Some minutes after Edgar said:
"The other day I paid a visit to Delacroix. He has commenced a picture that promises to be superb; my dear traveller, Roger, it will possess the sky you love—pure indigo, the celestial carpet of the blue god."
"I abhor blue," you said; "I dread ophthalmia. Surfeit of blue compels the use of green spectacles. I adore the skies of Hobbema and Backhuysen; one can look at them with the naked eye for twenty years, and yet never need an oculist in old age."
After some rambling conversation you uttered an eulogy on a sacred air of Palestrina that you heard sung at the Conservatory concert. When you had finished, Edgar rested his elbows on the table, his chin on his hand, and let fall from his lips the following words, warmed by the spiritual fire of his eyes.
"I have always abhorred church-music," said he. "Sacred music is proscribed in my house as opium is in China. I like none but sentimental music. All that does not resemble in some way the Amor possente nome of Rossini must remained buried in the catacombs of the piano. Music was only created for women and love. Doubtless simplicity is beautiful, but it so often only belongs to simple people.
"Art is the only passion of a true artist. The music of Palestrina resembles the music of Rossini about as much as the twitter of the swallow resembles the song of the nightingale."
It was evident to me, my young friend, that neither of you expressed your genuine convictions and true opinions. You were sitting opposite, and yet neither looked at the other while speaking. You both were handsome and charming, but handsome and charming like two English cocks before a fight. What particularly struck me was that neither of you ever said: "What is the matter with you to-day, my friend? you seem to delight in contradicting me." Edgar did not ask you this question, nor did you ask it of him. You thought it useless to inquire into the cause of these half-angry contradictions; you both knew what you were about. You and Edgar both love the same woman. It is the woman who suddenly retreated from the piano. Perhaps she left the house after some disagreeable scene between you two in her presence.
I watched all your movements when we three were together in the parlor. The tone of your voices, naturally sonorous, sounded harsh and discordant; you held in your hand a branch of hibiscus that you idly pulled to pieces. Edgar opened a magazine and read it upside downwards; it was quite evident that you were a restraint upon each other, and that I was a restraint upon you both.
At intervals Edgar would cast a furtive glance at the open piano, at the embroidery, and the vase of flowers; you unconsciously did the same; but your two glances never met at the same point; when Edgar looked at the flowers, you looked at the piano; if either of you had been alone, you would have never taken your eyes off these trifles that bore the perfumed impression of a beloved woman's hand, and which seemed to retain some of her personality and to console you in her absence.
You were the last comer in the house adorned by the presence of this woman; you are also the most reasonable, therefore your own sense and what is due to friendship must have already dictated your line of conduct—let me add my advice in case your conscience is not quite awake—fly! fly! before it is too late—linger, and your self-love, your interested vanity, will no longer permit you to give place to a friend who will have become a rival. Passion has not yet taken deep root in your heart; at present it is nothing more than a fancy, a transitory preference, a pleasant employment of your idle moments.
In the country, every young woman is more or less disposed to break the hearts of young men, like you, who gravitate like satellites. Women delight in this play—but like many other tragic plays, it commences with smiles but terminates in tears and blood! Moreover, my young friend, in withdrawing seasonably, you are not only wise, you are generous!
I know that Edgar has been for a long time deeply in love with this woman; you are merely indulging in a rural flirtation, a momentary caprice. In a little while, vain rivalry will make you blind, embitter your disposition, and deceive you as to the nature of your sentiments—believing yourself seriously in love you will be unable to withdraw. To-day your pride is not interested; wait not until to-morrow. Edgar is your friend, you must respect his prerogatives. A woman gave you a wise example to follow—she suddenly withdrew from the presence of you both when she saw a threatening danger.
A pretty woman is always dangerous when she comes to inaugurate the divinity of her charms in a lonely chateau, in the presence of two inflammable young men. I detect the cunning of the fair unknown: she lavishes innocent smiles upon both of you—she equally divides her coquetries between you; she approaches you to dazzle—she leaves you to make herself regretted; she entangles you in the illusion of her brilliant fascination; she moves to seduce your senses; she speaks to charm your soul; she sings to destroy your reason.
Forget yourself for one instant, my young friend, on this flowery slope, and woe betide you when you reach the bottom! Be intoxicated by this feast of sweet words, soft perfumes and radiant smiles, then send me a report of your soul's condition when you recover your senses! At present, in spite of your skirmishes of wit, you are still the friend of Edgar ... hostility will certainly come. Friendship is too feeble a sentiment to struggle against love. This passion is more violent than tropical storms—I have felt it—I am one of its victims now! There lives another woman—half siren, half Circe—who has crossed my path in life, as you well know. If I had collected in my house as many friends as Socrates desired to see in his, and all these friends were to become my rivals, I feel that my jealousy would fire the house, and I would gladly perish in the flames after seeing them all dead before my eyes.
Oh, fatal preoccupation! I only wished to speak of your affairs, and here I am talking of my own. The clouds that I heap upon your horizon roll back towards mine.
In exchange for my advice, render me a service. You know Madame de Braimes, the friend of Mlle. de Chateaudun. Madame de Braimes is acquainted with everything that I am ignorant of, and that my happiness in life depends upon discovering. It is time for the inexplicable to be explained. A human enigma cannot for ever conceal its answer. Every trial must end before the despair of him who is tried. Madame de Braimes is an accomplice in this enigma; her secret now is a burden on her lips, she must let it fall into your ear, and I will cherish a life-long gratitude to you both.
Any friend but you would smile at this apparently strange language—I write you a long chapter of psychological and moral inductions to show my knowledge about the management of love affairs and affairs otherwise—I divine all your enigmas; I illuminate the darkness of all your mysteries, and when it comes to working on my own account, to be perspicacious for my own benefit, to make discoveries about my own love affair, I suddenly abdicate, I lose my luminous faculties, I put a band over my eyes, and humbly beg a friend to lend me the thread of the labyrinth and guide my steps in the bewildering darkness. All this must appear singular to you, to me it is quite natural. Through the thousand dark accidents that love scatters in the path of life, light can only reach us by means of a friend. We ourselves are helpless; looking at others we are lynx-eyed, looking at ourselves we are almost blind. It is the optical nerve of the passions. It is mortifying to thus sacrifice the highest prerogatives of man at the feet of a woman, to feel compelled to yield to her caprices and submit to the inexorable exigencies of love. The artificial life I am leading is odious to me. Patience is a virtue that died with Job, and I cannot perform the miracle of resuscitating it.
Take my advice—be prudent—be wise—be generous—leave Richeport and come to me; we can assist and console each other; you can render me a great service, I will explain how when we meet—I will remain here for a few days; do not hesitate to come at once—Between a friend who fears you and a friend who loves you and claims you—can you hesitate?
ROGER DE MONBERT.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN to Mme. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES, Grenoble (Isere).
Pont de L'Arche, July 15th 18—.
Come to my help, my dear Valentine—I am miserable. Each joyless morning finds me more wretched than I was the previous night. Oh! what a burden is life to those who are fated to live only for life itself! No sunshine gilds my horizon with the promises of hope—I expect nothing but sorrow. Who can I trust now that my own heart has misled me? When error arose from the duplicity of others I could support the disenchantment—the deceptive love of Roger was not a bitter surprise, my instinct had already divined it; I comprehended a want of congeniality between us, and felt that a rapture would anticipate an alliance: and while thinking I loved him, I yet said to myself: This is not love.
But now I am my own deceiver—and I awaken to lament the self-confidence and assurance that were the source of my strength and courage. With flattering ecstasy I cried: It is he!... Alas! he replied not: It is she! And now he is gone—he has left me! Dreadful awakening from so beautiful a dream!
Valentine, burn quickly the letter telling you of my ingenuous hopes, my confident happiness—yes, burn the foolish letter, so there will remain no witness of my unrequited love! What! that deep emotion agitating my whole being, whose language was the tears of joy that dimmed my eyes, and the counted beatings of my throbbing heart—that master-passion, at whose behest I trembled while blushes mantled and fled from my cheek, betraying me to him and him to me; the love whose fire I could not hide—the beautiful future I foresaw—that world of bliss in which I began to live—this pure love that gave an impetus to life—this devotion that I felt was reciprocated.... All, all was but a creation of my fancy.... and all has vanished ... here I am alone with nothing to strengthen me but a memory ... the memory of a lost illusion.... Have I a right to complain? It is the irrevocable law—after fiction, reality—after a meteor, darkness—after the mirage, a desert!
I loved as a young heart full of faith and tenderness never loved before—and this love was a mistake; he was a stranger to me—he did not love me, and I had no excuse for loving him; he is gone, he had a right to go, and I had no right to detain him—I have not even the right to mourn his absence. Who is he? A friend of Madame de Meilhan, and a stranger to me!... He a stranger!... to me!... No, no, he loves me, I know he does ... but why did he not tell me so! Has some one come between us? Perhaps a suspicion separates us.... Oh! he may think I am in love with Edgar! horrible idea! the thought kills me.... I will write to him; would you not advise it? What shall I tell him? If he were to know who I am, doubtless his prejudices against me would be removed. Oh! I will return to Paris—then he will see that I do not love Edgar, since I leave him never to return where he is. Yet he could not have been mistaken concerning the feelings existing between his friend and myself; he must have seen that I was perfectly free: independence cannot be assumed. If he thought me in love with another, why did he come to bid me good-bye? why did he come alone to see me? and why did he not allude to my approaching return to Paris?—why did he not say he would be glad to meet me again? How pale and sad he was! and yet he uttered not one word of regret—of distant hope! The servant said: "Monsieur de Villiers wishes to see madame, shall I send him away as I did Monsieur de Meilhan?" I was in the garden and advanced to meet him. He said: "I return to Paris to-morrow, madame, and have come to see if you have any commands, and to bid you good-bye."
