"She is going; you will lose her forever," said Henriette.
"Let her go," I answered, "and without a regret."
"Oh, poor woman!" cried the countess, with a sort of compassionate horror. "Where will she go?"
"Back to La Grenadiere,—a little house near Saint-Cyr," I said, "where she is staying."
Just as we were entering the avenue of Clochegourde Arabella's dog barked joyfully and bounded up to the carriage.
"She is here before us!" cried the countess; then after a pause she added, "I have never seen a more beautiful woman. What a hand and what a figure! Her complexion outdoes the lily, her eyes are literally bright as diamonds. But she rides too well; she loves to display her strength; I think her violent and too active,—also too bold for our conventions. The woman who recognizes no law is apt to listen only to her caprices. Those who seek to shine, to make a stir, have not the gift of constancy. Love needs tranquillity; I picture it to myself like a vast lake in which the lead can find no bottom; where tempests may be violent, but are rare and controlled within certain limits; where two beings live on a flowery isle far from the world whose luxury and display offend them. Still, love must take the imprint of the character. Perhaps I am wrong. If nature's elements are compelled to take certain forms determined by climate, why is it not the same with the feelings of individuals? No doubt sentiments, feelings, which hold to the general law in the mass, differ in expression only. Each soul has its own method. Lady Dudley is the strong woman who can traverse distances and act with the vigor of a man; she would rescue her lover and kill jailers and guards; while other women can only love with their whole souls; in moments of danger they kneel down to pray, and die. Which of the two women suits you best? That is the question. Yes, yes, Lady Dudley must surely love; she has made many sacrifices. Perhaps she will love you when you have ceased to love her!"
"Dear angel," I said, "let me ask the question you asked me; how is it that you know these things?"
"Every sorrow teaches a lesson, and I have suffered on so many points that my knowledge is vast."
My servant had heard the order given, and thinking we should return by the terraces he held my horse ready for me in the avenue. Arabella's dog had scented the horse, and his mistress, drawn by very natural curiosity, had followed the animal through the woods to the avenue.
"Go and make your peace," said Henriette, smiling without a tinge of sadness. "Say to Lady Dudley how much she mistakes my intention; I wished to show her the true value of the treasure which has fallen to her; my heart holds none but kind feelings, above all neither anger nor contempt. Explain to her that I am her sister, and not her rival."
"I shall not go," I said.
"Have you never discovered," she said with lofty pride, "that certain propitiations are insulting? Go!"
I rode towards Lady Dudley wishing to know the state of her mind. "If she would only be angry and leave me," I thought, "I could return to Clochegourde."
The dog led me to an oak, from which, as I came up, Arabella galloped crying out to me, "Come! away! away!" All that I could do was to follow her to Saint Cyr, which we reached about midnight.
"That lady is in perfect health," said Arabella as she dismounted.
Those who know her can alone imagine the satire contained in that remark, dryly said in a tone which meant, "I should have died!"
"I forbid you to utter any of your sarcasms about Madame de Mortsauf," I said.
"Do I displease your Grace in remarking upon the perfect health of one so dear to your precious heart? Frenchwomen hate, so I am told, even their lover's dog. In England we love all that our masters love; we hate all they hate, because we are flesh of their flesh. Permit me therefore to love this lady as much as you yourself love her. Only, my dear child," she added, clasping me in her arms which were damp with rain, "if you betray me, I shall not be found either lying down or standing up, not in a carriage with liveried lackeys, nor on horseback on the moors of Charlemagne, nor on any other moor beneath the skies, nor in my own bed, nor beneath a roof of my forefathers; I shall not be anywhere, for I will live no longer. I was born in Lancashire, a country where women die for love. Know you, and give you up? I will yield you to none, not even to Death, for I should die with you."
She led me to her rooms, where comfort had already spread its charms.
"Love her, dear," I said warmly. "She loves you sincerely, not in jest."
"Sincerely! you poor child!" she said, unfastening her habit.
With a lover's vanity I tried to exhibit Henriette's noble character to this imperious creature. While her waiting-woman, who did not understand a word of French, arranged her hair I endeavored to picture Madame de Mortsauf by sketching her life; I repeated many of the great thoughts she had uttered at a crisis when nearly all women become either petty or bad. Though Arabella appeared to be paying no attention she did not lose a single word.
"I am delighted," she said when we were alone, "to learn your taste for pious conversation. There's an old vicar on one of my estates who understands writing sermons better than any one I know; the country-people like him, for he suits his prosing to his hearers. I'll write to my father to-morrow and ask him to send the good man here by steamboat; you can meet him in Paris, and when once you have heard him you will never wish to listen to any one else,—all the more because his health is perfect. His moralities won't give you shocks that make you weep; they flow along without tempests, like a limpid stream, and will send you to sleep. Every evening you can if you like satisfy your passion for sermons by digesting one with your dinner. English morality, I do assure you, is as superior to that of Touraine as our cutlery, our plate, and our horses are to your knives and your turf. Do me the kindness to listen to my vicar; promise me. I am only a woman, my dearest; I can love, I can die for you if you will; but I have never studied at Eton, or at Oxford, or in Edinburgh. I am neither a doctor of laws nor a reverend; I can't preach morality; in fact, I am altogether unfit for it, I should be awkward if I tried. I don't blame your tastes; you might have others more depraved, and I should still endeavor to conform to them, for I want you to find near me all you like best,—pleasures of love, pleasures of food, pleasures of piety, good claret, and virtuous Christians. Shall I wear hair-cloth to-night? She is very lucky, that woman, to suit you in morality. From what college did she graduate? Poor I, who can only give you myself, who can only be your slave—"
"Then why did you rush away when I wanted to bring you together?"
"Are you crazy, Amedee? I could go from Paris to Rome disguised as a valet; I would do the most unreasonable thing for your sake; but how can you expect me to speak to a woman on the public roads who has never been presented to me,—and who, besides, would have preached me a sermon under three heads? I speak to peasants, and if I am hungry I would ask a workman to share his bread with me and pay him in guineas,—that is all proper enough; but to stop a carriage on the highway, like the gentlemen of the road in England, is not at all within my code of manners. You poor child, you know only how to love; you don't know how to live. Besides, I am not like you as yet, dear angel; I don't like morality. Still, I am capable of great efforts to please you. Yes, I will go to work; I will learn how to preach; you shall have no more kisses without verses of the Bible interlarded."
She used her power and abused it as soon as she saw in my eyes the ardent expression which was always there when she began her sorceries. She triumphed over everything, and I complacently told myself that the woman who loses all, sacrifices the future, and makes love her only virtue, is far above Catholic polemics.
"So she loves herself better than she loves you?" Arabella went on. "She sets something that is not you above you. Is that love? how can we women find anything to value in ourselves except that which you value in us? No woman, no matter how fine a moralist she may be, is the equal of a man. Tread upon us, kill us; never embarrass your lives on our account. It is for us to die, for you to live, great and honored. For us the dagger in your hand; for you our pardoning love. Does the sun think of the gnats in his beams, that live by his light? they stay as long as they can and when he withdraws his face they die—"
"Or fly somewhere else," I said interrupting her.
"Yes, somewhere else," she replied, with an indifference that would have piqued any man into using the power with which she invested him. "Do you really think it is worthy of womanhood to make a man eat his bread buttered with virtue, and to persuade him that religion is incompatible with love? Am I a reprobate? A woman either gives herself or she refuses. But to refuse and moralize is a double wrong, and is contrary to the rule of the right in all lands. Here, you will get only excellent sandwiches prepared by the hand of your servant Arabella, whose sole morality is to imagine caresses no man has yet felt and which the angels inspire."
I know nothing more destructive than the wit of an Englishwoman; she gives it the eloquent gravity, the tone of pompous conviction with which the British hide the absurdities of their life of prejudice. French wit and humor, on the other hand, is like a lace with which our women adorn the joys they give and the quarrels they invent; it is a mental jewelry, as charming as their pretty dresses. English wit is an acid which corrodes all those on whom it falls until it bares their bones, which it scrapes and polishes. The tongue of a clever Englishwoman is like that of a tiger tearing the flesh from the bone when he is only in play. All-powerful weapon of a sneering devil, English satire leaves a deadly poison in the wound it makes. Arabella chose to show her power like the sultan who, to prove his dexterity, cut off the heads of unoffending beings with his own scimitar.
"My angel," she said, "I can talk morality too if I choose. I have asked myself whether I commit a crime in loving you; whether I violate the divine laws; and I find that my love for you is both natural and pious. Why did God create some beings handsomer than others if not to show us that we ought to adore them? The crime would be in not loving you. This lady insults you by confounding you with other men; the laws of morality are not applicable to you; for God has created you above them. Am I not drawing nearer to divine love in loving you? will God punish a poor woman for seeking the divine? Your great and luminous heart so resembles the heavens that I am like the gnats which flutter about the torches of a fete and burn themselves; are they to be punished for their error? besides, is it an error? may it not be pure worship of the light? They perish of too much piety,—if you call it perishing to fling one's self on the breast of him we love. I have the weakness to love you, whereas that woman has the strength to remain in her Catholic shrine. Now, don't frown. You think I wish her ill. No, I do not. I adore the morality which has led her to leave you free, and enables me to win you and hold you forever—for you are mine forever, are you not?"
"Forever and ever?"
"Ah! I have found favor in my lord! I alone have understood his worth! She knows how to cultivate her estate, you say. Well, I leave that to farmers; I cultivate your heart."
