It was there we were to separate definitively. We gave our directions to her courier, and hurried over the adieux for fear of increasing her illness by prolonging such painful emotions, as one who with an unflinching hand hastily bares a wound to spare the sufferer. My friend left for my father's country house, whither I was to follow the next day.
Louis was no sooner gone than I felt quite unable to keep my word. I could not rest under the idea of leaving Julie in tears, to prosecute her long winter journey with only the care of servants, and the thought that she might fall ill in some lonely inn, and die while calling for me in vain, was unbearable. I had no money left; a good old man who had once lent me twenty-five louis had died during my absence. I took my watch, a gold chain that one of my mother's friends had given me three years before, some trinkets, my epaulets, my sword, and the gold lace off my uniform, wrapped them all in my cloak, and went to my mother's jeweller, who gave me thirty-five louis for the whole. From thence, I hurried to the inn where Julie slept, and called her courier; I told him I should follow the carriage at a distance to the gates of Paris, but that I did not wish his mistress to know it, for fear she should object to it, out of consideration to me. I inquired the names of the towns and the hotels where he intended to stay on the road, in order that I might stop in the same towns, but stay at other hotels. I rewarded him by anticipation and liberally for his secrecy, then ran to the post house, ordered horses, and set off half an hour after the departure of the carriage I wished to follow.
No unforeseen obstacles counteracted the mysterious watchfulness which I exercised, though still invisible. The courier gave notice secretly to the postilions of the approach of another caleche, and, as he ordered horses for me, I always found the relays ready. I accelerated or slackened my speed according as I wished to keep at a distance, or to come nearer to the first carriage, and always questioned the postilions respecting the health of the young lady they had just driven. From the top of the hills I could see, far down in the plain, the carriage speeding through fog or sunshine, and bearing away my happiness. My thoughts outstripped the horses; in fancy I entered the carriage and saw Julie asleep, dreaming perhaps of me, or awake, and weeping over our bright days forever flown. When I closed my eyes, to see her better, I fancied I heard her breathe. I can scarcely now comprehend that I had strength of mind and self-denial enough to resist during a journey of one hundred and twenty leagues the impulse that unceasingly impelled me towards that carriage which I followed without attempting to overtake; my whole soul went with it, and my body alone, insensible to the snow and sleet, followed, and was jolted, tossed and swung about, without the least consciousness of its own sufferings. But the fear of causing Julie an unexpected shock which might prove fatal or of renewing a heartrending scene of separation, repelled me, and the idea of watching over her safety like a loving Providence, and with angel-like disinterestedness, nailed me to my resolution.
The first time, she got down at the great Hotel of Autun, and I, in a little inn of the faubourg close by. Before daylight the two carriages, within sight of each other, were once more running along the white and winding road, through the gray plains and druidical oak forests of Upper Burgundy. We stopped in the little town of Avalon,—she in the centre, and I at the extremity of the town. The next day we were rolling on towards Sens. The snow which the north wind had accumulated on the barren heights of Lucy-le-Bois and of Vermanton, fell in half-melted flakes on the road, and smothered the sound of the wheels. One could scarcely distinguish the misty horizon at the distance of a few feet, through the whirling cloud of snow that the wind drifted from the adjoining fields. It was no longer possible, by sight or sound, to judge of the distance between the two carriages. Suddenly I perceived in front, almost touching my horses' heads, Julie's carriage, which was drawn up in the middle of the road. The courier had alighted, and was standing on the steps calling out for help and making signs of distress. I leaped out and flew to the carriage, by a first impulse stronger than prudence; I jumped inside, and saw the maid striving to recall her mistress from a fainting fit brought on by the weather and fatigue, and perhaps by the storms of the heart. The courier ran to fetch warm water from the distant cottages, and the maid rubbed her mistress's cold feet in her hands, or pressed them to her bosom to warm them. Oh, what I felt, as I held that adored form in my arms during one long hour of insensibility, desiring that she should hear, and dreading lest she should recognize, my voice, which recalled her to life, none can conceive or describe, unless they, too, have felt life and death thus struggling in their hearts.
At last our tender care, the application of the hot-water bottles which had been brought by the courier, and the warmth of my hands on hers, recalled heat to the extremities. The color which began to appear in her cheeks, and a long and feeble sigh which escaped her lips, indicated her return to life. I jumped out on the road, so that she might not see me when she opened her eyes, and remained there, behind the carriage, my face muffled up in my cloak. I desired the servants to make no mention of my sudden appearance. They soon made a sign to me that she was recovering consciousness, and I heard her voice stammer forth these words, as if in a dream: "Oh, if Raphael were here! I thought it was Raphael!" I hastily returned to my own carriage; the horses started afresh, and a wide distance soon lay between us. In the evening I went to inquire after her at the inn where she had alighted at Sens. I was told that she was quite well, and was sleeping soundly.
I followed in her track as far as Fossard, a stage near the little town of Montereau; there the road from Sens to Paris branches off in two directions,—one branch passing through Fontainebleau, the other through Melun. This latter being shorter by several leagues, I followed it in order to precede Julie by a few hours in Paris, and see her get down at her own door. I paid the postilions double, and arrived long before dark at the hotel where I was accustomed to put up in Paris. At nightfall I stationed myself on the quay opposite to Julie's house, that she had so often described to me; I knew it as if I had lived there all my life. I observed through the windows that hurrying to and fro of shadows within, which one sees in a house where some new guest is expected. I could see on the ceiling of her room the reflection of the fire which had been lighted on the hearth. An old man's face showed itself several times at the window, and appeared to watch and listen to the noises of the quay. It was her husband,—her second father. The concierge held the door open, and stepped out from time to time, to watch and listen likewise. Now and then a pale and rapid gleam of light from the street lamp, which swung backwards and forwards with the gusty wind of December, shot athwart the pavement before the house, and then left it in darkness. At last a travelling carriage swept around the corner of one of the streets which lead to the quay, and stopped before the house. I darted forward and half-concealed myself in the shade of a column at the next door to that at which the carriage stopped. I saw the servants rush to the door. I saw Julie alight, and saw the old man embrace her, as a father embraces his child after a long absence; he then walked heavily upstairs, leaning on the arm of the concierge. The carriage was unpacked, the postilion drove it round to another street to put it up, the door was closed. I returned to my post near the parapet on the river side.
I stood a long while contemplating from thence the lighted windows of Julie's house, and sought to discover what was going on inside. I saw the usual stir of an arrival, busy people carrying trunks, unpacking parcels, and setting all things in order; when this bustle had a little subsided, when the lights no longer ran backwards and forwards from room to room, and that the old man's room alone was lighted by the pale rays of a night lamp, I could distinguish, through the closed windows of the entresol beneath, the motionless shadow of Julie's tall and drooping form on the white curtains. She remained some time in the same attitude; then I saw her open the window spite of the cold, look towards the Seine in my direction, as if her eye had rested upon me from some preternatural revelation of love, then turn towards the north, and gaze at a star that we used to contemplate together, and which we had both agreed to look at in absence, as a meeting-place for our souls in the inaccessible solitude of the firmament. I felt that look fall on my heart like living coals of fire. I knew that our hearts were united in one thought and my resolution vanished. I darted forward to rush across the quay, to go beneath her windows, and say one word that might make her recognize her brother at her feet. At the same instant she closed her window. The rolling of carriages covered the sound of my voice; the light was extinguished at the entresol, and I remained motionless on the quay. The clock of a neighboring edifice struck slowly twelve; I approached the door, and kissed it convulsively without daring to knock. I knelt on the threshold, and prayed to the stones to preserve to me the supreme treasure which I had brought back to confide to these walls, and then slowly withdrew.
I left Paris the next day without having seen a single one of the friends I had there. I inwardly rejoiced at not having bestowed one look, one word, or a single step on any one but her. The rest of the world no longer existed for me. Before I left, however, I put into the post a note dated Paris, and addressed to Julie, which she would receive on waking. The note only contained these words: "I have followed you, I have watched over you though invisible. I would not leave you without knowing that you were under the care of those who love you. Last night, at midnight, when you opened the window, and looked at the star, and sighed, I was there! You might have heard my voice. When you read these lines I shall be far away!"