Two long days had passed since I last saw him, and this unexpected visit startled me so that I was afraid to trust my voice to speak. "They will miss you very much at Richeport," he added, "and Madame de Meilhan hopes daily to see you return." I hastily said: "I cannot return to her house, I am going away from here very soon." He did not ask where, but gazed at me in a strange, almost suspicious way, and to change the conversation, said: "We had at Richeport, after you left, a charming man, who is celebrated for his wit and for being a great traveller—the Prince de Monbert." ... He spoke as if on an indifferent subject, and Heaven knows he was right, for Roger at this moment interested me very, very little. I waited for a word of the future, a ray of hope to brighten my life, another of those tender glances that thrilled my soul with joy ... but he avoided all allusion to our past intercourse; he shunned my looks as carefully as he had formerly sought them.... I was alarmed.... I no longer understood him.... I looked around to see if we were not watched, so changed was his manner, so cold and formal was his speech.... Strange! I was alone with him, but he was not alone with me; there was a third person between us, invisible to me, but to him visible, dictating his words and inspiring his conduct.
"Shall you remain long in Paris?" I asked, trembling and dismayed. "I am not decided at present, madame," he replied. Irritated by this mystery, I was tempted for a moment to say: "I hope, if you remain in Paris for any length of time, I shall have the pleasure of seeing you at my cousin's, the Duchess de Langeac," and then I thought of telling him my story. I was tired of playing the role of adventuress before him ... but he seemed so preoccupied, and inattentive to what I said, he so coldly received my affectionate overtures, that I had not the courage to confide in him. Would not my confidence be met with indifference? One thing consoled me—his sadness; and then he had come, not on my account, but on his own; nothing obliged him to make this visit; it could only have been inspired by a wish to see me. While he remained near me, in spite of his strange indifference, I had hope; I believed that in his farewell there would be one kind word upon which I could live till we should meet again ... I was mistaken ... he bowed and left me ... left me without a word ...! Then I felt that all was lost, and bursting into tears sobbed like a child. Suddenly the servant opened the door and said: "The gentleman forgot Madame de Meilhan's letters." At that moment he entered the room and took from the table a packet of letters that the servant had given him when he first came, but which he had forgotten when leaving. At the sight of my tears he stood still with an agitated, alarmed look upon his face; he then gazed at me with a singular expression of cruel joy sparkling in his eyes. I thought he had come back to say something to me, but he abruptly left the room. I heard the door shut, and knew it had shut off my hopes of happiness.
The next day, at the risk of meeting Edgar with him, I remained all day on the road that runs along the Seine. I hoped he would go that way. I also hoped he would come once more to see me ... to bring him back I relied upon my tears—upon those tears shed for him, and which he must have understood ... he came not! Three days have passed since he left, and I spend all my time in recalling this last interview, what he said to me, his tone of voice, his look.... One minute I find an explanation for everything, my faith revives ... he loves me! he is waiting for something to happen, he wishes to take some step, he fears some obstacle, he waits to clear up some doubts ... a generous scruple restrains him.... The next minute the dreadful truth stares me in the face. I say to myself: "He is a young man full of imagination, of romantic ideas ... we met, I pleased him, he would have loved me had I belonged to his station in life; but everything separates us; he will forget me." ... Then, revolting against a fate that I can successfully resist, I exclaim: "I will see him again ... I am young, free, and beautiful—I must be beautiful, for he told me so—I have an income of a hundred thousand pounds.... With all these blessings it would be absurd for me not to be happy. Besides, I love him deeply, and this ardent love inspires me with great confidence ... it is impossible that so much love should be born in my heart for no purpose." ... Sometimes this confidence deserts me, and I despairingly say: "M. de Villiers is a loyal man, who would have frankly said to me: 'I love you, love me and let us be happy.'" ... Since he did not say that, there must exist between us an insurmountable obstacle, a barrier of invincible delicacy; because he is engaged he cannot devote his life to me, and he must renounce me for ever. M. de Meilhan comes here every day; I send word I am too sick to see him; which is the truth, for I would be in Paris now if I were well enough to travel. I shall not return by the cars, I dread meeting Roger. I forgot to tell you about his arrival at Richeport; it is an amusing story; I laughed very much at the time; then I could laugh, now I never expect to smile again.
Four days ago, I was at Richeport, all the time wishing to leave, and always detained by Mad. de Meilhan; it was about noon, and we were all sitting in the parlor—Edgar, M. de Villiers, Mad. de Meilhan and myself. Ah! how happy I was that day ... How could I foresee any trouble?... They were listening to an air I was playing from Bellini ... A servant entered and asked this simple question: "Does madame expect the Prince de Monbert by the twelve o'clock train?"..... At this name I quickly fled, without stopping to pick up the piano stool that I overturned in my hurried retreat. I ran to my room, took my hat and an umbrella to hide my face should I meet any one, and walked to Pont de l'Arche. Soon after I heard the Prince had arrived, and dinner was ordered for five o'clock, so he could leave in the 7.30 train. Politeness required me to send word to Mad. de Meilhan that I would be detained at Pont de l'Arche. To avoid the entreaties of Edgar I took refuge at the house of an old fishwoman, near the gate of the town. She is devoted to me, and I often take her children toys and clothes. At half-past six, the time for Roger to be taken to the depot, I was at the window of this house, which was on the road that led to the cars—presently I heard several familiar voices.... I heard my name distinctly pronounced.... "Mlle de Chateaudun." ... I concealed myself behind the half-closed blinds, and attentively listened: "She is at Rouen," said the Prince.
... "What a strange woman," said M. de Villiers: "Ah! this conduct is easily explained," said Edgar, "she is angry with him." "Doubtless she believes me culpable," replied the Prince, "and I wish at all costs to see her and justify myself." In speaking thus, they all three passed under the window where I was. I trembled—I dared not look at them.... When they had gone by, I peeped through the shutter and saw them all standing still and admiring the beautiful bridge with its flower-covered pillars, and the superb landscape spread before them. Seeing these three handsome men standing there, all three so elegant, so distinguished! A wicked sentiment of female vanity crossed my mind; and I said to myself with miserable pride and triumph: "All three love me ... All three are thinking of me!" ... Oh! I have been cruelly punished for this contemptible vanity. Alas! one of the three did not love me—and he was the one I loved—one of them did not think of me, and he was the one that filled my every thought. Another sentiment more noble than the first, saddened my heart. I said: "Here are three devoted friends ... perhaps they will soon be bitter enemies ... and I the cause." O Valentine! you cannot imagine how sad and despondent I am. Do not desert me now that I most need your comforting sympathy! Burn my last letter, I entreat you.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN to MADAME GUERIN, Pont de l'Arche (Eure).
RICHEPORT, July 10th 18—.
Three times have I been to the post-office since you left the chateau in such an abrupt and inexplicable manner. I am lost in conjecture about your sudden departure, which was both unnecessary and unprepared. It is doubtless because you do not wish to tell me the reason that you refuse to see me. I know that you are still at Pont de l'Arche, and that you have never left Madame Taverneau's house. So that when she tells me in a measured and mysterious tone that you have been absent for some time; looking at the closed door of your room, behind which I divine your presence, I am seized with an insane desire to kick down the narrow plank which separates me from you. Fits of gloomy passion possess me which illogical obstacles and unjust resistance always excite.
What have I done? What can you have against me? Let me at least know the crime for which I am punished. On the scaffold they always read the victim his sentence, equitable or otherwise. Will you be more cruel than a hangman? Read me my sentence. Nothing is more frightful than to be executed in a dungeon without knowing for what offence.
For three days—three eternities—I have taxed my memory to an alarming extent. I have recalled everything that I have said for the last two weeks, word by word, syllable for syllable, endeavoring to give to each expression its intonation, its inflection, its sharps and flats. Every different signification that the music of the voice could give to a thought, I have analyzed, debated, commented upon twenty times a day. Not a word, accent nor gesture has enlightened me. I defy the most embittered and envious spirit to find anything that could offend the most susceptible pride, the haughtiest majesty. Nothing has occurred in my familiar intercourse with you that would alarm a sensitive plant or a mimosa. Therefore, such cannot be the motive for your panic-stricken flight. I am young, ardent, impetuous; I attach no importance to certain social conventionalities, but I feel confident that I have never failed in a religious respect for the holiness of love and modesty. I love you—I could never, wilfully, have offended you. How could my eyes and lips have expressed what was neither in my head nor in my heart? If there is no fire without smoke, as a natural consequence there can be no smoke without fire!
It is not that—Is it caprice or coquetry? Your mind is too serious and your soul too honest for such an act; and besides, what would be your object? Such feline cruelties may suit blase women of the world who are roused by the sight of moral torture; who give, in the invisible sphere of the passions, feasts of the Roman empresses, where beating hearts are torn by the claws of the wild beasts of the soul, unbridled desires, insatiate hate and maddened jealousy, all the hideous pack of bad passions. Louise, you have not wished to play such a game with me. It would be unavailing and dangerous.