I try to recall this intoxicating babble, that I may picture to you the woman as she is, confirm all I have said of her, and let you into the secret of what happened later. But how shall I describe the accompaniment of the words? She sought to annihilate by the passion of her impetuous love the impressions left in my heart by the chaste and dignified love of my Henriette. Lady Dudley had seen the countess as plainly as the countess had seen her; each had judged the other. The force of Arabella's attack revealed to me the extent of her fear, and her secret admiration for her rival. In the morning I found her with tearful eyes, complaining that she had not slept.
"What troubles you?" I said.
"I fear that my excessive love will ruin me," she answered; "I have given all. Wiser than I, that woman possesses something that you still desire. If you prefer her, forget me; I will not trouble you with my sorrows, my remorse, my sufferings; no, I will go far away and die, like a plant deprived of the life-giving sun."
She was able to wring protestations of love from my reluctant lips, which filled her with joy.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, drying her eyes, "I am happy. Go back to her; I do not choose to owe you to the force of my love, but to the action of your own will. If you return here I shall know that you love me as much as I love you, the possibility of which I have always doubted."
She persuaded me to return to Clochegourde. The false position in which I thus placed myself did not strike me while still under the influence of her wiles. Yet, had I refused to return I should have given Lady Dudley a triumph over Henriette. Arabella would then have taken me to Paris. To go now to Clochegourde was an open insult to Madame de Mortsauf; in that case Arabella was sure of me. Did any woman ever pardon such crimes against love? Unless she were an angel descended from the skies, instead of a purified spirit ascending to them, a loving woman would rather see her lover die than know him happy with another. Thus, look at it as I would, my situation, after I had once left Clochegourde for the Grenadiere, was as fatal to the love of my choice as it was profitable to the transient love that held me. Lady Dudley had calculated all this with consummate cleverness. She owned to me later that if she had not met Madame de Mortsauf on the moor she had intended to compromise me by haunting Clochegourde until she did so.
When I met the countess that morning, and found her pale and depressed like one who has not slept all night, I was conscious of exercising the instinctive perception given to hearts still fresh and generous to show them the true bearing of actions little regarded by the world at large, but judged as criminal by lofty spirits. Like a child going down a precipice in play and gathering flowers, who sees with dread that it can never climb that height again, feels itself alone, with night approaching, and hears the howls of animals, so I now knew that she and I were separated by a universe. A wail arose within our souls like an echo of that woeful "Consummatum est" heard in the churches on Good Friday at the hour the Saviour died,—a dreadful scene which awes young souls whose first love is religion. All Henriette's illusions were killed at one blow; her heart had endured its passion. She did not look at me; she refused me the light that for six long years had shone upon my life. She knew well that the spring of the effulgent rays shed by our eyes was in our souls, to which they served as pathways to reach each other, to blend them in one, meeting, parting, playing, like two confiding women who tell each other all. Bitterly I felt the wrong of bringing beneath this roof, where pleasure was unknown, a face on which the wings of pleasure had shaken their prismatic dust. If, the night before, I had allowed Lady Dudley to depart alone, if I had then returned to Clochegourde, where, it may be, Henriette awaited me, perhaps—perhaps Madame de Mortsauf might not so cruelly have resolved to be my sister. But now she paid me many ostentatious attentions,—playing her part vehemently for the very purpose of not changing it. During breakfast she showed me a thousand civilities, humiliating attentions, caring for me as though I were a sick man whose fate she pitied.
"You were out walking early," said the count; "I hope you have brought back a good appetite, you whose stomach is not yet destroyed."
This remark, which brought the smile of a sister to Henriette's lips, completed my sense of the ridicule of my position. It was impossible to be at Clochegourde by day and Saint-Cyr by night. During the day I felt how difficult it was to become the friend of a woman we have long loved. The transition, easy enough when years have brought it about, is like an illness in youth. I was ashamed; I cursed the pleasure Lady Dudley gave me; I wished that Henriette would demand my blood. I could not tear her rival in pieces before her, for she avoided speaking of her; indeed, had I spoken of Arabella, Henriette, noble and sublime to the inmost recesses of her heart, would have despised my infamy. After five years of delightful intercourse we now had nothing to say to each other; our words had no connection with our thoughts; we were hiding from each other our intolerable pain,—we, whose mutual sufferings had been our first interpreter.
Henriette assumed a cheerful look for me as for herself, but she was sad. She spoke of herself as my sister, and yet found no ground on which to converse; and we remained for the greater part of the time in constrained silence. She increased my inward misery by feigning to believe that she was the only victim.
"I suffer more than you," I said to her at a moment when my self-styled sister was betrayed into a feminine sarcasm.
"How so?" she said haughtily.
"Because I am the one to blame."
At last her manner became so cold and indifferent that I resolved to leave Clochegourde. That evening, on the terrace, I said farewell to the whole family, who were there assembled. They all followed me to the lawn where my horse was waiting. The countess came to me as I took the bridle in my hand.
"Let us walk down the avenue together, alone," she said.
I gave her my arm, and we passed through the courtyard with slow and measured steps, as though our rhythmic movement were consoling to us. When we reached the grove of trees which forms a corner of the boundary she stopped.
"Farewell, my friend," she said, throwing her head upon my breast and her arms around my neck, "Farewell, we shall never meet again. God has given me the sad power to look into the future. Do you remember the terror that seized me the day you first came back, so young, so handsome! and I saw you turn your back on me as you do this day when you are leaving Clochegourde and going to Saint-Cyr? Well, once again, during the past night I have seen into the future. Friend, we are speaking together for the last time. I can hardly now say a few words to you, for it is but a part of me that speaks at all. Death has already seized on something in me. You have taken the mother from her children, I now ask you to take her place to them. You can; Jacques and Madeleine love you—as if you had always made them suffer."
"Death!" I cried, frightened as I looked at her and beheld the fire of her shining eyes, of which I can give no idea to those who have never known their dear ones struck down by her fatal malady, unless I compare those eyes to balls of burnished silver. "Die!" I said. "Henriette, I command you to live. You used to ask an oath of me, I now ask one of you. Swear to me that you will send for Origet and obey him in everything."
"Would you oppose the mercy of God?" she said, interrupting me with a cry of despair at being thus misunderstood.
"You do not love me enough to obey me blindly, as that miserable Lady Dudley does?"
"Yes, yes, I will do all you ask," she cried, goaded by jealousy.
"Then I stay," I said, kissing her on the eyelids.
Frightened at the words, she escaped from my arms and leaned against a tree; then she turned and walked rapidly homeward without looking back. But I followed her; she was weeping and praying. When we reached the lawn I took her hand and kissed it respectfully. This submission touched her.
"I am yours—forever, and as you will," I said; "for I love you as your aunt loved you."
She trembled and wrung my hand.
"One look," I said, "one more, one last of our old looks! The woman who gives herself wholly," I cried, my soul illumined by the glance she gave me, "gives less of life and soul than I have now received. Henriette, thou art my best-beloved—my only love."
"I shall live!" she said; "but cure yourself as well."
That look had effaced the memory of Arabella's sarcasms. Thus I was the plaything of the two irreconcilable passions I have now described to you; I was influenced by each alternately. I loved an angel and a demon; two women equally beautiful,—one adorned with all the virtues which we decry through hatred of our own imperfections, the other with all the vices which we deify through selfishness. Returning along that avenue, looking back again and again at Madame de Mortsauf, as she leaned against a tree surrounded by her children who waved their handkerchiefs, I detected in my soul an emotion of pride in finding myself the arbiter of two such destinies; the glory, in ways so different, of women so distinguished; proud of inspiring such great passions that death must come to whichever I abandoned. Ah! believe me, that passing conceit has been doubly punished!
I know not what demon prompted me to remain with Arabella and await the moment when the death of the count might give me Henriette; for she would ever love me. Her harshness, her tears, her remorse, her Christian resignation, were so many eloquent signs of a sentiment that could no more be effaced from her heart than from mine. Walking slowly down that pretty avenue and making these reflections, I was no longer twenty-five, I was fifty years old. A man passes in a moment, even more quickly than a woman, from youth to middle age. Though long ago I drove these evil thoughts away from me, I was then possessed by them, I must avow it. Perhaps I owed their presence in my mind to the Tuileries, to the king's cabinet. Who could resist the polluting spirit of Louis XVIII.?
When I reached the end of the avenue I turned and rushed back in the twinkling of an eye, seeing that Henriette was still there, and alone! I went to bid her a last farewell, bathed in repentant tears, the cause of which she never knew. Tears sincere indeed; given, although I knew it not, to noble loves forever lost, to virgin emotions—those flowers of our life which cannot bloom again. Later, a man gives nothing, he receives; he loves himself in his mistress; but in youth he loves his mistress in himself. Later, we inoculate with our tastes, perhaps our vices, the woman who loves us; but in the dawn of life she whom we love conveys to us her virtues, her conscience. She invites us with a smile to the noble life; from her we learn the self-devotion which she practises. Woe to the man who has not had his Henriette. Woe to that other one who has never known a Lady Dudley. The latter, if he marries, will not be able to keep his wife; the other will be abandoned by his mistress. But joy to him who can find the two women in one woman; happy the man, dear Natalie, whom you love.
After my return to Paris Arabella and I became more intimate than ever. Soon we insensibly abandoned all the conventional restrictions I had carefully imposed, the strict observance of which often makes the world forgive the false position in which Lady Dudley had placed herself. Society, which delights in looking behind appearances, sanctions much as soon as it knows the secrets they conceal. Lovers who live in the great world make a mistake in flinging down these barriers exacted by the law of salons; they do wrong not to obey scrupulously all conventions which the manners and customs of a community impose,—less for the sake of others than for their own. Outward respect to be maintained, comedies to play, concealments to be managed; all such strategy of love occupies the life, renews desire, and protects the heart against the palsy of habit. But all young passions, being, like youth itself, essentially spendthrift, raze their forests to the ground instead of merely cutting the timber. Arabella adopted none of these bourgeois ideas, and yielded to them only to please me; she wished to exhibit me to the eyes of all Paris as her "sposo." She employed her powers of seduction to keep me under her roof, for she was not content with a rumored scandal which, for want of proof, was only whispered behind the fans. Seeing her so happy in committing an imprudence which frankly admitted her position, how could I help believing in her love?
