The Duchesse de Langeais
by Honore de Balzac
In a Spanish city on an island in the Mediterranean, there stands
a convent of the Order of Barefoot Carmelites, where the rule
instituted by St. Theresa is still preserved with all the first
rigour of the reformation brought about by that illustrious
woman. Extraordinary as this may seem, it is none the less true.
Almost every religious house in the Peninsula, or in Europe for
that matter, was either destroyed or disorganised by the outbreak
of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars; but as this
island was protected through those times by the English fleet,
its wealthy convent and peaceable inhabitants were secure from
the general trouble and spoliation. The storms of many kinds
which shook the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century
spent their force before they reached those cliffs at so short a
distance from the coast of Andalusia.
If the rumour of the Emperor's name so much as reached the shore
of the island, it is doubtful whether the holy women kneeling in
the cloisters grasped the reality of his dream-like progress of
glory, or the majesty that blazed in flame across kingdom after
kingdom during his meteor life.
In the minds of the Roman Catholic world, the convent stood out
pre-eminent for a stern discipline which nothing had changed; the
purity of its rule had attracted unhappy women from the furthest
parts of Europe, women deprived of all human ties, sighing after
the long suicide accomplished in the breast of God. No convent,
indeed, was so well fitted for that complete detachment of the
soul from all earthly things, which is demanded by the religious
life, albeit on the continent of Europe there are many convents
magnificently adapted to the purpose of their existence. Buried
away in the loneliest valleys, hanging in mid-air on the steepest
mountainsides, set down on the brink of precipices, in every
place man has sought for the poetry of the Infinite, the solemn
awe of Silence; in every place man has striven to draw closer to
God, seeking Him on mountain peaks, in the depths below the
crags, at the cliff's edge; and everywhere man has found God.
But nowhere, save on this half-European, half-African ledge of
rock could you find so many different harmonies, combining so to
raise the soul, that the sharpest pain comes to be like other
memories; the strongest impressions are dulled, till the sorrows
of life are laid to rest in the depths.
The convent stands on the highest point of the crags at the
uttermost end of the island. On the side towards the sea the
rock was once rent sheer away in some globe-cataclysm; it rises
up a straight wall from the base where the waves gnaw at the
stone below high-water mark. Any assault is made impossible by
the dangerous reefs that stretch far out to sea, with the
sparkling waves of the Mediterranean playing over them. So, only
from the sea can you discern the square mass of the convent built
conformably to the minute rules laid down as to the shape,
height, doors, and windows of monastic buildings. From the side
of the town, the church completely hides the solid structure of
the cloisters and their roofs, covered with broad slabs of stone
impervious to sun or storm or gales of wind.
The church itself, built by the munificence of a Spanish family,
is the crowning edifice of the town. Its fine, bold front gives
an imposing and picturesque look to the little city in the sea.
The sight of such a city, with its close-huddled roofs, arranged
for the most part amphitheatre-wise above a picturesque harbour,
and crowned by a glorious cathedral front with triple-arched
Gothic doorways, belfry towers, and filigree spires, is a
spectacle surely in every way the sublimest on earth. Religion
towering above daily life, to put men continually in mind of the
End and the way, is in truth a thoroughly Spanish conception.
But now surround this picture by the Mediterranean, and a burning
sky, imagine a few palms here and there, a few stunted evergreen
trees mingling their waving leaves with the motionless flowers
and foliage of carved stone; look out over the reef with its
white fringes of foam in contrast to the sapphire sea; and then
turn to the city, with its galleries and terraces whither the
townsfolk come to take the air among their flowers of an evening,
above the houses and the tops of the trees in their little
gardens; add a few sails down in the harbour; and lastly, in the
stillness of falling night, listen to the organ music, the
chanting of the services, the wonderful sound of bells pealing
out over the open sea. There is sound and silence everywhere;
oftener still there is silence over all.
The church is divided within into a sombre mysterious nave and
narrow aisles. For some reason, probably because the winds are
so high, the architect was unable to build the flying buttresses
and intervening chapels which adorn almost all cathedrals, nor
are there openings of any kind in the walls which support the
weight of the roof. Outside there is simply the heavy wall
structure, a solid mass of grey stone further strengthened by
huge piers placed at intervals. Inside, the nave and its little
side galleries are lighted entirely by the great stained-glass
rose-window suspended by a miracle of art above the centre
doorway; for upon that side the exposure permits of the display
of lacework in stone and of other beauties peculiar to the style
improperly called Gothic.
The larger part of the nave and aisles was left for the
townsfolk, who came and went and heard mass there. The choir was
shut off from the rest of the church by a grating and thick folds
of brown curtain, left slightly apart in the middle in such a way
that nothing of the choir could be seen from the church except
the high altar and the officiating priest. The grating itself
was divided up by the pillars which supported the organ loft; and
this part of the structure, with its carved wooden columns,
completed the line of the arcading in the gallery carried by the
shafts in the nave. If any inquisitive person, therefore, had
been bold enough to climb upon the narrow balustrade in the
gallery to look down into the choir, he could have seen nothing
but the tall eight-sided windows of stained glass beyond the high
At the time of the French expedition into Spain to establish
Ferdinand VII once more on the throne, a French general came to
the island after the taking of Cadiz, ostensibly to require the
recognition of the King's Government, really to see the convent
and to find some means of entering it. The undertaking was
certainly a delicate one; but a man of passionate temper, whose
life had been, as it were, but one series of poems in action, a
man who all his life long had lived romances instead of writing
them, a man pre-eminently a Doer, was sure to be tempted by a
deed which seemed to be impossible.
To open the doors of a convent of nuns by lawful means! The
metropolitan or the Pope would scarcely have permitted it! And
as for force or strategem--might not any indiscretion cost him
his position, his whole career as a soldier, and the end in view
to boot? The Duc d'Angouleme was still in Spain; and of all the
crimes which a man in favour with the Commander-in-Chief might
commit, this one alone was certain to find him inexorable. The
General had asked for the mission to gratify private motives of
curiosity, though never was curiosity more hopeless. This final
attempt was a matter of conscience. The Carmelite convent on the
island was the only nunnery in Spain which had baffled his
As he crossed from the mainland, scarcely an hour's distance, he
felt a presentiment that his hopes were to be fulfilled; and
afterwards, when as yet he had seen nothing of the convent but
its walls, and of the nuns not so much as their robes; while he
had merely heard the chanting of the service, there were dim
auguries under the walls and in the sound of the voices to
justify his frail hope. And, indeed, however faint those so
unaccountable presentiments might be, never was human passion
more vehemently excited than the General's curiosity at that
moment. There are no small events for the heart; the heart
exaggerates everything; the heart weighs the fall of a
fourteen-year-old Empire and the dropping of a woman's glove in
the same scales, and the glove is nearly always the heavier of
the two. So here are the facts in all their prosaic simplicity.
The facts first, the emotions will follow.
An hour after the General landed on the island, the royal
authority was re-established there. Some few Constitutional
Spaniards who had found their way thither after the fall of Cadiz
were allowed to charter a vessel and sail for London. So there
was neither resistance nor reaction. But the change of
government could not be effected in the little town without a
mass, at which the two divisions under the General's command were
obliged to be present. Now, it was upon this mass that the
General had built his hopes of gaining some information as to the
sisters in the convent; he was quite unaware how absolutely the
Carmelites were cut off from the world; but he knew that there
might be among them one whom he held dearer than life, dearer
His hopes were cruelly dashed at once. Mass, it is true, was
celebrated in state. In honour of such a solemnity, the curtains
which always hid the choir were drawn back to display its riches,
its valuable paintings and shrines so bright with gems that they
eclipsed the glories of the ex-votos of gold and silver hung up
by sailors of the port on the columns in the nave. But all the
nuns had taken refuge in the organ-loft. And yet, in spite of
this first check, during this very mass of thanksgiving, the most
intimately thrilling drama that ever set a man's heart beating
opened out widely before him.
The sister who played the organ aroused such intense enthusiasm,
that not a single man regretted that he had come to the service.
Even the men in the ranks were delighted, and the officers were
in ecstasy. As for the General, he was seemingly calm and
indifferent. The sensations stirred in him as the sister played
one piece after another belong to the small number of things
which it is not lawful to utter; words are powerless to express
them; like death, God, eternity, they can only be realised
through their one point of contact with humanity. Strangely
enough, the organ music seemed to belong to the school of
Rossini, the musician who brings most human passion into his art.
Some day his works, by their number and extent, will receive the
reverence due to the Homer of music. From among all the scores
that we owe to his great genius, the nun seemed to have chosen
Moses in Egypt for special study, doubtless because the spirit of
sacred music finds therein its supreme expression. Perhaps the
soul of the great musician, so gloriously known to Europe, and
the soul of this unknown executant had met in the intuitive
apprehension of the same poetry. So at least thought two
dilettanti officers who must have missed the Theatre Favart in
At last in the Te Deum no one could fail to discern a French soul
in the sudden change that came over the music. Joy for the
victory of the Most Christian King evidently stirred this nun's
heart to the depths. She was a Frenchwoman beyond mistake. Soon
the love of country shone out, breaking forth like shafts of
light from the fugue, as the sister introduced variations with
all a Parisienne's fastidious taste, and blended vague
suggestions of our grandest national airs with her music. A
Spaniard's fingers would not have brought this warmth into a
graceful tribute paid to the victorious arms of France. The
musician's nationality was revealed.
"We find France everywhere, it seems," said one of the men.
The General had left the church during the Te Deum; he could not
listen any longer. The nun's music had been a revelation of a
woman loved to frenzy; a woman so carefully hidden from the
world's eyes, so deeply buried in the bosom of the Church, that
hitherto the most ingenious and persistent efforts made by men
who brought great influence and unusual powers to bear upon the
search had failed to find her. The suspicion aroused in the
General's heart became all but a certainty with the vague
reminiscence of a sad, delicious melody, the air of Fleuve du
Tage. The woman he loved had played the prelude to the ballad in
a boudoir in Paris, how often! and now this nun had chosen the
song to express an exile's longing, amid the joy of those that
triumphed. Terrible sensation! To hope for the resurrection of
a lost love, to find her only to know that she was lost, to catch
a mysterious glimpse of her after five years--five years, in
which the pent-up passion, chafing in an empty life, had grown
the mightier for every fruitless effort to satisfy it!
Who has not known, at least once in his life, what it is to lose
some precious thing; and after hunting through his papers,
ransacking his memory, and turning his house upside down; after
one or two days spent in vain search, and hope, and despair;
after a prodigious expenditure of the liveliest irritation of
soul, who has not known the ineffable pleasure of finding that
all-important nothing which had come to be a king of monomania?
