My dear, my Spaniard is quite adorably melancholy; there is something calm, severe, manly, and mysterious about him which interests me profoundly. His unvarying solemnity and the silence which envelops him act like an irritant on the mind. His mute dignity is worthy of a fallen king. Griffith and I spend our time over him as though he were a riddle.
How odd it is! A language-master captures my fancy as no other man has done. Yet by this time I have passed in review all the young men of family, the attaches to embassies, and the ambassadors, generals, and inferior officers, the peers of France, their sons and nephews, the court, and the town.
The coldness of the man provokes me. The sandy waste which he tries to place, and does place, between us is covered by his deeprooted pride; he wraps himself in mystery. The hanging back is on his side, the boldness on mine. This odd situation affords me the more amusement because the whole thing is mere trifling. What is a man, a Spaniard, and a teacher of languages to me? I make no account of any man whatever, were he a king. We are worth far more, I am sure, than the greatest of them. What a slave I would have made of Napoleon! If he had loved me, shouldn't he have felt the whip!
Yesterday I aimed a shaft at M. Henarez which must have touched him to the quick. He made no reply; the lesson was over, and he bowed with a glance at me, in which I read that he would never return. This suits me capitally; there would be something ominous in starting an imitation Nouvelle Heloise. I have just been reading Rousseau's, and it has left me with a strong distaste for love. Passion which can argue and moralize seems to me detestable.
Clarissa also is much too pleased with herself and her long, little letter; but Richardson's work is an admirable picture, my father tells me, of English women. Rousseau's seems to me a sort of philosophical sermon, cast in the form of letters.
Love, as I conceive it, is a purely subjective poem. In all that books tell us about it, there is nothing which is not at once false and true. And so, my pretty one, as you will henceforth be an authority only on conjugal love, it seems to me my duty—in the interest, of course, of our common life—to remain unmarried, and have a grand passion, so that we may enlarge our experience.
Tell me every detail of what happens to you, especially in the first few days, with that strange animal called a husband. I promise to do the same for you if ever I am loved.
Farewell, poor martyred darling.
XI. MME. DE L'ESTORADE TO MLLE. DE CHAULIEU La Crampade.
Your Spaniard and you make me shudder, my darling. I write this line to beg of you to dismiss him. All that you say of him corresponds with the character of those dangerous adventurers who, having nothing to lose, will take any risk. This man cannot be your husband, and must not be your lover. I will write to you more fully about the inner history of my married life when my heart is free from the anxiety your last letter has roused in it.
XII. MLLE. DE CHAULIEU TO MME. DE L'ESTORADE February.
At nine o'clock this morning, sweetheart, my father was announced in my rooms. I was up and dressed. I found him solemnly seated beside the fire in the drawing-room, looking more thoughtful than usual. He pointed to the armchair opposite to him. Divining his meaning, I sank into it with a gravity, which so well aped his, that he could not refrain from smiling, though the smile was dashed with melancholy.
"You are quite a match for your grandmother in quick-wittedness," he said.
"Come, father, don't play the courtier here," I replied; "you want something from me."
He rose, visibly agitated, and talked to me for half an hour. This conversation, dear, really ought to be preserved. As soon as he had gone, I sat down to my table and tried to recall his words. This is the first time that I have seen my father revealing his inner thoughts.
He began by flattering me, and he did not do it badly. I was bound to be grateful to him for having understood and appreciated me.
"Armande," he said, "I was quite mistaken in you, and you have agreeably surprised me. When you arrived from the convent, I took you for an average young girl, ignorant and not particularly intelligent, easily to be bought off with gewgaws and ornaments, and with little turn for reflection."
"You are complimentary to young girls, father."
"Oh! there is no such thing as youth nowadays," he said, with the air of a diplomat. "Your mind is amazingly open. You take everything at its proper worth; your clear-sightedness is extraordinary, there is no hoodwinking you. You pass for being blind, and all the time you have laid your hand on causes, while other people are still puzzling over effects. In short, you are a minister in petticoats, the only person here capable of understanding me. It follows, then, that if I have any sacrifice to ask from you, it is only to yourself I can turn for help in persuading you.
"I am therefore going to explain to you, quite frankly, my former plans, to which I still adhere. In order to recommend them to you, I must show that they are connected with feelings of a very high order, and I shall thus be obliged to enter into political questions of the greatest importance to the kingdom, which might be wearisome to any one less intelligent than you are. When you have heard me, I hope you will take time for consideration, six months if necessary. You are entirely your own mistress; and if you decline to make the sacrifice I ask, I shall bow to your decision and trouble you no further."
This preface, my sweetheart, made me really serious, and I said:
Here, then, is the deliverance of the statesman:
"My child, France is in a very critical position, which is understood only by the King and a few superior minds. But the King is a head without arms; the great nobles, who are in the secret of the danger, have no authority over the men whose co-operation is needful in order to bring about a happy result. These men, cast up by popular election, refuse to lend themselves as instruments. Even the able men among them carry on the work of pulling down society, instead of helping us to strengthen the edifice.
"In a word, there are only two parties—the party of Marius and the party of Sulla. I am for Sulla against Marius. This, roughly speaking, is our position. To go more into details: the Revolution is still active; it is embedded in the law and written on the soil; it fills people's minds. The danger is all the greater because the greater number of the King's counselors, seeing it destitute of armed forces and of money, believe it completely vanquished. The King is an able man, and not easily blinded; but from day to day he is won over by his brother's partisans, who want to hurry things on. He has not two years to live, and thinks more of a peaceful deathbed than of anything else.
"Shall I tell you, my child, which is the most destructive of all the consequences entailed by the Revolution? You would never guess. In Louis XVI. the Revolution has decapitated every head of a family. The family has ceased to exist; we have only individuals. In their desire to become a nation, Frenchmen have abandoned the idea of empire; in proclaiming the equal rights of all children to their father's inheritance, they have killed the family spirit and created the State treasury. But all this has paved the way for weakened authority, for the blind force of the masses, for the decay of art and the supremacy of individual interests, and has left the road open to the foreign invader.
"We stand between two policies—either to found the State on the basis of the family, or to rest it on individual interest—in other words, between democracy and aristocracy, between free discussion and obedience, between Catholicism and religious indifference. I am among the few who are resolved to oppose what is called the people, and that in the people's true interest. It is not now a question of feudal rights, as fools are told, nor of rank; it is a question of the State and of the existence of France. The country which does not rest on the foundation of paternal authority cannot be stable. That is the foot of the ladder of responsibility and subordination, which has for its summit the King.
"The King stands for us all. To die for the King is to die for oneself, for one's family, which, like the kingdom, cannot die. All animals have certain instincts; the instinct of man is for family life. A country is strong which consists of wealthy families, every member of whom is interested in defending a common treasure; it is weak when composed of scattered individuals, to whom it matters little whether they obey seven or one, a Russian or a Corsican, so long as each keeps his own plot of land, blind, in their wretched egotism, to the fact that the day is coming when this too will be torn from them.
"Terrible calamities are in store for us, in case our party fails. Nothing will be left but penal or fiscal laws—your money or your life. The most generous nation on the earth will have ceased to obey the call of noble instincts. Wounds past curing will have been fostered and aggravated, an all pervading jealousy being the first. Then the upper classes will be submerged; equality of desire will be taken for equality of strength; true distinction, even when proved and recognized, will be threatened by the advancing tide of middle-class prejudice. It was possible to choose one man out of a thousand, but, amongst three millions, discrimination becomes impossible, when all are moved by the same ambitions and attired in the same livery of mediocrity. No foresight will warn this victorious horde of that other terrible horde, soon to be arrayed against them in the peasant proprietors; in other words, twenty million acres of land, alive, stirring, arguing, deaf to reason, insatiable of appetite, obstructing progress, masters in their brute force——"
"But," said I, interrupting my father, "what can I do to help the State. I feel no vocation for playing Joan of Arc in the interests of the family, or for finding a martyr's block in the convent."
"You are a little hussy," cried my father. "If I speak sensibly to you, you are full of jokes; when I jest, you talk like an ambassadress."
"Love lives on contrasts," was my reply.
And he laughed till the tears stood in his eyes.
"You will reflect on what I have told you; you will do justice to the large and confiding spirit in which I have broached the matter, and possibly events may assist my plans. I know that, so far as you are concerned, they are injurious and unfair, and this is the reason why I appeal for your sanction of them less to your heart and your imagination than to your reason. I have found more judgment and commonsense in you than in any one I know——"
"You flatter yourself," I said, with a smile, "for I am every inch your child!"
"In short," he went on, "one must be logical. You can't have the end without the means, and it is our duty to set an example to others. From all this I deduce that you ought not to have money of your own till your younger brother is provided for, and I want to employ the whole of your inheritance in purchasing an estate for him to go with the title."
"But," I said, "you won't interfere with my living in my own fashion and enjoying life if I leave you my fortune?"
"Provided," he replied, "that your view of life does not conflict with the family honor, reputation, and, I may add, glory."
"Come, come," I cried, "what has become of my excellent judgment?"
"There is not in all France," he said with bitterness, "a man who would take for wife a daughter of one of our noblest families without a dowry and bestow one on her. If such a husband could be found, it would be among the class of rich parvenus; on this point I belong to the eleventh century."
"And I also," I said. "But why despair? Are there no aged peers?"
"You are an apt scholar, Louise!" he exclaimed.
Then he left me, smiling and kissing my hand.
I received your letter this very morning, and it led me to contemplate that abyss into which you say that I may fall. A voice within seemed to utter the same warning. So I took my precautions. Henarez, my dear, dares to look at me, and his eyes are disquieting. They inspire me with what I can only call an unreasoning dread. Such a man ought no more to be looked at than a frog; he is ugly and fascinating.
For two days I have been hesitating whether to tell my father point-blank that I want no more Spanish lessons and have Henarez sent about his business. But in spite of all my brave resolutions, I feel that the horrible sensation which comes over me when I see that man has become necessary to me. I say to myself, "Once more, and then I will speak."