But no sooner was I plunged into the comforts of illegal marriage than despair seized upon me; I saw my life bound to a course in direct defiance of the ideas and the advice given me by Henriette. Thenceforth I lived in the sort of rage we find in consumptive patients who, knowing their end is near, cannot endure that their lungs should be examined. There was no corner in my heart where I could fly to escape suffering; an avenging spirit filled me incessantly with thoughts on which I dared not dwell. My letters to Henriette depicted this moral malady and did her infinite harm. "At the cost of so many treasures lost, I wished you to be at least happy," she wrote in the only answer I received. But I was not happy. Dear Natalie, happiness is absolute; it allows of no comparisons. My first ardor over, I necessarily compared the two women,—a contrast I had never yet studied. In fact, all great passions press so strongly on the character that at first they check its asperities and cover the track of habits which constitute our defects and our better qualities. But later, when two lovers are accustomed to each other, the features of their moral physiognomies reappear; they mutually judge each other, and it often happens during this reaction of the character after passion, that natural antipathies leading to disunion (which superficial people seize upon to accuse the human heart of instability) come to the surface. This period now began with me. Less blinded by seductions, and dissecting, as it were, my pleasure, I undertook, without perhaps intending to do so, a critical examination of Lady Dudley which resulted to her injury.
In the first place, I found her wanting in the qualities of mind which distinguish Frenchwomen and make them so delightful to love; as all those who have had the opportunity of loving in both countries declare. When a Frenchwoman loves she is metamorphosed; her noted coquetry is used to deck her love; she abandons her dangerous vanity and lays no claim to any merit but that of loving well. She espouses the interests, the hatreds, the friendships, of the man she loves; she acquires in a day the experience of a man of business; she studies the code, she comprehends the mechanism of credit, and could manage a banker's office; naturally heedless and prodigal, she will make no mistakes and waste not a single louis. She becomes, in turn, mother, adviser, doctor, giving to all her transformations a grace of happiness which reveals, in its every detail, her infinite love. She combines the special qualities of the women of other countries and gives unity to the mixture by her wit, that truly French product, which enlivens, sanctions, justifies, and varies all, thus relieving the monotony of a sentiment which rests on a single tense of a single verb. The Frenchwoman loves always, without abatement and without fatigue, in public or in solitude. In public she uses a tone which has meaning for one only; she speaks by silence; she looks at you with lowered eyelids. If the occasion prevents both speech and look she will use the sand and write a word with the point of her little foot; her love will find expression even in sleep; in short, she bends the world to her love. The Englishwoman, on the contrary, makes her love bend to the world. Educated to maintain the icy manners, the Britannic and egotistic deportment which I described to you, she opens and shuts her heart with the ease of a British mechanism. She possesses an impenetrable mask, which she puts on or takes off phlegmatically. Passionate as an Italian when no eye sees her, she becomes coldly dignified before the world. A lover may well doubt his empire when he sees the immobility of face, the aloofness of countenance, and hears the calm voice, with which an Englishwoman leaves her boudoir. Hypocrisy then becomes indifference; she has forgotten all.
Certainly the woman who can lay aside her love like a garment may be thought to be capable of changing it. What tempests arise in the heart of a man, stirred by wounded self-love, when he sees a woman taking and dropping and again picking up her love like a piece of embroidery. These women are too completely mistresses of themselves ever to belong wholly to you; they are too much under the influence of society ever to let you reign supreme. Where a Frenchwoman comforts by a look, or betrays her impatience with visitors by witty jests, an Englishwoman's silence is absolute; it irritates the soul and frets the mind. These women are so constantly, and, under all circumstances, on their dignity, that to most of them fashion reigns omnipotent even over their pleasures. An Englishwoman forces everything into form; though in her case the love of form does not produce the sentiment of art. No matter what may be said against it, Protestantism and Catholicism explain the differences which make the love of Frenchwomen so far superior to the calculating, reasoning love of Englishwomen. Protestantism doubts, searches, and kills belief; it is the death of art and love. Where worldliness is all in all, worldly people must needs obey; but passionate hearts flee from it; to them its laws are insupportable.
You can now understand what a shock my self-love received when I found that Lady Dudley could not live without the world, and that the English system of two lives was familiar to her. It was no sacrifice she felt called upon to make; on the contrary she fell naturally into two forms of life that were inimical to each other. When she loved she loved madly,—no woman of any country could be compared to her; but when the curtain fell upon that fairy scene she banished even the memory of it. In public she never answered to a look or a smile; she was neither mistress nor slave; she was like an ambassadress, obliged to round her phrases and her elbows; she irritated me by her composure, and outraged my heart with her decorum. Thus she degraded love to a mere need, instead of raising it to an ideal through enthusiasm. She expressed neither fear, nor regrets, nor desire; but at a given hour her tenderness reappeared like a fire suddenly lighted.
In which of these two women ought I to believe? I felt, as it were by a thousand pin-pricks, the infinite differences between Henriette and Arabella. When Madame de Mortsauf left me for a while she seemed to leave to the air the duty of reminding me of her; the folds of her gown as she went away spoke to the eye, as their undulating sound to the ear when she returned; infinite tenderness was in the way she lowered her eyelids and looked on the ground; her voice, that musical voice, was a continual caress; her words expressed a constant thought; she was always like unto herself; she did not halve her soul to suit two atmospheres, one ardent, the other icy. In short, Madame de Mortsauf reserved her mind and the flower of her thought to express her feelings; she was coquettish in ideas with her children and with me. But Arabella's mind was never used to make life pleasant; it was never used at all for my benefit; it existed only for the world and by the world, and it was spent in sarcasm. She loved to rend, to bite, as it were,—not for amusement but to satisfy a craving. Madame de Mortsauf would have hidden her happiness from every eye, Lady Dudley chose to exhibit hers to all Paris; and yet with her impenetrable English mask she kept within conventions even while parading in the Bois with me. This mixture of ostentation and dignity, love and coldness, wounded me constantly; for my soul was both virgin and passionate, and as I could not pass from one temperature to the other, my temper suffered. When I complained (never without precaution), she turned her tongue with its triple sting against me; mingling boasts of her love with those cutting English sarcasms. As soon as she found herself in opposition to me, she made it an amusement to hurt my feelings and humiliate my mind; she kneaded me like dough. To any remark of mine as to keeping a medium in all things, she replied by caricaturing my ideas and exaggerating them. When I reproached her for her manner to me, she asked if I wished her to kiss me at the opera before all Paris; and she said it so seriously that I, knowing her desire to make people talk, trembled lest she should execute her threat. In spite of her real passion she was never meditative, self-contained, or reverent, like Henriette; on the contrary she was insatiable as a sandy soil. Madame de Mortsauf was always composed, able to feel my soul in an accent or a glance. Lady Dudley was never affected by a look, or a pressure of the hand, nor yet by a tender word. No proof of love surprised her. She felt so strong a necessity for excitement, noise, celebrity, that nothing attained to her ideal in this respect; hence her violent love, her exaggerated fancy,—everything concerned herself and not me.
The letter you have read from Madame de Mortsauf (a light which still shone brightly on my life), a proof of how the most virtuous of women obeyed the genius of a Frenchwoman, revealing, as it did, her perpetual vigilance, her sound understanding of all my prospects—that letter must have made you see with what care Henriette had studied my material interests, my political relations, my moral conquests, and with what ardor she took hold of my life in all permissible directions. On such points as these Lady Dudley affected the reticence of a mere acquaintance. She never informed herself about my affairs, nor of my likings or dislikings as a man. Prodigal for herself without being generous, she separated too decidedly self-interest and love. Whereas I knew very well, without proving it, that to save me a pang Henriette would have sought for me that which she would never seek for herself. In any great and overwhelming misfortune I should have gone for counsel to Henriette, but I would have let myself be dragged to prison sooner than say a word to Lady Dudley.
Up to this point the contrast relates to feelings; but it was the same in outward things. In France, luxury is the expression of the man, the reproduction of his ideas, of his personal poetry; it portrays the character, and gives, between lovers, a precious value to every little attention by keeping before them the dominant thought of the being loved. But English luxury, which at first allured me by its choiceness and delicacy, proved to be mechanical also. The thousand and one attentions shown me at Clochegourde Arabella would have considered the business of servants; each one had his own duty and speciality. The choice of the footman was the business of her butler, as if it were a matter of horses. She never attached herself to her servants; the death of the best of them would not have affected her, for money could replace the one lost by another equally efficient. As to her duty towards her neighbor, I never saw a tear in her eye for the misfortunes of another; in fact her selfishness was so naively candid that it absolutely created a laugh. The crimson draperies of the great lady covered an iron nature. The delightful siren who sounded at night every bell of her amorous folly could soon make a young man forget the hard and unfeeling Englishwoman, and it was only step by step that I discovered the stony rock on which my seeds were wasted, bringing no harvest. Madame de Mortsauf had penetrated that nature at a glance in their brief encounter. I remembered her prophetic words. She was right; Arabella's love became intolerable to me. I have since remarked that most women who ride well on horseback have little tenderness. Like the Amazons, they lack a breast; their hearts are hard in some direction, but I do not know in which.