Although I have been brought up in what is called the world, I am still a savage at heart. I can talk as others do of politics, railroads, social economy, literature. I can imitate civilized gesture tolerably well; but under this white-glove polish I have preserved the vehemence and simplicity of barbarism. Unless you have some serious, paramount reason, not one of those trivial excuses with which ordinary women revenge themselves upon the lukewarmness of their lovers—do not prolong my punishment a day, an hour, a minute—speak not to me of reputation, virtue or duty. You have given me the right to love you—by the light of the stars, under the sweet-scented acacias, in the sunlight at the window of Richard's donjon which opens over an abyss. You have conferred upon me that august priesthood. Your hand has trembled in mine. A celestial light, kindled by my glance, has shone in your eyes. If only for a moment, your soul was mine—the electric spark united us.
It may be that this signifies nothing to you. I refuse to acknowledge any such subtle distinctions—that moment united us for ever. For one instant you wished to love me; I cannot divide my mind, soul and body into three distinct parts; all my being worships you and longs to obtain you. I cannot graduate my love according to its object. I do not know who you are. You might be a queen of earth or the queen of heaven; I could not love you otherwise.
Receive me. You need explain nothing if you do not wish; but receive me; I cannot live without you. What difference does it make to you if I see you?
Ah! how I suffered, even when you were at the chateau! What evil influence stood between us? I had a vague feeling that something important and fatal had happened. It was a sort of presentiment of the fulfilment of a destiny. Was your fate or mine decided in that hour, or both? What decisive sentence had the recording angel written upon the ineffaceable register of the future? Who was condemned and who absolved in that solemn hour?
And yet no appreciable event happened, nothing appeared changed in our life. Why this fearful uneasiness, this deep dejection, this presentiment of a great but unknown danger? I have had that same instinctive perception of evil, that magnetic terror which slumbering misers experience when a thief prowls around their hidden treasure; it seemed as if some one wished to rob me of my happiness.
We were embarrassed in each other's presence; some one acted as a restraint upon us. Who was it? No one was there but Raymond, one of my best friends, who had arrived the evening before and was soon to depart in order to marry his cousin, young, pretty and rich! It is singular that he, so gentle, so confiding, so unreserved, so chivalrous, should have appeared to me sharp, taciturn, rough, almost dull,—and my feelings towards him were full of bitterness and spite. Can friendship be but lukewarm hate? I fear so, for I often felt a savage desire to quarrel with Raymond and seize him by the throat. He talked of a blade of grass, a fly, of the most indifferent object, and I felt wounded as if by a personality. Everything he did offended me; if he stood up I was indignant, if he sat down I became furious; every movement of his seemed a provocation; why did I not perceive this sooner? How does it happen that the man for whom I entertain such a strong natural aversion should have been my friend for ten years? How strange that I should not have been aware of this antipathy sooner!
And you, ordinarily so natural, so easy in your manners, became constrained; you scarcely answered me when he was present. The simplest expression agitated you; it seemed as if you had to give an account to some one of every word, and that you were afraid of a scolding, like a young girl who is brought by her mother into the drawing-room for the first time.
One evening, I was sitting by you on the sofa, reading to you that sublime elegy of the great poet, La Tristesse d'Olympio; Raymond entered. You rose abruptly, like a guilty child, assumed an humble and repentant attitude, asking forgiveness with your eyes. In what secret compact, what hidden covenant, had you failed?
The look with which Raymond answered yours doubtless contained your pardon, for you resumed your seat, but moved away from me so as not to abuse the accorded grace; I continued to read, but you no longer listened—you were absorbed in a delicious revery through which floated vaguely the lines of the poet. I was at your feet, and never have I felt so far away from you. The space between us, too narrow for another to occupy, was an abyss.
What invisible hand dashed me down from my heaven? Who drove me, in my unconsciousness, as far from you as the equator from the pole? Yesterday your eyes, bathed in light and life, turned softly towards me; your hand rested willingly in mine. You accepted my love, unavowed but understood; for I hate those declarations which remind one of a challenge. If one has need to say that he loves, he is not worth loving; speech is intended for indifferent beings; talking is a means of keeping silent; you must have seen, in my glance, by the trembling of my voice, in my sudden changes of color, by the impalpable caress of my manner, that I love you madly.
It was when Raymond looked at you that I began to appreciate the depth of my passion. I felt as if some one had thrust a red-hot iron into my heart. Ah! what a wretched country France is! If I were in Turkey, I would bear you off on my Arab steed, shut you up in a harem, with walls bristling with cimetars, surrounded by a deep moat; black eunuchs should sleep before the threshold of your chamber, and at night, instead of dogs, lions should guard the precincts!
Do not laugh at my violence, it is sincere; no one will ever love you like me. Raymond cannot—a sentimental Don Quixote, in search of adventures and chivalrous deeds. In order to love a woman, he must have fished her out of the spray of Niagara; or dislocated his shoulder in stopping her carriage on the brink of a precipice; or snatched her out of the hands of picturesque bandits, costumed like Fra Diavolo; he is only fit for the hero of a ten-volume English novel, with a long-tailed coat, tight gray pantaloons and top-boots. You are too sensible to admire the philanthropic freaks of this modern paladin, who would be ridiculous were he not brave, rich and handsome; this moral Don Juan, who seduces by his virtue, cannot suit you.
When shall I see you? Our moments of happiness in this life are so short; I have lost three days of Paradise by your persistence in concealing yourself. What god can ever restore them to me?
Louise, I have only loved, till now, marble shadows, phantoms of beauty; but what is this love of sculpture and painting compared with the passion that consumes me? Ah! how bittersweet it is to be deprived at once of will, strength and reason, and trembling, kneeling, vanquished, to surrender the key of one's heart into the hands of the beautiful victor! Do not, like Elfrida, throw it into the torrent!
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS to MME. LA VICOMTESSE BE BRAIMES, Hotel of the Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
ROUEN, July 12th 18—
MADAME:—If you should find in these hastily written lines expressions of severity that might wound you in one of your tenderest affections, I beg you to ascribe them to the serious interest with which you have inspired me for a person whom I do do not know. Madame, the case is serious, and the comedy, performed for the gratification of childish vanity, might, if prolonged, end in a tragedy. Let Mademoiselle de Chateaudun know immediately that her peace of mind, her whole future is at stake. You have not a day, not an hour, not an instant to lose in exerting your influence. I answer for nothing; haste, O haste! Your position, your high intelligence, your good sense give you, necessarily, the authority of an elder sister or a mother over Mademoiselle de Chateaudun; exercise it if you would save that reckless girl. If she acts from caprice, nothing can justify it; if she is playing a game it is a cruel one, with ruin in the end; if she is subjecting M. de Monbert to a trial, it has lasted long enough.
I accompanied M. de Monbert to Rouen; I lived in daily, hourly intercourse with him, and had ample opportunities for studying his character; he is a wounded lion. Never having had the honor of meeting Mademoiselle de Chateaudun, I cannot tell whether the Prince is the man to suit her; Mademoiselle de Chateaudun alone can decide so delicate a question. But I do assert that M. de Monbert is not the man to be trifled with, and whatever decision Mademoiselle de Chateaudun may come to, it is her duty and due to her dignity to put an end to his suspense.
If she must strike, let her strike quickly, and not show herself more pitiless than the executioner, who, at least, puts a speedy end to his victim's misery. M. de Monbert, a gentleman in the highest acceptation of the word, would not be what he now is, if he had been treated with the consideration that his sincere distress so worthy of pity, his true love so worthy of respect, commanded. Let her not deceive herself; she has awakened, not one of those idle loves born in a Parisian atmosphere, which die as they have lived, without a struggle or a heart-break, but a strong and deep passion that if trifled with may destroy her. I acknowledge that there is something absurd in a prince on the eve of marrying a young and beautiful heiress finding himself deserted by his fiancee with her millions; but when one has seen the comic hero of this little play, the scene changes. The smile fades from the lips; the jest is silent; terror follows in the footsteps of gayety, and the foolish freak of the lovely fugitive assumes the formidable proportions of a frightful drama. M. de Monbert is not what he is generally supposed to be, what I supposed him before seeing him after ten years' separation. His blood has been inflamed by torrid suns; he has preserved, in a measure, the manners and fierce passions of the distant peoples that he has visited; he hides it all under the polish of grace and elegance; affable and ready for anything, one would never suspect, to see him, the fierce and turbulent passions warring in his breast; he is like those wells in India, which he told me of this morning; they are surrounded by flowers and luxuriant foliage; go down into one of them and you will quickly return pale and horror-stricken. Madame, I assure you that this man suffers everything that it is possible to suffer here below. I watch his despair; it terrifies me. Wounded love and pride do not alone prey upon him; he is aware that Mademoiselle de Chateaudun may believe him guilty of serious errors; he demands to be allowed to justify himself in her eyes; he is exasperated by the consciousness of his unrecognised innocence. Condemn him, if you will, but at least let him be heard in his own defence. I have seen him writhe in agony and give way to groans of rage and despair. When calm, he is more terrible to contemplate; his silence is the pause before a tempest. Yesterday, on returning, discouraged, after a whole day spent in fruitless search, he took my hand and raised it abruptly to his eyes. "Raymond," said he, "I have never wept," and my hand was wet. If you love Mademoiselle de Chateaudun, if her future happiness is dear to you, if her heart can only be touched through you, warn her, madame, warn her immediately; tell her plainly what she has to expect; time presses.