I travelled day and night in such complete dizziness of thought that I felt neither cold, hunger nor distance, and arrived at M—— as if awaking from a dream, and scarcely remembered that I had been to Paris. I found my friend Louis awaiting me at my father's house in the country. His presence was soothing to me; I could at least speak to him of her whom he admired as much as I did. We slept in the same room, and part of our nights were spent in talking of the heavenly vision, by which he had been as dazzled as myself. He considered her as one of those delusions of fancy, one of those women above mortal height, like Tasso's Eleanora, Dante's Beatrice, Petrarch's Laura, or Vittoria Colonna, the lover, the poet, and the heroine at once,—forms that flit across the earth, scarcely touching it, and without tarrying, only to fascinate the eyes of some men, the privileged few of love, to lead on their souls to immortal aspirations, and to be the sursum corda of superior imaginations. As to Louis, he dared not raise his love as high as his enthusiasm. His sensitive and tender heart, which had been early wounded, was at that time filled with the image of a poor and pious orphan, one of his own family. His happiness would have been to have married her, and to live in obscurity and peace in a cottage among the hills of Chambery. Want of fortune restricted the two poor lovers to a hopeless and tender friendship, from the fear of lowering the name of their family in poverty, or of bequeathing indigence to children. The young girl died some years after, of solitude and hopelessness. I have never seen a sweeter face droop and die for the want of a few of fortune's rays. Her countenance, where might be traced the remains of blooming youth, equally ready to revive or to fade forever, bore in the highest degree the sublime and touching impress of that virtue of the unhappy, called resignation. She became blind in consequence of the secret tears she shed during her long years of expectation and uncertainty. I met her once, on my return from one of my journeys to Italy. She was led by the hand through the streets of Chambery, by one of her little sisters. When she heard my voice, she turned pale, and felt for some support with her poor hesitating hand: "Pardon me," she said; "but when I used formerly to hear that voice, I always heard with it another." Poor girl! she now listens to her lover's voice in heaven.
How long were the two months that I had to pass away from Julie in my father's house, before the time came that I could join her in Paris! During the last three or four months, I had exhausted the allowance I received from my father, the secret resources of my mother's indulgence, and the purse of my friends, to pay the debts that dissipation, play, and my travels had made me contract. I had no means of obtaining the small sum I required to go to Paris, and to live there even in seclusion and penury, and was obliged to wait till the month of January, when my quarter's allowance from my father became due. At that time of the year, too, I was in the habit of receiving some little presents from a rich but severe old uncle, and from some good and prudent old aunts. By means of all these resources, I hoped to collect a sum of six or eight hundred francs, which would be sufficient to keep me in Paris for a few months. Privations would be no trial to my vanity, for my life consisted only in my love. All the riches of this world could, in my eyes, only have served to purchase for me the portion of the day that I was to pass with her.
The weary days of expectation were filled with thoughts of her. We devoted to each other every hour of our time. In the morning, on waking, she retired to her room to write to me, and at the same instant I, too, was writing to her; our pages and our thoughts crossed on the road by every post, questioning, answering, and mingling without a day's interruption. There were thus in reality for us only a few hours' absence; in the evening and at night. But even these I consecrated to her: I was surrounded with her letters,—they lay open upon the table, my bed was strewn with them; I learned them by heart. I often repeated to myself the most affecting and impassioned passages, adding in fancy her voice, her gesture, her tone, her look; I would answer her, and thus succeed in producing such a complete delusion of her real presence, that I felt impatient and annoyed when I was summoned to meals, or interrupted by visitors; at these times it seemed as though she were torn from me, or driven away from my room. In my long rambles on the mountains, or in those misty plains without an horizon which border the Saone, I always took her last letter with me, and would sit on the rocks, or on the edge of the water, amid the ice and snow, to read it over and over again. Each time I fancied I discovered some word or expression that had escaped my notice before. I remember that I always instinctively directed my course towards the north, as if each step I took in the direction of Paris brought me nearer to her, and diminished the cruel distance that separated us. Sometimes I went very far on the Paris road under this impression, and when it was time to return, I had always a severe struggle with myself. I felt sorrowful, and would often look back towards that point of the horizon where she dwelt, and walk slowly and heavily home. Oh, how I envied the snow-laden wings of the crows that flew northward through the mist! What a pang I felt as I saw the carriages rolling towards Paris! How many of my useless days of youth would I not have given to be in the place of one of those listless old men who glanced unconcernedly through their carriage windows at the solitary youth by the wayside, whose steps travelled in the contrary direction to his heart. Oh, how interminably long did the short days of December and January appear! There was one bright hour for me, among all my hours,—it was when I heard from my room the step, the voice, and the rattle of the postman, who was distributing the letters in the neighborhood. As soon as I heard him I opened my window; I saw him coming up the street, with his hands full of letters, which he distributed to all the maid-servants, and waited at each door till he received the postage. How I cursed the slowness of the good women, who seemed never to have done reckoning the change into his hand! Before the postman rang at my fathers door I had already flown downstairs, crossed the vestibule, and stood panting at the door. While the old man fumbled among his letters, I strove to discover the envelope of fine post paper, and the pretty English handwriting that distinguished my treasure among all the coarse papers and clumsy superscriptions of commercial or vulgar letters. I seized it with a trembling hand; my eyes swam, my heart beat, and my legs refused their office. I hid the letter in my bosom for fear of meeting some one on the stairs; and lest so frequent a correspondence should appear suspicious to my mother, I would run into my room and bolt my door, so as to devour the pages at leisure, without fear of interruption. How many tears and kisses I impressed on the paper! Alas, when many years afterwards I opened the volume of these letters, how many words effaced by my lips, and that my tears or my transports had washed or torn out, were wanting to the sense of many sentences!
After breakfast I used to retire to my upper room, to read my letter over again and to answer it. These were the most feverish and delightful hours in the day. I would take four sheets of the largest and thinnest paper that Julie had sent me on purpose from Paris, and whose every page, commencing very high up, ending very low down, crossed, and written on the margin, contained thousands of words. These sheets I covered every morning, and found them too scanty and too soon filled for the passionate and tumultuous overflow of my thoughts. In these letters there was no beginning, no middle, no end, and no grammar; nothing, in short, of what is generally understood by the word style. It was my soul laid bare before another soul expressing, or rather stammering forth, as well as it could, the conflicting emotions that filled it, with the help of the inadequate language of men. But such language was not made to express unutterable things; its imperfect signs and empty terms, its hollow speeches and its icy words, were melted, like refractory ore, by the concentrated fire of our souls, and cast into an indescribable language, vague, ethereal, flaming and caressing, like the licking tongues of fire that had no meaning for others, but which we alone understood, as it was part of ourselves. These effusions of my heart never ended and never slackened. If the firmament had been a single page, and God had bid me fill it with my love, it could not have contained one-half of what spoke within me! I never stopped till the four sheets were filled; yet I always seemed to have said nothing, and in truth I had said nothing,—for who could ever tell what is infinite?
These letters, which were without any pitiful pretensions to talent on my part, and were a delight and not a labor, might have been of marvellous service to me at a later period, if fate had destined me to address my fellow men, or to depict the shades, the transports, or the pains of passion, in works of imagination. Unknown to myself, I struggled desperately as Jacob wrestled with the angel, against the poorness, the rigidity, and the resistance of the language I was forced to use, as I knew not the language of the skies. The efforts that I made to conquer, bend, smooth, extend, spiritualize, color, inflame, or moderate expressions; the wish to render by words the nicest shades of feeling the most ethereal aspirations of thought, the most irresistible impulses, and the most chaste reserve of passion; to express looks, attitudes, sighs, silence, and even the annihilation of the heart adoring the invisible object of its love,—all these efforts, I repeat, which seemed to bend my pen beneath my fingers like a rebellious instrument, made me sometimes find the very word, expression, or cry that I required to give a voice to the unutterable. I had used no language, but I had cried forth the cry of my soul; and I was heard. When I rose from my chair, after this desperate but delightful struggle against words, pen, and paper, I remembered that, spite of the winter cold in my room, the perspiration stood upon my forehead, and I used to open the window to cool my fevered brow.