Very good. Now, spread that fury of search over five years; put
a woman, put a heart, put love in the place of the trifle;
transpose the monomania into the key of high passion; and,
furthermore, let the seeker be a man of ardent temper, with a
lion's heart and a leonine head and mane, a man to inspire awe
and fear in those who come in contact with him--realise this, and
you may, perhaps, understand why the General walked abruptly out
of the church when the first notes of a ballad, which he used to
hear with a rapture of delight in a gilt-panelled boudoir, began
to vibrate along the aisles of the church in the sea.
The General walked away down the steep street which led to the
port, and only stopped when he could not hear the deep notes of
the organ. Unable to think of anything but the love which broke
out in volcanic eruption, filling his heart with fire, he only
knew that the Te Deum was over when the Spanish congregation came
pouring out of the church. Feeling that his behaviour and
attitude might seem ridiculous, he went back to head the
procession, telling the alcalde and the governor that, feeling
suddenly faint, he had gone out into the air. Casting about for
a plea for prolonging his stay, it at once occurred to him to
make the most of this excuse, framed on the spur of the moment.
He declined, on a plea of increasing indisposition, to preside at
the banquet given by the town to the French officers, betook
himself to his bed, and sent a message to the Major-General, to
the effect that temporary illness obliged him to leave the
Colonel in command of the troops for the time being. This
commonplace but very plausible stratagem relieved him of all
responsibility for the time necessary to carry out his plans.
The General, nothing if not "catholic and monarchical," took
occasion to inform himself of the hours of the services, and
manifested the greatest zeal for the performance of his religious
duties, piety which caused no remark in Spain.
The very next day, while the division was marching out of the
town, the General went to the convent to be present at vespers.
He found an empty church. The townsfolk, devout though they
were, had all gone down to the quay to watch the embarkation of
the troops. He felt glad to be the only man there. He tramped
noisily up the nave, clanking his spurs till the vaulted roof
rang with the sound; he coughed, he talked aloud to himself to
let the nuns know, and more particularly to let the organist know
that if the troops were gone, one Frenchman was left behind. Was
this singular warning heard and understood? He thought so. It
seemed to him that in the Magnificat the organ made response
which was borne to him on the vibrating air. The nun's spirit
found wings in music and fled towards him, throbbing with the
rhythmical pulse of the sounds. Then, in all its might, the
music burst forth and filled the church with warmth. The Song of
Joy set apart in the sublime liturgy of Latin Christianity to
express the exaltation of the soul in the presence of the glory
of the ever-living God, became the utterance of a heart almost
terrified by its gladness in the presence of the glory of a
mortal love; a love that yet lived, a love that had risen to
trouble her even beyond the grave in which the nun is laid, that
she may rise again as the bride of Christ.
The organ is in truth the grandest, the most daring, the most
magnificent of all instruments invented by human genius. It is a
whole orchestra in itself. It can express anything in response
to a skilled touch. Surely it is in some sort a pedestal on
which the soul poises for a flight forth into space, essaying on
her course to draw picture after picture in an endless series, to
paint human life, to cross the Infinite that separates heaven
from earth? And the longer a dreamer listens to those giant
harmonies, the better he realises that nothing save this
hundred-voiced choir on earth can fill all the space between
kneeling men, and a God hidden by the blinding light of the
Sanctuary. The music is the one interpreter strong enough to
bear up the prayers of humanity to heaven, prayer in its
omnipotent moods, prayer tinged by the melancholy of many
different natures, coloured by meditative ecstasy, upspringing
with the impulse of repentance--blended with the myriad fancies
of every creed. Yes. In those long vaulted aisles the melodies
inspired by the sense of things divine are blent with a grandeur
unknown before, are decked with new glory and might. Out of the
dim daylight, and the deep silence broken by the chanting of the
choir in response to the thunder of the organ, a veil is woven
for God, and the brightness of His attributes shines through it.
And this wealth of holy things seemed to be flung down like a
grain of incense upon the fragile altar raised to Love beneath
the eternal throne of a jealous and avenging God. Indeed, in the
joy of the nun there was little of that awe and gravity which
should harmonise with the solemnities of the Magnificat. She had
enriched the music with graceful variations, earthly gladness
throbbing through the rhythm of each. In such brilliant
quivering notes some great singer might strive to find a voice
for her love, her melodies fluttered as a bird flutters about her
mate. There were moments when she seemed to leap back into the
past, to dally there now with laughter, now with tears. Her
changing moods, as it were, ran riot. She was like a woman
excited and happy over her lover's return.
But at length, after the swaying fugues of delirium, after the
marvellous rendering of a vision of the past, a revulsion swept
over the soul that thus found utterance for itself. With a swift
transition from the major to the minor, the organist told her
hearer of her present lot. She gave the story of long melancholy
broodings, of the slow course of her moral malady. How day by
day she deadened the senses, how every night cut off one more
thought, how her heart was slowly reduced to ashes. The sadness
deepened shade after shade through languid modulations, and in a
little while the echoes were pouring out a torrent of grief.
Then on a sudden, high notes rang out like the voices of angels
singing together, as if to tell the lost but not forgotten lover
that their spirits now could only meet in heaven. Pathetic hope!
Then followed the Amen. No more Joy, no more tears in the air,
no sadness, no regrets. The Amen was the return to God. The
final chord was deep, solemn, even terrible; for the last
rumblings of the bass sent a shiver through the audience that
raised the hair on their heads; the nun shook out her veiling of
crepe, and seemed to sink again into the grave from which she had
risen for a moment. Slowly the reverberations died away; it
seemed as if the church, but now so full of light, had returned
to thick darkness.
The General had been caught up and borne swiftly away by this
strong-winged spirit; he had followed the course of its flight
from beginning to end. He understood to the fullest extent the
imagery of that burning symphony; for him the chords reached deep
and far. For him, as for the sister, the poem meant future,
present, and past. Is not music, and even opera music, a sort of
text, which a susceptible or poetic temper, or a sore and
stricken heart, may expand as memories shall determine? If a
musician must needs have the heart of a poet, must not the
listener too be in a manner a poet and a lover to hear all that
lies in great music? Religion, love, and music--what are they
but a threefold expression of the same fact, of that craving for
expansion which stirs in every noble soul. And these three forms
of poetry ascend to God, in whom all passion on earth finds its
end. Wherefore the holy human trinity finds a place amid the
infinite glories of God; of God, whom we always represent
surrounded with the fires of love and seistrons of gold--music
and light and harmony. Is not He the Cause and the End of all
The French General guessed rightly that here in the desert, on
this bare rock in the sea, the nun had seized upon music as an
outpouring of the passion that still consumed her. Was this her
manner of offering up her love as a sacrifice to God? Or was it
Love exultant in triumph over God? The questions were hard to
answer. But one thing at least the General could not mistake--in
this heart, dead to the world, the fire of passion burned as
fiercely as in his own.
Vespers over, he went back to the alcalde with whom he was
staying. In the all-absorbing joy which comes in such full
measure when a satisfaction sought long and painfully is attained
at last, he could see nothing beyond this--he was still loved!
In her heart love had grown in loneliness, even as his love had
grown stronger as he surmounted one barrier after another which
this woman had set between them! The glow of soul came to its
natural end. There followed a longing to see her again, to
contend with God for her, to snatch her away--a rash scheme,
which appealed to a daring nature. He went to bed, when the meal
was over, to avoid questions; to be alone and think at his ease;
and he lay absorbed by deep thought till day broke.
He rose only to go to mass. He went to the church and knelt
close to the screen, with his forehead touching the curtain; he
would have torn a hole in it if he had been alone, but his host
had come with him out of politeness, and the least imprudence
might compromise the whole future of his love, and ruin the new
The organ sounded, but it was another player, and not the nun of
the last two days whose hands touched the keys. It was all
colourless and cold for the General. Was the woman he loved
prostrated by emotion which wellnigh overcame a strong man's
heart? Had she so fully realised and shared an unchanged,
longed-for love, that now she lay dying on her bed in her cell?
While innumerable thoughts of this kind perplexed his mind, the
voice of the woman he worshipped rang out close beside him; he
knew its clear resonant soprano. It was her voice, with that
faint tremor in it which gave it all the charm that shyness and
diffidence gives to a young girl; her voice, distinct from the
mass of singing as a prima donna's in the chorus of a finale. It
was like a golden or silver thread in dark frieze.
It was she! There could be no mistake. Parisienne now as ever,
she had not laid coquetry aside when she threw off worldly
adornments for the veil and the Carmelite's coarse serge. She
who had affirmed her love last evening in the praise sent up to
God, seemed now to say to her lover, "Yes, it is I. I am here.
My love is unchanged, but I am beyond the reach of love. You
will hear my voice, my soul shall enfold you, and I shall abide
here under the brown shroud in the choir from which no power on
earth can tear me. You shall never see me more!"
"It is she indeed!" the General said to himself, raising his
head. He had leant his face on his hands, unable at first to
bear the intolerable emotion that surged like a whirlpool in his
heart, when that well-known voice vibrated under the arcading,
with the sound of the sea for accompaniment.
Storm was without, and calm within the sanctuary. Still that
rich voice poured out all its caressing notes; it fell like balm
on the lover's burning heart; it blossomed upon the air--the air
that a man would fain breathe more deeply to receive the
effluence of a soul breathed forth with love in the words of the
prayer. The alcalde coming to join his guest found him in tears
during the elevation, while the nun was singing, and brought him
back to his house. Surprised to find so much piety in a French
military man, the worthy magistrate invited the confessor of the
convent to meet his guest. Never had news given the General more
pleasure; he paid the ecclesiastic a good deal of attention at
supper, and confirmed his Spanish hosts in the high opinion they
had formed of his piety by a not wholly disinterested respect.
He enquired with gravity how many sisters there were in the
convent, and asked for particulars of its endowment and revenues,
as if from courtesy he wished to hear the good priest discourse
on the subject most interesting to him. He informed himself as
to the manner of life led by the holy women. Were they allowed
to go out of the convent, or to see visitors?
"Senor," replied the venerable churchman, "the rule is strict.
A woman cannot enter a monastery of the order of St. Bruno
without a special permission from His Holiness, and the rule here
is equally stringent. No man may enter a convent of Barefoot
Carmelites unless he is a priest specially attached to the
services of the house by the Archbishop. None of the nuns may
leave the convent; though the great Saint, St. Theresa, often
left her cell. The Visitor or the Mothers Superior can alone
give permission, subject to an authorisation from the Archbishop,
for a nun to see a visitor, and then especially in a case of
illness. Now we are one of the principal houses, and
consequently we have a Mother Superior here. Among other foreign
sisters there is one Frenchwoman, Sister Theresa; she it is who
directs the music in the chapel."
"Oh!" said the General, with feigned surprise. "She must have
rejoiced over the victory of the House of Bourbon."
"I told them the reason of the mass; they are always a little
"But Sister Theresa may have interests in France. Perhaps she
would like to send some message or to hear news."