His voice, my dear, is sweetly thrilling; his speaking is just like la Fodor's singing. His manners are simple, entirely free from affectation. And what teeth!
Just now, as he was leaving, he seemed to divine the interest I take in him, and made a gesture—oh! most respectfully—as though to take my hand and kiss it; then checked himself, apparently terrified at his own boldness and the chasm he had been on the point of bridging. There was the merest suggestion of all this, but I understood it and smiled, for nothing is more pathetic than to see the frank impulse of an inferior checking itself abashed. The love of a plebeian for a girl of noble birth implies such courage!
My smile emboldened him. The poor fellow looked blindly about for his hat; he seemed determined not to find it, and I handed it to him with perfect gravity. His eyes were wet with unshed tears. It was a mere passing moment, yet a world of facts and ideas were contained in it. We understood each other so well that, on a sudden, I held out my hand for him to kiss.
Possibly this was equivalent to telling him that love might bridge the interval between us. Well, I cannot tell what moved me to do it. Griffith had her back turned as I proudly extended my little white paw. I felt the fire of his lips, tempered by two big tears. Oh! my love, I lay in my armchair, nerveless, dreamy. I was happy, and I cannot explain to you how or why. What I felt only a poet could express. My condescension, which fills me with shame now, seemed to me then something to be proud of; he had fascinated me, that is my one excuse.
This man is really very handsome. He talks admirably, and has remarkable intellectual power. My dear, he is a very Bossuet in force and persuasiveness when he explains the mechanism, not only of the Spanish tongue, but also of human thought and of all language. His mother tongue seems to be French. When I expressed surprise at this, he replied that he came to France when quite a boy, following the King of Spain to Valencay.
What has passed within this enigmatic being? He is no longer the same man. He came, dressed quite simply, but just as any gentleman would for a morning walk. He put forth all his eloquence, and flashed wit, like rays from a beacon, all through the lesson. Like a man roused from lethargy, he revealed to me a new world of thoughts. He told me the story of some poor devil of a valet who gave up his life for a single glance from a queen of Spain.
"What could he do but die?" I exclaimed.
This delighted him, and he looked at me in a way which was truly alarming.
In the evening I went to a ball at the Duchesse de Lenoncourt's. The Prince de Talleyrand happened to be there; and I got M. de Vandenesse, a charming young man, to ask him whether, among the guests at his country-place in 1809, he remembered any one of the name of Henarez. Vandenesse reported the Prince's reply, word for word, as follows:
"Henarez is the Moorish name of the Soria family, who are, they say, descendants of the Abencerrages, converted to Christianity. The old Duke and his two sons were with the King. The eldest, the present Duke de Soria, has just had all his property, titles, and dignities confiscated by King Ferdinand, who in this way avenges a long-standing feud. The Duke made a huge mistake in consenting to form a constitutional ministry with Valdez. Happily, he escaped from Cadiz before the arrival of the Duc d'Angouleme, who, with the best will in the world, could not have saved him from the King's wrath."
This information gave me much food for reflection. I cannot describe to you the suspense in which I passed the time till my next lesson, which took place this morning.
During the first quarter of an hour I examined him closely, debating inwardly whether he were duke or commoner, without being able to come to any conclusion. He seemed to read my fancies as they arose and to take pleasure in thwarting them. At last I could endure it no longer. Putting down my book suddenly, I broke off the translation I was making of it aloud, and said to him in Spanish:
"You are deceiving us. You are no poor middle-class Liberal. You are the Duke de Soria!"
"Mademoiselle," he replied, with a gesture of sorrow, "unhappily, I am not the Duc de Soria."
I felt all the despair with which he uttered the word "unhappily." Ah! my dear, never should I have conceived it possible to throw so much meaning and passion into a single word. His eyes had dropped, and he dared no longer look at me.
"M. de Talleyrand," I said, "in whose house you spent your years of exile, declares that any one bearing the name of Henarez must either be the late Duc de Soria or a lacquey."
He looked at me with eyes like two black burning coals, at once blazing and ashamed. The man might have been in the torture-chamber. All he said was:
"My father was in truth the servant of the King of Spain."
Griffith could make nothing of this sort of lesson. An awkward silence followed each question and answer.
"In one word," I said, "are you a nobleman or not?"
"You know that in Spain even beggars are noble."
This reticence provoked me. Since the last lesson I had given play to my imagination in a little practical joke. I had drawn an ideal portrait of the man whom I should wish for my lover in a letter which I designed giving to him to translate. So far, I had only put Spanish into French, not French into Spanish; I pointed this out to him, and begged Griffith to bring me the last letter I had received from a friend of mine.
"I shall find out," I thought, from the effect my sketch has on him, "what sort of blood runs in his veins."
I took the paper from Griffith's hands, saying:
"Let me see if I have copied it rightly."
For it was all in my writing. I handed him the paper, or, if you will, the snare, and I watched him while he read as follows:
"He who is to win my heart, my dear, must be harsh and unbending with men, but gentle with women. His eagle eye must have power to quell with a single glance the least approach to ridicule. He will have a pitying smile for those who would jeer at sacred things, above all, at that poetry of the heart, without which life would be but a dreary commonplace. I have the greatest scorn for those who would rob us of the living fountain of religious beliefs, so rich in solace. His faith, therefore, should have the simplicity of a child, though united to the firm conviction of an intelligent man, who has examined the foundations of his creed. His fresh and original way of looking at things must be entirely free from affectation or desire to show off. His words will be few and fit, and his mind so richly stored, that he cannot possibly become a bore to himself any more than to others.
"All his thoughts must have a high and chivalrous character, without alloy of self-seeking; while his actions should be marked by a total absence of interested or sordid motives. Any weak points he may have will arise from the very elevation of his views above those of the common herd, for in every respect I would have him superior to his age. Ever mindful of the delicate attentions due to the weak, he will be gentle to all women, but not prone lightly to fall in love with any; for love will seem to him too serious to turn into a game.
"Thus it might happen that he would spend his life in ignorance of true love, while all the time possessing those qualities most fitted to inspire it. But if ever he find the ideal woman who has haunted his waking dreams, if he meet with a nature capable of understanding his own, one who could fill his soul and pour sunlight over his life, could shine as a star through the mists of this chill and gloomy world, lend fresh charm to existence, and draw music from the hitherto silent chords of his being—needless to say, he would recognize and welcome his good fortune.
"And she, too, would be happy. Never, by word or look, would he wound the tender heart which abandoned itself to him, with the blind trust of a child reposing in its mother's arms. For were the vision shattered, it would be the wreck of her inner life. To the mighty waters of love she would confide her all!
"The man I picture must belong, in expression, in attitude, in gait, in his way of performing alike the smallest and the greatest actions, to that race of the truly great who are always simple and natural. He need not be good-looking, but his hands must be beautiful. His upper lip will curl with a careless, ironic smile for the general public, whilst he reserves for those he loves the heavenly, radiant glance in which he puts his soul."
"Will mademoiselle allow me," he said in Spanish, in a voice full of agitation, "to keep this writing in memory of her? This is the last lesson I shall have the honor of giving her, and that which I have just received in these words may serve me for an abiding rule of life. I left Spain, a fugitive and penniless, but I have to-day received from my family a sum sufficient for my needs. You will allow me to send some poor Spaniard in my place."
In other words, he seemed to me to say, "This little game must stop." He rose with an air of marvelous dignity, and left me quite upset by such unheard-of delicacy in a man of his class. He went downstairs and asked to speak with my father.
At dinner my father said to me with a smile:
"Louise, you have been learning Spanish from an ex-minister and a man condemned to death."
"The Duc de Soria," I said.
"Duke!" replied my father. "No, he is not that any longer; he takes the title now of Baron de Macumer from a property which still remains to him in Sardinia. He is something of an original, I think."
"Don't brand with that word, which with you always implies some mockery and scorn, a man who is your equal, and who, I believe, has a noble nature."
"Baronne de Macumer?" exclaimed my father, with a laughing glance at me.
Pride kept my eyes fixed on the table.
"But," said my mother, "Henarez must have met the Spanish ambassador on the steps?"
"Yes," replied my father, "the ambassador asked me if I was conspiring against the King, his master; but he greeted the ex-grandee of Spain with much deference, and placed his services at his disposal."
All this, dear, Mme. de l'Estorade, happened a fortnight ago, and it is a fortnight now since I have seen the man who loves me, for that he loves me there is not a doubt. What is he about? If only I were a fly, or a mouse, or a sparrow! I want to see him alone, myself unseen, at his house. Only think, a man exists, to whom I can say, "Go and die for me!" And he is so made that he would go, at least I think so. Anyhow, there is in Paris a man who occupies my thoughts, and whose glance pours sunshine into my soul. Is not such a man an enemy, whom I ought to trample under foot? What? There is a man who has become necessary to me—a man without whom I don't know how to live! You married, and I—in love! Four little months, and those two doves, whose wings erst bore them so high, have fluttered down upon the flat stretches of real life!
Yesterday, at the Italian Opera, I could feel some one was looking at me; my eyes were drawn, as by a magnet, to two wells of fire, gleaming like carbuncles in a dim corner of the orchestra. Henarez never moved his eyes from me. The wretch had discovered the one spot from which he could see me—and there he was. I don't know what he may be as a politician, but for love he has a genius.
Behold, my fair Renee, where our business now stands,
as the great Corneille has said.
XIII. MME. DE L'ESTORADE TO MLLE. DE CHAULIEU LA CRAMPADE, February.
My dear Louise,—I was bound to wait some time before writing to you; but now I know, or rather I have learned, many things which, for the sake of your future happiness, I must tell you. The difference between a girl and a married woman is so vast, that the girl can no more comprehend it than the married woman can go back to girlhood again.