My letters were not only a cry of love, they were more frequently full of invocations, contemplation, dreams of the future, prospects of heaven, consolations, and prayers.
My love, which by its nature was debarred from all those enjoyments which relax the heart by satisfying the senses, had opened afresh within me all the springs of piety that had been dried up or polluted by vile pleasures. I felt in my heart all the purity and elevation of divine love. I strove to bear away with me to heaven, on the wings of my excited and almost mystical imagination, that other suffering and discouraged soul. I spoke of God, who alone was perfect enough to have created her superhuman perfection of beauty, genius, and tenderness; great enough to contain our boundless aspirations; infinite and inexhaustible enough to absorb and whelm in himself the love he had lighted in us, so that his flame, in consuming us one by the other, might make us both exhale ourselves in him. I comforted Julie under the sacrifice that necessity obliged us to make of complete happiness here below; I pointed out to her the merit of this self-denial of an instant in the eyes of the Eternal Remunerator of our actions. I blessed the mournful and sublime purity of such sacrifices, since they would one day obtain for us a more immaterial and angelic union in the eternal atmosphere of pure spirits. I went so far as to speak of myself as happy in my abnegation, and to sing the hymns of the martyrdom of love to which we were by love, by greater love, condemned. I entreated Julie not to think of my grief and not to give way to sorrow herself. I showed a courage and a contempt for terrestrial happiness that I possessed, alas! very often only in words. I offered up to her, as a holocaust, all that was human in me. I elevated myself to the immateriality of angels, so that she might not suspect a suffering or a desire in my adoration. I besought her to seek in a tender and sustaining religion, in the shelter of the church, in the mysterious faith of Christ, the God of tears, in kneeling and in invocation,—the hopes, the consolations, and the delights that I had tasted in my childhood. She had renewed in me all my early feelings of piety. I composed prayers for her,—calm, yet ardent prayers, that ascend like flames to Heaven, but like flames that no wind can cause to vacillate. I begged her to pronounce these prayers at certain hours of the day and night, when I would repeat them also, so that our two minds, united by the same words, might be elevated at the same hour in one invocation.... All these were wet with my tears, that left their traces on my words, and were doubtless more powerful and more eloquent than they. I used to go and throw into the post by stealth these letters, the very marrow of my bones; and felt relieved on my return, as if I had thrown off a part of the weight of my own heart.
Spite of my continual efforts and of the perpetual application of my young and ardent imagination to communicate to my letters the fire that consumed me, to create a language for my sighs, to pour my burning soul upon the paper and make it overleap the distance that divided us,—in this combat against the impotence of words, I was always surpassed by Julie. Her letters had more expression in one phrase than mine in their eight pages,—her heart breathed in the words; one saw her looks in the lines; the expressions seemed still warm from her lips. In her, nothing evaporated during that slow and dull transition of the feeling to the word which lets the lava of the heart cool and pale beneath the pen of man. Woman has no style, that is why all she says is so well said. Style is a garment, but the unveiled soul stands forth upon the lips or beneath the hand of woman. Like the Venus of speech, it rises from the depths of feeling in its naked beauty, wakes of itself to life, wonders at its own existence, and is adored ere it knows that it has spoken.
What letters and what ardor! What tones and accents! What fire and purity combined, like light and transparency in a diamond, like passion and bashfulness on the brow of the young girl who loves! What powerful simplicity! What inexhaustible effusions! What sudden revivals in the midst of languor! What sounds and songs! Then there would be sadness, recurring like the unexpected notes at the end of an air; caressing words, which seemed to fan the brow like the breath of a fond mother bending over her smiling child; a voluptuous lulling of half-whispered words, and hushed and dreamy sentences, which wrapped one in rays and murmurs, stillness and perfume, and led one gently by the soft and soothing syllables to the repose of love, the still sleep of the soul, unto the kiss upon the page which said farewell! The farewell and the kiss both silently received, as the lips silently impressed them. I have seen those letters all again; I have read over, page by page, this correspondence, bound up and classed, after death, by the pious hand of friendship; one letter answering the other from the first note down to the last word written by the death-struck hand, to which love still imparted strength. I have read them o'er, and burned them with tears, in secret, as if I committed a crime, and snatching twenty times the half-consumed page from the flames to read it once again. Why did I thus destroy? Because their very ashes would have been too burning for this world, and I have scattered them to the winds of heaven.
At length the day came when I could reckon the hours that still separated me from Julie. All the resources that I could command did not amount to a sufficient sum to keep me three or four months in Paris. My mother, who noticed my distress without guessing its cause, drew from the casket which her fondness had already nearly emptied a large diamond, mounted as a ring. Alas, it was the last remaining jewel of her youth! She slipped it secretly into my hand, with tears. "I suffer as much as you can, Raphael," she said with a mournful look, "to see your unprofitable youth wasted in the idleness of a small town, or in the reveries of a country life. I had always hoped that the gifts of God, that from your infancy I rejoiced to see in you, would attract the notice of the world, and open to you a career of fortune and honor. The poverty against which we have to struggle does not allow us to bring you forward. Hitherto such has been the will of God, and we must submit with resignation to his ways, which are always the best. Yet it is with grief I see you sinking into that moral languor which always follows fruitless endeavors. Let us try Fate once more. Go, since the earth here seems to burn beneath your feet,—go and live for awhile in Paris. Call, with reserve and dignity, on those old friends of your family who are now in power. Show the talents with which Nature and study have endowed you. It is impossible that those at the head of the Government should not strive to attract young men able, as you would be, to serve, support, and adorn the reign of the princes whom God has restored to us. Your poor father has much to do to bring up his six children, and not to fall below his rank in the distresses of our rustic life. Your other relations are good and kind, but they will not understand that breathing-space and action are necessary to the devouring activity of the mind at twenty. Here is my last jewel; I had promised my mother never to part with it save from dire necessity. Take it, and sell it; it will serve to maintain you in Paris a few weeks longer. It is the last token of my love, which I stake for you in the lottery of Providence. It must bring you good luck; for my solicitude, my prayers, my tenderness for you go with it." I took the ring, and kissed my mother's hand; a tear fell upon the diamond. Alas, it served not to allow me to seek or to await the favor of great men or princes who turned away from my obscurity, but to live three months of that divine life of the heart worth centuries of greatness. This sacred diamond was to me as Cleopatra's pearl dissolved in my cup of life, from which I drank happiness and love for a short time.
I completely altered my habits from that day, from respect for my poor mother's repeated sacrifices, and the concentration of all my thoughts in this one desire,—to see once more my love, and to prolong, as much as possible, by the strictest economy, the allotted time I was to spend with Julie. I became as calculating and as sparing of the little gold I took with me as an old miser. It seemed as though the most trifling sum I spent was an hour of my happiness, or a drop of my felicity that I wasted. I resolved to live like Jean Jacques Rousseau, on little or nothing, and to retrench from my vanity, my dress, or my food, all that I wished to bestow on the rapture of my soul. I was not, however, without an undefined hope of making some use of my talents in the cause of my love. These were as yet made known to a few friends only by some verses; but in the last three months I had written during my sleepless nights a little volume of poetry, amatory, melancholy, or pious, according as my imagination spoke to me in tender or in serious notes. The whole had been copied out with care in my best handwriting, and shown to my father, who was an excellent critic, though somewhat severe; a few friends, too, had favorably judged some fragments. I had bound up my poetical treasure in green, a color of good omen for my hopes of fame; but I had not shown it to my mother, whose chaste and pious purity of mind might have taken alarm at the more antique than Christian voluptuousness of some of my elegies. I hoped that the simple grace and the winged enthusiasm of my poetry might please some intelligent publisher, who would buy my volume, or at least consent to print it at his own expense; and that the public taste, attracted by the novelty of a style springing from the heart, and nursed in the woods, would, perhaps, confer on me a humble fortune and a name.