"I do not think so. She would have come to ask me."
"As a fellow-countryman, I should be quite curious to see her,"
said the General. "If it is possible, if the Lady Superior
"Even at the grating and in the Reverend Mother's presence, an
interview would be quite impossible for anybody whatsoever; but,
strict as the Mother is, for a deliverer of our holy religion and
the throne of his Catholic Majesty, the rule might be relaxed for
a moment," said the confessor, blinking. "I will speak about
"How old is Sister Theresa?" enquired the lover. He dared not
ask any questions of the priest as to the nun's beauty.
"She does not reckon years now," the good man answered, with a
simplicity that made the General shudder.
Next day before siesta, the confessor came to inform the French
General that Sister Theresa and the Mother consented to receive
him at the grating in the parlour before vespers. The General
spent the siesta in pacing to and fro along the quay in the
noonday heat. Thither the priest came to find him, and brought
him to the convent by way of the gallery round the cemetery.
Fountains, green trees, and rows of arcading maintained a cool
freshness in keeping with the place.
At the further end of the long gallery the priest led the way
into a large room divided in two by a grating covered with a
brown curtain. In the first, and in some sort of public half of
the apartment, where the confessor left the newcomer, a wooden
bench ran round the wall, and two or three chairs, also of wood,
were placed near the grating. The ceiling consisted of bare
unornamented joists and cross-beams of ilex wood. As the two
windows were both on the inner side of the grating, and the dark
surface of the wood was a bad reflector, the light in the place
was so dim that you could scarcely see the great black crucifix,
the portrait of Saint Theresa, and a picture of the Madonna which
adorned the grey parlour walls. Tumultuous as the General's
feelings were, they took something of the melancholy of the
place. He grew calm in that homely quiet. A sense of something
vast as the tomb took possession of him beneath the chill
unceiled roof. Here, as in the grave, was there not eternal
silence, deep peace--the sense of the Infinite? And besides this
there was the quiet and the fixed thought of the cloister--a
thought which you felt like a subtle presence in the air, and in
the dim dusk of the room; an all-pervasive thought nowhere
definitely expressed, and looming the larger in the imagination;
for in the cloister the great saying, "Peace in the Lord,"
enters the least religious soul as a living force.
The monk's life is scarcely comprehensible. A man seems
confessed a weakling in a monastery; he was born to act, to live
out a life of work; he is evading a man's destiny in his cell.
But what man's strength, blended with pathetic weakness, is
implied by a woman's choice of the convent life! A man may have
any number of motives for burying himself in a monastery; for him
it is the leap over the precipice. A woman has but one
motive--she is a woman still; she betrothes herself to a Heavenly
Bridegroom. Of the monk you may ask, "Why did you not fight
your battle?" But if a woman immures herself in the cloister,
is there not always a sublime battle fought first?
At length it seemed to the General that that still room, and the
lonely convent in the sea, were full of thoughts of him. Love
seldom attains to solemnity; yet surely a love still faithful in
the breast of God was something solemn, something more than a man
had a right to look for as things are in this nineteenth century?
The infinite grandeur of the situation might well produce an
effect upon the General's mind; he had precisely enough elevation
of soul to forget politics, honours, Spain, and society in Paris,
and to rise to the height of this lofty climax. And what in
truth could be more tragic? How much must pass in the souls of
these two lovers, brought together in a place of strangers, on a
ledge of granite in the sea; yet held apart by an intangible,
unsurmountable barrier! Try to imagine the man saying within
himself, "Shall I triumph over God in her heart?" when a faint
rustling sound made him quiver, and the curtain was drawn aside.
Between him and the light stood a woman. Her face was hidden by
the veil that drooped from the folds upon her head; she was
dressed according to the rule of the order in a gown of the
colour become proverbial. Her bare feet were hidden; if the
General could have seen them, he would have known how appallingly
thin she had grown; and yet in spite of the thick folds of her
coarse gown, a mere covering and no ornament, he could guess how
tears, and prayer, and passion, and loneliness had wasted the
woman before him.
An ice-cold hand, belonging, no doubt, to the Mother Superior,
held back the curtain. The General gave the enforced witness of
their interview a searching glance, and met the dark, inscrutable
gaze of an aged recluse. The Mother might have been a century
old, but the bright, youthful eyes belied the wrinkles that
furrowed her pale face.
"Mme la Duchesse," he began, his voice shaken with emotion,
"does your companion understand French?" The veiled figure
bowed her head at the sound of his voice.
"There is no duchess here," she replied. "It is Sister
Theresa whom you see before you. She whom you call my companion
is my mother in God, my superior here on earth."
The words were so meekly spoken by the voice that sounded in
other years amid harmonious surroundings of refined luxury, the
voice of a queen of fashion in Paris. Such words from the lips
that once spoke so lightly and flippantly struck the General dumb
"The Holy Mother only speaks Latin and Spanish," she added.
"I understand neither. Dear Antoinette, make my excuses to
The light fell full upon the nun's figure; a thrill of deep
emotion betrayed itself in a faint quiver of her veil as she
heard her name softly spoken by the man who had been so hard in
"My brother," she said, drawing her sleeve under her veil,
perhaps to brush tears away, "I am Sister Theresa."
Then, turning to the Superior, she spoke in Spanish; the General
knew enough of the language to understand what she said perfectly
well; possibly he could have spoken it had he chosen to do so.
"Dear Mother, the gentleman presents his respects to you, and
begs you to pardon him if he cannot pay them himself, but he
knows neither of the languages which you speak----"
The aged nun bent her head slowly, with an expression of angelic
sweetness, enhanced at the same time by the consciousness of her
power and dignity.
"Do you know this gentleman?" she asked, with a keen glance.
"Go back to your cell, my daughter!" said the Mother
imperiously. The General slipped aside behind the curtain lest
the dreadful tumult within him should appear in his face; even in
the shadow it seemed to him that he could still see the
Superior's piercing eyes. He was afraid of her; she held his
little, frail, hardly-won happiness in her hands; and he, who had
never quailed under a triple row of guns, now trembled before
this nun. The Duchess went towards the door, but she turned
"Mother," she said, with dreadful calmness, "the Frenchman is
one of my brothers."
"Then stay, my daughter," said the Superior, after a pause.
The piece of admirable Jesuitry told of such love and regret,
that a man less strongly constituted might have broken down under
the keen delight in the midst of a great and, for him, an
entirely novel peril. Oh! how precious words, looks, and
gestures became when love must baffle lynx eyes and tiger's
claws! Sister Theresa came back.
"You see, my brother, what I have dared to do only to speak to
you for a moment of your salvation and of the prayers that my
soul puts up for your soul daily. I am committing mortal sin. I
have told a lie. How many days of penance must expiate that lie!
But I shall endure it for your sake. My brother, you do not know
what happiness it is to love in heaven; to feel that you can
confess love purified by religion, love transported into the
highest heights of all, so that we are permitted to lose sight of
all but the soul. If the doctrine and the spirit of the Saint to
whom we owe this refuge had not raised me above earth's anguish,
and caught me up and set me, far indeed beneath the Sphere
wherein she dwells, yet truly above this world, I should not have
seen you again. But now I can see you, and hear your voice, and
The General broke in, "But, Antoinette, let me see you, you whom
I love passionately, desperately, as you could have wished me to
"Do not call me Antoinette, I implore you. Memories of the past
hurt me. You must see no one here but Sister Theresa, a creature
who trusts in the Divine mercy." She paused for a little, and
then added, "You must control yourself, my brother. Our Mother
would separate us without pity if there is any worldly passion in
your face, or if you allow the tears to fall from your eyes."
The General bowed his head to regain self-control; when he looked
up again he saw her face beyond the grating--the thin, white, but
still impassioned face of the nun. All the magic charm of youth
that once bloomed there, all the fair contrast of velvet
whiteness and the colour of the Bengal rose, had given place to a
burning glow, as of a porcelain jar with a faint light shining
through it. The wonderful hair in which she took such pride had
been shaven; there was a bandage round her forehead and about her
face. An ascetic life had left dark traces about the eyes, which
still sometimes shot out fevered glances; their ordinary calm
expression was but a veil. In a few words, she was but the ghost
of her former self.
"Ah! you that have come to be my life, you must come out of this
tomb! You were mine; you had no right to give yourself, even to
God. Did you not promise me to give up all at the least command
from me? You may perhaps think me worthy of that promise now
when you hear what I have done for you. I have sought you all
through the world. You have been in my thoughts at every moment
for five years; my life has been given to you. My friends, very
powerful friends, as you know, have helped with all their might
to search every convent in France, Italy, Spain, Sicily, and
America. Love burned more brightly for every vain search. Again
and again I made long journeys with a false hope; I have wasted
my life and the heaviest throbbings of my heart in vain under
many a dark convent wall. I am not speaking of a faithfulness
that knows no bounds, for what is it?--nothing compared with the
infinite longings of my love. If your remorse long ago was
sincere, you ought not to hesitate to follow me today."
"You forget that I am not free."
"The Duke is dead," he answered quickly.
Sister Theresa flushed red.
"May heaven be open to him!" she cried with a quick rush of
feeling. "He was generous to me.--But I did not mean such ties;
it was one of my sins that I was ready to break them all without
"Are you speaking of your vows?" the General asked, frowning.
"I did not think that anything weighed heavier with your heart
than love. But do not think twice of it, Antoinette; the Holy
Father himself shall absolve you of your oath. I will surely go
to Rome, I will entreat all the powers of earth; if God could
come down from heaven, I would----"
"Do not blaspheme."
"So do not fear the anger of God. Ah! I would far rather hear
that you would leave your prison for me; that this very night you
would let yourself down into a boat at the foot of the cliffs.
And we would go away to be happy somewhere at the world's end, I
know not where. And with me at your side, you should come back
to life and health under the wings of love."
"You must not talk like this," said Sister Theresa; "you do
not know what you are to me now. I love you far better than I
ever loved you before. Every day I pray for you; I see you with
other eyes. Armand, if you but knew the happiness of giving
yourself up, without shame, to a pure friendship which God
watches over! You do not know what joy it is to me to pray for
heaven's blessing on you. I never pray for myself: God will do
with me according to His will; but, at the price of my soul, I
wish I could be sure that you are happy here on earth, and that
you will be happy hereafter throughout all ages. My eternal life
is all that trouble has left me to offer up to you. I am old now
with weeping; I am neither young nor fair; and in any case, you
could not respect the nun who became a wife; no love, not even
motherhood, could give me absolution. . . . What can you say to
outweigh the uncounted thoughts that have gathered in my heart
during the past five years, thoughts that have changed, and worn,
and blighted it? I ought to have given a heart less sorrowful to
"What can I say? Dear Antoinette, I will say this, that I love
you; that affection, love, a great love, the joy of living in
another heart that is ours, utterly and wholly ours, is so rare a
thing and so hard to find, that I doubted you, and put you to
sharp proof; but now, today, I love you, Antoinette, with all my
soul's strength. . . . If you will follow me into solitude, I
will hear no voice but yours, I will see no other face."