At the moment when I begin to feel the burden of the yoke, when weariness took possession of soul and body too, when at last I comprehended the sanctity that true feeling imparts to love, when memories of Clochegourde were bringing me, in spite of distance, the fragrance of the roses, the warmth of the terrace, and the warble of the nightingales,—at this frightful moment, when I saw the stony bed beneath me as the waters of the torrent receded, I received a blow which still resounds in my heart, for at every hour its echo wakes.
I was working in the cabinet of the king, who was to drive out at four o'clock. The Duc de Lenoncourt was on service. When he entered the room the king asked him news of the countess. I raised my head hastily in too eager a manner; the king, offended by the action, gave me the look which always preceded the harsh words he knew so well how to say.
"Sire, my poor daughter is dying," replied the duke.
"Will the king deign to grant me leave of absence?" I cried, with tears in my eyes, braving the anger which I saw about to burst.
"Go, my lord," he answered, smiling at the satire in his words, and withholding his reprimand in favor of his own wit.
More courtier than father, the duke asked no leave but got into the carriage with the king. I started without bidding Lady Dudley good-bye; she was fortunately out when I made my preparations, and I left a note telling her I was sent on a mission by the king. At the Croix de Berny I met his Majesty returning from Verrieres. He threw me a look full of his royal irony, always insufferable in meaning, which seemed to say: "If you mean to be anything in politics come back; don't parley with the dead." The duke waved his hand to me sadly. The two pompous equipages with their eight horses, the colonels and their gold lace, the escort and the clouds of dust rolled rapidly away, to cries of "Vive le Roi!" It seemed to me that the court had driven over the dead body of Madame de Mortsauf with the utter insensibility which nature shows for our catastrophes. Though the duke was an excellent man he would no doubt play whist with Monsieur after the king had retired. As for the duchess, she had long ago given her daughter the first stab by writing to her of Lady Dudley.
My hurried journey was like a dream,—the dream of a ruined gambler; I was in despair at having received no news. Had the confessor pushed austerity so far as to exclude me from Clochegourde? I accused Madeleine, Jacques, the Abbe Dominis, all, even Monsieur de Mortsauf. Beyond Tours, as I came down the road bordered with poplars which leads to Poncher, which I so much admired that first day of my search for mine Unknown, I met Monsieur Origet. He guessed that I was going to Clochegourde; I guessed that he was returning. We stopped our carriages and got out, I to ask for news, he to give it.
"How is Madame de Mortsauf?" I said.
"I doubt if you find her living," he replied. "She is dying a frightful death—of inanition. When she called me in, last June, no medical power could control the disease; she had the symptoms which Monsieur de Mortsauf has no doubt described to you, for he thinks he has them himself. Madame la comtesse was not in any transient condition of ill-health, which our profession can direct and which is often the cause of a better state, nor was she in the crisis of a disorder the effects of which can be repaired; no, her disease had reached a point where science is useless; it is the incurable result of grief, just as a mortal wound is the result of a stab. Her physical condition is produced by the inertia of an organ as necessary to life as the action of the heart itself. Grief has done the work of a dagger. Don't deceive yourself; Madame de Mortsauf is dying of some hidden grief."
"Hidden!" I exclaimed. "Her children have not been ill?"
"No," he said, looking at me significantly, "and since she has been so seriously attacked Monsieur de Mortsauf has ceased to torment her. I am no longer needed; Monsieur Deslandes of Azay is all-sufficient; nothing can be done; her sufferings are dreadful. Young, beautiful, and rich, to die emaciated, shrunken with hunger—for she dies of hunger! During the last forty days the stomach, being as it were closed up, has rejected all nourishment, under whatever form we attempt to give it."
Monsieur Origet pressed my hand with a gesture of respect.
"Courage, monsieur," he said, lifting his eyes to heaven.
The words expressed his compassion for sufferings he thought shared; he little suspected the poisoned arrow which they shot into my heart. I sprang into the carriage and ordered the postilion to drive on, promising a good reward if I arrived in time.
Notwithstanding my impatience I seemed to do the distance in a few minutes, so absorbed was I in the bitter reflections that crowded upon my soul. Dying of grief, yet her children were well? then she died through me! My conscience uttered one of those arraignments which echo throughout our lives and sometimes beyond them. What weakness, what impotence in human justice, which avenges none but open deeds! Why shame and death to the murderer who kills with a blow, who comes upon you unawares in your sleep and makes it last eternally, who strikes without warning and spares you a struggle? Why a happy life, an honored life, to the murderer who drop by drop pours gall into the soul and saps the body to destroy it? How many murderers go unpunished! What indulgence for fashionable vice! What condoning of the homicides caused by moral wrongs! I know not whose avenging hand it was that suddenly, at that moment, raised the painted curtain that reveals society. I saw before me many victims known to you and me,—Madame de Beauseant, dying, and starting for Normandy only a few days earlier; the Duchesse de Langeais lost; Lady Brandon hiding herself in Touraine in the little house where Lady Dudley had stayed two weeks, and dying there, killed by a frightful catastrophe,—you know it. Our period teems with such events. Who does not remember that poor young woman who poisoned herself, overcome by jealousy, which was perhaps killing Madame de Mortsauf? Who has not shuddered at the fate of that enchanting young girl who perished after two years of marriage, like a flower torn by the wind, the victim of her chaste ignorance, the victim of a villain with whom Ronquerolles, Montriveau, and de Marsay shake hands because he is useful to their political projects? What heart has failed to throb at the recital of the last hours of the woman whom no entreaties could soften, and who would never see her husband after nobly paying his debts? Madame d'Aiglemont saw death beside her and was saved only by my brother's care. Society and science are accomplices in crimes for which there are no assizes. The world declares that no one dies of grief, or of despair; nor yet of love, of anguish hidden, of hopes cultivated yet fruitless, again and again replanted yet forever uprooted. Our new scientific nomenclature has plenty of words to explain these things; gastritis, pericarditis, all the thousand maladies of women the names of which are whispered in the ear, all serve as passports to the coffin followed by hypocritical tears that are soon wiped by the hand of a notary. Can there be at the bottom of this great evil some law which we do not know? Must the centenary pitilessly strew the earth with corpses and dry them to dust about him that he may raise himself, as the millionaire battens on a myriad of little industries? Is there some powerful and venomous life which feasts on these gentle, tender creatures? My God! do I belong to the race of tigers?
Remorse gripped my heart in its scorching fingers, and my cheeks were furrowed with tears as I entered the avenue of Clochegourde on a damp October morning, which loosened the dead leaves of the poplars planted by Henriette in the path where once she stood and waved her handkerchief as if to recall me. Was she living? Why did I feel her two white hands upon my head laid prostrate in the dust? In that moment I paid for all the pleasures that Arabella had given me, and I knew that I paid dearly. I swore not to see her again, and a hatred of England took possession of me. Though Lady Dudley was only a variety of her species, I included all Englishwomen in my judgment.
I received a fresh shock as I neared Clochegourde. Jacques, Madeleine, and the Abbe Dominis were kneeling at the foot of a wooden cross placed on a piece of ground that was taken into the enclosure when the iron gate was put up, which the count and countess had never been willing to remove. I sprang from the carriage and went towards them, my heart aching at the sight of these children and that grave old man imploring the mercy of God. The old huntsman was there too, with bared head, standing a little apart.
I stooped to kiss Jacques and Madeleine, who gave me a cold look and continued praying. The abbe rose from his knees; I took him by the arm to support myself, saying, "Is she still alive?" He bowed his head sadly and gently. "Tell me, I implore you for Christ's sake, why are you praying at the foot of this cross? Why are you here, and not with her? Why are the children kneeling here this chilly morning? Tell me all, that I may do no harm through ignorance."
"For the last few days Madame le comtesse has been unwilling to see her children except at stated times.—Monsieur," he continued after a pause, "perhaps you had better wait a few hours before seeing Madame de Mortsauf; she is greatly changed. It is necessary to prepare her for this interview, or it might cause an increase in her sufferings—death would be a blessed release from them."
I wrung the hand of the good man, whose look and voice soothed the pangs of others without sharpening them.
"We are praying God to help her," he continued; "for she, so saintly, so resigned, so fit to die, has shown during the last few weeks a horror of death; for the first time in her life she looks at others who are full of health with gloomy, envious eyes. This aberration comes less, I think, from the fear of death than from some inward intoxication,—from the flowers of her youth which ferment as they wither. Yes, an evil angel is striving against heaven for that glorious soul. She is passing through her struggle on the Mount of Olives; her tears bathe the white roses of her crown as they fall, one by one, from the head of this wedded Jephtha. Wait; do not see her yet. You would bring to her the atmosphere of the court; she would see in your face the reflection of the things of life, and you would add to the bitterness of her regret. Have pity on a weakness which God Himself forgave to His Son when He took our nature upon Him. What merit would there be in conquering if we had no adversary? Permit her confessor or me, two old men whose worn-out lives cause her no pain, to prepare her for this unlooked-for meeting, for emotions which the Abbe Birotteau has required her to renounce. But, in the things of this world there is an invisible thread of divine purpose which religion alone can see; and since you have come perhaps you are led by some celestial star of the moral world which leads to the tomb as to the manger—"
He then told me, with that tempered eloquence which falls like dew upon the heart, that for the last six months the countess had suffered daily more and more, in spite of Monsieur Origet's care. The doctor had come to Clochegourde every evening for two months, striving to rescue her from death; for her one cry had been, "Oh, save me!" "To heal the body the heart must first be healed," the doctor had exclaimed one day.