I had no need to look for a lodging in Paris. One of my friends, the young Count de V——, who had just returned from his travels, was to spend the winter and the following spring there, and had offered to share with me a little entresol that he occupied, over the rooms of the concierge in the magnificent hotel (since pulled down) of the Marechal de Richelieu, in the Rue Neuve St. Augustin. The Count de V——, with whom I was in almost daily correspondence, knew all. I had given him a letter of introduction to Julie, that he might know the soul of my soul, and that he might understand, if not my delirium, at least my adoration for that woman. At first sight, he comprehended and almost shared my enthusiasm. In his letters, he always alluded, with tender pity and respect, to that fair vision of melancholy, which seemed hovering between life and death, and only detained on earth, he said, by the ineffable love she bore to me. He always spoke to me of her as of a heavenly gift, sent to my eyes and heart, and which would raise me above human nature as long as I remained enveloped in her radiance. V——, who was persuaded of the holy and superhuman nature of our attachment, considered it as a virtue, and felt no repugnance to being the mediator and confidant of our love. Julie, on her part, spoke of V—— as the only friend she considered worthy of me, and for whom she would have wished to increase my friendship, instead of detracting from it by a mean jealousy of the heart. Both urged me to come to Paris, but V——, alone, knew the secret motives, and the strictly material impossibility, which had detained me till then. Spite of his devoted friendship, of which he gave me, until his death, so many proofs during the troubles of my life, it was not in his power at that time to remove the obstacles that arrested me. His mother had exhausted her means to give him an education befitting his rank, and to allow him to travel through Europe. He was himself deep in debt, and could only offer me a corner in the apartment that his family provided for him. As to all the rest, he was, at that time of his life, as poor and as much enslaved as myself by the want so cruelly defined by Horace—Res angustae domi.
I left M—— in a little one-horse jaunting car, consisting of a wooden seat on an axle-tree, and four poles which supported a tarpaulin to shelter us against the rain. These cars changed horses every four or five miles, and served to convey to Paris the masons from the Bourbonnais and from Auvergne, the weary pedestrians they met on the road, and soldiers lamed by their long marches who were glad to spare a day's fatigue for a few sous. I felt no shame or annoyance at this vulgar mode of conveyance; I would have travelled barefooted through the snow, and not have felt less proud or less happy, for I was thus saving one or two louis with which I could purchase some days of happiness. I reached the barrier of Paris without having felt a pebble of the road. The night was dark, and it was raining hard; I took up my portmanteau, and soon after knocked at the door of the humble lodging of the Count de V——.
He was waiting for me; he embraced me, and spoke of her. I was never wearied of questioning and listening to him. That same evening I was to see Julie. V—— was to announce my arrival, and prepare her for joy. When every visitor had retired from Julie's drawing-room, V—— was to leave last of all to join me at a little cafe of the neighborhood where I was to wait for him, and give me notice that she was alone, and that I might throw myself at her feet. It was only after I had learned all these particulars that I thought of drying my clothes and taking some refreshment. I then took possession of the dark alcove of his ante-room, which was lighted by one round window, and heated by a stove. I dressed myself neatly and simply, so that she I loved might not blush for me before her friends.
At eleven o'clock V—— and I went out on foot; we proceeded together as far as the window which I knew so well. There were three carriages at the door. V—— went up, and I retired to wait for him at the appointed place. How long that hour seemed while I waited for him! How I execrated those visitors who, involuntarily importunate, came in their indifference to dispose of some idle hours, and delayed the reunion of two fond hearts who counted each second of their martyrdom by their palpitations! At last V—— appeared; I followed rapidly on his steps, he left me at the door, and I went up.
If I were to live a thousand times a thousand years, I should never forget that instant and that sight. She was standing up in the light, her elbow resting carelessly on the white marble of the chimney; her tall and slender figure, her shoulders, and her profile, were reflected in the glass; her face was turned towards the door, her eyes fixed on a little dark passage leading to the drawing-room, and her head was bent forward, and slightly inclined on one side, in the attitude of one listening for the sound of approaching footsteps. She was dressed in mourning, in a black silk dress trimmed with black lace round the neck and the skirt. This profusion of lace, rumpled by the cushions of the sofa to which her indolent and languid life confined her, hung around her like the black and clustering bunches of the elder, shedding its berries in the autumnal wind. The dark color of her gown left only her shoulders, neck, and face in light, and the mourning of her dress seemed completed by the natural mourning of her dark hair, which was gathered up at the back of her head. This uniformity of color added to her height, and showed to advantage her graceful and flexible figure. The reflection of the fire in the glass, the light of the lamp on the chimney-piece striking on her cheek, and the animation of impatient expectation and love, shed on her countenance a splendor of youth, bloom, and life, which seemed a transfiguration effected by love.
My first exclamation was one of joy and delighted surprise at seeing her thus, more living, lovely, and immortal, in my eyes, than I had ever seen her in the brightest days of Savoy. A feeling of deceitful security and eternal possession entered into my heart, as my eyes fell on her. She tried to stammer forth a few words on seeing me, but could not. Her lips trembled with emotion. I fell at her feet, and pressed my lips to the carpet upon which she trod. I then looked up to assure myself that her presence was not a dream. She laid one of her hands upon my hair, which thrilled beneath her touch, and holding by the other to the marble of the chimney-piece, she too fell on her knees before me. We gazed at each other at a distance. We sought words, and found none for our excess of joy. We remained silent, but that very silence and our kneeling posture was a language; I knelt full of adoration, she full of happiness, and our attitude seemed to say, They adore one another, but a phantom of Death stands between, and though their eyes drink rapture, they will never be clasped in each other's arms.
I know not how many minutes we remained thus, nor how many thousand interrogations and answers, what floods of tears, and oceans of joy passed unexpressed between our mute and closed lips, between our moistened eyes, between her countenance and mine. Happiness had struck us motionless, and time had ceased to be. It was eternity in an instant.
There was a knock at the street door; a sound of feet on the stairs. I rose, and she resumed, with a faltering step, her place on the sofa. I sat down on the other side, in the shade, to hide my flushed cheeks and tearful eyes. A man of already advanced age, of imposing stature, with a benignant, noble, and beaming countenance, slowly entered the room. He approached the sofa without speaking, and imprinted a paternal kiss on Julie's trembling hand. It was Monsieur de Bonald. Spite of the painful awakening from ecstasy that the knock and arrival of a stranger had produced in me, I inwardly blessed him for having interrupted that first look in which reason might have been overpowered by rapture. There are times when the cold voice of reason is required to still with its icy tones the fever of the senses, and to strengthen anew the soul in its holy and energetic resolves.
Julie introduced me to M. de Bonald as the young man whose verses he had read; he was surprised at my youth, and addressed me with indulgence. He conversed with Julie with the paternal familiarity of a man whose genius had rendered him illustrious; he had all the serenity of age, and sought in the company of a young and lovely woman merely a passing ray of beauty to enchant his eyes, and the charm of her society during the calm and conversational hours at the close of day. His voice was deep, as though it came from the heart, and his conversation flowed with the graceful, yet serious, ease of a mind which seeks to unbend in repose. Honesty was stamped on his brow, and spoke in the accents of his voice. As the conversation seemed likely to be prolonged, and the clock was on the point of striking twelve, I thought it right to take my leave first, so as to create no suspicion of too great familiarity in the mind of a friend and visitor of older standing than myself in the house. Silence and one single look were the only reward I received for my long and ardent expectation and my weary journey; but I bore away with me her image and the certainty of seeing her every day,—that was enough; it was too much. I wandered a long while on the quays, baring my breast to the night air, and inhaling it with my lips, to allay the fever of happiness which possessed me. On my return home, I found that V—— had been asleep many hours; as for me, it was daylight, and I had heard the cries of the venders in the streets of Paris before I closed my eyes.