I chose to marry Louis de l'Estorade rather than return to the convent; that at least is plain. So soon as I realized that the convent was the only alternative to marrying Louis, I had, as girls say, to "submit," and my submission once made, the next thing was to examine the situation and try to make the best of it.
The serious nature of what I was undertaking filled me at first with terror. Marriage is a matter concerning the whole of life, whilst love aims only at pleasure. On the other hand, marriage will remain when pleasures have vanished, and it is the source of interests far more precious than those of the man and woman entering on the alliance. Might it not therefore be that the only requisite for a happy marriage was friendship—a friendship which, for the sake of these advantages, would shut its eyes to many of the imperfections of humanity? Now there was no obstacle to the existence of friendship between myself and Louis de l'Estorade. Having renounced all idea of finding in marriage those transports of love on which our minds used so often, and with such perilous rapture, to dwell, I found a gentle calm settling over me. "If debarred from love, why not seek for happiness?" I said to myself. "Moreover, I am loved, and the love offered me I shall accept. My married life will be no slavery, but rather a perpetual reign. What is there to say against such a situation for a woman who wishes to remain absolute mistress of herself?"
The important point of separating marriage from marital rights was settled in a conversation between Louis and me, in the course of which he gave proof of an excellent temper and a tender heart. Darling, my desire was to prolong that fair season of hope which, never culminating in satisfaction, leaves to the soul its virginity. To grant nothing to duty or the law, to be guided entirely by one's own will, retaining perfect independence—what could be more attractive, more honorable?
A contract of this kind, directly opposed to the legal contract, and even to the sacrament itself, could be concluded only between Louis and me. This difficulty, the first which has arisen, is the only one which has delayed the completion of our marriage. Although, at first, I may have made up my mind to accept anything rather than return to the convent, it is only in human nature, having got an inch, to ask for an ell, and you and I, sweet love, are of those who would have it all.
I watched Louis out of the corner of my eye, and put it to myself, "Has suffering had a softening or a hardening effect on him?" By dint of close study, I arrived at the conclusion that his love amounted to a passion. Once transformed into an idol, whose slightest frown would turn him white and trembling, I realized that I might venture anything. I drew him aside in the most natural manner on solitary walks, during which I discreetly sounded his feelings. I made him talk, and got him to expound to me his ideas and plans for our future. My questions betrayed so many preconceived notions, and went so straight for the weak points in this terrible dual existence, that Louis has since confessed to me the alarm it caused him to find in me so little of the ignorant maiden.
Then I listened to what he had to say in reply. He got mixed up in his arguments, as people do when handicapped by fear; and before long it became clear that chance had given me for adversary one who was the less fitted for the contest because he was conscious of what you magniloquently call my "greatness of soul." Broken by sufferings and misfortune, he looked on himself as a sort of wreck, and three fears in especial haunted him.
First, we are aged respectively thirty-seven and seventeen; and he could not contemplate without quaking the twenty years that divide us. In the next place, he shares our views on the subject of my beauty, and it is cruel for him to see how the hardships of his life have robbed him of youth. Finally, he felt the superiority of my womanhood over his manhood. The consciousness of these three obvious drawbacks made him distrustful of himself; he doubted his power to make me happy, and guessed that he had been chosen as the lesser of two evils.
One evening he tentatively suggested that I only married him to escape the convent.
"I cannot deny it," was my grave reply.
My dear, it touched me to the heart to see the two great tears which stood in his eyes. Never before had I experienced the shock of emotion which a man can impart to us.
"Louis," I went on, as kindly as I could, "it rests entirely with you whether this marriage of convenience becomes one to which I can give my whole heart. The favor I am about to ask from you will demand unselfishness on your part, far nobler than the servitude to which a man's love, when sincere, is supposed to reduce him. The question is, Can you rise to the height of friendship such as I understand it?
"Life gives us but one friend, and I wish to be yours. Friendship is the bond between a pair of kindred souls, united in their strength, and yet independent. Let us be friends and comrades to bear jointly the burden of life. Leave me absolutely free. I would put no hindrance in the way of your inspiring me with a love similar to your own; but I am determined to be yours only of my own free gift. Create in me the wish to give up my freedom, and at once I lay it at your feet.
"Infuse with passion, then, if you will, this friendship, and let the voice of love disturb its calm. On my part I will do what I can to bring my feelings into accord with yours. One thing, above all, I would beg of you. Spare me the annoyances to which the strangeness of our mutual position might give rise to our relations with others. I am neither whimsical nor prudish, and should be sorry to get that reputation; but I feel sure that I can trust to your honor when I ask you to keep up the outward appearance of wedded life."
Never, dear, have I seen a man so happy as my proposal made Louis. The blaze of joy which kindled in his eyes dried up the tears.
"Do not fancy," I concluded, "that I ask this from any wish to be eccentric. It is the great desire I have for your respect which prompts my request. If you owe the crown of your love merely to the legal and religious ceremony, what gratitude could you feel to me later for a gift in which my goodwill counted for nothing? If during the time that I remained indifferent to you (yielding only a passive obedience, such as my mother has just been urging on me) a child were born to us, do you suppose that I could feel towards it as I would towards one born of our common love? A passionate love may not be necessary in marriage, but, at least, you will admit that there should be no repugnance. Our position will not be without its dangers; in a country life, such as ours will be, ought we not to bear in mind the evanescent nature of passion? Is it not simple prudence to make provision beforehand against the calamities incident to change of feeling?"
He was greatly astonished to find me at once so reasonable and so apt at reasoning; but he made me a solemn promise, after which I took his hand and pressed it affectionately.
We were married at the end of the week. Secure of my freedom, I was able to throw myself gaily into the petty details which always accompany a ceremony of the kind, and to be my natural self. Perhaps I may have been taken for an old bird, as they say at Blois. A young girl, delighted with the novel and hopeful situation she had contrived to make for herself, and may have passed for a strong-minded female.
Dear, the difficulties which would beset my life had appeared to me clearly as in a vision, and I was sincerely anxious to make the happiness of the man I married. Now, in the solitude of a life like ours, marriage soon becomes intolerable unless the woman is the presiding spirit. A woman in such a case needs the charm of a mistress, combined with the solid qualities of a wife. To introduce an element of uncertainty into pleasure is to prolong illusion, and render lasting those selfish satisfactions which all creatures hold, and should shroud a woman in expectancy, crown her sovereign, and invest her with an exhaustless power, a redundancy of life, that makes everything blossom around her. The more she is mistress of herself, the more certainly will the love and happiness she creates be fit to weather the storms of life.
But, above all, I have insisted on the greatest secrecy in regard to our domestic arrangements. A husband who submits to his wife's yoke is justly held an object of ridicule. A woman's influence ought to be entirely concealed. The charm of all we do lies in its unobtrusiveness. If I have made it my task to raise a drooping courage and restore their natural brightness to gifts which I have dimly descried, it must all seem to spring from Louis himself.
Such is the mission to which I dedicate myself, a mission surely not ignoble, and which might well satisfy a woman's ambition. Why, I could glory in this secret which shall fill my life with interest, in this task towards which my every energy shall be bent, while it remains concealed from all but God and you.
I am very nearly happy now, but should I be so without a friendly heart in which to pour the confession? For how make a confidant of him? My happiness would wound him, and has to be concealed. He is sensitive as a woman, like all men who have suffered much.
For three months we remained as we were before marriage. As you may imagine, during this time I made a close study of many small personal matters, which have more to do with love than is generally supposed. In spite of my coldness, Louis grew bolder, and his nature expanded. I saw on his face a new expression, a look of youth. The greater refinement which I introduced into the house was reflected in his person. Insensibly I became accustomed to his presence, and made another self of him. By dint of constant watching I discovered how his mind and countenance harmonize. "The animal that we call a husband," to quote your words, disappeared, and one balmy evening I discovered in his stead a lover, whose words thrilled me and on whose arm I leant with pleasure beyond words. In short, to be open with you, as I would be with God, before whom concealment is impossible, the perfect loyalty with which he had kept his oath may have piqued me, and I felt a fluttering of curiosity in my heart. Bitterly ashamed, I struggled with myself. Alas! when pride is the only motive for resistance, excuses for capitulation are soon found.
We celebrated our union in secret, and secret it must remain between us. When you are married you will approve this reserve. Enough that nothing was lacking either of satisfaction for the most fastidious sentiment, or of that unexpectedness which brings, in a sense, its own sanction. Every witchery of imagination, of passion, of reluctance overcome, of the ideal passing into reality, played its part.
Yet, in spite of all this enchantment, I once more stood out for my complete independence. I can't tell you all my reasons for this. To you alone shall I confide even as much as this. I believe that women, whether passionately loved or not, lose much in their relation with their husbands by not concealing their feelings about marriage and the way they look at it.
My one joy, and it is supreme, springs from the certainty of having brought new life to my husband before I have borne him any children. Louis has regained his youth, strength, and spirits. He is not the same man. With magic touch I have effaced the very memory of his sufferings. It is a complete metamorphosis. Louis is really very attractive now. Feeling sure of my affection, he throws off his reserve and displays unsuspected gifts.
To be the unceasing spring of happiness for a man who knows it and adds gratitude to love, ah! dear one, this is a conviction which fortifies the soul, even more than the most passionate love can do. The force thus developed—at once impetuous and enduring, simple and diversified—brings forth ultimately the family, that noble product of womanhood, which I realize now in all its animating beauty.
The old father has ceased to be a miser. He gives blindly whatever I wish for. The servants are content; it seems as though the bliss of Louis had let a flood of sunshine into the household, where love has made me queen. Even the old man would not be a blot upon my pretty home, and has brought himself into line with all my improvements; to please me he has adopted the dress, and with the dress, the manners of the day.
We have English horses, a coupe, a barouche, and a tilbury. The livery of our servants is simple but in good taste. Of course we are looked on as spendthrifts. I apply all my intellect (I am speaking quite seriously) to managing my household with economy, and obtaining for it the maximum of pleasure with the minimum of cost.