It is a question of nothing less than anticipating an irreparable misfortune. There is but one step from love to hate; hate which takes revenge is still love. Tell this child that she is playing with thunder; tell her the thunder mutters, and will soon burst over her head. If Mademoiselle de Chateaudun should have a new love for her excuse, if she has broken her faith to give it to another, unhappy, thrice unhappy she! M. de Monbert has a quick eye and a practised hand; mourning would follow swiftly in the wake of her rejoicing, and Mademoiselle de Chateaudun might order her widow's weeds and her bridal robes at the same time.
This, madame, is all that I have to say. The foolish rapture with which my last letter teemed is not worth speaking of. A broken hope, crushed, extinguished; a happiness vanished ere fully seen! During the four days that I was at Richeport, I began to remark the existence between M. de Meilhan and myself of a sullen, secret, unavowed but real irritation, when a letter from M. de Monbert solved the enigma by convincing me that I was in the way under that roof. Fool, why did I not see it myself and sooner? Blind that I was, not to perceive from the first that this young man loved that woman! Why did I not instantly divine that this young poet could not live unscathed near so much beauty, grace and sweetness? Did I think, unhappy man that I am, that she was only fair to me; that I alone had eyes to admire her, a heart to worship and understand her? Yes, I did think it; I believed blindly that she bloomed for me alone; that she had not existed before our meeting; that no look, save mine, had ever rested upon her; that she was, in fact, my creation; that I had formed her of my thoughts, and vivified her with the fire of my dreams. Even now, when we are parted for ever, I believe, that if God ever created two beings for each other, we are those two beings, and if every soul has a sister spirit, her soul is the sister spirit of mine. M. de Meilhan loves her; who would not love her? But what he loves in her is visible beauty: the slope of her shoulders, the perfection of her contours. His love could not withstand a pencil-stroke which might destroy the harmony of the whole. Beautiful as she is, he would desert her for the first canvas or the first statue he might encounter. Her rivals already people the galleries of the Louvre; the museums of the world are filled with them. Edgar feels but one deep and true love; the love of Art, so deep that it excludes or absorbs all others in his heart. A fine prospect alone charms him, if it recalls a landscape of Ruysdael or of Paul Huet, and he prefers to the loveliest model, her portrait, provided it bears the signature of Ingres or Scheffer. He loves this woman as an artist; he has made her the delight of his eyes; she would have been the joy of my whole life. Besides, Edgar does not possess any of the social virtues. He is whimsical by nature, hostile to the proprieties, an enemy to every well-beaten track. His mind is always at war with his heart; his sincerest inspirations have the scoffing accompaniment of Don Juan's romance. No, he cannot make the happiness of this Louise so long sought for, so long hoped for, found, alas! to be irremediably lost. Louise deceives herself if she thinks otherwise. But she does not think so. What is so agonizing in the necessity that separates us, is the conviction that such a separation blasts two destinies, silently united. I do not repine at the loss of my own happiness alone, but above all, over that of this noble creature. I am convinced that when we met, we recognised each other; she mentally exclaimed, "It is he!" when I told myself, "It is she!" When I went to bid her farewell, a long, eternal farewell, I found her pale, sad; the tears rolled, unchecked, down her cheeks. She loves me, I know it; I feel it; and still I must depart! she wept and I was forced to be silent! One single word would have opened Paradise to us, and that word I could not utter! Farewell, sweet dream, vanished for ever! And thou, stern and stupid honor, I curse thee while I serve thee, and execrate while I sacrifice all to thee. Ah! do not think that I am resigned; do not believe that pride can ever fill up the abyss into which I have voluntarily cast myself; do not hope that some day I shall find self-satisfaction as a recompense for my abnegation. There are moments when I hate myself and rebel against my own imbecility. Why depart? What is Edgar to me? still less, what interest have I in his love episodes? I love; I feel myself loved in return; what have I to do with anything else?
Contempt for my cowardly virtue is the only price that I have received for my sacrifice, and I twit myself with this thought of Pascal: "Man is neither an angel nor a brute, and the misfortune is that when he wishes to make himself an angel, he becomes a brute!" Be silent, my heart! At least it shall never be said that the descendant of a race of cavaliers entered his friend's house to rob him of his happiness.
I am sad, madame. The bright ray seen for a moment, has but made the darkness into which I have fallen, more black and sombre; I am unutterably sad! What is to become of me? Where shall I drag out my weary days? I do not know. Everything wearies and bores me, or rather all things are indifferent to me. I think I will travel. Wherever I go, your image will accompany me, consoling me, if I can be consoled. At first I thought that I would carry you my heart to comfort; but my unhappiness is dear to me, and I do not wish to be cured of it.
I press M. de Braimes's hand, and clasp your charming children warmly to my heart.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN to the PRINCE DE MONBERT, Poste Restante (Rouen).
Richeport, July 23d 18—.
I am mad with rage, wild with grief! That Louise! I do not know what keeps me from setting fire to the house that conceals her! I must go away; I shall commit some insane act, some crime, if I remain! I have written her letter after letter; I have tried in every way to see her; all my efforts unavailing! It is like beating your head against a wall! Coquette and prude!—appalling combination, too common a monstrosity, alas!
She will not see me! all is over! nothing can overcome her stupid, obstinacy which she takes for virtue. If I could only have spoken to her once, I should have said—I don't know what, but I should have found words to make her return to me. But she entrenches herself behind her obstinacy; she knows that I would vanquish her; she has no good arguments with which to answer me; for I love her madly, desperately, frantically! Passion is eloquent. She flies from me! O perfidy and cowardice! she dare not face the misery she has caused, and veils her eyes when she strikes!
I am going to America. I will dull my mental grief by physical exhaustion; I will subdue the soul through the body; I will ascend the giant rivers whose bosoms bloom with thousands of islands; penetrate into the virgin forests where no trapper has yet set his foot; I will hunt the buffalo with the savage, and swim upon that ocean of shaggy heads and sharp horns; I will gallop at full speed over the prairie, pursued by the smoke of the burning grass. If the memory of Louise refuses to leave me, I will stop my horse and await the flames! I will carry my love so far away that it must perforce leave me.
I feel it, my life is wrecked for ever!—I cannot live in a world where Louise is not mine! Perhaps the young universe may contain a panacea for my anguish! Solitude shall pour its balm in my wound; once away from this civilization which stifles me, nature will cradle me in her motherly arms; the elements will resume their empire over me; ocean, sky, flowers, foliage will draw off the feverish electricity that excites my nerves; I will become absorbed in the grand whole, I will no longer live; I will vegetate and succeed in attaining the content of the plant that opens its leaves to the sun. I feel that I must stop my brain, suspend the beating of my heart, or I shall go raving mad.
I shall sail from Havre. A year from now write to me at the English fort in the Rocky Mountains, and I will join you in whatever corner of the globe you have gone to bury your despair over the loss of Irene de Chateaudun!
EDGAR DE MEILHAN
EDGAR DE MEILHAN to MADAME GUERIN, Pont-de-l'Arche (Eure).
RICHEPORT, July 23d 18—.
Louise, I write to you, although the resolution that I have taken should, no doubt, he silently carried out; but the swimmer struggling with the waves in mid-ocean cannot help, although he knows it is useless, uttering a last wild cry ere he sinks forever beneath the flood. Perhaps a sail may appear on the desert horizon and his last despairing shout be heard! It is so hard to believe ourselves finally condemned and to renounce all hope of pardon! My letter will be of no avail, and yet I cannot help sending it.
I am going to leave France, change worlds and skies. My passage is taken for America. The murmur of ocean and forest must soothe my despair. A great sorrow requires immensity. I would suffocate here. I should expect, at every turn, to see your white dress gleaming among the trees. Richeport is too much associated with you for me to dwell here longer; your memory has exiled me from it for ever. I must put a huge impossibility between myself and you; six thousand miles hardly suffice to separate us.
If I remained, I should resort to all manner of mad schemes to recover my happiness; no one gives up his cherished dream with more reluctance than I, especially when a word could make it a reality.
Louise, Louise, why do you avoid me and close your heart against me! You have not understood, perhaps, how much I love you? Has not my devotion shone in my eyes? I have not been able, perhaps, to convey to you what I felt? You have no more comprehended my adoration than the insensate idol the prayers of the faithful prostrated before it.
Nevertheless, I was convinced that I could make you happy; I thought that I appreciated the longings of your soul, and would be able to satisfy them all.
What crime have I committed against heaven to be punished with this biting despair? Perhaps I have failed to appreciate some sincere affection, repulsed unwittingly some simple, tender heart that your coldness now avenges; perhaps you are, unconsciously, the Nemesis of some forgotten fault.
How fearful it is to suffer from rejected love! To say to oneself: "The loved one exists, far from me, without me; she is young, smiling, lovely—to others; my despair is only an annoyance to her, I am necessary to her in nothing; my absence leaves no void in her life; my death would only provoke from her an expression of careless pity; my good and noble qualities have made no impression upon her; my verses, the delight of other young hearts, she has never read; my talents are as destructive to me as if they were crimes; why seek a hell in another world; is it not here?"
And besides, what infinite tenderness, what perpetual care, what timid and loving persistence, what obedience to every unexpressed wish, what prompt realization of even the slightest fancy! for what! for a careless glance, a smile that the thought of another brings to her lips! How can it be helped! he who is not beloved is always in the wrong.