* * * * *
My days were filled with one single thought, which I treasured up in my heart, and would not even allow my countenance to reveal, as a precious perfume of which one would fear to let a particle evaporate by exposing the vase that contains it to the outward air. I used to rise with the first rays of light, which always penetrated tardily into the dark alcove of the little ante-room where my friend gave me shelter like a mendicant of love. I always began the day by a long letter to Julie, which was but a calmer continuation of the conversation of the day before; in it I poured forth all the thoughts that had suggested themselves since I had left her. Love feels delightful remorse at its tender omissions; accuses, reproaches itself, and feels no rest till they have been repaired. They are gems fallen from the heart or the lips of the loved one, which cause the lover's thoughts to travel back over the past, to gather them up, and to increase the treasure of his feelings. Julie, when she awoke, received my letter, which made it appear to her as though the conversation of the preceding evening had not been interrupted, but had been kept up in whispered tones during her sleep. I always received her answer before noon.
My heart being thus appeased, after the agitation of the night, my next thought was to calm the impatience for the evening's interview, which began to take possession of me. I strove not to divert my heart from its one thought, but to interest my eyes and mind, and had laid down as a law to myself to spend several hours in reading and study, to occupy the interval between the time when I left Julie till we met again. I wished to improve myself not for others, but for her,—in order that he whom she loved should not disgrace her preference; and that those superior men who composed her society, and who sometimes saw me in her drawing-room standing at a corner of the fireplace, like a statue of contemplation, should discover in me, if by chance they spoke to me, a soul, an intelligence, a hope, or a promise, beneath my timid and silent appearance. Then I had vague dreams of shining exploits, of a stirring destiny, which Julie would watch from afar, and rejoice to see me struggling with men, rising in strength, in greatness, and in power; I thought she might one day glory secretly in having appreciated me before the crowd, and in having loved me before posterity.
All this, and still more, my forced leisure, the obsession of one besetting thought, my contempt for all besides, the want of money to procure other amusement, and the almost claustral seclusion in which I lived, disposed me to a life of more intense and eager study than I had yet led. I passed my whole day seated at a little writing-table, which was placed beneath the small round window opening on the yard of the Hotel Richelieu. The room was heated by a Dutch stove; a screen enclosed my table and chair, and hid me from the observation of the young men of fashion who often came to see my friend. In the spacious yard below there were sounds of carriages, then silence, and now and then bright rays of winter sun struggling against the grovelling fog of the streets of Paris, which reminded me a little of the play of light, the sounds of the wind, and the transparent mists of our mountains. Sometimes I would see a sweet little boy six or eight years old playing there; he was the son of the concierge. There was something in his face which seemed that of a suffering angel; in his fair hair curled on his forehead, and in his intelligent and ingenuous countenance, that reminded me of the innocent faces of the children of my own province. Indeed, I discovered that his family had come originally from a village near that in which my father resided, had fallen into want, and had been transplanted to Paris. This child had conceived a fondness for me, from seeing me always at the window above the rooms his mother inhabited, and had of his own accord and gratuitously devoted himself to my service. He executed all my messages; brought me my bread, some cheese, or the fruit for my breakfast; and went every morning to purchase my little provisions at the grocer's. I used to take my frugal repast on my writing-table, in the midst of my open books or interrupted pages. The child had a black dog, which had been forgotten at the house by some visitor; this dog had ended like the child by attaching itself to me, and they could not be made to go down the little wooden stairs when once they had ascended them. During the greater part of the day, they lay and played together on the mat at my feet beneath my table. At a later period I took away the dog with me from Paris, and kept it many years, as a loving and faithful memento of those days of solitude. I lost him in 1820, not without tears, in traversing the forests of the Pontine Marshes between Rome and Terracina. The poor child is become a man, and has learned the art of engraving, which he practices ably at Lyons. My name having resounded since, even in his shop, he came to see me, and wept with joy at beholding me, and with grief at hearing of the loss of the dog. Poor heart of man! that ever requires what it has once loved, and that sheds tears of the same water, for the loss of an empire, or for the loss of an animal.
During the thousands of hours in which I was thus confined between the stove, the screen, the window, the child, and the dog, I read over all that antiquity has written and bequeathed to us, except the poets, with whom we had been surfeited at school, and in whose verses our wearied eyes saw but the caaesura, and the long or short syllables. Sad effect of premature satiety, which withers in the mind of a child the most brightly tinted and perfumed flowers of human thought. But I read over every philosopher, orator, and historian, in his own language. I loved especially those who united the three great faculties of intelligence,—narration, eloquence, and reflection; the fact, the discourse, and the moral. Thucydides and Tacitus above all others; then Machiavelli, the sublime practitioner of the diseases of empires; then Cicero, the sonorous vessel which contains all, from the individual tears of the man, the husband, the father, and the friend, up to the catastrophes of Rome and of the world, even to his gloomy forebodings of his own fate. There is in Cicero a stratum of divine philosophy and serenity, through which all waters seem to be filtrated and clarified, and through which his great mind flows in torrents of eloquence, wisdom, piety, and harmony. I had, till then, thought him a great but empty speaker, with little sense contained in his long periods; I was mistaken. Next to Plato, he is the word of antiquity made man; his style is the grandest of any language. We suppose him meagre, because his drapery is so magnificent; but strip him of his purple and you will still find a vast mind, which has felt, understood, and said, all that there was to comprehend, to feel, or to say, in his day in Rome.
As to Tacitus, I did not even attempt to combat my partiality for him. I preferred him even to Thucydides, the Demosthenes of history. Thucydides relates, but does not give life and being. Tacitus is not the historian, but a compendium of mankind. His narration is the counter-blow of the fact in the heart of a free, virtuous, and feeling man. The shudder that one feels as one reads not only passes over the flesh, but is a shudder of the heart. His sensibility is more than emotion,—it is pity; his judgments are more than vengeance,—they are justice; his indignation is more than anger,—it is virtue. Our hearts mingle with that of Tacitus, and we feel proud of our kindred with him. Would you make crime impossible to your sons? Would you inspire them with the love of virtue? Rear them in the love of Tacitus. If they do not become heroes at such a school, Nature must have created them base or vile. A people who adopted Tacitus as their political gospel would rise above the common stature of nations; such a people would enact before God the tragical drama of mankind in all its grandeur and in all its majesty. As to me, I owe to his writings more than the fibres of the flesh, I owe all the metallic fibres of my being. Should our vulgar and commonplace days ever rise to the tragic grandeur of his time, and I become the worthy victim of a worthy cause, I might exclaim in dying, "Give the honor of my life and of my death to the master, and not to the disciple, for it is Tacitus that lived, and dies in me."
I was also a passionate admirer of orators. I studied them with the presentiment of a man who would one day have to speak to the deaf multitude, and who would strike the chords of human auditors. I studied Demosthenes, Cicero, Mirabeau, and especially Lord Chatham,—more striking to my mind than all the rest, because his inspired and lyrical eloquence seems more like a cry than like a voice. It soars above his limited audience and the passions of the day, on the loftiest wings of poetry, to the immutable regions of eternal truth and of eternal feeling. Chatham receives truth from the hand of God; and with him it becomes, not only the light, but also the thunder of the debate. Unfortunately, as in the case of Phidias at the Parthenon, we have only fragments, heads, arms, and mutilated trunks left of him. But when in thought we reassemble these remains, we produce marvels and divinities of eloquence. I pictured to myself times, events, and passions, like those which upraised these great men, a forum such as that they filled; and like Demosthenes addressing the billows of the sea, I spoke inwardly to the phantoms of my imagination.