I have already convinced Louis of the necessity of getting roads made, in order that he may earn the reputation of a man interested in the welfare of his district. I insist too on his studying a great deal. Before long I hope to see him a member of the Council General of the Department, through the influence of my family and his mother's. I have told him plainly that I am ambitious, and that I was very well pleased his father should continue to look after the estate and practise economies, because I wished him to devote himself exclusively to politics. If we had children, I should like to see them all prosperous and with good State appointments. Under penalty, therefore, of forfeiting my esteem and affection, he must get himself chosen deputy for the department at the coming elections; my family would support his candidature, and we should then have the delight of spending all our winters in Paris. Ah! my love, by the ardor with which he embraced my plans, I can gauge the depth of his affection.
To conclude here is a letter he wrote me yesterday from Marseilles, where he had gone to spend a few hours:
"MY SWEET RENEE,—When you gave me permission to love you, I began to believe in happiness; now, I see it unfolding endlessly before me. The past is merely a dim memory, a shadowy background, without which my present bliss would show less radiant. When I am with you, love so transports me that I am powerless to express the depth of my affection; I can but worship and admire. Only at a distance does the power of speech return. You are supremely beautiful, Renee, and your beauty is of the statuesque and regal type, on which time leaves but little impression. No doubt the love of husband and wife depends less on outward beauty than on graces of character, which are yours also in perfection; still, let me say that the certainty of having your unchanging beauty, on which to feast my eyes, gives me a joy that grows with every glance. There is a grace and dignity in the lines of your face, expressive of the noble soul within, and breathing of purity beneath the vivid coloring. The brilliance of your dark eyes, the bold sweep of your forehead, declare a spirit of no common elevation, sound and trustworthy in every relation, and well braced to meet the storms of life, should such arise. The keynote of your character is its freedom from all pettiness. You do not need to be told all this; but I write it because I would have you know that I appreciate the treasure I possess. Your favors to me, however slight, will always make my happiness in the far-distant future as now; for I am sensible how much dignity there is in our promise to respect each other's liberty. Our own impulse shall with us alone dictate the expression of feeling. We shall be free even in our fetters. I shall have the more pride in wooing you again now that I know the reward you place on victory. You cannot speak, breathe, act, or think, without adding to the admiration I feel for your charm both of body and mind. There is in you a rare combination of the ideal, the practical, and the bewitching which satisfies alike judgment, a husband's pride, desire, and hope, and which extends the boundaries of love beyond those of life itself. Oh! my loved one, may the genius of love remain faithful to me, and the future be full of those delights by means of which you have glorified all that surrounds me! I long for the day which shall make you a mother, that I may see you content with the fulness of your life, may hear you, in the sweet voice I love and with the thoughts, bless the love which has refreshed my soul and given new vigor to my powers, the love which is my pride, and whence I have drawn, as from a magic fountain, fresh life. Yes, I shall be all that you would have me. I shall take a leading part in the public life of the district, and on you shall fall the rays of a glory which will owe its existence to the desire of pleasing you."
So much for my pupil, dear! Do you suppose he could have written like this before? A year hence his style will have still further improved. Louis is now in his first transport; what I look forward to is the uniform and continuous sensation of content which ought to be the fruit of a happy marriage, when a man and woman, in perfect trust and mutual knowledge, have solved the problem of giving variety to the infinite. This is the task set before every true wife; the answer begins to dawn on me, and I shall not rest till I have made it mine.
You see that he fancies himself—vanity of men!—the chosen of my heart, just as though there were no legal bonds. Nevertheless, I have not yet got beyond that external attraction which gives us strength to put up with a good deal. Yet Louis is lovable; his temper is wonderfully even, and he performs, as a matter of course, acts on which most men would plume themselves. In short, if I do not love him, I shall find no difficulty in being good to him.
So here are my black hair and my black eyes—whose lashes act, according to you, like Venetian blinds—my commanding air, and my whole person, raised to the rank of sovereign power! Ten years hence, dear, why should we not both be laughing and gay in your Paris, whence I shall carry you off now and again to my beautiful oasis in Provence?
Oh! Louise, don't spoil the splendid future which awaits us both! Don't do the mad things with which you threaten me. My husband is a young man, prematurely old; why don't you marry some young-hearted graybeard in the Chamber of Peers? There lies your vocation.
XIV. THE DUC DE SORIA TO THE BARON DE MACUMER MADRID.
MY DEAR BROTHER,—You did not make me Duc de Soria in order that my actions should belie the name. How could I tolerate my happiness if I knew you to be a wanderer, deprived of the comforts which wealth everywhere commands? Neither Marie nor I will consent to marry till we hear that you have accepted the money which Urraca will hand over to you. These two millions are the fruit of your own savings and Marie's.
We have both prayed, kneeling before the same altar—and with what earnestness, God knows!—for your happiness. My dear brother, it cannot be that these prayers will remain unanswered. Heaven will send you the love which you seek, to be the consolation of your exile. Marie read your letter with tears, and is full of admiration for you. As for me, I consent, not for my own sake, but for that of the family. The King justified your expectations. Oh! that I might avenge you by letting him see himself, dwarfed before the scorn with which you flung him his toy, as you might toss a tiger its food.
The only thing I have taken for myself, dear brother, is my happiness. I have taken Marie. For this I shall always be beholden to you, as the creature to the Creator. There will be in my life and in Marie's one day not less glorious than our wedding day—it will be the day when we hear that your heart has found its mate, that a woman loves you as you ought to be, and would be, loved. Do not forget that if you live for us, we also live for you.
You can write to us with perfect confidence under cover to the Nuncio, sending your letters via Rome. The French ambassador at Rome will, no doubt, undertake to forward them to Monsignore Bemboni, at the State Secretary's office, whom our legate will have advised. No other way would be safe. Farewell, dear exile, dear despoiled one. Be proud at least of the happiness which you have brought to us, if you cannot be happy in it. God will doubtless hear our prayers, which are full of your name.
XV. LOUISE DE CHAULIEU TO MME. DE L'ESTORADE March.
Ah! my love, marriage is making a philosopher of you! Your darling face must, indeed, have been jaundiced when you wrote me those terrible views of human life and the duty of women. Do you fancy you will convert me to matrimony by your programme of subterranean labors?
Alas! is this then the outcome for you of our too-instructed dreams! We left Blois all innocent, armed with the pointed shafts of meditation, and, lo! the weapons of that purely ideal experience have turned against your own breast! If I did not know you for the purest and most angelic of created beings, I declare I should say that your calculations smack of vice. What, my dear, in the interest of your country home, you submit your pleasures to a periodic thinning, as you do your timber. Oh! rather let me perish in all the violence of the heart's storms than live in the arid atmosphere of your cautious arithmetic!
As girls, we were both unusually enlightened, because of the large amount of study we gave to our chosen subjects; but, my child, philosophy without love, or disguised under a sham love, is the most hideous of conjugal hypocrisies. I should imagine that even the biggest of fools might detect now and again the owl of wisdom squatting in your bower of roses—a ghastly phantom sufficient to put to flight the most promising of passions. You make your own fate, instead of waiting, a plaything in its hands.
We are each developing in strange ways. A large dose of philosophy to a grain of love is your recipe; a large dose of love to a grain of philosophy is mine. Why, Rousseau's Julie, whom I thought so learned, is a mere beginner to you. Woman's virtue, quotha! How you have weighed up life! Alas! I make fun of you, and, after all, perhaps you are right.
In one day you have made a holocaust of your youth and become a miser before your time. Your Louis will be happy, I daresay. If he loves you, of which I make no doubt, he will never find out, that, for the sake of your family, you are acting as a courtesan does for money; and certainly men seem to find happiness with them, judging by the fortunes they squander thus. A keen-sighted husband might no doubt remain in love with you, but what sort of gratitude could he feel in the long run for a woman who had made of duplicity a sort of moral armor, as indispensable as her stays?
Love, dear, is in my eyes the first principle of all the virtues, conformed to the divine likeness. Like all other first principles, it is not a matter of arithmetic; it is the Infinite in us. I cannot but think you have been trying to justify in your own eyes the frightful position of a girl, married to a man for whom she feels nothing more than esteem. You prate of duty, and make it your rule and measure; but surely to take necessity as the spring of action is the moral theory of atheism? To follow the impulse of love and feeling is the secret law of every woman's heart. You are acting a man's part, and your Louis will have to play the woman!
Oh! my dear, your letter has plunged me into an endless train of thought. I see now that the convent can never take the place of mother to a girl. I beg of you, my grand angel with the black eyes, so pure and proud, so serious and so pretty, do not turn away from these cries, which the first reading of your letter has torn from me! I have taken comfort in the thought that, while I was lamenting, love was doubtless busy knocking down the scaffolding of reason.
It may be that I shall do worse than you without any reasoning or calculations. Passion is an element in life bound to have a logic not less pitiless than yours.
Yesterday night I placed myself at the window as I was going to bed, to look at the sky, which was wonderfully clear. The stars were like silver nails, holding up a veil of blue. In the silence of the night I could hear some one breathing, and by the half-light of the stars I saw my Spaniard, perched like a squirrel on the branches of one of the trees lining the boulevard, and doubtless lost in admiration of my windows.
The first effect of this discovery was to make me withdraw into the room, my feet and hands quite limp and nerveless; but, beneath the fear, I was conscious of a delicious undercurrent of joy. I was overpowered but happy. Not one of those clever Frenchmen, who aspire to marry me, has had the brilliant idea of spending the night in an elm-tree at the risk of being carried off by the watch. My Spaniard has, no doubt, been there for some time. Ah! he won't give me any more lessons, he wants to receive them—well, he shall have one. If only he knew what I said to myself about his superficial ugliness! Others can philosophize besides you, Renee! It was horrid, I argued, to fall in love with a handsome man. Is it not practically avowing that the senses count for three parts out of four in a passion which ought to be super-sensual?