I go away, carrying the iron in my wound; I will not drag it out, I prefer to die with it. May you live happy, may the fearful suffering that you have caused me never be expiated. I would have it so; society punishes murder of the body, heaven punishes murders of the soul. May your hidden assassination escape Divine vengeance as long as possible.
Farewell, Louise, farewell.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN to MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES, Hotel de la Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
PARIS, July 27th 18—.
Valentine, I am very uneasy. Why have I not heard from you for a month? Are you in any trouble? Is one of your dear children ill? Are you no longer at Grenoble? Have you taken your trip without me? The last would be the most acceptable reason for your silence. You have not received my letters, and ignorance of my sorrows accounts for your not writing to console me. Yet never have I been in greater need of the offices of friendship. The resolution I have just taken fills me with alarm. I acted against my judgment, but I could not do otherwise. I was influenced by an agonized mother, whose hallowed grief persuaded me against my will to espouse her interests. Why have I not a friend here to interpose in my behalf and save me from myself? But, after all, does it make any difference what becomes of me? Hope is dead within me. I no longer dream of happiness. At last the sad mystery is explained.... M. de Villiers is not free; he is engaged to his cousin.... Oh, he does not love her, I am sure, but he is a slave to his plighted troth, and of course she loves him and will not release him ... Can he, for a stranger, sacrifice family ties and a love dating from his childhood? Ah! if he really loved me, he would have had the courage to make this sacrifice; but he only felt a tender sympathy for me, lively enough to fill him with everlasting regret, not strong enough to inspire him with a painful resolution. Thus two beings created for each other meet for a moment, recognise one another, and then, unwillingly, separate, carrying in their different paths of life a burden of eternal regrets! And they languish apart in their separate spheres, unhappy and attached to nothing but the memory of the past—made wretched for life by the accidents of a day!
They are as the passengers of different ships, meeting for an hour in the same port, who hastily exchange a few words of sympathy, then pass away to other latitudes, under other skies—some to the North, others to the South, to the land of ice—to the cradle of the sun—far, far away from each other, to die. Is it then true that I shall never see him again? Oh, my God! how I loved him! I can never forgive him for not accepting this love that I was ready to lavish upon him.
I will now tell you what I have resolved to do. If I waver a moment I shall not have the courage to keep my promise. Madame de Meilhan is coming after me; I could not, after causing her such sorrow, resist the tears of this unhappy mother. She was in despair; her son had suddenly left her, and in spite of the secrecy of his movements, she discovered that he was at Havre and had taken passage there for America, on the steamer Ontario. She hoped to reach Havre in time to see her son, and she relied upon me to bring him home. I am distressed at causing her so much uneasiness, but what can I say to console her? I will at best be generous; Edgar's sorrow is like my own; as he suffers for me, I suffer for another; I cannot see his anguish, so like my own, without profound pity; this pity will doubtless inspire me with eloquence enough to persuade him to remain in France and not break his mother's heart by desertion. Besides, I have promised, and Madame de Meilhan relies upon me. How beautiful is maternal love! It crushes the loftiest pride, it overthrows with one cry the most ambitious plans; this haughty woman is subjugated by grief; she calls me her daughter; she gladly consents to this marriage which, a short time ago, she said would ruin her son's prospects, and which she looked upon with horror; she weeps, she supplicates. This morning she embraced me with every expression of devotion and cried out: "Give me back my son! Oh, restore to me my son!... You love him, ... he loves you, ... he is handsome, charming, talented.... I shall never see him again if you let him go away; tell him you love him; have you the cruelty to deprive me of my only son?" What could I say? how could I make an idolizing mother understand that I did not love her son?... If I had dared to say, "It is not he that I love, it is another," ... she would have said: "It is false; there is not a man on earth preferable to my son." She wept over the letter that Edgar wrote me before leaving. Valentine, this letter was noble and touching. I could not restrain my own tears when I read it. Finally, I was forced to yield. I am to accompany Madame de Meilhan to Havre; I hope we will reach there before the steamer leaves!... Edgar will not go to America, ... and I!... Oh, why is he the one to love me thus?... She has come for me! Adieu; write to me, my dear Valentine, ... I am so miserable. If you were only here! What will become of me? Adieu!
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN to MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES, Hotel de la Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
Paris, Aug. 2d 18—.
It is fortunate for me to-day, my dear Valentine, that I have the reputation of being a truthful person, professing a hatred of falsehood, otherwise you would not believe the strange facts that I am about to relate to you. I now expect to reap the fruits of my unvarying sincerity. Having always shown such respect for truth, I deserve to be believed when I assert what appears to be incredible.
What startling events have occurred in a few hours! My destiny has been changed by my peeping through a hole!! Without one word of comment I will state exactly what happened, and you must not accuse me of highly coloring my pictures; they are lively enough in themselves without any assistance from me. Far from adding to their brilliancy, I shall endeavor to tone them down and give them an air of probability. We left Pont de l'Arche the other day with sad and anxious hearts; during the journey Mad. de Meilhan, as if doubting the strength of my resolution and the ardor of my devotion, dilated enthusiastically upon the merits of her son. She boasted of his generosity, of his disinterestedness and sincerity; she mentioned the names of several wealthy young ladies whom he had refused to marry during the last two or three years. She spoke of his great success as a poet and a brilliant man. She impressed upon me that a noble love could exercise such a happy influence upon his genius, and said it was in my power to make him a good and happy man for life, by accepting this love, which she described to me in such touching language, that I felt moved and impressed, if not with love, at least with tender appreciation. She said Edgar had never loved any one as he had loved me—this passion had changed all his ideas—he lived for me alone. To indure him to listen to any one it was necessary to bring my name in the conversation so as to secure his ear; he spent his days and nights composing poems in my honor. He should have returned to Paris in response to the beautiful Marquise de R.'s sighs and smiles, but he never had the courage to leave me; for me he had pitilessly sacrificed this woman, who was lovely, witty and the reigning belle of Paris. She mournfully told me of the wild foolish things he would do upon his return to Richeport, after having made fruitless attempts to see me at Pont de l'Arche; his cruelty to his favorite horse, his violence against the flowers along the path, that he would cut to pieces with his whip; his sullen, mute despair; his extravagant talk to her; her own uneasiness; her useless prayers; and finally this fatal departure that she had vainly endeavored to prevent. She saw that I was affected by what she said, she seized my hand and called down blessing's upon me, thanking me a thousand times passionately and imperiously, as if to compel me to accede to her wishes.
I sorrowfully reflected upon all this trouble that I had caused, and was frightened at the conviction that I had by a few engaging smiles and a little harmless coquetry inspired so violent a passion. Thinking thus, I did justice to Edgar, and acknowledged that some reparation was due to him. He must have taken all these deceptive smiles to himself; when I first arrived at Pont de l'Arche, I had no scruples about being attractive, I expected to leave in a few days never to return again. Since then I had without pity refused his love, it is true; but could he believe this proud disdain to be genuine, when, after this decisive explanation, he found me tranquilly established at his mother's house? And there could he follow the different caprices of my mind, divine those temptations of generosity which first moved me in his favor, and then discover this wild love that was suddenly born in my soul for a phantom that I had only seen for a few hours?.... Had he not, on the contrary, a right to believe that I loved him, and to exclaim against the infamy, cruelty and perfidy of my refusing to see him, and my endeavors to convince him that I cared nothing for him? He was right to accuse me, for appearances were all against me—my own conduct condemned me. I must acknowledge myself culpable, and submit to the sentence that has been pronounced against me. I resigned myself sadly to repair the wrong I had committed. One hope still remained to me: Edgar brought back by me would be restored to his mother, but Edgar would cease to love me when he knew my real name. There is a difference between loving an adventuress, whose affections can be trifled with, and loving a woman of high birth and position, who must be honorably sought in marriage. Edgar has an invincible repugnance to matrimony; he considers this august institution as a monstrous inconvenience, very immoral, a profane revelation of the most sacred secrets of life; he calls it a public exhibition of affection; he says no one has a right to proclaim his preference for one woman. To call a woman: my wife! what revolting indiscretion! To call children: my children! what disgusting fatuity! In his eyes nothing is more horrible than a husband driving in the Champs Elysees with his family, which is tantamount to telling the passers-by: This woman seated by my side is the one I have chosen among all women, and to whom I am indebted for all pleasure in life; and this little girl who resembles her so much, and this little boy, the image of me, are the bonds of love between us. The Orientals, he added, whom we call barbarians, are more modest than we; they shut up their wives; they never appear in public with them, they never let any one see the objects of their tenderness, and they introduce young men of twenty, not as their sons, but as the heirs of their names and fortunes.
Recalling these remarkable sentiments of M. de Meilhan, I said to myself: he will never marry. But Mad. de Meilhan, who was aware of her son's peculiar thoeries, assured me that they were very much modified, and that one day in speaking of me, he had angrily exclaimed: "Oh! I wish I were her husband, so I could shut her up, and prevent any one seeing her!" Now I understand why a man marries! This was not very reassuring, but I devoted myself like a victim, and for a victim there is no half sacrifice. Generosity, like cruelty, is absolute.
After a night of anxious travel, we reached Havre at about ten in the morning. We drove rapidly to the office of the American steamers. Madame de Meilhan rushed frantically about until she found the sleepy clerk, who told her that M. de Meilhan had taken passage on the Ontario.