About this period I read for the first time the speeches of Fox and Pitt. I thought Fox declamatory, though prosaic; one of those cavilling minds, born to gainsay, rather than to say,—lawyers without gowns, with mere lip-conscience, who plead above all for their own popularity. I saw in Pitt a statesman whose words were deeds, and who in the crash of Europe maintained his country, almost alone, on the foundation of his good sense, and the consistency of his character. Pitt was Mirabeau, with less impulse and more integrity. Mirabeau and Pitt became, and have ever continued to be, my favorite statesmen of modern days. Compared to them, I saw in Montesquieu only erudite, ingenious, and systematical dissertations; Fenelon seemed to me divine, but chimerical; Rousseau, more impassioned than inspired, greater by instinct than by truth; while Bossuet, with his golden eloquence and fawning soul, united, in his conduct and his language before Louis XIV., doctoral despotism with the complaisance of a courtier. From these studies of history and oratory I naturally passed on to politics. The remembrance of the imperial yoke which had just been shaken off, and my abhorrence of the military rule to which we had been subjected, impelled me towards liberty. On the other hand, family recollections; the influence of daily associations; the touching situation of a royal family, passing from a throne to a scaffold or to exile, and brought back from exile to a throne; the orphan princess in the palace of her fathers; those old men, crowned by misfortune as much as by their ancestry; those young princes, schooled by stern adversity, from whom so much might be expected,—all made me hope that new-born liberty might be made to accord with the ancient monarchy of our forefathers. The government would thus have possessed the two most potent spells in all human affairs,—antiquity and novelty; memory and hope. It was a fair dream, and most natural at my age. Each succeeding day, however, dispelled a portion of that dream. I perceived with grief that old forms but ill contain new ideas; that monarchy and liberty would never hold together in one bond without a perpetual struggle; that in that struggle the strength of the state would be exhausted, that monarchy would be constantly suspected, liberty constantly betrayed.
From these general studies I turned to another that perhaps engrossed my mind the more from the very aridity and dryness of its nature, so far removed from the intoxication of love and fancy in which I lived. I mean political economy, or the science of the Wealth of Nations.
V—— had applied his mind to it with more curiosity than ardor. All the Italian, English, or French books that had been written on the science lined his shelves and covered his table. We read and discussed them together, noting down the remarks that they suggested. The science of political economy, which at that time laid down, as it still does in the present day, more axioms than truths, and proposed more problems than it can solve, had for us precisely the charm of mystery. It became, moreover, between us an endless theme for those conversations which exercise the intelligence without engrossing the mind, and suffer us to feel, even while conversing, the presence of the one secret and continuous thought concealed in the inmost recesses of our hearts. It was an enigma of which we sought the answer without any great desire to find it. After having read, examined, and noted all that constituted the science at that time, I fancied I could discern a few theoretical principles true in their generality, doubtful in their application, ambitiously aspiring to be classed among absolute truths, often hollow or false in their formula. I had no objection to make, but my instinctive desire of demonstration was not thoroughly satisfied. I threw down the books and awaited the light. Political economy at that time did not exist; being an entirely experimental science, it had neither sufficient maturity nor long standing to affirm so positively. Since then it has progressed and promises to statesmen a few dogmas which may be applied cautiously to society, a few sources of general comfort, and some new ties of fraternity, to be strengthened between nations.
I varied these serious pursuits with the study of diplomacy or the laws of intercourse between governments, which had always attracted me from my early youth. Chance directed me to the fountain-head. At the time that I applied myself to political economy I had written a pamphlet of about a hundred pages, on a subject which at that period attracted a great share of public attention. The title of the pamphlet was: "What place can the nobility occupy in France under a constitutional government?" I treated this question, which was a most delicate one at the time, with the instinctive good sense that Nature had allotted to me, and with the impartiality of a youthful mind, soaring without effort above the vanities from on high, the envy from below, and the prejudices of his day. I spoke with love of the people, with intelligence of our institutions, and with respect of that historic nobility whose names were long the name of France herself, on her battlefields, in her magistracy, and in foreign lands. I was for the suppression of all privileges of nobility, save the memory of nations, which cannot be suppressed, and proposed an elective peerage, showing that in a free country there could be no other nobility than that of election, which is a perpetual stimulus to public duty, and a temporary reward of the merit or virtues of its citizens.
Julie, to whom I had lent the manuscript in order to initiate her in the labors of my life, had shown it to Monsieur M——, a clever man of her intimate acquaintance, for whose judgment she entertained the greatest deference. M. M—— was the worthy son of an illustrious member of the Constituent Assembly, had been the Emperor's private secretary, and was now a constitutional royalist. He was one of those whose minds are never youthful, who enter mature into the world, and die young, leaving a void in their epoch. M. M——, after reading my work, asked Julie who was the political man who had written those pages. She smiled, and confessed that they were the production of a very young man, who had neither name nor experience, and was quite unknown in the political world. M. M—— required to see me to believe. I was introduced to him, and he received me with kindness which afterwards ripened into a friendship, that remained unchanged until his death. My work was never printed; but M. M——, in his turn, introduced me to his friend, M. de Reyneval, a man of luminous understanding, open-hearted, and of an attractive and cheerful though grave and laborious mind, who was at that time the life of our foreign policy. He died, not long ago, while ambassador at Madrid. M. de Reyneval, who had read my work, received me with that encouraging grace and cordial smile which seems to overleap distance, and always wins at first sight the heart of a young man. He was one of those men from whom it is pleasant to learn, because they seem, so to speak, to diffuse themselves in teaching, and to give rather than prescribe. One learned more of Europe in a few mornings by conversing with this most agreeable man, than in a whole diplomatic library. He possessed tact, the innate genius of negotiations. I owe to him my taste for those high political affairs which he handled with full consciousness of their importance, but without seeming to feel their weight. His strength made everything easy, and his ready condescension seemed to infuse grace and heart into business. He encouraged my desire to enter on the diplomatic career, presented me himself to the Director of the Archives, M. d'Hauterive, and authorized him to allow me access to the collection of our treaties and negotiations. M. d'Hauterive, who had grown old over despatches, might be said to be the unalterable tradition and the living dogma of our diplomacy. With his commanding figure, hollow voice, his thick and powdered hair, his long, bushy eyebrows overshading a deep-set and dim eye, he seemed a living, speaking century. He received me like a father, and appeared happy to transmit to me the inheritance of all his hoarded knowledge; he made me read, and take notes under his own eye, and twice a week I used to study for a few hours under his direction. I love the memory of his green old age, which so prodigally bestowed its experience on a young man whose name he scarcely knew. M. d'Hauterive died during the battle of July, 1830, amid the roar of the cannon which annihilated the policy of the Bourbons and the treaties of 1815.
Such were my studious and retired habits in my little room. I wished for nothing more; my desire to enter on some career was in truth but my mother's ambition for me, and the regret of expending the price of her diamond, without some compensation in my bettered condition. If at that time I had been offered an embassy to quit Paris, and a palace to leave my truckle-bed in the ante-room, I would have closed my eyes not to see, and my ears not to listen to Fortune. I was too happy in my obscurity, thanks to the ray, invisible to others, which warmed and illumined my darkness.
My happiness dawned as the day declined. I habitually dined at home alone in my cell, and my repast generally consisted of a slice of boiled meat, some salad, and bread. I drank water only, to save the expense of even a little wine, so necessary to correct the insipid and often unwholesome water of Paris. By this means, twenty sous a day paid for my dinner, and this meal was sufficient not only for myself but to feed the dog who had adopted me. After dinner, I used to throw myself on my bed, overcome by the application and solitude of the day, and strove thus to abridge by sleep the long, dark hours which yet divided me from the moment when time commenced for me. These were hours which young men of my age spend in theatres, public places, or the expensive amusements of a capital, as I had done before my transformation. I generally awaked about eleven, and then dressed with the simplicity of a young man whose good looks and figure set off his plain attire. I was always neatly shod, besides having white linen and a black coat, carefully brushed by my own hands, which I buttoned up to the throat, after the fashion of the young disciples of the schools of the Middle Ages. A military cloak, whose ample folds were thrown over my left shoulder, preserved my dress from being splashed in the streets, and, on the whole, my plain and unpretending costume, which neither aspired to elegance nor betrayed my distress, admitted of my passing from my solitude to a drawing-room without either attracting or offending the eye of the indifferent. I always went on foot; for the price of one evening's coach-hire would have cost me a day of my life of love. I walked on the pavement, keeping close along the walls to avoid the contact of carriage-wheels, and proceeded slowly on tip-toe for fear of the mud, which in a well-lighted drawing-room would have betrayed the humble pedestrian. I was in no hurry, for I knew that Julie received every evening some of her husband's friends, and I preferred waiting till the last carriage had driven away before I knocked. This reserve on my part arose not only from the fear of the remarks which might be made concerning my constant presence in the house of so young and lovely a woman, but, above all, from my dislike to share with others her looks and words. It seemed to me that each of those with whom she was obliged to keep up a conversation robbed me of some part of her presence or her mind. To see her, to hear her, and not to possess her alone, were often a harder trial to me than not to see her at all.