"Hush, Armand! You are shortening the little time that we may
be together here on earth."
"Antoinette, will you come with me?"
"I am never away from you. My life is in your heart, not
through the selfish ties of earthly happiness, or vanity, or
enjoyment; pale and withered as I am, I live here for you, in the
breast of God. As God is just, you shall be happy----"
"Words, words all of it! Pale and withered? How if I want you?
How if I cannot be happy without you? Do you still think of
nothing but duty with your lover before you? Is he never to come
first and above all things else in your heart? In time past you
put social success, yourself, heaven knows what, before him; now
it is God, it is the welfare of my soul! In Sister Theresa I
find the Duchess over again, ignorant of the happiness of love,
insensible as ever, beneath the semblance of sensibility. You do
not love me; you have never loved me----"
"Oh, my brother----!"
"You do not wish to leave this tomb. You love my soul, do you
say? Very well, through you it will be lost forever. I shall
make away with myself----"
"Mother!" Sister Theresa called aloud in Spanish, "I have lied
to you; this man is my lover!"
The curtain fell at once. The General, in his stupor, scarcely
heard the doors within as they clanged.
"Ah! she loves me still!" he cried, understanding all the
sublimity of that cry of hers. "She loves me still. She must
be carried off. . . ."
The General left the island, returned to headquarters, pleaded
ill-health, asked for leave of absence, and forthwith took his
departure for France.
And now for the incidents which brought the two personages in
this Scene into their present relation to each other.
The thing known in France as the Faubourg Saint-Germain is
neither a Quarter, nor a sect, nor an institution, nor anything
else that admits of a precise definition. There are great houses
in the Place Royale, the Faubourg Saint-Honore, and the Chaussee
d'Antin, in any one of which you may breathe the same atmosphere
of Faubourg Saint-Germain. So, to begin with, the whole Faubourg
is not within the Faubourg. There are men and women born far
enough away from its influences who respond to them and take
their place in the circle; and again there are others, born
within its limits, who may yet be driven forth forever. For the
last forty years the manners, and customs, and speech, in a word,
the tradition of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, has been to Paris
what the Court used to be in other times; it is what the Hotel
Saint-Paul was to the fourteenth century; the Louvre to the
fifteenth; the Palais, the Hotel Rambouillet, and the Place
Royale to the sixteenth; and lastly, as Versailles was to the
seventeenth and the eighteenth.
Just as the ordinary workaday Paris will always centre about some
point; so, through all periods of history, the Paris of the
nobles and the upper classes converges towards some particular
spot. It is a periodically recurrent phenomenon which presents
ample matter for reflection to those who are fain to observe or
describe the various social zones; and possibly an enquiry into
the causes that bring about this centralisation may do more than
merely justify the probability of this episode; it may be of
service to serious interests which some day will be more deeply
rooted in the commonwealth, unless, indeed, experience is as
meaningless for political parties as it is for youth.
In every age the great nobles, and the rich who always ape the
great nobles, build their houses as far as possible from crowded
streets. When the Duc d'Uzes built his splendid hotel in the Rue
Montmartre in the reign of Louis XIV, and set the fountain at his
gates--for which beneficent action, to say nothing of his other
virtues, he was held in such veneration that the whole quarter
turned out in a body to follow his funeral--when the Duke, I say,
chose this site for his house, he did so because that part of
Paris was almost deserted in those days. But when the
fortifications were pulled down, and the market gardens beyond
the line of the boulevards began to fill with houses, then the
d'Uzes family left their fine mansion, and in our time it was
occupied by a banker. Later still, the noblesse began to find
themselves out of their element among shopkeepers, left the Place
Royale and the centre of Paris for good, and crossed the river to
breathe freely in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where palaces were
reared already about the great hotel built by Louis XIV for the
Duc de Maine--the Benjamin among his legitimated offspring. And
indeed, for people accustomed to a stately life, can there be
more unseemly surroundings than the bustle, the mud, the street
cries, the bad smells, and narrow thoroughfares of a populous
quarter? The very habits of life in a mercantile or
manufacturing district are completely at variance with the lives
of nobles. The shopkeeper and artisan are just going to bed when
the great world is thinking of dinner; and the noisy stir of life
begins among the former when the latter have gone to rest. Their
day's calculations never coincide; the one class represents the
expenditure, the other the receipts. Consequently their manners
and customs are diametrically opposed.
Nothing contemptuous is intended by this statement. An
aristocracy is in a manner the intellect of the social system, as
the middle classes and the proletariat may be said to be its
organising and working power. It naturally follows that these
forces are differently situated; and of their antagonism there is
bred a seeming antipathy produced by the performance of different
functions, all of them, however, existing for one common end.
Such social dissonances are so inevitably the outcome of any
charter of the constitution, that however much a Liberal may be
disposed to complain of them, as of treason against those sublime
ideas with which the ambitious plebeian is apt to cover his
designs, he would none the less think it a preposterous notion
that M. le Prince de Montmorency, for instance, should continue
to live in the Rue Saint-Martin at the corner of the street which
bears that nobleman's name; or that M. le Duc de Fitz-James,
descendant of the royal house of Scotland, should have his hotel
at the angle of the Rue Marie Stuart and the Rue Montorgueil.
Sint ut sunt, aut non sint, the grand words of the Jesuit, might
be taken as a motto by the great in all countries. These social
differences are patent in all ages; the fact is always accepted
by the people; its "reasons of state" are self-evident; it is
at once cause and effect, a principle and a law. The common
sense of the masses never deserts them until demagogues stir them
up to gain ends of their own; that common sense is based on the
verities of social order; and the social order is the same
everywhere, in Moscow as in London, in Geneva as in Calcutta.
Given a certain number of families of unequal fortune in any
given space, you will see an aristocracy forming under your eyes;
there will be the patricians, the upper classes, and yet other
ranks below them. Equality may be a RIGHT, but no power on earth
can convert it into FACT. It would be a good thing for France if
this idea could be popularised. The benefits of political
harmony are obvious to the least intelligent classes. Harmony
is, as it were, the poetry of order, and order is a matter of
vital importance to the working population. And what is order,
reduced to its simplest expression, but the agreement of things
among themselves--unity, in short? Architecture, music, and
poetry, everything in France, and in France more than in any
other country, is based upon this principle; it is written upon
the very foundations of her clear accurate language, and a
language must always be the most infallible index of national
character. In the same way you may note that the French popular
airs are those most calculated to strike the imagination, the
best-modulated melodies are taken over by the people; clearness
of thought, the intellectual simplicity of an idea attracts them;
they like the incisive sayings that hold the greatest number of
France is the one country in the world where a little phrase may
bring about a great revolution. Whenever the masses have risen,
it has been to bring men, affairs, and principles into agreement.
No nation has a clearer conception of that idea of unity which
should permeate the life of an aristocracy; possibly no other
nation has so intelligent a comprehension of a political
necessity; history will never find her behind the time. France
has been led astray many a time, but she is deluded, woman-like,
by generous ideas, by a glow of enthusiasm which at first
outstrips sober reason.
So, to begin with, the most striking characteristic of the
Faubourg is the splendour of its great mansions, its great
gardens, and a surrounding quiet in keeping with princely
revenues drawn from great estates.
And what is this distance set between a class and a whole
metropolis but visible and outward expression of the widely
different attitude of mind which must inevitably keep them apart?
The position of the head is well defined in every organism. If
by any chance a nation allows its head to fall at its feet, it is
pretty sure sooner or later to discover that this is a suicidal
measure; and since nations have no desire to perish, they set to
work at once to grow a new head. If they lack the strength for
this, they perish as Rome perished, and Venice, and so many other
This distinction between the upper and lower spheres of social
activity, emphasised by differences in their manner of living,
necessarily implies that in the highest aristocracy there is real
worth and some distinguishing merit. In any state, no matter
what form of "government" is affected, so soon as the patrician
class fails to maintain that complete superiority which is the
condition of its existence, it ceases to be a force, and is
pulled down at once by the populace. The people always wish to
see money, power, and initiative in their leaders, hands, hearts,
and heads; they must be the spokesmen, they must represent the
intelligence and the glory of the nation. Nations, like women,
love strength in those who rule them; they cannot give love
without respect; they refuse utterly to obey those of whom they
do not stand in awe. An aristocracy fallen into contempt is a
roi faineant, a husband in petticoats; first it ceases to be
itself, and then it ceases to be.
And in this way the isolation of the great, the sharply marked
distinction in their manner of life, or in a word, the general
custom of the patrician caste is at once the sign of a real
power, and their destruction so soon as that power is lost. The
Faubourg Saint-Germain failed to recognise the conditions of its
being, while it would still have been easy to perpetuate its
existence, and therefore was brought low for a time. The
Faubourg should have looked the facts fairly in the face, as the
English aristocracy did before them; they should have seen that
every institution has its climacteric periods, when words lose
their old meanings, and ideas reappear in a new guise, and the
whole conditions of politics wear a changed aspect, while the
underlying realities undergo no essential alteration.
These ideas demand further development which form an essential
part of this episode; they are given here both as a succinct
statement of the causes, and an explanation of the things which
happen in the course of the story.
The stateliness of the castles and palaces where nobles dwell;
the luxury of the details; the constantly maintained
sumptuousness of the furniture; the "atmosphere" in which the
fortunate owner of landed estates (a rich man before he was born)
lives and moves easily and without friction; the habit of mind
which never descends to calculate the petty workaday gains of
existence; the leisure; the higher education attainable at a much
earlier age; and lastly, the aristocratic tradition that makes of
him a social force, for which his opponents, by dint of study and
a strong will and tenacity of vocation, are scarcely a match-all
these things should contribute to form a lofty spirit in a man,
possessed of such privileges from his youth up; they should stamp
his character with that high self-respect, of which the least
consequence is a nobleness of heart in harmony with the noble
name that he bears. And in some few families all this is
realised. There are noble characters here and there in the
Faubourg, but they are marked exceptions to a general rule of
egoism which has been the ruin of this world within a world. The
privileges above enumerated are the birthright of the French
noblesse, as of every patrician efflorescence ever formed on the
surface of a nation; and will continue to be theirs so long as
their existence is based upon real estate, or money; domaine-sol
and domaine-argent alike, the only solid bases of an organised
society; but such privileges are held upon the understanding that
the patricians must continue to justify their existence. There
is a sort of moral fief held on a tenure of service rendered to
the sovereign, and here in France the people are undoubtedly the
sovereigns nowadays. The times are changed, and so are the
weapons. The knight-banneret of old wore a coat of chain armour
and a hauberk,; he could handle a lance well and display his
pennon, and no more was required of him; today he is bound to
give proof of his intelligence. A stout heart was enough in the
days of old; in our days he is required to have a capacious
brain-pan. Skill and knowledge and capital--these three points
mark out a social triangle on which the scutcheon of power is
blazoned; our modern aristocracy must take its stand on these.