Having got over my first alarm, I craned my neck behind the window in order to see him again—and well was I rewarded! By means of a hollow cane he blew me in through the window a letter, cunningly rolled round a leaden pellet.
Good Heavens! will he suppose I left the window open on purpose?
But what was to be done? To shut it suddenly would be to make oneself an accomplice.
I did better. I returned to my window as though I had seen nothing and heard nothing of the letter, then I said aloud:
"Come and look at the stars, Griffith."
Griffith was sleeping as only old maids can. But the Moor, hearing me, slid down, and vanished with ghostly rapidity.
He must have been dying of fright, and so was I, for I did not hear him go away; apparently he remained at the foot of the elm. After a good quarter of an hour, during which I lost myself in contemplation of the heavens, and battled with the waves of curiosity, I closed my widow and sat down on the bed to unfold the delicate bit of paper, with the tender touch of a worker amongst the ancient manuscripts at Naples. It felt redhot to my fingers. "What a horrible power this man has over me!" I said to myself.
All at once I held out the paper to the candle—I would burn it without reading a word. Then a thought stayed me, "What can he have to say that he writes so secretly?" Well, dear, I did burn it, reflecting that, though any other girl in the world would have devoured the letter, it was not fitting that I—Armande-Louise-Marie de Chaulieu—should read it.
The next day, at the Italian opera, he was at his post. But I feel sure that, ex-prime minister of a constitutional government though he is, he could not discover the slightest agitation of mind in any movement of mine. I might have seen nothing and received nothing the evening before. This was most satisfactory to me, but he looked very sad. Poor man! in Spain it is so natural for love to come in at the window!
During the interval, it seems, he came and walked in the passages. This I learned from the chief secretary of the Spanish embassy, who also told the story of a noble action of his.
As Duc de Soria he was to marry one of the richest heiresses in Spain, the young princess Marie Heredia, whose wealth would have mitigated the bitterness of exile. But it seems that Marie, disappointing the wishes of the fathers, who had betrothed them in their earliest childhood, loved the younger son of the house of Soria, to whom my Felipe, gave her up. Allowing himself to be despoiled by the King of Spain.
"He would perform this piece of heroism quite simply," I said to the young man.
"You know him then?" was his ingenuous reply.
My mother smiled.
"What will become of him, for he is condemned to death?" I asked.
"Though dead to Spain, he can live in Sardinia."
"Ah! then Spain is the country of tombs as well as castles?" I said, trying to carry it off as a joke.
"There is everything in Spain, even Spaniards of the old school," my mother replied.
"The Baron de Macumer obtained a passport, not without difficulty, from the King of Sardinia," the young diplomatist went on. "He has now become a Sardinian subject, and he possesses a magnificent estate in the island with full feudal rights. He has a palace at Sassari. If Ferdinand VII. were to die, Macumer would probably go in for diplomacy, and the Court of Turin would make him ambassador. Though young, he is—"
"Ah! he is young?"
"Certainly, mademoiselle... though young, he is one of the most distinguished men in Spain."
I scanned the house meanwhile through my opera-glass, and seemed to lend an inattentive ear to the secretary; but, between ourselves, I was wretched at having burnt his letter. In what terms would a man like that express his love? For he does love me. To be loved, adored in secret; to know that in this house, where all the great men of Paris were collected, there was one entirely devoted to me, unknown to everybody! Ah! Renee, now I understand the life of Paris, its balls, and its gaieties. It all flashed on me in the true light. When we love, we must have society, were it only to sacrifice it to our love. I felt a different creature—and such a happy one! My vanity, pride, self-love,—all were flattered. Heaven knows what glances I cast upon the audience!
"Little rogue!" the Duchess whispered in my ear with a smile.
Yes, Renee, my wily mother had deciphered the hidden joy in my bearing, and I could only haul down my flag before such feminine strategy. Those two words taught me more of worldly wisdom than I have been able to pick up in a year—for we are in March now. Alas! no more Italian opera in another month. How will life be possible without that heavenly music, when one's heart is full of love?
When I got home, my dear, with determination worthy of a Chaulieu, I opened my window to watch a shower of rain. Oh! if men knew the magic spell that a heroic action throws over us, they would indeed rise to greatness! a poltroon would turn hero! What I had learned about my Spaniard drove me into a very fever. I felt certain that he was there, ready to aim another letter at me.
I was right, and this time I burnt nothing. Here, then, is the first love-letter I have received, madame logician: each to her kind:—
"Louise, it is not for your peerless beauty I love you, nor for your gifted mind, your noble feeling, the wondrous charm of all you say and do, nor yet for your pride, your queenly scorn of baser mortals—a pride blent in you with charity, for what angel could be more tender?—Louise, I love you because, for the sake of a poor exile, you have unbent this lofty majesty, because by a gesture, a glance, you have brought consolation to a man so far beneath you that the utmost he could hope for was your pity, the pity of a generous heart. You are the one woman whose eyes have shone with a tenderer light when bent on me.
"And because you let fall this glance—a mere grain of dust, yet a grace surpassing any bestowed on me when I stood at the summit of a subject's ambition—I long to tell you, Louise, how dear you are to me, and that my love is for yourself alone, without a thought beyond, a love that far more than fulfils the conditions laid down by you for an ideal passion.
"Know, then, idol of my highest heaven, that there is in the world an offshoot of the Saracen race, whose life is in your hands, who will receive your orders as a slave, and deem it an honor to execute them. I have given myself to you absolutely and for the mere joy of giving, for a single glance of your eye, for a touch of the hand which one day you offered to your Spanish master. I am but your servitor, Louise; I claim no more.
"No, I dare not think that I could ever be loved; but perchance my devotion may win for me toleration. Since that morning when you smiled upon me with generous girlish impulse, divining the misery of my lonely and rejected heart, you reign there alone. You are the absolute ruler of my life, the queen of my thoughts, the god of my heart; I find you in the sunshine of my home, the fragrance of my flowers, the balm of the air I breathe, the pulsing of my blood, the light that visits me in sleep.
"One thought alone troubled this happiness—your ignorance. All unknown to you was this boundless devotion, the trusty arm, the blind slave, the silent tool, the wealth—for henceforth all I possess is mine only as a trust—which lay at your disposal; unknown to you, the heart waiting to receive your confidence, and yearning to replace all that your life (I know it well) has lacked —the liberal ancestress, so ready to meet your needs, a father to whom you could look for protection in every difficulty, a friend, a brother. The secret of your isolation is no secret to me! If I am bold, it is because I long that you should know how much is yours.
"Take all, Louise, and is so doing bestow on me the one life possible for me in this world—the life of devotion. In placing the yoke on my neck, you run no risk; I ask nothing but the joy of knowing myself yours. Needless even to say you will never love me; it cannot be otherwise. I must love you from afar, without hope, without reward beyond my own love.
"In my anxiety to know whether you will accept me as your servant, I have racked my brain to find some way in which you may communicate with me without any danger of compromising yourself. Injury to your self-respect there can be none in sanctioning a devotion which has been yours for many days without your knowledge. Let this, then, be the token. At the opera this evening, if you carry in your hand a bouquet consisting of one red and one white camellia—emblem of a man's blood at the service of the purity he worships—that will be my answer. I ask no more; thenceforth, at any moment, ten years hence or to-morrow, whatever you demand shall be done, so far as it is possible for man to do it, by your happy servant,
P. S.—You must admit, dear, that great lords know how to love! See the spring of the African lion! What restrained fire! What loyalty! What sincerity! How high a soul in low estate! I felt quite small and dazed as I said to myself, "What shall I do?"
It is the mark of a great man that he puts to flight all ordinary calculations. He is at once sublime and touching, childlike and of the race of giants. In a single letter Henarez has outstripped volumes from Lovelace or Saint-Preux. Here is true love, no beating about the bush. Love may be or it may not, but where it is, it ought to reveal itself in its immensity.
Here am I, shorn of all my little arts! To refuse or accept! That is the alternative boldly presented me, without the ghost of an opening for a middle course. No fencing allowed! This is no longer Paris; we are in the heart of Spain or the far East. It is the voice of Abencerrage, and it is the scimitar, the horse, and the head of Abencerrage which he offers, prostrate before a Catholic Eve! Shall I accept this last descendant of the Moors? Read again and again his Hispano-Saracenic letter, Renee dear, and you will see how love makes a clean sweep of all the Judaic bargains of your philosophy.
Renee, your letter lies heavy on my heart; you have vulgarized life for me. What need have I for finessing? Am I not mistress for all time of this lion whose roar dies out in plaintive and adoring sighs? Ah! how he must have raged in his lair of the Rue Hillerin-Bertin! I know where he lives, I have his card: F., Baron de Macumer.
He has made it impossible for me to reply. All I can do is to fling two camellias in his face. What fiendish arts does love possess—pure, honest, simple-minded love! Here is the most tremendous crisis of a woman's heart resolved into an easy, simple action. Oh, Asia! I have read the Arabian Nights, here is their very essence: two flowers, and the question is settled. We clear the fourteen volumes of Clarissa Harlowe with a bouquet. I writhe before this letter, like a thread in the fire. To take, or not to take, my two camellias. Yes or No, kill or give life! At last a voice cries to me, "Test him!" And I will test him.
XVI. THE SAME TO THE SAME March.
I am dressed in white—white camellias in my hair, and another in my hand. My mother has red camellias; so it would not be impossible to take one from her—if I wished! I have a strange longing to put off the decision to the last moment, and make him pay for his red camellia by a little suspense.
What a vision of beauty! Griffith begged me to stop for a little and be admired. The solemn crisis of the evening and the drama of my secret reply have given me a color; on each cheek I sport a red camellia laid upon a white!
1 A. M.
Everybody admired me, but only one adored. He hung his head as I entered with a white camellia, but turned pale as the flower when, later, I took a red one from my mother's hand. To arrive with the two flowers might possibly have been accidental; but this deliberate action was a reply. My confession, therefore, is fuller than it need have been.