To pass away the time I used to walk from one end to the other of a bridge which crossed the Seine nearly opposite to the house where Julie lived. How many thousand times I have reckoned the boards of that bridge, which resounded beneath my feet! How many copper coins I have thrown, as I passed and repassed, into the tin cup of the poor blind man, who was seated through rain or snow on the parapet of that bridge! I prayed that my mite which rung in the heart of the poor, and from thence in the ear of God, might purchase for me in return a long and secure evening, and the departure of some intruder who delayed my happiness.
Julie, who knew my dislike to meeting strangers at her house, had devised with me a signal which should inform me from afar of the presence or absence of visitors in her little drawing-room. When they were numerous, the two inside shutters of the window were closed, and I could only see a faint streak of light glimmering between the two leaves; when there were one or two familiar friends, on the point of leaving, one shutter was opened; and at last, when all were gone, the two shutters were thrown open, the curtains withdrawn, and I could see from the opposite quay the light of the lamp which stood on the little table, where she read or worked while expecting me. I never lost sight of that distant ray, which was visible and intelligible for me alone, amid the thousand lights of windows, lamps, shops, carriages, and cafes, and among all those avenues of fixed or wandering fires which illumine at night the buildings and the horizon of Paris. All other illuminations no longer existed for me,—there was no other light on earth, no other star in the firmament but that small window, which seemed like an open eye seeking me out in darkness, and on which my eyes, my thoughts, my soul, were ever and solely bent. O incomprehensible power of the infinite nature of man, which can fill the universal space and think it too confined; or can be concentrated in one bright speck shining through the river mists, amid the ocean of fires of a vast city, and feel its desires, feelings, intelligence, and love bounded by that small spark which scarce outshines the glowworm of a summer's evening! How often have I thus thought as I paced the bridge, muffled in my cloak! How often have I exclaimed, as I gazed at that oval window shining in the distance: Let all the fires of earth be quenched, let all the luminous globes of the firmament be extinguished, but may that feeble light—the mysterious star of our two lives—shine on forever; its glimmering would illumine countless worlds, and suffice my eyes through all eternity!
Alas, since then I have seen this star of my youth expire, this burning focus of my eyes and heart extinguished! I have seen the shutters of the window closed for many a long year on the funereal darkness of that little room. One year, one day, I saw them once more opened. I looked to see who dared to live where she had lived before; and then I saw, in summer time, at that same window, bathed in sunshine and adorned with flowers, a young woman whom I did not know playing and smiling with a new-born child, unconscious that she played upon a grave, that her smiles were turned to tears in the eyes of a passer-by, and that so much life seemed as a mockery of death.... Since then, at night, I have returned; and every year I still return, approach that wall with faltering steps, and touch that door; and then I sit on the stone bench, and watch the lights, and listen to the voices from above. I sometimes fancy that I see the light reflected from her lamp; that I hear the tones of her voice; that I can knock at that door; that she expects me; that I can go in—...O Memory, art thou a gift from Heaven, or pain of Hell!...But I resume my story, since you, my friend, desire it.
The day after my arrival, Julie had introduced me to the old man, who was to her a father, and whose latter days she brightened with the radiance of her mind, her tenderness, and her beauty. He received me as a son. He had learned from her our meeting in Savoy, our fraternal attachment, our daily correspondence, and the affinity of our minds, as shown by the conformity of our tastes, ages, and feelings. He knew the entire purity of our attachment, and felt no jealousy, or any anxiety, save for the life, the happiness, and reputation of his ward. He only feared she might have been attracted and deceived by that first look, which is sometimes a revelation, and sometimes a delusion of the young, and that she might have bestowed her heart on a man of the creation of her fancy. My letters, from which she had read him several passages, had somewhat reassured him, but it was only from my countenance he could learn whether they were an artful or natural expression of my feelings; for style may deceive, but the countenance never can.
The old man surveyed me with that anxious attention which is often concealed under an appearance of momentary abstraction. But as he saw me more, and questioned me, I could see his searching look clear up, betray an inward satisfaction, soften gradually into one of confidence and good-will, and rest upon me with that security and caress of the eye, which though a mute is perhaps the best reception at a first interview. My ardent desire to please him; the timidity so natural to a young man, who feels that the fate of his heart depends on the judgment passed upon him; the fear that it might not be favorable; the presence of Julie, which disconcerted though it encouraged me; and all the shades of thought so plainly legible in my modest attitude and my flushed cheeks,—spoke in my favor better than I could have done myself. The old man took my hand with a paternal gesture, and said, "Compose yourself; and consider that you have two friends in this house, instead of one. Julie could not have better chosen a brother, and I would not choose another son." He embraced me, and we talked together as if he had known me from my childhood, until an old servant came at ten o'clock, according to his invariable custom, to give him the help of his arm on the stair, and lead him back to his own apartment.
His was a beautiful and attractive old age, to which nothing was wanting but the security of a morrow. It was so disinterested and parental, that it in no wise offended the eye, though associated with a young and lovely woman. It was as an evening shade upon the bloom of morning; but one felt that it was a protecting shade, sheltering but not withering her youth, beauty, and innocence. The features of this celebrated man were regular as the pure outline of antique profiles which time emaciates slightly, but cannot impair. His blue eyes had that softened but penetrating expression of worn-out sight, as if they looked through a slight haze. There was an arch expression of implied meaning in his mouth; and his smile was playful as that of a father to his little children. His hair, which age and study had thinned, was soft and fine, like the down of a swan. His hands were white and taper as the marble hands of the statue of Seneca taking his dying leave of Paulina. There were no wrinkles on his face, which had become thin and pale from the long labor of the mind, for it had never been plump. A few blue and bloodless veins might be traced on the depressed temples; the light of the fire was reflected on the forehead,—that latest beauty of man, which thought chisels and polishes unceasingly. There was in the cheek that delicacy of skin,—that transparency of a face which has grown old within the shade of walls, and which neither wind nor sun have ever tanned; the complexion of woman, which gives an effeminacy to the countenance of old men, and the ethereal, fragile, and impalpable appearance of a vision, that the slightest breath might dispel. His calm and well-weighed expressions, naturally set in clear, concise, and lucid phrase, had all the precision of one who has been used to careful selection in clothing his thoughts for writing or dictation. His sentences were interrupted by long pauses, as if to allow time for them to penetrate the ear, and to be appreciated by the mind of the listener; he relieved them, every now and then, by graceful pleasantry, never degenerating into coarseness, as though he purposely upheld the conversation on these light and sportive wings, to prevent its being borne down by the weight of too continuous ideas.
I soon learned to love this charming and talented old man. If I am destined to attain old age, I should wish to grow old like him. There was but one thing grieved me as I looked at him,—it was to see him advancing towards death, without believing in Immortality. The natural sciences that he had so deeply studied had accustomed his mind to trust exclusively to the evidence of his senses. Nothing existed for him that was not palpable; what could not be calculated contained no element of certitude in his eyes; matter and figures composed his universe; numbers were his god; the phenomena of Nature were his revelations, Nature herself his Bible and his gospel; his virtue was instinct, not seeing that numbers, phenomena, Nature, and virtue are but hieroglyphs inscribed on the veil of the temple, whose unanimous meaning is—Deity. Sublime but stubborn minds, who wonderfully ascend the steps of science, one by one,—but will never pass the last, which leads to God.