"As the illness increased, the words of this poor woman, once so gentle, have grown bitter," said the Abbe. "She calls on earth to keep her, instead of asking God to take her; then she repents these murmurs against the divine decree. Such alternations of feeling rend her heart and make the struggle between body and soul most horrible. Often the body triumphs. 'You have cost me dear,' she said one day to Jacques and Madeleine; but in a moment, recalled to God by the look on my face, she turned to Madeleine with these angelic words, 'The happiness of others is the joy of those who cannot themselves be happy,'—and the tone with which she said them brought tears to my eyes. She falls, it is true, but each time that her feet stumble she rises higher towards heaven."
Struck by the tone of the successive intimations chance had sent me, and which in this great concert of misfortunes were like a prelude of mournful modulations to a funereal theme, the mighty cry of expiring love, I cried out: "Surely you believe that this pure lily cut from earth will flower in heaven?"
"You left her still a flower," he answered, "but you will find her consumed, purified by the forces of suffering, pure as a diamond buried in the ashes. Yes, that shining soul, angelic star, will issue glorious from the clouds and pass into the kingdom of the Light."
As I pressed the hand of the good evangelist, my heart overflowing with gratitude, the count put his head, now entirely white, out of the door and immediately sprang towards me with signs of surprise.
"She was right! He is here! 'Felix, Felix, Felix has come!' she kept crying. My dear friend," he continued, beside himself with terror, "death is here. Why did it not take a poor madman like me with one foot in the grave?"
I walked towards the house summoning my courage, but on the threshold of the long antechamber which crossed the house and led to the lawn, the Abbe Birotteau stopped me.
"Madame la comtesse begs you will not enter at present," he said to me.
Giving a glance within the house I saw the servants coming and going, all busy, all dumb with grief, surprised perhaps by the orders Manette gave them.
"What has happened?" cried the count, alarmed by the commotion, as much from fear of the coming event as from the natural uneasiness of his character.
"Only a sick woman's fancy," said the abbe. "Madame la comtesse does not wish to receive monsieur le vicomte as she now is. She talks of dressing; why thwart her?"
Manette came in search of Madeleine, whom I saw leave the house a few moments after she had entered her mother's room. We were all, Jacques and his father, the two abbes and I, silently walking up and down the lawn in front of the house. I looked first at Montbazon and then at Azay, noticing the seared and yellow valley which answered in its mourning (as it ever did on all occasions) to the feelings of my heart. Suddenly I beheld the dear "mignonne" gathering the autumn flowers, no doubt to make a bouquet at her mother's bidding. Thinking of all which that signified, I was so convulsed within me that I staggered, my sight was blurred, and the two abbes, between whom I walked, led me to the wall of a terrace, where I sat for some time completely broken down but not unconscious.
"Poor Felix," said the count, "she forbade me to write to you. She knew how much you loved her."
Though prepared to suffer, I found I had no strength to bear a scene which recalled my memories of past happiness. "Ah!" I thought, "I see it still, that barren moor, dried like a skeleton, lit by a gray sky, in the centre of which grew a single flowering bush, which again and again I looked at with a shudder,—the forecast of this mournful hour!"
All was gloom in the little castle, once so animated, so full of life. The servants were weeping; despair and desolation everywhere. The paths were not raked, work was begun and left undone, the workmen standing idly about the house. Though the grapes were being gathered in the vineyard, not a sound reached us. The place seemed uninhabited, so deep the silence! We walked about like men whose grief rejects all ordinary topics, and we listened to the count, the only one of us who spoke.
After a few words prompted by the mechanical love he felt for his wife he was led by the natural bent of his mind to complain of her. She had never, he said, taken care of herself or listened to him when he gave her good advice. He had been the first to notice the symptoms of her illness, for he had studied them in his own case; he had fought them and cured them without other assistance than careful diet and the avoidance of all emotion. He could have cured the countess, but a husband ought not to take so much responsibility upon himself, especially when he has the misfortune of finding his experience, in this as in everything, despised. In spite of all he could say, the countess insisted on seeing Origet,—Origet, who had managed his case so ill, was now killing his wife. If this disease was, as they said, the result of excessive grief, surely he was the one who had been in a condition to have it. What griefs could the countess have had? She was always happy; she had never had troubles or annoyances. Their fortune, thanks to his care and to his sound ideas, was now in a most satisfactory state; he had always allowed Madame de Mortsauf to reign at Clochegourde; her children, well trained and now in health, gave her no anxiety,—where, then, did this grief they talked of come from?
Thus he argued and discussed the matter, mingling his expressions of despair with senseless accusations. Then, recalled by some sudden memory to the admiration which he felt for his wife, tears rolled from his eyes which had been dry so long.
Madeleine came to tell me that her mother was ready. The Abbe Birotteau followed me. Madeleine, now a grave young girl, stayed with her father, saying that the countess desired to be alone with me, and also that the presence of too many persons would fatigue her. The solemnity of this moment gave me that sense of inward heat and outward cold which overcomes us often in the great events of life. The Abbe Birotteau, one of those men whom God marks for his own by investing them with sweetness and simplicity, together with patience and compassion, took me aside.
"Monsieur," he said, "I wish you to know that I have done all in my power to prevent this meeting. The salvation of this saint required it. I have considered her only, and not you. Now that you are about to see her to whom access ought to have been denied you by the angels, let me say that I shall be present to protect you against yourself and perhaps against her. Respect her weakness. I do not ask this of you as a priest, but as a humble friend whom you did not know you had, and who would fain save you from remorse. Our dear patient is dying of hunger and thirst. Since morning she is a victim to the feverish irritation which precedes that horrible death, and I cannot conceal from you how deeply she regrets life. The cries of her rebellious flesh are stifled in my heart—where they wake echoes of a wound still tender. But Monsieur de Dominis and I accept this duty that we may spare the sight of this moral anguish to her family; as it is, they no longer recognize their star by night and by day in her; they all, husband, children, servants, all are asking, 'Where is she?'—she is so changed! When she sees you, her regrets will revive. Lay aside your thoughts as a man of the world, forget its vanities, be to her the auxiliary of heaven, not of earth. Pray God that this dear saint die not in a moment of doubt, giving voice to her despair."
I did not answer. My silence alarmed the poor confessor. I saw, I heard, I walked, and yet I was no longer on the earth. The thought, "In what state shall I find her? Why do they use these precautions?" gave rise to apprehensions which were the more cruel because so indefinite; all forms of suffering crowded my mind.
We reached the door of the chamber and the abbe opened it. I then saw Henriette, dressed in white, sitting on her little sofa which was placed before the fireplace, on which were two vases filled with flowers; flowers were also on a table near the window. The expression of the abbe's face, which was that of amazement at the change in the room, now restored to its former state, showing me that the dying woman had sent away the repulsive preparations which surround a sick-bed. She had spent the last waning strength of fever in decorating her room to receive him whom in that final hour she loved above all things else. Surrounded by clouds of lace, her shrunken face, which had the greenish pallor of a magnolia flower as it opens, resembled the first outline of a cherished head drawn in chalks upon the yellow canvas of a portrait. To feel how deeply the vulture's talons now buried themselves in my heart, imagine the eyes of that outlined face finished and full of life,—hollow eyes which shone with a brilliancy unusual in a dying person. The calm majesty given to her in the past by her constant victory over sorrow was there no longer. Her forehead, the only part of her face which still kept its beautiful proportions, wore an expression of aggressive will and covert threats. In spite of the waxy texture of her elongated face, inward fires were issuing from it like the fluid mist which seems to flame above the fields of a hot day. Her hollow temples, her sunken cheeks showed the interior formation of the face, and the smile upon her whitened lips vaguely resembled the grin of death. Her robe, which was folded across her breast, showed the emaciation of her beautiful figure. The expression of her head said plainly that she knew she was changed, and that the thought filled her with bitterness. She was no longer the arch Henriette, nor the sublime and saintly Madame de Mortsauf, but the nameless something of Bossuet struggling against annihilation, driven to the selfish battle of life against death by hunger and balked desire. I took her hand, which was dry and burning, to kiss it, as I seated myself beside her. She guessed my sorrowful surprise from the very effort that I made to hide it. Her discolored lips drew up from her famished teeth trying to form a smile,—the forced smile with which we strive to hide either the irony of vengeance, the expectation of pleasure, the intoxication of our souls, or the fury of disappointment.
"Ah, my poor Felix, this is death," she said, "and you do not like death; odious death, of which every human creature, even the boldest lover, feels a horror. This is the end of love; I knew it would be so. Lady Dudley will never see you thus surprised at the change in her. Ah! why have I so longed for you, Felix? You have come at last, and I reward your devotion by the same horrible sight that made the Comte de Rance a Trappist. I, who hoped to remain ever beautiful and noble in your memory, to live there eternally a lily, I it is who destroy your illusions! True love cannot calculate. But stay; do not go, stay. Monsieur Origet said I was much better this morning; I shall recover. Your looks will bring me back to life. When I regain a little strength, when I can take some nourishment, I shall be beautiful again. I am scarcely thirty-five, there are many years of happiness before me,—happiness renews our youth; yes, I must know happiness! I have made delightful plans,—we will leave Clochegourde and go to Italy."
Tears filled my eyes and I turned to the window as if to look at the flowers. The abbe followed me hastily, and bending over the bouquet whispered, "No tears!"
"Henriette, do you no longer care for our dear valley," I said, as if to explain my sudden movement.
"Oh, yes!" she said, turning her forehead to my lips with a fond motion. "But without you it is fatal to me,—without thee," she added, putting her burning lips to my ear and whispering the words like a sigh.