A fine theorem is as good as a great name. The Rothschilds, the
Fuggers of the nineteenth century, are princes de facto. A great
artist is in reality an oligarch; he represents a whole century,
and almost always he is a law to others. And the art of words,
the high pressure machinery of the writer, the poet's genius, the
merchant's steady endurance, the strong will of the statesman who
concentrates a thousand dazzling qualities in himself, the
general's sword--all these victories, in short, which a single
individual will win, that he may tower above the rest of the
world, the patrician class is now bound to win and keep
exclusively. They must head the new forces as they once headed
the material forces; how should they keep the position unless
they are worthy of it? How, unless they are the soul and brain
of a nation, shall they set its hands moving? How lead a people
without the power of command? And what is the marshal's baton
without the innate power of the captain in the man who wields it?
The Faubourg Saint-Germain took to playing with batons, and
fancied that all the power was in its hands. It inverted the
terms of the proposition which called it into existence. And
instead of flinging away the insignia which offended the people,
and quietly grasping the power, it allowed the bourgeoisie to
seize the authority, clung with fatal obstinacy to its shadow,
and over and over again forgot the laws which a minority must
observe if it would live. When an aristocracy is scarce a
thousandth part of the body social, it is bound today, as of old,
to multiply its points of action, so as to counterbalance the
weight of the masses in a great crisis. And in our days those
means of action must be living forces, and not historical
In France, unluckily, the noblesse were still so puffed up with
the notion of their vanished power, that it was difficult to
contend against a kind of innate presumption in themselves.
Perhaps this is a national defect. The Frenchman is less given
than anyone else to undervalue himself; it comes natural to him
to go from his degree to the one above it; and while it is a rare
thing for him to pity the unfortunates over whose heads he rises,
he always groans in spirit to see so many fortunate people above
him. He is very far from heartless, but too often he prefers to
listen to his intellect. The national instinct which brings the
Frenchman to the front, the vanity that wastes his substance, is
as much a dominant passion as thrift in the Dutch. For three
centuries it swayed the noblesse, who, in this respect, were
certainly pre-eminently French. The scion of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, beholding his material superiority, was fully
persuaded of his intellectual superiority. And everything
contributed to confirm him in his belief; for ever since the
Faubourg Saint-Germain existed at all--which is to say, ever
since Versailles ceased to be the royal residence--the Faubourg,
with some few gaps in continuity, was always backed up by the
central power, which in France seldom fails to support that side.
Thence its downfall in 1830.
At that time the party of the Faubourg Saint-Germain was rather
like an army without a base of operation. It had utterly failed
to take advantage of the peace to plant itself in the heart of
the nation. It sinned for want of learning its lesson, and
through an utter incapability of regarding its interests as a
whole. A future certainty was sacrificed to a doubtful present
gain. This blunder in policy may perhaps be attributed to the
The class-isolation so strenuously kept up by the noblesse
brought about fatal results during the last forty years; even
caste-patriotism was extinguished by it, and rivalry fostered
among themselves. When the French noblesse of other times were
rich and powerful, the nobles (gentilhommes) could choose their
chiefs and obey them in the hour of danger. As their power
diminished, they grew less amenable to discipline; and as in the
last days of the Byzantine Empire, everyone wished to be emperor.
They mistook their uniform weakness for uniform strength.
Each family ruined by the Revolution and the abolition of the law
of primogeniture thought only of itself, and not at all of the
great family of the noblesse. It seemed to them that as each
individual grew rich, the party as a whole would gain in
strength. And herein lay their mistake. Money, likewise, is
only the outward and visible sign of power. All these families
were made up of persons who preserved a high tradition of
courtesy, of true graciousness of life, of refined speech, with a
family pride, and a squeamish sense of noblesse oblige which
suited well with the kind of life they led; a life wholly filled
with occupations which become contemptible so soon as they cease
to be accessories and take the chief place in existence. There
was a certain intrinsic merit in all these people, but the merit
was on the surface, and none of them were worth their face-value.
Not a single one among those families had courage to ask itself
the question, "Are we strong enough for the responsibility of
power?" They were cast on the top, like the lawyers of 1830;
and instead of taking the patron's place, like a great man, the
Faubourg Saint-Germain showed itself greedy as an upstart. The
most intelligent nation in the world perceived clearly that the
restored nobles were organising everything for their own
particular benefit. From that day the noblesse was doomed. The
Faubourg Saint-Germain tried to be an aristocracy when it could
only be an oligarchy--two very different systems, as any man may
see for himself if he gives an intelligent perusal to the list of
the patronymics of the House of Peers.
The King's Government certainly meant well; but the maxim that
the people must be made to WILL everything, even their own
welfare, was pretty constantly forgotten, nor did they bear in
mind that La France is a woman and capricious, and must be happy
or chastised at her own good pleasure. If there had been many
dukes like the Duc de Laval, whose modesty made him worthy of the
name he bore, the elder branch would have been as securely seated
on the throne as the House of Hanover at this day.
In 1814 the noblesse of France were called upon to assert their
superiority over the most aristocratic bourgeoisie in the most
feminine of all countries, to take the lead in the most highly
educated epoch the world had yet seen. And this was even more
notably the case in 1820. The Faubourg Saint-Germain might very
easily have led and amused the middle classes in days when
people's heads were turned with distinctions, and art and science
were all the rage. But the narrow-minded leaders of a time of
great intellectual progress all of them detested art and science.
They had not even the wit to present religion in attractive
colours, though they needed its support. While Lamartine,
Lamennais, Montalembert, and other writers were putting new life
and elevation into men's ideas of religion, and gilding it with
poetry, these bunglers in the Government chose to make the
harshness of their creed felt all over the country. Never was
nation in a more tractable humour; La France, like a tired woman,
was ready to agree to anything; never was mismanagement so
clumsy; and La France, like a woman, would have forgiven wrongs
more easily than bungling.
If the noblesse meant to reinstate themselves, the better to
found a strong oligarchy, they should have honestly and
diligently searched their Houses for men of the stamp that
Napoleon used; they should have turned themselves inside out to
see if peradventure there was a Constitutionalist Richelieu
lurking in the entrails of the Faubourg; and if that genius was
not forthcoming from among them, they should have set out to find
him, even in the fireless garret where he might happen to be
perishing of cold; they should have assimilated him, as the
English House of Lords continually assimilates aristocrats made
by chance; and finally ordered him to be ruthless, to lop away
the old wood, and cut the tree down to the living shoots. But,
in the first place, the great system of English Toryism was far
too large for narrow minds; the importation required time, and in
France a tardy success is no better than a fiasco. So far,
moreover, from adopting a policy of redemption, and looking for
new forces where God puts them, these petty great folk took a
dislike to any capacity that did not issue from their midst; and,
lastly, instead of growing young again, the Faubourg
Saint-Germain grew positively older.
Etiquette, not an institution of primary necessity, might have
been maintained if it had appeared only on state occasions, but
as it was, there was a daily wrangle over precedence; it ceased
to be a matter of art or court ceremonial, it became a question
of power. And if from the outset the Crown lacked an adviser
equal to so great a crisis, the aristocracy was still more
lacking in a sense of its wider interests, an instinct which
might have supplied the deficiency. They stood nice about M. de
Talleyrand's marriage, when M. de Talleyrand was the one man
among them with the steel-encompassed brains that can forge a new
political system and begin a new career of glory for a nation.
The Faubourg scoffed at a minister if he was not gently born, and
produced no one of gentle birth that was fit to be a minister.
There were plenty of nobles fitted to serve their country by
raising the dignity of justices of the peace, by improving the
land, by opening out roads and canals, and taking an active and
leading part as country gentlemen; but these had sold their
estates to gamble on the Stock Exchange. Again the Faubourg
might have absorbed the energetic men among the bourgeoisie, and
opened their ranks to the ambition which was undermining
authority; they preferred instead to fight, and to fight unarmed,
for of all that they once possessed there was nothing left but
tradition. For their misfortune there was just precisely enough
of their former wealth left them as a class to keep up their
bitter pride. They were content with their past. Not one of
them seriously thought of bidding the son of the house take up
arms from the pile of weapons which the nineteenth century flings
down in the market-place. Young men, shut out from office, were
dancing at Madame's balls, while they should have been doing the
work done under the Republic and the Empire by young,
conscientious, harmlessly employed energies. It was their place
to carry out at Paris the programme which their seniors should
have been following in the country. The heads of houses might
have won back recognition of their titles by unremitting
attention to local interests, by falling in with the spirit of
the age, by recasting their order to suit the taste of the times.
But, pent up together in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, where the
spirit of the ancient court and traditions of bygone feuds
between the nobles and the Crown still lingered on, the
aristocracy was not whole-hearted in its allegiance to the
Tuileries, and so much the more easily defeated because it was
concentrated in the Chamber of Peers, and badly organised even
there. If the noblesse had woven themselves into a network over
the country, they could have held their own; but cooped up in
their Faubourg, with their backs against the Chateau, or spread
at full length over the Budget, a single blow cut the thread of a
fast-expiring life, and a petty, smug-faced lawyer came forward
with the axe. In spite of M. Royer-Collard's admirable
discourse, the hereditary peerage and law of entail fell before
the lampoons of a man who made it a boast that he had adroitly
argued some few heads out of the executioner's clutches, and now
forsooth must clumsily proceed to the slaying of old
There are examples and lessons for the future in all this. For
if there were not still a future before the French aristocracy,
there would be no need to do more than find a suitable
sarcophagus; it were something pitilessly cruel to burn the dead
body of it with fire of Tophet.
But though the surgeon's scalpel is ruthless, it sometimes gives
back life to a dying man; and the Faubourg Saint-Germain may wax
more powerful under persecution than in its day of triumph, if it
but chooses to organise itself under a leader.
And now it is easy to give a summary of this semi-political
survey. The wish to re-establish a large fortune was uppermost
in everyone's mind; a lack of broad views, and a mass of small
defects, a real need of religion as a political factor, combined
with a thirst for pleasure which damaged the cause of religion
and necessitated a good deal of hypocrisy; a certain attitude of
protest on the part of loftier and clearer-sighted men who set
their faces against Court jealousies; and the disaffection of the
provincial families, who often came of purer descent than the
nobles of the Court which alienated them from itself--all these
things combined to bring about a most discordant state of things
in the Faubourg Saint-Germain. It was neither compact in its
organisation, nor consequent in its action; neither completely
moral, nor frankly dissolute; it did not corrupt, nor was it
corrupted; it would neither wholly abandon the disputed points
which damaged its cause, nor yet adopt the policy that might have
saved it. In short, however effete individuals might be, the
party as a whole was none the less armed with all the great
principles which lie at the roots of national existence. What
was there in the Faubourg that it should perish in its strength?