"When does this vessel leave?"
"I cannot tell you," said the gaping clerk.
We ran to the pier and tremblingly asked: "Can you tell us if the American vessel Ontario sails to-day?"
The old sailor replied to us in nautical language which we could not understand. Another man said: "The Ontario is pretty far out by this time!" We ran to the other end of the pier and found a crowd of people watching a cloud that was gradually disappearing in the distance. "I see nothing now," said one of the people. But I saw a little ... little smoke ... and I could distinctly see a flag with a large O on it.... Madame de Meilhan, pale and breathless, had not the strength to ask the name of the fatal vessel that was almost out of sight ... I could only gasp out the word "Ontario?" ...
"Precisely so, madame, but don't be uneasy ... it is a fast vessel, and your friends will land in America before two weeks are passed. You look astonished, but it is the truth, the Ontario is never behind time!" Madame de Meilhan fell fainting in my arms. She was lifted to our carriage and soon restored to consciousness, but was so overcome that she seemed incapable of comprehending the extent of her misfortune. We drove to the nearest hotel, and I remained in her room silently weeping and reproaching myself for having destroyed the happiness of this family.
During these first moments of stupor Madame de Meilhan showed no indignation at my presence; but no sooner had she recovered the use of her senses than she burst into a storm of abuse; calling me a detestable intriguer, a low adventuress who, by my stage tricks, had turned the head of her noble son; I would be the cause of his death—that fatal country would never give back her son; what a pity to see so superior a man, a pride and credit to his country, perish, succumb, to the snares of an obscure prude, who had not the sense to be his mistress, who was incapable of loving him for a single day; an ambitious schemer, who had determined to entrap him into marriage, but unhesitatingly sacrificed him to M. de Villiers as soon as she found M. de Villiers was the richer of the two, ... and many other flattering accusations she made, that were equally ill-deserved. I quietly listened to all this abuse, and went on preparing a glass of eau sucree for the poor weeping fury, whose conduct inspired me with generous pity. When she had finished her tirade, I silently handed her the orange water to calm her anger, and I looked at her ... my look expressed such firm gentle pride, such generous indulgence, such invulnerable dignity, that she felt herself completely disarmed. She took my hand and said, as she dried her tears: "You must forgive me, I am so unhappy!" Then I tried to console her; I told her I would write to her son, and she would soon have him back, as my letter would reach New York by the time he landed, and then it would only take him two weeks to return. This promise calmed her; then I persuaded her to lie down and recover from the fatigue of travelling all night. When I saw her poor swollen eyelids fairly closed, I left her to enjoy her slumbers and retired to my own room. I rested awhile and then rang to order preparations for our departure; but instead of the servant answering the bell, a pretty little girl, about eight years old, entered my room; upon seeing me she drew back frightened.
"What do you want, my child?" I said, drawing her within the door.
"Nothing, madame," she said.
"But you must have come here for something?"
"I did not know that madame was in her room."
"What did you come to do in here?"
"I came, as I did yesterday, to see."
"To see what?"
"In there ... the Turks ..."
"The Turks? What! am I surrounded by Turks?"
"Oh! they are not in the little room adjoining yours; but through this little room you can look into the large saloon where they all stay and have music ... will madame permit me to pass through?"
"This way. There is a little door behind this toilet-table; I open it, go in, get up on the table and look at the Turks."
The child rolled aside the toilet-table, entered the little room, and in a few minutes came running back to me and exclaimed:
"Oh! they are so beautiful! does not madame wish to see them?"
In a short time she returned again.
"The musicians are all asleep," she said ... "but, madame, the Turks are crazy—they don't sleep—they don't speak—they make horrible faces—they roll their eyes—they have such funny ways—one of them looks like my uncle when he has the fever—Oh! that one must be crazy, madame— ... look, he is going to dance! now he is going to die!"
The absurd prattle of the child finally aroused my curiosity. I went into the little room, and, mounting the table beside her, looked through a crevice in the wooden partition and clearly saw everything in the large saloon. It was hung up to a certain height with rich Turkish stuffs. The floor was covered by a superb Smyrna carpet. In one recess of the room the musicians were sleeping with their bizarre musical instruments tightly clasped in their arms. A dozen Turks, magnificently dressed, were seated on the soft carpet in Oriental fashion, that is to say, after the manner of tailors. They were supported by piles of cushions of all sizes and shapes, and seemed to be plunged in ecstatic oblivion.
One of these dreamy sons of Aurora attracted my attention by his brilliant costume and flashing arms. By the pale light of the exhausted lamps and the faint rays of dawning day, almost obscured by the heavy drapery of the windows, I could scarcely distinguish the features of this splendid Mussulman, at the same time I thought I had seen him before. I had seen but few pachas during my life, but I certainly had met this one somewhere, I looked attentively and saw that his hands were whiter than those of his compatriots—this was a suspicious fact. After closely watching this doubtful infidel, this amateur barbarian, I began to suspect civilization and Europeanism.... One of the musicians asleep near the window, turned over and his long guitar—a guzla, I think it is called—caught in the curtain and drew it a little open; the sunlight streamed in the room and an accusing ray fell upon the face of the spurious young Turk.... It was Edgar de Meilhan! A little cup filled with a greenish conserve rested on a cushion near by. I remembered that he had often spoken to me of the wonderful effects of hashish, and of the violent desire he had of experiencing this fascinating stupefaction; he had also told me of one of his college friends who had been living in Smyrna for some years; an original, who had taken upon himself the mission of re-barbarizing the East. This friend had sent him a number of Indian poinards and Turkish pipes, and had promised him some tobacco and hashish. This modern and amateur Turk was named Arthur Granson.... I asked the innkeeper's little daughter if she knew the name of the man who had hired the saloon? She said yes, that he was named Monsieur Granson.... This name and this meeting explained everything.
O Valentine! I will be sincere to the end, ... and confess that Edgar was wonderfully handsome in this costume!... the magnificent oriental stuff, the Turkish vest, embroidered in gold and silver, the yatagans, pistols and poinards studded with jewels, the turban draped with inimitable art—all these things gave him a majestic, superb, imposing aspect!... which at first astonished me, ... for we are all children when we first see beautiful objects, ... but he had a stupid look.... No, never did a sultan of the opera, throwing his handkerchief to his bayadere ... a German prince of the gymnasium complimented by his court—a provincial Bajazet listening to the threatening declarations of Roxana—never did they display in the awkwardness of their roles, in the stiffness of their movements, an attitude more absurdly ridiculous, an expression of countenance more ideally stupid. It is difficult to comprehend how a brilliant mind could so completely absent itself from its dwelling-place without leaving on the face it was wont to animate, a single trace, a faint ray of intelligence! Edgar had his eyes raised to the ceiling, ... and for an instant I think I caught his look, ... but Heavens! what a look! May I never meet such another! I shall add one more incident to my recital—important in itself but distasteful to me to relate—I will tell it in as few words as possible: Edgar was leaning on two piles of cushions; he seemed to be absorbed in the contemplation of invisible stars; he was awake, but a beautiful African slave, dressed like an Indian queen, was sleeping at his feet!
This strange spectacle filled my heart with joy. Instead of being indignant, I was delighted at this insult to myself. Edgar evidently forgot me, and truly he had a right to forget me; I was not engaged to him as I had been to Roger. A young poet has a right to dress like a Turk, and amuse himself with his friends, to suit his own fancy; but a noble prince has no right to scandalize the public when the dignity of his rank has to be striven after and recovered; when the glory of his name is to be kept untarnished. Oh! this disgusting sight gave rise to no angry feeling in my bosom, I at once comprehended the advantages of the situation. No more sacrifice, no more remorse, no more hypocrisy! I was free; my future was restored to me. Oh, the good Edgar! Oh, the dear poet! How I loved him ... for not loving me!!
I told the little girl to run quickly and bring me a servant. When the man came I handed him six louis to sharpen his wits, and then solemnly gave him my orders: "When they ring for you in that saloon, do you tell that young Turk with a red vest on ... you will remember him?" "Yes, madame." "You will tell him that the countess his mother is waiting here for him, in room No. 7, at the end of the corridor." "Ah! the lady who was weeping so bitterly?" "The same one." "Madame may rely upon me."