I was horror-struck at the wild caress, and my will was not strong enough to repress the nervous agitation I felt throughout this scene. I listened without reply; or rather I replied by a fixed smile and signs of comprehension; wishing not to thwart her, but to treat her as a mother does a child. Struck at first with the change in her person, I now perceived that the woman, once so dignified in her bearing, showed in her attitude, her voice, her manners, in her looks and her ideas, the naive ignorance of a child, its artless graces, its eager movements, its careless indifference to everything that is not its own desire,—in short all the weaknesses which commend a child to our protection. Is it so with all dying persons? Do they strip off social disguises till they are like children who have never put them on? Or was it that the countess feeling herself on the borders of eternity, rejected every human feeling except love?
"You will bring me health as you used to do, Felix," she said, "and our valley will still be my blessing. How can I help eating what you will give me? You are such a good nurse. Besides, you are so rich in health and vigor that life is contagious beside you. My friend, prove to me that I need not die—die blighted. They think my worst suffering is thirst. Oh, yes, my thirst is great, dear friend. The waters of the Indre are terrible to see; but the thirst of my heart is greater far. I thirsted for thee," she said in a smothered voice, taking my hands in hers, which were burning, and drawing me close that she might whisper in my ear. "My anguish has been in not seeing thee! Did you not bid me live? I will live; I too will ride on horseback; I will know life, Paris, fetes, pleasures, all!"
Ah! Natalie, that awful cry—which time and distance render cold—rang in the ears of the old priest and in mine; the tones of that glorious voice pictured the battles of a lifetime, the anguish of a true love lost. The countess rose with an impatient movement like that of a child which seeks a plaything. When the confessor saw her thus the poor man fell upon his knees and prayed with clasped hands.
"Yes, to live!" she said, making me rise and support her; "to live with realities and not with delusions. All has been delusions in my life; I have counted them up, these lies, these impostures! How can I die, I who have never lived? I who have never roamed a moor to meet him!" She stopped, seemed to listen, and to smell some odor through the walls. "Felix, the vintagers are dining, and I, I," she said, in the voice of a child, "I, the mistress, am hungry. It is so in love,—they are happy, they, they!—"
"Kyrie eleison!" said the poor abbe, who with clasped hands and eyes raised to heaven was reciting his litanies.
She flung an arm around my neck, kissed me violently, and pressed me to her, saying, "You shall not escape me now!" She gave the little nod with which in former days she used, when leaving me for an instant, to say she would return. "We will dine together," she said; "I will go and tell Manette." She turned to go, but fainted; and I laid her, dressed as she was, upon the bed.
"You carried me thus before," she murmured, opening her eyes.
She was very light, but burning; as I took her in my arms I felt the heat of her body. Monsieur Deslandes entered and seemed surprised at the decoration of the room; but seeing me, all was explained to him.
"We must suffer much to die," she said in a changed voice.
The doctor sat down and felt her pulse, then he rose quickly and said a few words in a low voice to the priest, who left the room beckoning me to follow him.
"What are you going to do?" I said to the doctor.
"Save her from intolerable agony," he replied. "Who could have believed in so much strength? We cannot understand how she can have lived in this state so long. This is the forty-second day since she has either eaten or drunk."
Monsieur Deslandes called for Manette. The Abbe Birotteau took me to the gardens.
"Let us leave her to the doctor," he said; "with Manette's help he will wrap her in opium. Well, you have heard her now—if indeed it is she herself."
"No," I said, "it is not she."
I was stupefied with grief. I left the grounds by the little gate of the lower terrace and went to the punt, in which I hid to be alone with my thoughts. I tried to detach myself from the being in which I lived,—a torture like that with which the Tartars punish adultery by fastening a limb of the guilty man in a piece of wood and leaving him with a knife to cut it off if he would not die of hunger. My life was a failure, too! Despair suggested many strange ideas to me. Sometimes I vowed to die beside her; sometimes to bury myself at Meilleraye among the Trappists. I looked at the windows of the room where Henriette was dying, fancying I saw the light that was burning there the night I betrothed my soul to hers. Ah! ought I not to have followed the simple life she had created for me, keeping myself faithfully to her while I worked in the world? Had she not bidden me become a great man expressly that I might be saved from base and shameful passions? Chastity! was it not a sublime distinction which I had not know how to keep? Love, as Arabella understood it, suddenly disgusted me. As I raised my humbled head asking myself where, in future, I could look for light and hope, what interest could hold me to life, the air was stirred by a sudden noise. I turned to the terrace and there saw Madeleine walking alone, with slow steps. During the time it took me to ascend the terrace, intending to ask the dear child the reason of the cold look she had given me when kneeling at the foot of the cross, she had seated herself on the bench. When she saw me approach her, she rose, pretending not to have seen me, and returned towards the house in a significantly hasty manner. She hated me; she fled from her mother's murderer.
When I reached the portico I saw Madeleine like a statue, motionless and erect, evidently listening to the sound of my steps. Jacques was sitting in the portico. His attitude expressed the same insensibility to what was going on about him that I had noticed when I first saw him; it suggested ideas such as we lay aside in some corner of our mind to take up and study at our leisure. I have remarked that young persons who carry death within them are usually unmoved at funerals. I longed to question that gloomy spirit. Had Madeleine kept her thoughts to herself, or had she inspired Jacques with her hatred?
"You know, Jacques," I said, to begin the conversation, "that in me you have a most devoted brother."
"Your friendship is useless to me; I shall follow my mother," he said, giving me a sullen look of pain.
"Jacques!" I cried, "you, too, against me?"
He coughed and walked away; when he returned he showed me his handkerchief stained with blood.
"Do you understand that?" he said.
Thus they had each of them a fatal secret. I saw before long that the brother and sister avoided each other. Henriette laid low, all was in ruins at Clochegourde.
"Madame is asleep," Manette came to say, quite happy in knowing that the countess was out of pain.
In these dreadful moments, though each person knows the inevitable end, strong affections fasten on such minor joys. Minutes are centuries which we long to make restorative; we wish our dear ones to lie on roses, we pray to bear their sufferings, we cling to the hope that their last moment may be to them unexpected.
"Monsieur Deslandes has ordered the flowers taken away; they excited Madame's nerves," said Manette.
Then it was the flowers that caused her delirium; she herself was not a part of it.
"Come, Monsieur Felix," added Manette, "come and see Madame; she is beautiful as an angel."
I returned to the dying woman just as the setting sun was gilding the lace-work on the roofs of the chateau of Azay. All was calm and pure. A soft light lit the bed on which my Henriette was lying, wrapped in opium. The body was, as it were, annihilated; the soul alone reigned on that face, serene as the skies when the tempest is over. Blanche and Henriette, two sublime faces of the same woman, reappeared; all the more beautiful because my recollection, my thought, my imagination, aiding nature, repaired the devastation of each dear feature, where now the soul triumphant sent its gleams through the calm pulsations of her breathing. The two abbes were sitting at the foot of the bed. The count stood, as though stupefied by the banners of death which floated above that adored being. I took her seat on the sofa. We all four turned to each other looks in which admiration for that celestial beauty mingled with tears of mourning. The lights of thought announced the return of the Divine Spirit to that glorious tabernacle.
The Abbe Dominis and I spoke in signs, communicating to each other our mutual ideas. Yes, the angels were watching her! yes, their flaming swords shone above that noble brow, which the august expression of her virtue made, as it were, a visible soul conversing with the spirits of its sphere. The lines of her face cleared; all in her was exalted and became majestic beneath the unseen incense of the seraphs who guarded her. The green tints of bodily suffering gave place to pure white tones, the cold wan pallor of approaching death. Jacques and Madeleine entered. Madeleine made us quiver by the adoring impulse which flung her on her knees beside the bed, crying out, with clasped hand: "My mother! here is my mother!" Jacques smiled; he knew he would follow her where she went.
"She is entering the haven," said the Abbe Birotteau.
The Abbe Dominis looked at me as if to say: "Did I not tell you the star would rise in all its glory?"
Madeleine knelt with her eyes fixed on her mother, breathing when she breathed, listening to the soft breath, the last thread by which she held to life, and which we followed in terror, fearing that every effort of respiration might be the last. Like an angel at the gates of the sanctuary, the young girl was eager yet calm, strong but reverent. At that moment the Angelus rang from the village clock-tower. Waves of tempered air brought its reverberations to remind us that this was the sacred hour when Christianity repeats the words said by the angel to the woman who has redeemed the faults of her sex. "Ave Maria!"—surely, at this moment the words were a salutation from heaven. The prophecy was so plain, the event so near that we burst into tears. The murmuring sounds of evening, melodious breezes in the leafage, last warbling of the birds, the hum and echo of the insects, the voices of the waters, the plaintive cry of the tree-frog,—all country things were bidding farewell to the loveliest lily of the valley, to her simple, rural life. The religious poesy of the hour, now added to that of Nature, expressed so vividly the psalm of the departing soul that our sobs redoubled.
Though the door of the chamber was open we were all so plunged in contemplation of the scene, as if to imprint its memories forever on our souls, that we did not notice the family servants who were kneeling as a group and praying fervently. These poor people, living on hope, had believed their mistress might be spared, and this plain warning overcame them. At a sign from the Abbe Birotteau the old huntsman went to fetch the curate of Sache. The doctor, standing by the bed, calm as science, and holding the hand of the still sleeping woman, had made the confessor a sign to say that this sleep was the only hour without pain which remained for the recalled angel. The moment had come to administer the last sacraments of the Church. At nine o'clock she awoke quietly, looked at us with surprised but gentle eyes, and we beheld our idol once more in all the beauty of former days.