It was very hard to please in the choice of candidates; the
Faubourg had good taste, it was scornfully fastidious, yet there
was nothing very glorious nor chivalrous truly about its fall.
In the Emigration of 1789 there were some traces of a loftier
feeling; but in the Emigration of 1830 from Paris into the
country there was nothing discernible but self-interest. A few
famous men of letters, a few oratorical triumphs in the Chambers,
M. de Talleyrand's attitude in the Congress, the taking of
Algiers, and not a few names that found their way from the
battlefield into the pages of history--all these things were so
many examples set before the French noblesse to show that it was
still open to them to take their part in the national existence,
and to win recognition of their claims, if, indeed, they could
condescend thus far. In every living organism the work of
bringing the whole into harmony within itself is always going on.
If a man is indolent, the indolence shows itself in everything
that he does; and, in the same manner, the general spirit of a
class is pretty plainly manifested in the face it turns on the
world, and the soul informs the body.
The women of the Restoration displayed neither the proud
disregard of public opinion shown by the court ladies of olden
time in their wantonness, nor yet the simple grandeur of the
tardy virtues by which they expiated their sins and shed so
bright a glory about their names. There was nothing either very
frivolous or very serious about the woman of the Restoration.
She was hypocritical as a rule in her passion, and compounded, so
to speak, with its pleasures. Some few families led the domestic
life of the Duchesse d'Orleans, whose connubial couch was
exhibited so absurdly to visitors at the Palais Royal. Two or
three kept up the traditions of the Regency, filling cleverer
women with something like disgust. The great lady of the new
school exercised no influence at all over the manners of the
time; and yet she might have done much. She might, at worst,
have presented as dignified a spectacle as English-women of the
same rank. But she hesitated feebly among old precedents, became
a bigot by force of circumstances, and allowed nothing of herself
to appear, not even her better qualities.
Not one among the Frenchwomen of that day had the ability to
create a salon whither leaders of fashion might come to take
lessons in taste and elegance. Their voices, which once laid
down the law to literature, that living expression of a time, now
counted absolutely for nought. Now when a literature lacks a
general system, it fails to shape a body for itself, and dies out
with its period.
When in a nation at any time there is a people apart thus
constituted, the historian is pretty certain to find some
representative figure, some central personage who embodies the
qualities and the defects of the whole party to which he belongs;
there is Coligny, for instance, among the Huguenots, the
Coadjuteur in the time of the Fronde, the Marechal de Richelieu
under Louis XV, Danton during the Terror. It is in the nature of
things that the man should be identified with the company in
which history finds him. How is it possible to lead a party
without conforming to its ideas? or to shine in any epoch unless
a man represents the ideas of his time? The wise and prudent
head of a party is continually obliged to bow to the prejudices
and follies of its rear; and this is the cause of actions for
which he is afterwards criticised by this or that historian
sitting at a safer distance from terrific popular explosions,
coolly judging the passion and ferment without which the great
struggles of the world could not be carried on at all. And if
this is true of the Historical Comedy of the Centuries, it is
equally true in a more restricted sphere in the detached scenes
of the national drama known as the Manners of the Age.
At the beginning of that ephemeral life led by the Faubourg
Saint-Germain under the Restoration, to which, if there is any
truth in the above reflections, they failed to give stability,
the most perfect type of the aristocratic caste in its weakness
and strength, its greatness and littleness, might have been found
for a brief space in a young married woman who belonged to it.
This was a woman artificially educated, but in reality ignorant;
a woman whose instincts and feelings were lofty while the thought
which should have controlled them was wanting. She squandered
the wealth of her nature in obedience to social conventions; she
was ready to brave society, yet she hesitated till her scruples
degenerated into artifice. With more wilfulness than real force
of character, impressionable rather than enthusiastic, gifted
with more brain than heart; she was supremely a woman, supremely
a coquette, and above all things a Parisienne, loving a brilliant
life and gaiety, reflecting never, or too late; imprudent to the
verge of poetry, and humble in the depths of her heart, in spite
of her charming insolence. Like some straight-growing reed, she
made a show of independence; yet, like the reed, she was ready to
bend to a strong hand. She talked much of religion, and had it
not at heart, though she was prepared to find in it a solution of
her life. How explain a creature so complex? Capable of
heroism, yet sinking unconsciously from heroic heights to utter a
spiteful word; young and sweet-natured, not so much old at heart
as aged by the maxims of those about her; versed in a selfish
philosophy in which she was all unpractised, she had all the
vices of a courtier, all the nobleness of developing womanhood.
She trusted nothing and no one, yet there were times when she
quitted her sceptical attitude for a submissive credulity.
How should any portrait be anything but incomplete of her, in
whom the play of swiftly-changing colour made discord only to
produce a poetic confusion? For in her there shone a divine
brightness, a radiance of youth that blended all her bewildering
characteristics in a certain completeness and unity informed by
her charm. Nothing was feigned. The passion or semi-passion,
the ineffectual high aspirations, the actual pettiness, the
coolness of sentiment and warmth of impulse, were all spontaneous
and unaffected, and as much the outcome of her own position as of
the position of the aristocracy to which she belonged. She was
wholly self-contained; she put herself proudly above the world
and beneath the shelter of her name. There was something of the
egoism of Medea in her life, as in the life of the aristocracy
that lay a-dying, and would not so much as raise itself or
stretch out a hand to any political physician; so well aware of
its feebleness, or so conscious that it was already dust, that it
refused to touch or be touched.
The Duchesse de Langeais (for that was her name) had been married
for about four years when the Restoration was finally
consummated, which is to say, in 1816. By that time the
revolution of the Hundred Days had let in the light on the mind
of Louis XVIII. In spite of his surroundings, he comprehended
the situation and the age in which he was living; and it was only
later, when this Louis XI, without the axe, lay stricken down by
disease, that those about him got the upper hand. The Duchesse
de Langeais, a Navarreins by birth, came of a ducal house which
had made a point of never marrying below its rank since the reign
of Louis XIV. Every daughter of the house must sooner or later
take a tabouret at Court. So, Antoinette de Navarreins, at the
age of eighteen, came out of the profound solitude in which her
girlhood had been spent to marry the Duc de Langeais's eldest
son. The two families at that time were living quite out of the
world; but after the invasion of France, the return of the
Bourbons seemed to every Royalist mind the only possible way of
putting an end to the miseries of the war.
The Ducs de Navarreins and de Langeais had been faithful
throughout to the exiled Princes, nobly resisting all the
temptations of glory under the Empire. Under the circumstances
they naturally followed out the old family policy; and Mlle
Antoinette, a beautiful and portionless girl, was married to M.
le Marquis de Langeais only a few months before the death of the
Duke his father.
After the return of the Bourbons, the families resumed their
rank, offices, and dignity at Court; once more they entered
public life, from which hitherto they held aloof, and took their
place high on the sunlit summits of the new political world. In
that time of general baseness and sham political conversions, the
public conscience was glad to recognise the unstained loyalty of
the two houses, and a consistency in political and private life
for which all parties involuntarily respected them. But,
unfortunately, as so often happens in a time of transition, the
most disinterested persons, the men whose loftiness of view and
wise principles would have gained the confidence of the French
nation and led them to believe in the generosity of a novel and
spirited policy--these men, to repeat, were taken out of affairs,
and public business was allowed to fall into the hands of others,
who found it to their interest to push principles to their
extreme consequences by way of proving their devotion.
The families of Langeais and Navarreins remained about the Court,
condemned to perform the duties required by Court ceremonial amid
the reproaches and sneers of the Liberal party. They were
accused of gorging themselves with riches and honours, and all
the while their family estates were no larger than before, and
liberal allowances from the civil list were wholly expended in
keeping up the state necessary for any European government, even
if it be a Republic.
In 1818, M. le Duc de Langeais commanded a division of the army,
and the Duchess held a post about one of the Princesses, in
virtue of which she was free to live in Paris and apart from her
husband without scandal. The Duke, moreover, besides his
military duties, had a place at Court, to which he came during
his term of waiting, leaving his major-general in command. The
Duke and Duchess were leading lives entirely apart, the world
none the wiser. Their marriage of convention shared the fate of
nearly all family arrangements of the kind. Two more
antipathetic dispositions could not well have been found; they
were brought together; they jarred upon each other; there was
soreness on either side; then they were divided once for all.
Then they went their separate ways, with a due regard for
appearances. The Duc de Langeais, by nature as methodical as the
Chevalier de Folard himself, gave himself up methodically to his
own tastes and amusements, and left his wife at liberty to do as
she pleased so soon as he felt sure of her character. He
recognised in her a spirit pre-eminently proud, a cold heart, a
profound submissiveness to the usages of the world, and a
youthful loyalty. Under the eyes of great relations, with the
light of a prudish and bigoted Court turned full upon the
Duchess, his honour was safe.
So the Duke calmly did as the grands seigneurs of the eighteenth
century did before him, and left a young wife of two-and-twenty
to her own devices. He had deeply offended that wife, and in her
nature there was one appalling characteristic--she would never
forgive an offence when woman's vanity and self-love, with all
that was best in her nature perhaps, had been slighted, wounded
in secret. Insult and injury in the face of the world a woman
loves to forget; there is a way open to her of showing herself
great; she is a woman in her forgiveness; but a secret offence
women never pardon; for secret baseness, as for hidden virtues
and hidden love, they have no kindness
This was Mme la Duchesse de Langeais's real position, unknown to
the world. She herself did not reflect upon it. It was the time
of the rejoicings over the Duc de Berri's marriage. The Court
and the Faubourg roused itself from its listlessness and reserve.
This was the real beginning of that unheard-of splendour which
the Government of the Restoration carried too far. At that time
the Duchess, whether for reasons of her own, or from vanity,
never appeared in public without a following of women equally
distinguished by name and fortune. As queen of fashion she had
her dames d'atours, her ladies, who modelled their manner and
their wit on hers. They had been cleverly chosen. None of her
satellites belonged to the inmost Court circle, nor to the
highest level of the Faubourg Saint-Germain; but they had set
their minds upon admission to those inner sanctuaries. Being as
yet simple dominations, they wished to rise to the neighbourhood
of the throne, and mingle with the seraphic powers in the high
sphere known as le petit chateau. Thus surrounded, the Duchess's
position was stronger and more commanding and secure. Her
"ladies" defended her character and helped her to play her
detestable part of a woman of fashion. She could laugh at men at
her ease, play with fire, receive the homage on which the
feminine nature is nourished, and remain mistress of herself.
