life that has not felt indefinable
rapture in his secret soul over the woman singled out (if only in
his dreams) to be his own; when she, in body, soul, and social
aspects, satisfies his every requirement, a thrice perfect woman?

And if this threefold perfection that flatters his pride is no
argument for loving her, it is beyond cavil one of the great
inducements to the sentiment. Love would soon be convalescent,
as the eighteenth century moralist remarked, were it not for
vanity. And it is certainly true that for everyone, man or
woman, there is a wealth of pleasure in the superiority of the
beloved. Is she set so high by birth that a contemptuous glance
can never wound her? is she wealthy enough to surround herself
with state which falls nothing short of royalty, of kings, of
finance during their short reign of splendour? is she so
ready-witted that a keen-edged jest never brings her into
confusion? beautiful enough to rival any woman?--Is it such a
small thing to know that your self-love will never suffer through
her? A man makes these reflections in the twinkling of an eye.
And how if, in the future opened out by early ripened passion, he
catches glimpses of the changeful delight of her charm, the frank
innocence of a maiden soul, the perils of love's voyage, the
thousand folds of the veil of coquetry? Is not this enough to
move the coldest man's heart?

This, therefore, was M. de Montriveau's position with regard to
woman; his past life in some measure explaining the extraordinary
fact. He had been thrown, when little more than a boy, into the
hurricane of Napoleon's wars; his life had been spent on fields
of battle. Of women he knew just so much as a traveller knows of
a country when he travels across it in haste from one inn to
another. The verdict which Voltaire passed upon his eighty years
of life might, perhaps, have been applied by Montriveau to his
own thirty-seven years of existence; had he not thirty-seven
follies with which to reproach himself? At his age he was as
much a novice in love as the lad that has just been furtively
reading Faublas. Of women he had nothing to learn; of love he
knew nothing; and thus, desires, quite unknown before, sprang
from this virginity of feeling.

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