"Mother! you are too beautiful to die—life and health are coming back to you!" cried Madeleine.
"Dear daughter, I shall live—in thee," she answered, smiling.
Then followed heart-rending embraces of the mother and her children. Monsieur de Mortsauf kissed his wife upon her brow. She colored when she saw me.
"Dear Felix," she said, "this is, I think, the only grief that I shall ever have caused you. Forget all that I may have said,—I, a poor creature much beside myself." She held out her hand; I took it and kissed it. Then she said, with her chaste and gracious smile, "As in the old days, Felix?"
We all left the room and went into the salon during the last confession. I approached Madeleine. In presence of others she could not escape me without a breach of civility; but, like her mother, she looked at no one, and kept silence without even once turning her eyes in my direction.
"Dear Madeleine," I said in a low voice, "What have you against me? Why do you show such coldness in the presence of death, which ought to reconcile us all?"
"I hear in my heart what my mother is saying at this moment," she replied, with a look which Ingres gave to his "Mother of God,"—that virgin, already sorrowful, preparing herself to protect the world for which her son was about to die.
"And you condemn me at the moment when your mother absolves me,—if indeed I am guilty."
"You, you," she said, "always your self!"
The tones of her voice revealed the determined hatred of a Corsican, implacable as the judgments of those who, not having studied life, admit of no extenuation of faults committed against the laws of the heart.
An hour went by in deepest silence. The Abbe Birotteau came to us after receiving the countess's general confession, and we followed him back to the room where Henriette, under one of those impulses which often come to noble minds, all sisters of one intent, had made them dress her in the long white garment which was to be her shroud. We found her sitting up; beautiful from expiation, beautiful in hope. I saw in the fireplace the black ashes of my letters which had just been burned, a sacrifice which, as her confessor afterwards told me, she had not been willing to make until the hour of her death. She smiled upon us all with the smile of other days. Her eyes, moist with tears, gave evidence of inward lucidity; she saw the celestial joys of the promised land.
"Dear Felix," she said, holding out her hand and pressing mine, "stay with us. You must be present at the last scene of my life, not the least painful among many such, but one in which you are concerned."
She made a sign and the door was closed. At her request the count sat down; the Abbe Birotteau and I remained standing. Then with Manette's help the countess rose and knelt before the astonished count, persisting in remaining there. A moment after, when Manette had left the room, she raised her head which she had laid upon her husband's knees.
"Though I have been a faithful wife to you," she said, in a faint voice, "I have sometimes failed in my duty. I have just prayed to God to give me strength to ask your pardon. I have given to a friendship outside of my family more affectionate care than I have shown to you. Perhaps I have sometimes irritated you by the comparisons you may have made between these cares, these thoughts, and those I gave to you. I have had," she said, in a sinking voice, "a deep friendship, which no one, not even he who has been its object, has fully known. Though I have continued virtuous according to all human laws, though I have been a irreproachable wife to you, still other thoughts, voluntary or involuntary, have often crossed my mind and, in this hour, I fear I have welcomed them too warmly. But as I have tenderly loved you, and continued to be your submissive wife, and as the clouds passing beneath the sky do not alter its purity, I now pray for your blessing with a clean heart. I shall die without one bitter thought if I can hear from your lips a tender word for your Blanche, for the mother of your children,—if I know that you forgive her those things for which she did not forgive herself till reassured by the great tribunal which pardons all."
"Blanche, Blanche!" cried the broken man, shedding tears upon his wife's head, "Would you kill me?" He raised her with a strength unusual to him, kissed her solemnly on the forehead, and thus holding her continued: "Have I no forgiveness to ask of you? Have I never been harsh? Are you not making too much of your girlish scruples?"
"Perhaps," she said. "But, dear friend, indulge the weakness of a dying woman; tranquillize my mind. When you reach this hour you will remember that I left you with a blessing. Will you grant me permission to leave to our friend now here that pledge of my affection?" she continued, showing a letter that was on the mantelshelf. "He is now my adopted son, and that is all. The heart, dear friend, makes its bequests; my last wishes impose a sacred duty on that dear Felix. I think I do not put too great a burden on him; grant that I do not ask too much of you in desiring to leave him these last words. You see, I am always a woman," she said, bending her head with mournful sweetness; "after obtaining pardon I ask a gift—Read this," she added, giving me the letter; "but not until after my death."
The count saw her color change: he lifted her and carried her himself to the bed, where we all surrounded her.
"Felix," she said, "I may have done something wrong to you. Often I gave you pain by letting you hope for that I could not give you; but see, it was that very courage of wife and mother that now enables me to die forgiven of all. You will forgive me too; you who have so often blamed me, and whose injustice was so dear—"
The Abbe Birotteau laid a finger on his lips. At that sign the dying woman bowed her head, faintness overcame her; presently she waved her hands as if summoning the clergy and her children and the servants to her presence, and then, with an imploring gesture, she showed me the desolate count and the children beside him. The sight of that father, the secret of whose insanity was known to us alone, now to be left sole guardian of those delicate beings, brought mute entreaties to her face, which fell upon my heart like sacred fire. Before receiving extreme unction she asked pardon of her servants if by a hasty word she had sometimes hurt them; she asked their prayers and commended each one, individually, to the count; she nobly confessed that during the last two months she had uttered complaints that were not Christian and might have shocked them; she had repulsed her children and clung to life unworthily; but she attributed this failure of submission to the will of God to her intolerable sufferings. Finally, she publicly thanked the Abbe Birotteau with heartfelt warmth for having shown her the illusion of all earthly things.
When she ceased to speak, prayers were said again, and the curate of Sache gave her the viaticum. A few moments later her breathing became difficult; a film overspread her eyes, but soon they cleared again; she gave me a last look and died to the eyes of earth, hearing perhaps the symphony of our sobs. As her last sigh issued from her lips,—the effort of a life that was one long anguish,—I felt a blow within me that struck on all my faculties. The count and I remained beside the bier all night with the two abbes and the curate, watching, in the glimmer of the tapers, the body of the departed, now so calm, laid upon the mattress of her bed, where once she had suffered cruelly. It was my first communion with death. I remained the whole of that night with my eyes fixed on Henriette, spell-bound by the pure expression that came from the stilling of all tempests, by the whiteness of that face where still I saw the traces of her innumerable affections, although it made no answer to my love. What majesty in that silence, in that coldness! How many thoughts they expressed! What beauty in that cold repose, what power in that immobility! All the past was there and futurity had begun. Ah! I loved her dead as much as I had loved her living. In the morning the count went to bed; the three wearied priests fell asleep in that heavy hour of dawn so well known to those who watch. I could then, without witnesses, kiss that sacred brow with all the love I had never been allowed to utter.
The third day, in a cool autumn morning, we followed the countess to her last home. She was carried by the old huntsman, the two Martineaus, and Manette's husband. We went down by the road I had so joyously ascended the day I first returned to her. We crossed the valley of the Indre to the little cemetery of Sache—a poor village graveyard, placed behind the church on the slope of the hill, where with true humility she had asked to be buried beneath a simple cross of black wood, "like a poor country-woman," she said. When I saw, from the centre of the valley, the village church and the place of the graveyard a convulsive shudder seized me. Alas! we have all our Golgothas, where we leave the first thirty-three years of our lives, with the lance-wound in our side, the crown of thorns and not of roses on our brow—that hill-slope was to me the mount of expiation.
We were followed by an immense crowd, seeking to express the grief of the valley where she had silently buried so many noble actions. Manette, her faithful woman, told me that when her savings did not suffice to help the poor she economized upon her dress. There were babes to be provided for, naked children to be clothed, mothers succored in their need, sacks of flour brought to the millers in winter for helpless old men, a cow sent to some poor home,—deeds of a Christian woman, a mother, and the lady of the manor. Besides these things, there were dowries paid to enable loving hearts to marry; substitutes bought for youths to whom the draft had brought despair, tender offerings of the loving woman who had said: "The happiness of others is the consolation of those who cannot themselves be happy." Such things, related at the "veillees," made the crowd immense. I walked with Jacques and the two abbes behind the coffin. According to custom neither the count nor Madeleine were present; they remained alone at Clochegourde. But Manette insisted in coming with us. "Poor madame! poor madame! she is happy now," I heard her saying to herself amid her sobs.
As the procession left the road to the mills I heard a simultaneous moan and a sound of weeping as though the valley were lamenting for its soul. The church was filled with people. After the service was over we went to the graveyard where she wished to be buried near the cross. When I heard the pebbles and the gravel falling upon the coffin my courage gave way; I staggered and asked the two Martineaus to steady me. They took me, half-dead, to the chateau of Sache, where the owners very kindly invited me to stay, and I accepted. I will own to you that I dreaded a return to Clochegourde, and it was equally repugnant to me to go to Frapesle, where I could see my Henriette's windows. Here, at Sache, I was near her. I lived for some days in a room which looked on the tranquil, solitary valley I have mentioned to you. It is a deep recess among the hills, bordered by oaks that are doubly centenarian, through which a torrent rushes after rain. The scene was in keeping with the stern and solemn meditations to which I desired to abandon myself.
I had perceived, during the day which followed the fatal night, how unwelcome my presence might be at Clochegourde. The count had gone through violent emotions at the death of his wife; but he had expected the event; his mind was made up to it in a way that was something like indifference. I had noticed this several times, and when the countess gave me that letter (which I still dared not read) and when she spoke of her affection for me, I remarked that the count, usually so quick to take offence, made no sign of feeling any. He attributed Henriette's wording to the extreme sensitiveness of a conscience which he knew to be pure. This selfish insensibility was natural to him. The souls of these two beings were no more married than their bodies; they had never had the intimate communion which keeps feeling alive; they had shared neither pains nor pleasures, those strong links which tear us by a thousand edges when broken, because they touch on all our fibers, and are fastened to the inmost recesses of our hearts.