At Paris, in the highest society of all, a woman is a woman
still; she lives on incense, adulation, and honours. No beauty,
however undoubted, no face, however fair, is anything without
admiration. Flattery and a lover are proofs of power. And what
is power without recognition? Nothing. If the prettiest of
women were left alone in a corner of a drawing-room, she would
droop. Put her in the very centre and summit of social grandeur,
she will at once aspire to reign over all hearts--often because
it is out of her power to be the happy queen of one. Dress and
manner and coquetry are all meant to please one of the poorest
creatures extant--the brainless coxcomb, whose handsome face is
his sole merit; it was for such as these that women threw
themselves away. The gilded wooden idols of the Restoration, for
they were neither more nor less, had neither the antecedents of
the petits maitres of the time of the Fronde, nor the rough
sterling worth of Napoleon's heroes, not the wit and fine manners
of their grandsires; but something of all three they meant to be
without any trouble to themselves. Brave they were, like all
young Frenchmen; ability they possessed, no doubt, if they had
had a chance of proving it, but their places were filled up by
the old worn-out men, who kept them in leading strings. It was a
day of small things, a cold prosaic era. Perhaps it takes a long
time for a Restoration to become a Monarchy.
For the past eighteen months the Duchesse de Langeais had been
leading this empty life, filled with balls and subsequent visits,
objectless triumphs, and the transient loves that spring up and
die in an evening's space. All eyes were turned on her when she
entered a room; she reaped her harvest of flatteries and some few
words of warmer admiration, which she encouraged by a gesture or
a glance, but never suffered to penetrate deeper than the skin.
Her tone and bearing and everything else about her imposed her
will upon others. Her life was a sort of fever of vanity and
perpetual enjoyment, which turned her head. She was daring
enough in conversation; she would listen to anything, corrupting
the surface, as it were, of her heart. Yet when she returned
home, she often blushed at the story that had made her laugh; at
the scandalous tale that supplied the details, on the strength of
which she analysed the love that she had never known, and marked
the subtle distinctions of modern passion, not with comment on
the part of complacent hypocrites. For women know how to say
everything among themselves, and more of them are ruined by each
other than corrupted by men.
There came a moment when she discerned that not until a woman is
loved will the world fully recognise her beauty and her wit.
What does a husband prove? Simply that a girl or woman was
endowed with wealth, or well brought up; that her mother managed
cleverly that in some way she satisfied a man's ambitions. A
lover constantly bears witness to her personal perfections. Then
followed the discovery still in Mme de Langeais's early
womanhood, that it was possible to be loved without committing
herself, without permission, without vouchsafing any satisfaction
beyond the most meagre dues. There was more than one demure
feminine hypocrite to instruct her in the art of playing such
So the Duchess had her court, and the number of her adorers and
courtiers guaranteed her virtue. She was amiable and
fascinating; she flirted till the ball or the evening's gaiety
was at an end. Then the curtain dropped. She was cold,
indifferent, self-contained again till the next day brought its
renewed sensations, superficial as before. Two or three men were
completely deceived, and fell in love in earnest. She laughed at
them, she was utterly insensible. "I am loved!" she told
herself. "He loves me!" The certainty sufficed her. It is
enough for the miser to know that his every whim might be
fulfilled if he chose; so it was with the Duchess, and perhaps
she did not even go so far as to form a wish.
One evening she chanced to be at the house of an intimate friend
Mme la Vicomtesse de Fontaine, one of the humble rivals who
cordially detested her, and went with her everywhere. In a
"friendship" of this sort both sides are on their guard, and
never lay their armour aside; confidences are ingeniously
indiscreet, and not unfrequently treacherous. Mme de Langeais
had distributed her little patronising, friendly, or freezing
bows, with the air natural to a woman who knows the worth of her
smiles, when her eyes fell upon a total stranger. Something in
the man's large gravity of aspect startled her, and, with a
feeling almost like dread, she turned to Mme de Maufrigneuse
with, "Who is the newcomer, dear?"
"Someone that you have heard of, no doubt. The Marquis de
"Oh! is it he?"
She took up her eyeglass and submitted him to a very insolent
scrutiny, as if he had been a picture meant to receive glances,
not to return them.
"Do introduce him; he ought to be interesting."
"Nobody more tiresome and dull, dear. But he is the fashion."
M. Armand de Montriveau, at that moment all unwittingly the
object of general curiosity, better deserved attention than any
of the idols that Paris needs must set up to worship for a brief
space, for the city is vexed by periodical fits of craving, a
passion for engouement and sham enthusiasm, which must be
satisfied. The Marquis was the only son of General de
Montriveau, one of the ci-devants who served the Republic nobly,
and fell by Joubert's side at Novi. Bonaparte had placed his son
at the school at Chalons, with the orphans of other generals who
fell on the battlefield, leaving their children under the
protection of the Republic. Armand de Montriveau left school
with his way to make, entered the artillery, and had only reached
a major's rank at the time of the Fontainebleau disaster. In his
section of the service the chances of advancement were not many.
There are fewer officers, in the first place, among the gunners
than in any other corps; and in the second place, the feeling in
the artillery was decidedly Liberal, not to say Republican; and
the Emperor, feeling little confidence in a body of highly
educated men who were apt to think for themselves, gave promotion
grudgingly in the service. In the artillery, accordingly, the
general rule of the army did not apply; the commanding officers
were not invariably the most remarkable men in their department,
because there was less to be feared from mediocrities. The
artillery was a separate corps in those days, and only came under
Napoleon in action.
Besides these general causes, other reasons, inherent in Armand
de Montriveau's character, were sufficient in themselves to
account for his tardy promotion. He was alone in the world. He
had been thrown at the age of twenty into the whirlwind of men
directed by Napoleon; his interests were bounded by himself, any
day he might lose his life; it became a habit of mind with him to
live by his own self-respect and the consciousness that he had
done his duty. Like all shy men, he was habitually silent; but
his shyness sprang by no means from timidity; it was a kind of
modesty in him; he found any demonstration of vanity intolerable.
There was no sort of swagger about his fearlessness in action;
nothing escaped his eyes; he could give sensible advice to his
chums with unshaken coolness; he could go under fire, and duck
upon occasion to avoid bullets. He was kindly; but his
expression was haughty and stern, and his face gained him this
character. In everything he was rigorous as arithmetic; he never
permitted the slightest deviation from duty on any plausible
pretext, nor blinked the consequences of a fact. He would lend
himself to nothing of which he was ashamed; he never asked
anything for himself; in short, Armand de Montriveau was one of
many great men unknown to fame, and philosophical enough to
despise it; living without attaching themselves to life, because
they have not found their opportunity of developing to the full
their power to do and feel.
People were afraid of Montriveau; they respected him, but he was
not very popular. Men may indeed allow you to rise above them,
but to decline to descend as low as they can do is the one
unpardonable sin. In their feeling towards loftier natures,
there is a trace of hate and fear. Too much honour with them
implies censure of themselves, a thing forgiven neither to the
living nor to the dead.
After the Emperor's farewells at Fontainebleau, Montriveau, noble
though he was, was put on half-pay. Perhaps the heads of the War
Office took fright at uncompromising uprightness worthy of
antiquity, or perhaps it was known that he felt bound by his oath
to the Imperial Eagle. During the Hundred Days he was made a
Colonel of the Guard, and left on the field of Waterloo. His
wounds kept him in Belgium he was not present at the disbanding
of the Army of the Loire, but the King's government declined to
recognise promotion made during the Hundred Days, and Armand de
Montriveau left France.
An adventurous spirit, a loftiness of thought hitherto satisfied
by the hazards of war, drove him on an exploring expedition
through Upper Egypt; his sanity or impulse directed his
enthusiasm to a project of great importance, he turned his
attention to that unexplored Central Africa which occupies the
learned of today. The scientific expedition was long and
unfortunate. He had made a valuable collection of notes bearing
on various geographical and commercial problems, of which
solutions are still eagerly sought; and succeeded, after
surmounting many obstacles, in reaching the heart of the
continent, when he was betrayed into the hands of a hostile
native tribe. Then, stripped of all that he had, for two years
he led a wandering life in the desert, the slave of savages,
threatened with death at every moment, and more cruelly treated
than a dumb animal in the power of pitiless children. Physical
strength, and a mind braced to endurance, enabled him to survive
the horrors of that captivity; but his miraculous escape
well-nigh exhausted his energies. When he reached the French
colony at Senegal, a half-dead fugitive covered with rags, his
memories of his former life were dim and shapeless. The great
sacrifices made in his travels were all forgotten like his
studies of African dialects, his discoveries, and observations.
One story will give an idea of all that he passed through. Once
for several days the children of the sheikh of the tribe amused
themselves by putting him up for a mark and flinging horses'
knuckle-bones at his head.
Montriveau came back to Paris in 1818 a ruined man. He had no
interest, and wished for none. He would have died twenty times
over sooner than ask a favour of anyone; he would not even press
the recognition of his claims. Adversity and hardship had
developed his energy even in trifles, while the habit of
preserving his self-respect before that spiritual self which we
call conscience led him to attach consequence to the most
apparently trivial actions. His merits and adventures became
known, however, through his acquaintances, among the principal
men of science in Paris, and some few well-read military men.
The incidents of his slavery and subsequent escape bore witness
to a courage, intelligence, and coolness which won him celebrity
without his knowledge, and that transient fame of which Paris
salons are lavish, though the artist that fain would keep it must
make untold efforts.
Montriveau's position suddenly changed towards the end of that
year. He had been a poor man, he was now rich; or, externally at
any rate, he had all the advantages of wealth. The King's
government, trying to attach capable men to itself and to
strengthen the army, made concessions about that time to
Napoleon's old officers if their known loyalty and character
offered guarantees of fidelity. M. de Montriveau's name once
more appeared in the army list with the rank of colonel; he
received his arrears of pay and passed into the Guards. All
these favours, one after another, came to seek the Marquis de
Montriveau; he had asked for nothing however small. Friends had
taken the steps for him which he would have refused to take for
After this, his habits were modified all at once; contrary to his
custom, he went into society. He was well received, everywhere
he met with great deference and respect. He seemed to have found
some end in life; but everything passed within the man, there
were no external signs; in society he was silent and cold, and
wore a grave, reserved face. His social success was great,
precisely because he stood out in such strong contrast to the
conventional faces which line the walls of Paris salons. He was,
indeed, something quite new there. Terse of speech, like a
hermit or a savage, his shyness was thought to be haughtiness,
and people were greatly taken with it. He was something strange
and great. Women generally were so much the more smitten with
this original person because he was not to be caught by their
flatteries, however adroit, nor by the wiles with which they
circumvent the strongest men and corrode the steel temper. Their
Parisian's grimaces were lost upon M. de Montriveau; his nature
only responded to the sonorous vibration of lofty thought and
feeling. And he would very promptly have been dropped but for
the romance that hung about his adventures and his life; but for
the men who cried him up behind his back; but for a woman who
looked for a triumph for her vanity, the woman who was to fill
For these reasons the Duchesse de Langeais's curiosity was no
less lively than natural. Chance had so ordered it that her
interest in the man before her had been aroused only the day
before, when she heard the story of one of M. de Montriveau's
adventures, a story calculated to make the strongest impression
upon a woman's ever-changing fancy.