I then paid my bill, and, inquiring the quickest way of leaving Havre, I fled from the hotel. Walking along Grande Rue de Paris, I saw with pleasure that the city was filled with strangers, who had come to take part in the festivities that were taking place at Havre, and that I could easily mingle in this great crowd and leave the town without being observed. Uneasy and agitated, I hurried along, and just as I was passing the theatre I heard some one call me. Imagine my alarm when I distinctly heard some one call: "Mlle. Irene! Mlle. Irene!" I was so frightened that I could scarcely move. The call was repeated, and I saw my faithful Blanchard rushing towards me, breathless and then I recognised the supplicating voice ... I turned around and weeping, she exclaimed: "I know everything, Mlle., you are going to America! Take me with you. This is the first time I have ever been separated from you since your birth!" I had left the poor woman at Pont de l'Arche, and she, thinking I was going to America, had followed me. "Be quiet and follow me," said I, forgetting to tell her that I was not going to America. I reached the wharf and jumped into a boat; the unhappy Blanchard, who is a hydrophobe, followed me. "You are afraid?" said I. "Oh, no, Mlle., I am afraid on the Seine, but at sea it is quite a different thing." The touching delicacy of this ingenious conceit moved me to tears. Wishing to shorten the agony of this devoted friend, I told the oarsman to row us into the nearest port, instead of going further by water, as I had intended, in order to avoid the Rouen route and the Prince, the steamboat and M. de Meilhan. As soon as we landed I sent my faithful companion to the nearest village to hire a carriage, "I must be in Paris, to-morrow," said I. "Then we are not going to America?" "No." "So much the better," said she, as she trotted off in high glee to look for a carriage. I remained alone, gazing at the ocean. Oh! how I enjoyed the sight! How I would love to live on this charming, terrible azure desert! I was so absorbed in admiration that I soon forgot my worldly troubles and the rain tribulations of my obscure life. I was intoxicated by its wild perfume, its free, invigorating air! I breathed for the first time! With what delight I let the sea-breeze blow my hair about my burning brow! How I loved to gaze on its boundless horizon! How much—laugh at my vanity—how much I felt at home in this immensity! I am not one of those modest souls that are oppressed and humiliated by the grandeur of Nature; I only feel in harmony with the sublime, not through myself, but through the aspirations of my mind. I never feel as if there was around me, above me, before me, too much air, too much height, too much space. I like the boundless, luminous horizon to render solitude and liberty invisible to my eyes.
I know not if every one else is impressed as I was upon seeing the ocean for the first time. I felt released from all ties, purified of all hatred, and even of all earthly love; I was freed, calm, strong, armed, ready to brave all the evils of life, like a being who had received from God a right to disdain the world. The ocean and the sky have this good effect upon us—they wean us from worldly pleasures.
Upon reaching Paris, I went at once to your father's to inquire about you, and had my uneasiness about you set at rest. You must have left Geneva by this time; I hope soon to receive a letter from you. I am not staying with my cousin. I am living in my dear little garret. I wish a long time to elapse before I again become Mlle. de Chateaudun. I wish time to recover from the rude shocks I have had. What do you think of my last experience? What a perfect success was my theory of discouragement! Alas! too perfect. First trial: Western despair and champagne! Second trial: Eastern despair and hashisch!—Not to speak of the consolatory accessories, snowy-armed beauties and ebony-armed slaves! I would be very unsophisticated indeed if I did not consider myself sufficiently enlightened. I implore you not to speak to me of your hero whom you wish me to marry; I am determined never to marry. I shall love an image, cherish a star. The little light has returned. I see it shining as I write to you. Yes, these poetic loves are all-sufficient for my wounded soul. One thing disturbs me; they have cut down the large trees in front of my window. To-morrow, perhaps, I shall at last see the being that dwells in this fraternal garret.... Valentine—suppose it should be my long-sought ideal!... I tremble! perhaps a third disenchantment awaits me.... Good-night, my dear Valentine, I embrace you. I am very tired, but very happy ... it is so delightful to be relieved of all uneasiness, to feel that you are not compelled to console any one.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN to the PRINCE DE MONBERT, Poste Restante (Rouen).
PARIS, July 27th 18—.
My dear Roger, at the risk of bringing down upon my head the ridicule merited by men who fire a pistol above their heads after having left on their table the night before the most thrilling adieux to the world, I must confess that I have not gone; you have a perfect right to drive me out of Europe; I promised to go to America, and you can compel me to fulfil my promise; be clement, do not overpower me with ridicule; do not riddle me with the fire of your mocking artillery; my sorrow, even though I remain in the old world, is none the less crushing.
I must tell you how it all happened.
As all my life I have never been able to comprehend the division of time, and it's a toss-up whether I distinguish day from night, I turned my back on the best hotel in Havre, and stopped at one nearest the wharf, from whence I could see the smoke-stacks of the Ontario, about to sail for New York. I was leaning on the balcony, in the melancholy attitude of Raphael's portrait, gazing at the swell of the ocean, with that feeling of infinite sadness which the strongest heart must yield to in the presence of that immensity formed of drops of bitter water, like human tears. I followed, listlessly, with my eyes the movements of a strange group which had just landed from the Portsmouth packet. They were richly-dressed Orientals, followed by negro servants and women enveloped in long veils.
One of these Turks looked up as he passed under my window, saw me, and exclaimed in very correct French, with a decided Parisian accent: "Why, it's Edgar de Meilhan!" and, regardless of Oriental dignity, he dashed into the inn, bounded into my room, rubbed my face against his crisp black beard, punched me in the stomach with the carved hilts of a complete collection of yataghans and kandjars, and finally said, seeing my uncertainty: "Why! don't you know me, your old college chum, your playmate in childhood, Arthur Granson! Does my turban make such a change in me? So much the better! Or are you mean enough to stick to the letter of the proverb which pretends that friends are not Turks? By Allah and his prophet Mahomet, I shall prove to you that Turks are friends."
During this flood of words I had in truth recognised Arthur Granson, a good and odd young fellow, whom I am very fond of, and who would surely please you, for he is the most paradoxical youth to be found in the five divisions of the globe. And, what is very rare, he acts out his paradoxes, a whim which his great independence of character and above all a large fortune permit him to indulge, for gold is liberty; the only slaves are the poor.
"This much is settled, I will install myself here with my living palette of local colors;" and without giving me time to answer him, he left me to give the necessary orders for lodging his suite.
When he returned, I said to him: "What does this strange masquerade mean? The carnival has been over for some time, and will not return immediately, as we are hardly through the summer." "It is not a masquerade," replied Arthur, with a dogmatic coolness and transcendental gravity which at any other time would have made me laugh. "It is a complete system, which I shall unfold to you."
Whereupon my friend, taking off his Turkish slippers, crossed his legs on the divan in the approved classic attitude of the Osmanli, and running his fingers through his beard, spoke as follows:
"During my travels I have observed that no people appreciate the peculiar beauties of the country they inhabit. No one admires his own physiognomy; every one would like to resemble some one else. Spaniards and Turks make endless excuses for being handsome and picturesque. The Andalusian apologizes to you for not wearing a coat and round hat. The Arnaout, whose costume is the most gorgeous and elegant that has ever been worn by the human form divine, sighs as he gazes at your overcoat, and consults with himself upon the advisability of shooting you to get possession of it, in the first mountain gorge where he may meet you alone or poorly attended. Civilization is the natural enemy of beauty. All its creations are ugly. Barbarism—or rather relative barbarism—has found the secret of form and color. Man living so near to Nature imitates her harmony, and finds the types of his garments and his utensils in his surroundings. Mathematics have not yet developed their straight lines, dry angles and painful aridity. Now-a-days, picturesque traditions are lost, the long pantaloon has invaded the universe; frightful fashion-plates circulate everywhere; now, I refuse to believe that man's taste has become perverted to such a degree that if he were shown costumes combining elegance with richness, he would not prefer them to hideous modern rags. Having made these judicious and profound reflections, I felt as if I had been enlightened from above, and the secret of my earthly mission revealed to me; I had come into the world to preach costume, and, as you see, I preach it by example. Reflecting that Turkey is the country most menaced by the overcoat and stove-pipe hat, I went to Constantinople to bring about a reaction in favor of the embroidered vest and the turban. My grave studies upon the subject, my fortune and my taste have enabled me to attain the ne plus ultra of style.
"I doubt whether a Sultan ever possessed so splendid or so characteristic a wardrobe. I discovered among the bazaars of the cities least infected by the modern spirit, some tailors with a profound contempt for Frank fashions, who, with their tremulous hands, performed marvels of cutting and embroidery. I will show you caftans braided in a miserable little out-of-the-way village of Asia Minor, by some poor devils whom you would not trust with your dog, which surpass, in intricacy of design, the purest arabesques of the Alhambra, and in color, the most gorgeous peacock tails of Eugene Delacroix or Narciso Ruy Diaz de la Pena, a great painter, who out of commiseration for the commonalty only makes use of a quarter of his name.
"I am happy to say that my apostleship has not been without fruit. I have brought back to the dolman more than one young Osmanli about to rig himself out at Buisson's; I have saved more than one horse of the Nedji race from the insult of an English saddle; more than one tipsy Turk addicted to champagne has returned to opium at my suggestion. Some Georgians who were about to be admitted to the balls of the European embassies are indebted to me for being shut up closer than ever. I impressed upon these degenerate Orientals the disastrous results of such a breach of propriety. I persuaded the Sultan Abdul Medjid to give up the idea of introducing the guillotine into his empire. Without flattering myself, I think I have done a great deal of good, and if there were only a few more gay fellows like myself we should prevent people from making guys of themselves—And what are you doing, my dear Edgar?" "I am going to America, and I am waiting for the Ontario to get up steam," "That's a good idea! You can become a savage and resuscitate the last Mohican of Fenimore Cooper. I already see you, with a blue turtle on your breast, eagle's feathers in your scalp, and moccasins worked with porcupine quills. You will be very handsome; with your sad air you will look as if you were weeping over your dead race. If I had not been away for four years, I would accompany you, but I was in such a hurry to put my affairs in order, that I have returned to France by way of England, in order to avoid the quarantine. I will admit you to my religion; you shall become my disciple; I preserve barbaric costumes, you shall preserve savage costumes. It is not so handsome, but it is more characteristic. There were some Indians on our steamer; I studied them; they are the people to suit you. But, before your departure, we will indulge in an Eastern orgie in the purest style." "My dear Granson, I am not in a humor to take part in an orgie, even though it be an Eastern orgie; I am desperately sad." "Very well; I see that you are; some heart sorrow; you Occidentals are always in a state of torment about some woman; which would never occur if they were all shut up; it is dangerous to let such animals wander about. I am delighted that you are so sad and melancholy. I can now prove to you the superior efficacy of my exhilarating means. I found at Cairo, in the Teriaki Square, opposite the hospital for the insane—wasn't it a profoundly philosophical idea to establish in such a place dealers in happiness?—an old scamp, dry as a papyrus of the time of Amenoteph, shrivelled as the beards of the Pschent of the goddess Isis; this cabalistic druggist possessed the true receipt for the preparation of hashisch; besides, he seemed old enough to have gotten it direct from the Old Man of the Mountain, if he were not himself the Prince of Assassins who lived in the time of Saint Louis; this skeleton in a parchment case furnished me with a quantity of paradise, under the guise of green paste, in little Japanese cups done up in silver wire. I intend to initiate you into these hypercelestial delights. I shall give you a box of happiness, which will make you forget all the false coquettes in the world."