The opera was Romeo and Juliet. As you don't know the duet of the two lovers, you can't understand the bliss of two neophytes in love, as they listen to this divine outpouring of the heart.
On returning home I went to bed, but only to count the steps which resounded on the sidewalk. My heart and head, darling, are all on fire now. What is he doing? What is he thinking of? Has he a thought, a single thought, that is not of me? Is he, in very truth, the devoted slave he painted himself? How to be sure? Or, again, has it ever entered his head that, if I accept him, I lay myself open to the shadow of a reproach or am in any sense rewarding or thanking him? I am harrowed by the hair-splitting casuistry of the heroines in Cyrus and Astraea, by all the subtle arguments of the court of love.
Has he any idea that, in affairs of love, a woman's most trifling actions are but the issue of long brooding and inner conflicts, of victories won only to be lost! What are his thoughts at this moment? How can I give him my orders to write every evening the particulars of the day just gone? He is my slave whom I ought to keep busy. I shall deluge him with work!
Only towards morning did I sleep a little. It is midday now. I have just got Griffith to write the following letter:
"To the Baron de Macumer.
"Mademoiselle de Chaulieu begs me, Monsieur le Baron, to ask you to return to her the copy of a letter written to her by a friend, which is in her own handwriting, and which you carried away.— Believe me, etc.,
My dear, Griffith has gone out; she has gone to the Rue Hillerin-Bertin; she had handed in this little love-letter for my slave, who returned to me in an envelope my sweet portrait, stained with tears. He has obeyed. Oh! my sweet, it must have been dear to him! Another man would have refused to send it in a letter full of flattery; but the Saracen has fulfilled his promises. He has obeyed. It moves me to tears.
XVII. THE SAME TO THE SAME April 2nd.
Yesterday the weather was splendid. I dressed myself like a girl who wants to look her best in her sweetheart's eyes. My father, yielding to my entreaties, has given me the prettiest turnout in Paris—two dapple-gray horses and a barouche, which is a masterpiece of elegance. I was making a first trial of this, and peeped out like a flower from under my sunshade lined with white silk.
As I drove up the avenue of the Champs-Elysees, I saw my Abencerrage approaching on an extraordinarily beautiful horse. Almost every man nowadays is a finished jockey, and they all stopped to admire and inspect it. He bowed to me, and on receiving a friendly sign of encouragement, slackened his horse's pace so that I was able to say to him:
"You are not vexed with me for asking for my letter; it was no use to you." Then in a lower voice, "You have already transcended the ideal. ... Your horse makes you an object of general interest," I went on aloud.
"My steward in Sardinia sent it to me. He is very proud of it; for this horse, which is of Arab blood, was born in my stables."
This morning, my dear, Henarez was on an English sorrel, also very fine, but not such as to attract attention. My light, mocking words had done their work. He bowed to me and I replied with a slight inclination of the head.
The Duc d'Angouleme has bought Macumer's horse. My slave understood that he was deserting the role of simplicity by attracting the notice of the crowd. A man ought to be remarked for what he is, not for his horse, or anything else belonging to him. To have too beautiful a horse seems to me a piece of bad taste, just as much as wearing a huge diamond pin. I was delighted at being able to find fault with him. Perhaps there may have been a touch of vanity in what he did, very excusable in a poor exile, and I like to see this childishness.
Oh! my dear old preacher, do my love affairs amuse you as much as your dismal philosophy gives me the creeps? Dear Philip the Second in petticoats, are you comfortable in my barouche? Do you see those velvet eyes, humble, yet so eloquent, and glorying in their servitude, which flash on me as some one goes by? He is a hero, Renee, and he wears my livery, and always a red camellia in his buttonhole, while I have always a white one in my hand.
How clear everything becomes in the light of love! How well I know my Paris now! It is all transfused with meaning. And love here is lovelier, grander, more bewitching than elsewhere.
I am convinced now that I could never flirt with a fool or make any impression on him. It is only men of real distinction who can enter into our feelings and feel our influence. Oh! my poor friend, forgive me. I forgot our l'Estorade. But didn't you tell me you were going to make a genius of him? I know what that means. You will dry nurse him till some day he is able to understand you.
Good-bye. I am a little off my head, and must stop.
XVIII. MME. DE L'ESTORADE TO LOUISE DE CHAULIEU April.
My angel—or ought I not rather to say my imp of evil?—you have, without meaning it, grieved me sorely. I would say wounded were we not one soul. And yet it is possible to wound oneself.
How plain it is that you have never realized the force of the word indissoluble as applied to the contract binding man and woman! I have no wish to controvert what has been laid down by philosophers or legislators—they are quite capable of doing this for themselves—but, dear one, in making marriage irrevocable and imposing on it a relentless formula, which admits of no exceptions, they have rendered each union a thing as distinct as one individual is from another. Each has its own inner laws which differ from those of others. The laws regulating married life in the country, for instance, cannot be the same as those regulating a household in town, where frequent distractions give variety to life. Or conversely, married life in Paris, where existence is one perpetual whirl, must demand different treatment from the more peaceful home in the provinces.
But if place alters the conditions of marriage, much more does character. The wife of a man born to be a leader need only resign herself to his guidance; whereas the wife of a fool, conscious of superior power, is bound to take the reins in her own hand if she would avert calamity.
You speak of vice; and it is possible that, after all, reason and reflection produce a result not dissimilar from what we call by that name. For what does a woman mean by it but perversion of feeling through calculation? Passion is vicious when it reasons, admirable only when it springs from the heart and spends itself in sublime impulses that set at naught all selfish considerations. Sooner or later, dear one, you too will say, "Yes! dissimulation is the necessary armor of a woman, if by dissimulation be meant courage to bear in silence, prudence to foresee the future."
Every married woman learns to her cost the existence of certain social laws, which, in many respects, conflict with the laws of nature. Marrying at our age, it would be possible to have a dozen children. What is this but another name for a dozen crimes, a dozen misfortunes? It would be handing over to poverty and despair twelve innocent darlings; whereas two children would mean the happiness of both, a double blessing, two lives capable of developing in harmony with the customs and laws of our time. The natural law and the code are in hostility, and we are the battle ground. Would you give the name of vice to the prudence of the wife who guards her family from destruction through its own acts? One calculation or a thousand, what matter, if the decision no longer rests with the heart?
And of this terrible calculation you will be guilty some day, my noble Baronne de Macumer, when you are the proud and happy wife of the man who adores you; or rather, being a man of sense, he will spare you by making it himself. (You see, dear dreamer, that I have studied the code in its bearings on conjugal relations.) And when at last that day comes, you will understand that we are answerable only to God and to ourselves for the means we employ to keep happiness alight in the heart of our homes. Far better is the calculation which succeeds in this than the reckless passion which introduces trouble, heart-burnings, and dissension.
I have reflected painfully on the duties of a wife and mother of a family. Yes, sweet one, it is only by a sublime hypocrisy that we can attain the noblest ideal of a perfect woman. You tax me with insincerity because I dole out to Louis, from day to day, the measure of his intimacy with me; but is it not too close an intimacy which provokes rupture? My aim is to give him, in the very interest of his happiness, many occupations, which will all serve as distractions to his love; and this is not the reasoning of passion. If affection be inexhaustible, it is not so with love: the task, therefore, of a woman—truly no light one—is to spread it out thriftily over a lifetime.
At the risk of exciting your disgust, I must tell you that I persist in the principles I have adopted, and hold myself both heroic and generous in so doing. Virtue, my pet, is an abstract idea, varying in its manifestations with the surroundings. Virtue in Provence, in Constantinople, in London, and in Paris bears very different fruit, but is none the less virtue. Each human life is a substance compacted of widely dissimilar elements, though, viewed from a certain height, the general effect is the same.
If I wished to make Louis unhappy and to bring about a separation, all I need do is to leave the helm in his hands. I have not had your good fortune in meeting with a man of the highest distinction, but I may perhaps have the satisfaction of helping him on the road to it. Five years hence let us meet in Paris and see! I believe we shall succeed in mystifying you. You will tell me then that I was quite mistaken, and that M. de l'Estorade is a man of great natural gifts.
As for this brave love, of which I know only what you tell me, these tremors and night watches by starlight on the balcony, this idolatrous worship, this deification of woman—I knew it was not for me. You can enlarge the borders of your brilliant life as you please; mine is hemmed in to the boundaries of La Crampade.
And you reproach me for the jealous care which alone can nurse this modest and fragile shoot into a wealth of lasting and mysterious happiness! I believed myself to have found out how to adapt the charm of a mistress to the position of a wife, and you have almost made me blush for my device. Who shall say which of us is right, which is wrong? Perhaps we are both right and both wrong. Perhaps this is the heavy price which society exacts for our furbelows, our titles, and our children.
I too have my red camellias, but they bloom on my lips in smiles for my double charge—the father and the son—whose slave and mistress I am. But, my dear, your last letters made me feel what I have lost! You have taught me all a woman sacrifices in marrying. One single glance did I take at those beautiful wild plateaus where you range at your sweet will, and I will not tell you the tears that fell as I read. But regret is not remorse, though it may be first cousin to it.
You say, "Marriage has made you a philosopher!" Alas! bitterly did I feel how far this was from the truth, as I wept to think of you swept away on love's torrent. But my father has made me read one of the profoundest thinkers of these parts, the man on whom the mantle of Boussuet has fallen, one of those hard-headed theorists whose words force conviction. While you were reading Corinne, I conned Bonald; and here is the whole secret of my philosophy. He revealed to me the Family in its strength and holiness. According to Bonald, your father was right in his homily.
Farewell, my dear fancy, my friend, my wild other self.