This second father very soon became so fond of me, that he proposed to give me occasionally, in his library, some lessons in those elevated sciences which had rendered him illustrious, and now constituted his chief relaxation. I went to him sometimes in the morning; Julie would come at the same hours. It was a rare and touching spectacle to see that old man seated in the midst of his books,—a monument of human learning and philosophy, of which he had exhausted all the pages during his long life,—discovering the mysteries of Nature and of thought to a youth who stood beside him; while a woman, young and lovely as that ideal philosophy, that loving wisdom,—the Beatrice of the poet of Florence,—attended as his first disciple, and was the fellow-learner of that younger brother. She brought the books, turned over the page, and marked the chapters with her extended rosy finger; she moved amid the spheres, the globes, the instruments, and the heaps of volumes, in the dust of human knowledge; and seemed the soul of Nature disengaging itself from matter, to kindle it and teach it to burn and love.
I learned and understood more in a few days than in years of dry and solitary study; but the frequent infirmities of age in the master too often interrupted these morning lessons.
I invariably spent a part of my night in the company of her who was to me both night and day, time and eternity. As I have already said, I always arrived when importunate visitors had left the drawing-room. Sometimes I remained long hours on the quay or on the bridge, walking or standing still by turns, and waiting in vain for the inside shutter to open and to give the mute signal on which we had agreed. How have I watched the sluggish waters of the Seine beneath the arches of the bridge, bearing away in their course the trembling rays of the moon, or the reflected light of the windows of the city. How many hours and half hours have I not reckoned as they sounded from the near or distant churches, and cursed their slowness or accused their speed! I knew the tones of every brazen voice in the towers of Paris. There were lucky and unlucky days. Sometimes I went in, without waiting an instant, and only found her husband with her, who spent in lively talk, or friendly conversation, the hours that unbent and prepared him for sleep. At other times I only met one or two friends; they dropped in for a short time, bringing the news or the excitement of the day, and devoted to friendship the first hours of their evening, which they generally concluded in some political drawing-room. These were in general parliamentary men, eminent orators of the two chambers,—Suard, Bonald, Mounier, Reyneval, Lally-Tolendal, the old man with the youthful mind, and Laine. This latter was the most perfect copy of ancient eloquence and virtue that I have seen to venerate in modern times; he was a Roman in heart, in eloquence, and in appearance, and wanted but the toga to be the Cicero or the Cato of his day. I felt peculiar admiration and tender respect for this personification of a good citizen; he, in his turn, took notice of me, and often distinguished me by some look and word of preference. He has since been my master; and if one day I had to serve my country, or to ascend a tribune, the remembrance of his patriotism and his eloquence would be ever present to me as a model that I could not hope to equal, but might imitate at a distance.
These men came round the little work-table in turn, while Julie sat half reclined upon the sofa. I remained silent and respectful in one corner of the room, far from her, listening, reflecting, admiring, or disapproving inwardly, but scarcely opening my lips unless questioned, and only joining in the conversation by a few timid and cautious words said in a low tone. With a strong conviction on most subjects, I have always felt an extreme shyness in expressing it before such men; they appeared to me infinitely my superiors from age and in authority. Respect for time, for genius, and for fame is part of my nature,—a ray of glory dazzles me; white hairs awe me; an illustrious name bows me voluntarily before it. I have often lost something of my real value by this timidity, but nevertheless I have never regretted it. The consciousness of the superiority of others is a good feeling in youth, as at all ages, for it elevates the ideal standard to which we aspire. Self-confidence in youth is an overweening insolence towards time and Nature. If the feeling of the superiority of others is a delusion, it is at least a delusion which raises human nature, and is better than that which lowers it. Alas, we but too soon reduce it to its true but sad proportions.
These visitors at first paid little attention to me. I used to see them stoop towards Julie, and ask, in a low tone, who I was. My thoughtful countenance and my immovable and modest attitude seemed to surprise and please them; insensibly they drew towards me, or seemed by a gracious and encouraging gesture to address some of their remarks to me. It was an indirect invitation to take my share in the conversation. I said a few words in grateful recognition, but I soon relapsed into my silence and obscurity, for fear of prolonging the conversation by keeping it up. I considered them merely as the frame of a picture; the only real interest I felt was in the face, the speech, and the mind of her from whom I was shut out by their presence.
What inward joy, what throbbing of the heart, when they retired, and when I heard beneath the gateway the rolling of the carriage which bore away the last of them! We were then alone; the night was far advanced; our security increased at every move of the minute hand as it approached the figure that marked midnight on the dial. Nothing was to be heard but the sound of a few carriages, which, at rare intervals, rattled over the stones of the quay, or the deep breathing of the old concierge, who was stretched sleeping on a bench in the vestibule at the foot of the stairs.
We would first look at each other, as if surprised at our happiness. I would draw nearer to the table where Julie worked by the light of the lamp. The work soon fell from her unheeding hands; our looks expanded, our lips were unsealed, our hearts overflowed. Our choked and hurried words, like the flow of water impeded by too narrow an opening, were at first slowly poured forth, and the torrent of our thoughts trickled out drop by drop. We could not select, among the many things we had to say, those we most wished to impart to each other. Sometimes there was a long silence, caused by the confusion and excess of crowded thoughts which accumulated in our hearts and could not escape. Then they began to flow slowly, like those first drops which show that the cloud is about to dissolve or burst; these words called forth others in response; one voice led on the other, as a falling child draws his companion with him. Our words mingled without order, without answer, and without connection; neither of us would yield the happiness of outstripping the other in the expression of one common feeling. We fancied that we had first felt what we disclosed of our thoughts since the evening's conversation, or the morning's letter. At last this tumultuous overflow, at which we laughed and blushed, after a time subsided, and gave place to a calm effusion of the lips, which poured forth together, or alternately, the plenitude of their expressions. It was a continuous and murmuring transfusion of one soul into another,—an unreserved interchange of our two natures,—a complete transmutation of one into another, by the reciprocal communication of all that breathed, or lived, or burned within us. Never, perhaps, did two beings as irreproachable in their looks, or in their very thoughts, bare their hearts to one another more unreservedly, and reveal the mysterious depths of their feelings. The innocent nudity of our souls was chaste, though unveiled, as light that discovers all, yet sullies nothing. We had nought to reveal but the spotless love which purified as it consumed us.
Our love, by its very purity, was incessantly renewed, with the same light of soul, the same unsullied transports of its first bloom. Each day was like the first; every instant was as that ineffable moment when we felt it dawn within us, and saw it reflected in the heart and looks of another self. Our love would always preserve its flower and its perfume, for the fruit could never be culled.
Of all the different means by which God has allowed soul to communicate with soul, through the transparent barrier of the senses, there was not one that our love did not employ to manifest itself,—from the look which conveys most of ourselves, in an almost ethereal ray, to the closed lids, which seem to enfold within us the image we have received, that it may not evaporate; from languor to delirium, from the sigh to the loud cry; from the long silence to those exhaustless words which flow from the lips without pause and without end, which stop the breath, weary the tongue, which we pronounce without hearing them, and which have no other meaning than an impotent effort to say, again and again, what can never be said enough....
Many a time did we talk thus for hours, in whispered tones, leaning on the little table close to each other, without perceiving that our conversation had lasted more than the space of a single aspiration; quite surprised to find that the minutes had flown as swiftly as our words, and that the clock struck the inexorable hour of parting.
Sometimes there would be interrogations and answers as to our most fugitive shades of thought and nature, dialogues in almost unheard whispers, articulate sighs rather than audible words, blushing confessions of our most secret inward repinings, joyful exclamations of surprise at discovering in us both the same impressions reflected from one another, as light in reverberations, the blow in the counterblow, the form in the image. We would exclaim, rising by a simultaneous impulse, "We are not two; we are one single being under two illusive natures! Which will say you unto the other; which will say I? There is no I; there is no you; but only we." ... We would then sink down, overcome with admiration at this wonderful conformity, weeping with delight at this twofold existence, and at having doubled our lives by consecrating them to each other.