Without listening to my repeated refusals, Granson begged me to call him henceforth Sidi-Mahmoud; had his room spread with Persian rugs, ottomans piled up in every direction, the walls cushioned to lean against, and perfumes scattered about; three or four dusky musicians placed themselves in a convenient recess with taraboucks, rebeks and guzlas—an Ethiopean, naked to the waist, served us the precious drug on a red lacquered waiter.
To accommodate Granson I swallowed several spoonfuls of this greenish confection, which, at first, seemed to be flavored with honey and pistachio. I had dressed myself—for Granson is one of those obstinate idiots that one is compelled to yield to in order to get rid of—in an Anatolian costume of fabulous richness, my friend insisting that when one ascends to Paradise he should not be annoyed by the slope of his sleeves.
In a few moments I felt a slight warmth in my stomach—my body threw off sparks and flared up like a bank-bill in the flame of a candle; I was subject to no law of nature; weight, bulk, opacity had entirely disappeared. I retained my form, but it became transparent; flexible, fluid objects passed through me without inconveniencing me in the least; I could enlarge or decrease myself to suit any place I wished to occupy. I could transport myself at will from one place to another. I was in an impossible world, lighted by a gleam of azure grotto, in the centre of a bouquet of fire-works formed of everchanging sheafs, luminous flowers with gold and silver foliage, and calices of rubies, sapphires and diamonds; fountains of melted moonbeams, throwing their spray over crystal vases, which sang with voices like a harmonica the arias of the greatest singers. A symphony of perfumes followed this first enchantment, which vanished in a shower of spangles at the end of a few seconds; the theme was a faint odor of iris and acacia bloom which pursued, avoided, crossed and embraced each other with delicious ease and grace. If anything in this world can give you an approximative idea of this exquisitely perfumed movement, it is the dance for the piccolos in the Almee of Felicien David.
As the movement increased in sweetness and charm, the two perfumes took the shape of the flowers from which they emanated; two irises and two bunches of acacia bloomed in a marvellously transparent onyx vase; soon the irises scintillated like two blue stars, the acacia flowers dissolved into a golden stream, the onyx vase assumed a female shape, and I recognised the lovely face and graceful form of Louise Guerin, but idealized, passed to the state of Beatrice; I am not certain that there did not rise from her white shoulders a pair of angel's wings—she gazed so sadly and kindly at me that I felt my eyes fill with tears—she seemed to regret being in heaven; from the expression of her face one might have thought that she accused me, and at the same time entreated my forgiveness.
I will not take you through the various windings of this marvellous open-eyed dream; the monotonous harmony of the tarabouck and the rebek faintly reached my ear, and served as rhythm to this wonderful poem, which will, henceforth, make Homer, Virgil, Ariosto and Tasso as wearisome to read as a table of logarithms. All my senses had changed places; I saw music and heard colors; I had new perceptions, as the denizens of a planet superior to ours must have; at will, my body was composed of a ray, a perfume or a sweet savor; I experienced the ecstasy of the angels fused in divine light, for the effect of hashisch bears no resemblance whatever to that of wine and alcohol, by the use of which the people of the North debase and stupefy themselves; its intoxication is purely intellectual.
Little by little order was established in my brain. I began to observe objects around me.
The candles had burned down to the socket; the musicians slept, tenderly embracing their instruments. The handsome negress lay at my feet. I had taken her for a cushion. A pale ray of light appeared on the horizon; it was three o'clock in the morning. All at once a smoke-stack, puffing forth black smoke, crossed the bar; it was the Ontario leaving its moorings.
A confusion of voices was heard in the next room; my mother, having in some way learnt of my projected exile, had broken through Granson's orders to admit no one, and was calling for me.
I was rather mortified at being caught in such an absurd dress; but my mother observed nothing; she had but one thought, that I was about to leave her for ever. I do not remember what she said, such things cannot be written, the endearments she bestowed upon me when I was only five or six years old; finally she wept. I promised to stay and return to Paris. How can you refuse your mother anything when she weeps? Is she not the only woman whom we can never reproach?
After all, as you have said, Paris is the wildest desert; there you are completely alone. Indifferent and unknown people may value sands and swamps.
If my sorrow prove too tenacious, I shall ask my friend Arthur Granson for the address of the old Teriaki, and I shall send to Cairo for some boxes of forgetfulness. We will share them together if you wish. Farewell, dear Roger, I am yours mind and heart,
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS to MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES, Hotel of the Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
PARIS, July 30th 18—.
O day of bliss unutterable! I have found her, it is she! As you have opened your heart to my sadness, madame, open it to my joy. Forget the unhappy wretch who, a few days ago, abandoned himself to his grief, who even yesterday bade an eternal farewell to hope. That unfortunate has ceased to exist; in his place appears a young being intoxicated with love, for whom life is full of delight and enchantment. How does it happen that my soul, which should soar on hymns of joy, is filled with gloomy forebodings? Is it because man is not made for great felicity, or that happiness is naturally sad, nearer akin to tears than to laughter, because it feels its fragility and instinctively dreads the approaching expiation?
After having vainly searched for Mademoiselle de Chateaudun within the walls of Rouen, M. de Monbert decided, on receipt of some new information, to seek her among the old chateaux of Brittany. My sorrow, feeding upon itself, counselled me not to accompany him. The fact is that I could be of no earthly use in his search. Besides, I thought I perceived that my presence embarrassed him. To tell the truth, we were a constraint upon each other. Every sorrowful heart willingly believes itself the centre of the universe, and will not admit the existence, under heaven, of any other grief than its own. I let the Prince depart, and set out alone for Paris. One last hope remained; I persuaded myself that if Louise had not loved M. de Meilhan she would have left Richeport at the same time that I did.
I got out at Pont de l'Arche, and prowled like a felon about the scenes where happiness had come to me.
I wandered about for an hour, when I saw the letter-carrier coming to the post-office for the letters to be delivered at the neighboring chateaux. Paler and more tremulous than the silvery foliage of the willows on the river shore, I questioned him and learned that Madame Guerin was still at Richeport. I went away with death in my heart; in the evening I reach Paris. Resolved to see no one in that city, and only intending to pass a few days in solitude and silence, I sought no other abode than the little room which I had occupied in less fortunate but happier times. I wished to resume my old manner of living; but I had no taste for anything. When one goes in pursuit of happiness, the way is smiling and alluring, hope brightens the horizon; when we have clutched it and then let it escape, everything becomes gloomy and disenchanted; for it is a traveller whom we do not meet twice upon our road. I tried to study, which only increased my weariness. What was the use of knowledge and wisdom? Life was a closed book to me. I tried the poets, who added to my sufferings, by translating them into their passionate language. Thus, reason is baffled by the graceful apparition of a lovely blonde, who glided across my existence like a gossamer over a clear sky, and banished repose for ever from my heart! My eyes had scarcely rested upon the angle of my dreams ere she took flight, leaving on my brow the shadow of her wings! She was only a child, and that child had passed over my destiny like a tempest! She rested for a moment in my life, like a bird upon a branch, and my life was broken! In fact I lost all control over myself. Young, free and rich, I was at a loss to know what to do. What was to become of me? Turn where I would, I still saw nothing around me but solitude and despair. During the day I mingled with the crowd and wandered about the streets like a lost soul; returning at night overcome, but not conquered by fatigue. Burning sleeplessness besieged my pillow, and the little light no longer shone to comfort and encourage me. I no longer heard, as before, a caressing voice speaking to me through the trees of the garden. "Courage, friend! I watch and suffer with thee." Finally, one night I saw the star peep forth and shine. Although I had no heart for such fancies, still I felt young and joyous again, on seeing it. As before, I gazed at it a long time. Was it the same, that, for two years, I had seen burn and go out regularly at the same hour? It might be doubted; but I did not doubt it for a moment, because I took pleasure in believing it. I felt less isolated and gained confidence, now that my star had not deserted me. I called it my martyr when I spoke to it: "Whence comest thou? Hast thou too suffered? Hast thou mourned my absence a little?" And, as before, I thought it answered me in the silence of the night. Towards morning I slept, and in a dream, I saw, as through a glass, Louise watching and working in a room as poor as mine, by the light of the well-beloved ray. She looked pale and sad, and from time to time stopped her work to gaze at the gleam of my lamp. When I awoke, it was broad day; and I went out to kill time.