XIX. LOUISE DE CHAULIEU TO MME. DE L'ESTORADE
Well, my Renee, you are a love of a woman, and I quite agree now that we can only be virtuous by cheating. Will that satisfy you? Moreover, the man who loves us is our property; we can make a fool or a genius of him as we please; only, between ourselves, the former happens more commonly. You will make yours a genius, and you won't tell the secret—there are two heroic actions, if you will!
Ah! if there were no future life, how nicely you would be sold, for this is martyrdom into which you are plunging of your own accord. You want to make him ambitious and to keep him in love! Child that you are, surely the last alone is sufficient.
Tell me, to what point is calculation a virtue, or virtue calculation? You won't say? Well, we won't quarrel over that, since we have Bonald to refer to. We are, and intend to remain, virtuous; nevertheless at this moment I believe that you, with all your pretty little knavery, are a better woman than I am.
Yes, I am shockingly deceitful. I love Felipe, and I conceal it from him with an odious hypocrisy. I long to see him leap from his tree to the top of the wall, and from the wall to my balcony—and if he did, how I should wither him with my scorn! You see, I am frank enough with you.
What restrains me? Where is the mysterious power which prevents me from telling Felipe, dear fellow, how supremely happy he has made me by the outpouring of his love—so pure, so absolute, so boundless, so unobtrusive, and so overflowing?
Mme. de Mirbel is painting my portrait, and I intend to give it to him, my dear. What surprises me more and more every day is the animation which love puts into life. How full of interest is every hour, every action, every trifle! and what amazing confusion between the past, the future, and the present! One lives in three tenses at once. Is it still so after the heights of happiness are reached? Oh! tell me, I implore you, what is happiness? Does it soothe, or does it excite? I am horribly restless; I seem to have lost all my bearings; a force in my heart drags me to him, spite of reason and spite of propriety. There is this gain, that I am better able to enter into your feelings.
Felipe's happiness consists in feeling himself mine; the aloofness of his love, his strict obedience, irritate me, just as his attitude of profound respect provoked me when he was only my Spanish master. I am tempted to cry out to him as he passes, "Fool, if you love me so much as a picture, what will it be when you know the real me?"
Oh! Renee, you burn my letters, don't you? I will burn yours. If other eyes than ours were to read these thoughts which pass from heart to heart, I should send Felipe to put them out, and perhaps to kill the owners, by way of additional security.
Oh! Renee, how is it possible to fathom the heart of man? My father ought to introduce me to M. Bonald, since he is so learned; I would ask him. I envy the privilege of God, who can read the undercurrents of the heart.
Does he still worship? That is the whole question.
If ever, in gesture, glance, or tone, I were to detect the slightest falling off in the respect he used to show me in the days when he was my instructor in Spanish, I feel that I should have strength to put the whole thing from me. "Why these fine words, these grand resolutions?" you will say. Dear, I will tell you.
My fascinating father, who treats me with the devotion of an Italian cavaliere servente for his lady, had my portrait painted, as I told you, by Mme. de Mirbel. I contrived to get a copy made, good enough to do for the Duke, and sent the original to Felipe. I despatched it yesterday, and these lines with it:
"Don Felipe, your single-hearted devotion is met by a blind confidence. Time will show whether this is not to treat a man as more than human."
It was a big reward. It looked like a promise and—dreadful to say—a challenge; but—which will seem to you still more dreadful—I quite intended that it should suggest both these things, without going so far as actually to commit me. If in his reply there is "Dear Louise!" or even "Louise," he is done for!
No, he is not done for. The constitutional minister is perfect as a lover. Here is his letter:—
"Every moment passed away from your sight has been filled by me with ideal pictures of you, my eyes closed to the outside world and fixed in meditation on your image, which used to obey the summons too slowly in that dim palace of dreams, glorified by your presence. Henceforth my gaze will rest upon this wondrous ivory— this talisman, might I not say?—since your blue eyes sparkle with life as I look, and paint passes into flesh and blood. If I have delayed writing, it is because I could not tear myself away from your presence, which wrung from me all that I was bound to keep most secret.
"Yes, closeted with you all last night and to-day, I have, for the first time in my life, given myself up to full, complete, and boundless happiness. Could you but see yourself where I have placed you, between the Virgin and God, you might have some idea of the agony in which the night has passed. But I would not offend you by speaking of it; for one glance from your eyes, robbed of the tender sweetness which is my life, would be full of torture for me, and I implore your clemency therefore in advance. Queen of my life and of my soul, oh! that you could grant me but one- thousandth part of the love I bear you!
"This was the burden of my prayer; doubt worked havoc in my soul as I oscillated between belief and despair, between life and death, darkness and light. A criminal whose verdict hangs in the balance is not more racked with suspense than I, as I own to my temerity. The smile imaged on your lips, to which my eyes turned ever and again, and alone able to calm the storm roused by the dread of displeasing you. From my birth no one, not even my mother, has smiled on me. The beautiful young girl who was designed for me rejected my heart and gave hers to my brother. Again, in politics all my efforts have been defeated. In the eyes of my king I have read only thirst for vengeance; from childhood he has been my enemy, and the vote of the Cortes which placed me in power was regarded by him as a personal insult.
"Less than this might breed despondency in the stoutest heart. Besides, I have no illusion; I know the gracelessness of my person, and am well aware how difficult it is to do justice to the heart within so rugged a shell. To be loved had ceased to be more than a dream to me when I met you. Thus when I bound myself to your service I knew that devotion alone could excuse my passion.
"But, as I look upon this portrait and listen to your smile that whispers of rapture, the rays of a hope which I had sternly banished pierced the gloom, like the light of dawn, again to be obscured by rising mists of doubt and fear of your displeasure, if the morning should break to day. No, it is impossible you should love me yet—I feel it; but in time, as you make proof of the strength, the constancy, and depth of my affection, you may yield me some foothold in your heart. If my daring offends you, tell me so without anger, and I will return to my former part. But if you consent to try and love me, be merciful and break it gently to one who has placed the happiness of his life in the single thought of serving you."
My dear, as I read these last words, he seemed to rise before me, pale as the night when the camellias told their story and he knew his offering was accepted. These words, in their humility, were clearly something quite different from the usual flowery rhetoric of lovers, and a wave of feeling broke over me; it was the breath of happiness.
The weather has been atrocious; impossible to go to the Bois without exciting all sorts of suspicions. Even my mother, who often goes out, regardless of rain, remains at home, and alone.
I have just seen him at the Opera, my dear; he is another man. He came to our box, introduced by the Sardinian ambassador.
Having read in my eyes that this audacity was taken in good part, he seemed awkwardly conscious of his limbs, and addressed the Marquise d'Espard as "mademoiselle." A light far brighter than the glare of the chandeliers flashed from his eyes. At last he went out with the air of a man who didn't know what he might do next.
"The Baron de Macumer is in love!" exclaimed Mme. de Maufrigneuse.
"Strange, isn't it, for a fallen minister?" replied my mother.
I had sufficient presence of mind myself to regard with curiosity Mmes. de Maufrigneuse and d'Espard and my mother, as though they were talking a foreign language and I wanted to know what it was all about, but inwardly my soul sank in the waves of an intoxicating joy. There is only one word to express what I felt, and that is: rapture. Such love as Felipe's surely makes him worthy of mine. I am the very breath of his life, my hands hold the thread that guides his thoughts. To be quite frank, I have a mad longing to see him clear every obstacle and stand before me, asking boldly for my hand. Then I should know whether this storm of love would sink to placid calm at a glance from me.
Ah! my dear, I stopped here, and I am still all in a tremble. As I wrote, I heard a slight noise outside, and rose to see what it was. From my window I could see him coming along the ridge of the wall at the risk of his life. I went to the bedroom window and made him a sign, it was enough; he leaped from the wall—ten feet—and then ran along the road, as far as I could see him, in order to show me that he was not hurt. That he should think of my fear at the moment when he must have been stunned by his fall, moved me so much that I am still crying; I don't know why. Poor ungainly man! what was he coming for? what had he to say to me?
I dare not write my thoughts, and shall go to bed joyful, thinking of all that we would say if we were together. Farewell, fair silent one. I have not time to scold you for not writing, but it is more than a month since I have heard from you! Does this mean that you are at last happy? Have you lost the "complete independence" which you were so proud of, and which to-night has so nearly played me false?
XX. RENEE DE L'ESTORADE TO LOUISE DE CHAULIEU May.
If love be the life of the world, why do austere philosophers count it for nothing in marriage? Why should Society take for its first law that the woman must be sacrificed to the family, introducing thus a note of discord into the very heart of marriage? And this discord was foreseen, since it was to meet the dangers arising from it that men were armed with new-found powers against us. But for these, we should have been able to bring their whole theory to nothing, whether by the force of love or of a secret, persistent aversion.
I see in marriage, as it at present exists, two opposing forces which it was the task of the lawgiver to reconcile. "When will they be reconciled?" I said to myself, as I read your letter. Oh! my dear, one such letter alone is enough to overthrow the whole fabric constructed by the sage of Aveyron, under whose shelter I had so cheerfully ensconced myself! The laws were made by old men—any woman can see that—and they have been prudent enough to decree that conjugal love, apart from passion, is not degrading, and that a woman in yielding herself may dispense with the sanction of love, provided the man can legally call her his. In their exclusive concern for the family they have imitated Nature, whose one care is to propagate the species.
Formerly I was a person, now I am a chattel. Not a few tears have I gulped down, alone and far from every one. How gladly would I have exchanged them for a consoling smile! Why are our destinies so unequal? Your soul expands in the atmosphere of a lawful passion. For you, virtue will coincide with pleasure. If you encounter pain, it will be of your own free choice. Your duty, if you marry Felipe, will be one with the sweetest, freest indulgence of feeling. Our future is big with the answer to my question, and I look for it with restless eagerness.
You love and are adored. Oh! my dear, let this noble romance, the old subject of our dreams, take full possession of your soul. Womanly beauty, refined and spiritualized in you, was created by God, for His own purposes, to charm and to delight. Yes, my sweet, guard well the secret of your heart, and submit Felipe to those ingenious devices of ours for testing a lover's metal. Above all, make trial of your own love, for this is even more important. It is so easy to be misled by the deceptive glamour of novelty and passion, and by the vision of happiness.