Another consideration forbade my return to Clochegourde,—Madeleine's hostility. That hard young girl was not disposed to modify her hatred beside her mother's coffin. Between the count, who would have talked to me incessantly of himself, and the new mistress of the house, who would have shown me invincible dislike, I should have found myself horribly annoyed. To be treated thus where once the very flowers welcomed me, where the steps of the portico had a voice, where my memory clothed with poetry the balconies, the fountains, the balustrades, the trees, the glimpses of the valleys! to be hated where I once was loved—the thought was intolerable to me. So, from the first, my mind was made up.
Alas! alas! was this the end of the keenest love that ever entered the heart of man? To the eyes of strangers my conduct might be reprehensible, but it had the sanction of my own conscience. It is thus that the noblest feelings, the sublimest dramas of our youth must end. We start at dawn, as I from Tours to Clochegourde, we clutch the world, our hearts hungry for love; then, when our treasure is in the crucible, when we mingle with men and circumstances, all becomes gradually debased and we find but little gold among the ashes. Such is life! life as it is; great pretensions, small realities. I meditated long about myself, debating what I could do after a blow like this which had mown down every flower of my soul. I resolved to rush into the science of politics, into the labyrinth of ambition, to cast woman from my life and to make myself a statesman, cold and passionless, and so remain true to the saint I loved. My thoughts wandered into far-off regions while my eyes were fastened on the splendid tapestry of the yellowing oaks, the stern summits, the bronzed foothills. I asked myself if Henriette's virtue were not, after all, that of ignorance, and if I were indeed guilty of her death. I fought against remorse. At last, in the sweetness of an autumn midday, one of those last smiles of heaven which are so beautiful in Touraine, I read the letter which at her request I was not to open before her death. Judge of my feelings as I read it.
Madame de Mortsauf to the Vicomte Felix de Vandenesse:
Felix, friend, loved too well, I must now lay bare my heart to you,—not so much to prove my love as to show you the weight of obligation you have incurred by the depth and gravity of the wounds you have inflicted on it. At this moment, when I sink exhausted by the toils of life, worn out by the shocks of its battle, the woman within me is, mercifully, dead; the mother alone survives. Dear, you are now to see how it was that you were the original cause of all my sufferings. Later, I willingly received your blows; to-day I am dying of the final wound your hand has given,—but there is joy, excessive joy in feeling myself destroyed by him I love.
My physical sufferings will soon put an end to my mental strength; I therefore use the last clear gleams of intelligence to implore you to befriend my children and replace the heart of which you have deprived them. I would solemnly impose this duty upon you if I loved you less; but I prefer to let you choose it for yourself as an act of sacred repentance, and also in faithful continuance of your love—love, for us, was ever mingled with repentant thoughts and expiatory fears! but—I know it well—we shall forever love each other. Your wrong to me was not so fatal an act in itself as the power which I let it have within me. Did I not tell you I was jealous, jealous unto death? Well, I die of it. But, be comforted, we have kept all human laws. The Church has told me, by one of her purest voices, that God will be forgiving to those who subdue their natural desires to His commandments. My beloved, you are now to know all, for I would not leave you in ignorance of any thought of mine. What I confide to God in my last hour you, too, must know,—you, king of my heart as He is King of Heaven.
Until the ball given to the Duc d'Angouleme (the only ball at which I was ever present), marriage had left me in that ignorance which gives to the soul of a young girl the beauty of the angels. True, I was a mother, but love had never surrounded me with its permitted pleasures. How did this happen? I do not know; neither do I know by what law everything within me changed in a moment. You remember your kisses? they have mastered my life, they have furrowed my soul; the ardor of your blood awoke the ardor of mine; your youth entered my youth, your desires my soul. When I rose and left you proudly I was filled with an emotion for which I know no name in any language—for children have not yet found a word to express the marriage of their eyes with light, nor the kiss of life laid upon their lips. Yes, it was sound coming in the echo, light flashing through the darkness, motion shaking the universe; at least, it was rapid like all these things, but far more beautiful, for it was the birth of the soul! I comprehended then that something, I knew not what, existed for me in the world,—a force nobler than thought; for it was all thoughts, all forces, it was the future itself in a shared emotion. I felt I was but half a mother. Falling thus upon my heart this thunderbolt awoke desires which slumbered there without my knowledge; suddenly I divined all that my aunt had meant when she kissed my forehead, murmuring, "Poor Henriette!"
When I returned to Clochegourde, the springtime, the first leaves, the fragrance of the flowers, the white and fleecy clouds, the Indre, the sky, all spoke to me in a language till then unknown. If you have forgotten those terrible kisses, I have never been able to efface them from my memory,—I am dying of them! Yes, each time that I have met you since, their impress is revived. I was shaken from head to foot when I first saw you; the mere presentiment of your coming overcame me. Neither time nor my firm will has enabled me to conquer that imperious sense of pleasure. I asked myself involuntarily, "What must be such joys?" Our mutual looks, the respectful kisses you laid upon my hand, the pressure of my arm on yours, your voice with its tender tones,—all, even the slightest things, shook me so violently that clouds obscured my sight; the murmur of rebellious senses filled my ears. Ah! if in those moments when outwardly I increased my coldness you had taken me in your arms I should have died of happiness. Sometimes I desired it, but prayer subdued the evil thought. Your name uttered by my children filled my heart with warmer blood, which gave color to my cheeks; I laid snares for my poor Madeleine to induce her to say it, so much did I love the tumults of that sensation. Ah! what shall I say to you? Your writing had a charm; I gazed at your letters as we look at a portrait.
If on that first day you obtained some fatal power over me, conceive, dear friend, how infinite that power became when it was given to me to read your soul. What delights filled me when I found you so pure, so absolutely truthful, gifted with noble qualities, capable of noblest things, and already so tried! Man and child, timid yet brave! What joy to find we both were consecrated by a common grief! Ever since that evening when we confided our childhoods to each other, I have known that to lose you would be death,—yes, I have kept you by me selfishly. The certainty felt by Monsieur de la Berge that I should die if I lost you touched him deeply, for he read my soul. He knew how necessary I was to my children and the count; he did not command me to forbid you my house, for I promised to continue pure in deed and thought. "Thought," he said to me, "is involuntary, but it can be watched even in the midst of anguish." "If I think," I replied, "all will be lost; save me from myself. Let him remain beside me and keep me pure!" The good old man, though stern, was moved by my sincerity. "Love him as you would a son, and give him your daughter," he said. I accepted bravely that life of suffering that I might not lose you, and I suffered joyfully, seeing that we were called to bear the same yoke—My God! I have been firm, faithful to my husband; I have given you no foothold, Felix, in your kingdom. The grandeur of my passion has reacted on my character; I have regarded the tortures Monsieur de Mortsauf has inflicted on me as expiations; I bore them proudly in condemnation of my faulty desires. Formerly I was disposed to murmur at my life, but since you entered it I have recovered some gaiety, and this has been the better for the count. Without this strength, which I derived through you, I should long since have succumbed to the inward life of which I told you.
If you have counted for much in the exercise of my duty so have my children also. I felt I had deprived them of something, and I feared I could never do enough to make amends to them; my life was thus a continual struggle which I loved. Feeling that I was less a mother, less an honest wife, remorse entered my heart; fearing to fail in my obligations, I constantly went beyond them. Often have I put Madeleine between you and me, giving you to each other, raising barriers between us,—barriers that were powerless! for what could stifle the emotions which you caused me? Absent or present, you had the same power. I preferred Madeleine to Jacques because Madeleine was sometime to be yours. But I did not yield you to my daughter without a struggle. I told myself that I was only twenty-eight when I first met you, and you were nearly twenty-two; I shortened the distance between us; I gave myself up to delusive hopes. Oh, Felix! I tell you these things to save you from remorse; also, perhaps, to show you that I was not cold and insensible, that our sufferings were cruelly mutual; that Arabella had no superiority of love over mine. I too am the daughter of a fallen race, such as men love well.
There came a moment when the struggle was so terrible that I wept the long nights through; my hair fell off,—you have it! Do you remember the count's illness? Your nobility of soul far from raising my soul belittled it. Alas! I dreamed of giving myself to you some day as the reward of so much heroism; but the folly was a brief one. I laid it at the feet of God during the mass that day when you refused to be with me. Jacques' illness and Madeleine's sufferings seemed to me the warnings of God calling back to Him His lost sheep.
Then your love—which is so natural—for that Englishwoman revealed to me secrets of which I had no knowledge. I loved you better than I knew. The constant emotions of this stormy life, the efforts that I made to subdue myself with no other succor than that religion gave me, all, all has brought about the malady of which I die. The terrible shocks I have undergone brought on attacks about which I kept silence. I saw in death the sole solution of this hidden tragedy. A lifetime of anger, jealousy, and rage lay in those two months between the time my mother told me of your relations with Lady Dudley, and your return to Clochegourde. I wished to go to Paris; murder was in my heart; I desired that woman's death; I was indifferent to my children. Prayer, which had hitherto been to me a balm, was now without influence on my soul. Jealousy made the breach through which death has entered. And yet I have kept a placid brow. Yes, that period of struggle was a secret between God and myself. After your return and when I saw that I was loved, even as I loved you, that nature had betrayed me and not your thought, I wished to live,—it was then too late! God had taken me under His protection, filled no doubt with pity for a being true with herself, true with Him, whose sufferings had often led her to the gates of the sanctuary.