Alone of the two friends, you remain in your maiden independence; and I beseech you, dearest, do not risk the irrevocable step of marriage without some guarantee. It happens sometimes, when two are talking together, apart from the world, their souls stripped of social disguise, that a gesture, a word, a look lights up, as by a flash, some dark abyss. You have courage and strength to tread boldly in paths where others would be lost.
You have no conception in what anxiety I watch you. Across all this space I see you; my heart beats with yours. Be sure, therefore, to write and tell me everything. Your letters create an inner life of passion within my homely, peaceful household, which reminds me of a level highroad on a gray day. The only event here, my sweet, is that I am playing cross-purposes with myself. But I don't want to tell you about it just now; it must wait for another day. With dogged obstinacy, I pass from despair to hope, now yielding, now holding back. It may be that I ask from life more than we have a right to claim. In youth we are so ready to believe that the ideal and the real will harmonize!
I have been pondering alone, seated beneath a rock in my park, and the fruit of my pondering is that love in marriage is a happy accident on which it is impossible to base a universal law. My Aveyron philosopher is right in looking on the family as the only possible unit in society, and in placing woman in subjection to the family, as she has been in all ages. The solution of this great—for us almost awful—question lies in our first child. For this reason, I would gladly be a mother, were it only to supply food for the consuming energy of my soul.
Louis' temper remains as perfect as ever; his love is of the active, my tenderness of the passive, type. He is happy, plucking the flowers which bloom for him, without troubling about the labor of the earth which has produced them. Blessed self-absorption! At whatever cost to myself, I fall in with his illusions, as a mother, in my idea of her, should be ready to spend herself to satisfy a fancy of her child. The intensity of his joy blinds him, and even throws its reflection upon me. The smile or look of satisfaction which the knowledge of his content brings to my face is enough to satisfy him. And so, "my child" is the pet name which I give him when we are alone.
And I wait for the fruit of all these sacrifices which remain a secret between God, myself, and you. On motherhood I have staked enormously; my credit account is now too large, I fear I shall never receive full payment. To it I look for employment of my energy, expansion of my heart, and the compensation of a world of joys. Pray Heaven I be not deceived! It is a question of all my future and, horrible thought, of my virtue.
XXI. LOUISE DE CHAULIEU TO RENEE DE L'ESTORADE June.
Dear wedded sweetheart,—Your letter has arrived at the very moment to hearten me for a bold step which I have been meditating night and day. I feel within me a strange craving for the unknown, or, if you will, the forbidden, which makes me uneasy and reveals a conflict in progress in my soul between the laws of society and of nature. I cannot tell whether nature in me is the stronger of the two, but I surprise myself in the act of meditating between the hostile powers.
In plain words, what I wanted was to speak with Felipe, alone, at night, under the lime-trees at the bottom of our garden. There is no denying that this desire beseems the girl who has earned the epithet of an "up-to-date young lady," bestowed on me by the Duchess in jest, and which my father has approved.
Yet to me there seems a method in this madness. I should recompense Felipe for the long nights he has passed under my window, at the same time that I should test him, by seeing what he thinks of my escapade and how he comports himself at a critical moment. Let him cast a halo round my folly—behold in him my husband; let him show one iota less of the tremulous respect with which he bows to me in the Champs-Elysees—farewell, Don Felipe.
As for society, I run less risk in meeting my lover thus than when I smile to him in the drawing-rooms of Mme. de Maufrigneuse and the old Marquise de Beauseant, where spies now surround us on every side; and Heaven only knows how people stare at the girl, suspected of a weakness for a grotesque, like Macumer.
I cannot tell you to what a state of agitation I am reduced by dreaming of this idea, and the time I have given to planning its execution. I wanted you badly. What happy hours we should have chattered away, lost in the mazes of uncertainty, enjoying in anticipation all the delights and horrors of a first meeting in the silence of night, under the noble lime-trees of the Chaulieu mansion, with the moonlight dancing through the leaves! As I sat alone, every nerve tingling, I cried, "Oh! Renee, where are you?" Then your letter came, like a match to gunpowder, and my last scruples went by the board.
Through the window I tossed to my bewildered adorer an exact tracing of the key of the little gate at the end of the garden, together with this note:
"Your madness must really be put a stop to. If you broke your neck, you would ruin the reputation of the woman you profess to love. Are you worthy of a new proof of regard, and do you deserve that I should talk with you under the limes at the foot of the garden at the hour when the moon throws them into shadow?"
Yesterday at one o'clock, when Griffith was going to bed, I said to her:
"Take your shawl, dear, and come out with me. I want to go to the bottom of the garden without anyone knowing."
Without a word, she followed me. Oh! my Renee, what an awful moment when, after a little pause full of delicious thrills of agony, I saw him gliding along like a shadow. When he had reached the garden safely, I said to Griffith:
"Don't be astonished, but the Baron de Macumer is here, and, indeed, it is on that account I brought you with me."
No reply from Griffith.
"What would you have with me?" said Felipe, in a tone of such agitation that it was easy to see he was driven beside himself by the noise, slight as it was, of our dresses in the silence of the night and of our steps upon the gravel.
"I want to say to you what I could not write," I replied.
Griffith withdrew a few steps. It was one of those mild nights, when the air is heavy with the scent of flowers. My head swam with the intoxicating delight of finding myself all but alone with him in the friendly shade of the lime-trees, beyond which lay the garden, shining all the more brightly because the white facade of the house reflected the moonlight. The contrast seemed, as it were, an emblem of our clandestine love leading up to the glaring publicity of a wedding. Neither of us could do more at first than drink in silently the ecstasy of a moment, as new and marvelous for him as for me. At last I found tongue to say, pointing to the elm-tree:
"Although I am not afraid of scandal, you shall not climb that tree again. We have long enough played schoolboy and schoolgirl, let us rise now to the height of our destiny. Had that fall killed you, I should have died disgraced..."
I looked at him. Every scrap of color had left his face.
"And if you had been found there, suspicion would have attached either to my mother or to me..."
"Forgive me," he murmured.
"If you walk along the boulevard, I shall hear your step; and when I want to see you, I will open my window. But I would not run such a risk unless some emergency arose. Why have you forced me by your rash act to commit another, and one which may lower me in your eyes?"
The tears which I saw in his eyes were to me the most eloquent of answers.
"What I have done to-night," I went on with a smile, "must seem to you the height of madness..."
After we had walked up and down in silence more than once, he recovered composure enough to say:
"You must think me a fool; and, indeed, the delirium of my joy has robbed me of both nerve and wits. But of this at least be assured, whatever you do is sacred in my eyes from the very fact that it seemed right to you. I honor you as I honor only God besides. And then, Miss Griffith is here."
"She is here for the sake of the others, not for us," I put in hastily.
My dear, he understood me at once.
"I know very well," he said, with the humblest glance at me, "that whether she is there or not makes no difference. Unseen of men, we are still in the presence of God, and our own esteem is not less important to us than that of the world."
"Thank you, Felipe," I said, holding out my hand to him with a gesture which you ought to see. "A woman, and I am nothing, if not a woman, is on the road to loving the man who understands her. Oh! only on the road," I went on, with a finger on my lips. "Don't let your hopes carry you beyond what I say. My heart will belong only to the man who can read it and know its every turn. Our views, without being absolutely identical, must be the same in their breadth and elevation. I have no wish to exaggerate my own merits; doubtless what seem virtues in my eyes have their corresponding defects. All I can say is, I should be heartbroken without them."
"Having first accepted me as your servant, you now permit me to love you," he said, trembling and looking in my face at each word. "My first prayer has been more than answered."
"But," I hastened to reply, "your position seems to me a better one than mine. I should not object to change places, and this change it lies with you to bring about."
"In my turn, I thank you," he replied. "I know the duties of a faithful lover. It is mine to prove that I am worthy of you; the trials shall be as long as you choose to make them. If I belie your hopes, you have only—God! that I should say it—to reject me."
"I know that you love me," I replied. "So far," with a cruel emphasis on the words, "you stand first in my regard. Otherwise you would not be here."
Then we began to walk up and down as we talked, and I must say that so soon as my Spaniard had recovered himself he put forth the genuine eloquence of the heart. It was not passion it breathed, but a marvelous tenderness of feeling which he beautifully compared to the divine love. His thrilling voice, which lent an added charm to thoughts, in themselves so exquisite, reminded me of the nightingale's note. He spoke low, using only the middle tones of a fine instrument, and words flowed upon words with the rush of a torrent. It was the overflow of the heart.
"No more," I said, "or I shall not be able to tear myself away."
And with a gesture I dismissed him.
"You have committed yourself now, mademoiselle," said Griffith.
"In England that might be so, but not in France," I replied with nonchalance. "I intend to make a love match, and am feeling my way—that is all."
You see, dear, as love did not come to me, I had to do as Mahomet did with the mountain.
Once more I have seen my slave. He has become very timid, and puts on an air of pious devotion, which I like, for it seems to say that he feels my power and fascination in every fibre. But nothing in his look or manner can rouse in these society sibyls any suspicion of the boundless love which I see. Don't suppose though, dear, that I am carried away, mastered, tamed; on the contrary, the taming, mastering, and carrying away are on my side...
In short, I am quite capable of reason. Oh! to feel again the terror of that fascination in which I was held by the schoolmaster, the plebeian, the man I kept at a distance!
The fact is that love is of two kinds—one which commands, and one which obeys. The two are quite distinct, and the passion to which the one gives rise is not the passion of the other. To get her full of life, perhaps a woman ought to have experience of both. Can the two passions ever co-exist? Can the man in whom we inspire love inspire it in us? Will the day ever come when Felipe is my master? Shall I tremble then, as he does now? These are questions which make me shudder.