During M. de Montriveau's voyage of discovery to the sources of
the Nile, he had had an argument with one of his guides, surely
the most extraordinary debate in the annals of travel. The
district that he wished to explore could only be reached on foot
across a tract of desert. Only one of his guides knew the way;
no traveller had penetrated before into that part of the country,
where the undaunted officer hoped to find a solution of several
scientific problems. In spite of the representations made to him
by the guide and the older men of the place, he started upon the
formidable journey. Summoning up courage, already highly strung
by the prospect of dreadful difficulties, he set out in the
The loose sand shifted under his feet at every step; and when, at
the end of a long day's march, he lay down to sleep on the
ground, he had never been so tired in his life. He knew,
however, that he must be up and on his way before dawn next day,
and his guide assured him that they should reach the end of their
journey towards noon. That promise kept up his courage and gave
him new strength. In spite of his sufferings, he continued his
march, with some blasphemings against science; he was ashamed to
complain to his guide, and kept his pain to himself. After
marching for a third of the day, he felt his strength failing,
his feet were bleeding, he asked if they should reach the place
"In an hour's time," said the guide. Armand braced himself for
another hour's march, and they went on.
The hour slipped by; he could not so much as see against the sky
the palm-trees and crests of hill that should tell of the end of
the journey near at hand; the horizon line of sand was vast as
the circle of the open sea.
He came to a stand, refused to go farther, and threatened the
guide--he had deceived him, murdered him; tears of rage and
weariness flowed over his fevered cheeks; he was bowed down with
fatigue upon fatigue, his throat seemed to be glued by the desert
thirst. The guide meanwhile stood motionless, listening to these
complaints with an ironical expression, studying the while, with
the apparent indifference of an Oriental, the scarcely
perceptible indications in the lie of the sands, which looked
almost black, like burnished gold.
"I have made a mistake," he remarked coolly. "I could not
make out the track, it is so long since I came this way; we are
surely on it now, but we must push on for two hours."
"The man is right," thought M. de Montriveau.
So he went on again, struggling to follow the pitiless native.
It seemed as if he were bound to his guide by some thread like
the invisible tie between the condemned man and the headsman.
But the two hours went by, Montriveau had spent his last drops of
energy, and the skyline was a blank, there were no palm-trees, no
hills. He could neither cry out nor groan, he lay down on the
sand to die, but his eyes would have frightened the boldest;
something in his face seemed to say that he would not die alone.
His guide, like a very fiend, gave him back a cool glance like a
man that knows his power, left him to lie there, and kept at a
safe distance out of reach of his desperate victim. At last M.
Montriveau recovered strength enough for a last curse.
The guide came nearer, silenced him with a steady look, and said,
"Was it not your own will to go where I am taking you, in spite
of us all? You say that I have lied to you. If I had not, you
would not be even here. Do you want the truth? Here it is. WE
HAVE STILL ANOTHER FIVE HOURS' MARCH BEFORE US, AND WE CANNOT GO
BACK. Sound yourself; if you have not courage enough, here is my
Startled by this dreadful knowledge of pain and human strength,
M. de Montriveau would not be behind a savage; he drew a fresh
stock of courage from his pride as a European, rose to his feet,
and followed his guide. The five hours were at an end, and still
M. de Montriveau saw nothing, he turned his failing eyes upon his
guide; but the Nubian hoisted him on his shoulders, and showed
him a wide pool of water with greenness all about it, and a noble
forest lighted up by the sunset. It lay only a hundred paces
away; a vast ledge of granite hid the glorious landscape. It
seemed to Armand that he had taken a new lease of life. His
guide, that giant in courage and intelligence, finished his work
of devotion by carrying him across the hot, slippery, scarcely
discernible track on the granite. Behind him lay the hell of
burning sand, before him the earthly paradise of the most
beautiful oasis in the desert.
The Duchess, struck from the first by the appearance of this
romantic figure, was even more impressed when she learned that
this was that Marquis de Montriveau of whom she had dreamed
during the night. She had been with him among the hot desert
sands, he had been the companion of her nightmare wanderings; for
such a woman was not this a delightful presage of a new interest
in her life? And never was a man's exterior a better exponent of
his character; never were curious glances so well justified. The
principal characteristic of his great, square-hewn head was the
thick, luxuriant black hair which framed his face, and gave him a
strikingly close resemblance to General Kleber; and the likeness
still held good in the vigorous forehead, in the outlines of his
face, the quiet fearlessness of his eyes, and a kind of fiery
vehemence expressed by strongly marked features. He was short,
deep-chested, and muscular as a lion. There was something of the
despot about him, and an indescribable suggestion of the security
of strength in his gait, bearing, and slightest movements. He
seemed to know that his will was irresistible, perhaps because he
wished for nothing unjust. And yet, like all really strong men,
he was mild of speech, simple in his manners, and kindly natured;
although it seemed as if, in the stress of a great crisis, all
these finer qualities must disappear, and the man would show
himself implacable, unshaken in his resolve, terrific in action.
There was a certain drawing in of the inner line of the lips
which, to a close observer, indicated an ironical bent.
The Duchesse de Langeais, realising that a fleeting glory was to
be won by such a conquest, made up her mind to gain a lover in
Armand de Montriveau during the brief interval before the
Duchesse de Maufrigneuse brought him to be introduced. She would
prefer him above the others; she would attach him to herself,
display all her powers of coquetry for him. It was a fancy, such
a merest Duchess's whim as furnished a Lope or a Calderon with
the plot of the Dog in the Manger. She would not suffer another
woman to engross him; but she had not the remotest intention of
Nature had given the Duchess every qualification for the part of
coquette, and education had perfected her. Women envied her, and
men fell in love with her, not without reason. Nothing that can
inspire love, justify it, and give it lasting empire was wanting
in her. Her style of beauty, her manner, her voice, her bearing,
all combined to give her that instinctive coquetry which seems to
be the consciousness of power. Her shape was graceful; perhaps
there was a trace of self-consciousness in her changes of
movement, the one affectation that could be laid to her charge;
but everything about her was a part of her personality, from her
least little gesture to the peculiar turn of her phrases, the
demure glance of her eyes. Her great lady's grace, her most
striking characteristic, had not destroyed the very French quick
mobility of her person. There was an extraordinary fascination
in her swift, incessant changes of attitude. She seemed as if
she surely would be a most delicious mistress when her corset and
the encumbering costume of her part were laid aside. All the
rapture of love surely was latent in the freedom of her
expressive glances, in her caressing tones, in the charm of her
words. She gave glimpses of the high-born courtesan within her,
vainly protesting against the creeds of the duchess.
You might sit near her through an evening, she would be gay and
melancholy in turn, and her gaiety, like her sadness, seemed
spontaneous. She could be gracious, disdainful, insolent, or
confiding at will. Her apparent good nature was real; she had no
temptation to descend to malignity. But at each moment her mood
changed; she was full of confidence or craft; her moving
tenderness would give place to a heart-breaking hardness and
insensibility. Yet how paint her as she was, without bringing
together all the extremes of feminine nature? In a word, the
Duchess was anything that she wished to be or to seem. Her face
was slightly too long. There was a grace in it, and a certain
thinness and fineness that recalled the portraits of the Middle
Ages. Her skin was white, with a faint rose tint. Everything
about her erred, as it were, by an excess of delicacy.
M. de Montriveau willingly consented to be introduced to the
Duchesse de Langeais; and she, after the manner of persons whose
sensitive taste leads them to avoid banalities, refrained from
overwhelming him with questions and compliments. She received
him with a gracious deference which could not fail to flatter a
man of more than ordinary powers, for the fact that a man rises
above the ordinary level implies that he possesses something of
that tact which makes women quick to read feeling. If the
Duchess showed any curiosity, it was by her glances; her
compliments were conveyed in her manner; there was a winning
grace displayed in her words, a subtle suggestion of a desire to
please which she of all women knew the art of manifesting. Yet
her whole conversation was but, in a manner, the body of the
letter; the postscript with the principal thought in it was still
to come. After half an hour spent in ordinary talk, in which the
words gained all their value from her tone and smiles, M. de
Montriveau was about to retire discreetly, when the Duchess
stopped him with an expressive gesture.
"I do not know, monsieur, whether these few minutes during which
I have had the pleasure of talking to you proved so sufficiently
attractive, that I may venture to ask you to call upon me; I am
afraid that it may be very selfish of me to wish to have you all
to myself. If I should be so fortunate as to find that my house
is agreeable to you, you will always find me at home in the
evening until ten o'clock."
The invitation was given with such irresistible grace, that M. de
Montriveau could not refuse to accept it. When he fell back
again among the groups of men gathered at a distance from the
women, his friends congratulated him, half laughingly, half in
earnest, on the extraordinary reception vouchsafed him by the
Duchesse de Langeais. The difficult and brilliant conquest had
been made beyond a doubt, and the glory of it was reserved for
the Artillery of the Guard. It is easy to imagine the jests,
good and bad, when this topic had once been started; the world of
Paris salons is so eager for amusement, and a joke lasts for such
a short time, that everyone is eager to make the most of it while
it is fresh.
All unconsciously, the General felt flattered by this nonsense.
From his place where he had taken his stand, his eyes were drawn
again and again to the Duchess by countless wavering reflections.
He could not help admitting to himself that of all the women
whose beauty had captivated his eyes, not one had seemed to be a
more exquisite embodiment of faults and fair qualities blended in
a completeness that might realise the dreams of earliest manhood.
Is there a man in any rank of life that has not felt indefinable
rapture in his secret soul over the woman singled out (if only in
his dreams) to be his own; when she, in body, soul, and social
aspects, satisfies his every requirement, a thrice perfect woman?
And if this threefold perfection that flatters his pride is no
argument for loving her, it is beyond cavil one of the great
inducements to the sentiment. Love would soon be convalescent,
as the eighteenth century moralist remarked, were it not for
vanity. And it is certainly true that for everyone, man or
woman, there is a wealth of pleasure in the superiority of the
beloved. Is she set so high by birth that a contemptuous glance
can never wound her? is she wealthy enough to surround herself
with state which falls nothing short of royalty, of kings, of
finance during their short reign of splendour? is she so
ready-witted that a keen-edged jest never brings her into
confusion? beautiful enough to rival any woman?--Is it such a
small thing to know that your self-love will never suffer through
her? A man makes these reflections in the twinkling of an eye.
And how if, in the future opened out by early ripened passion, he
catches glimpses of the changeful delight of her charm, the frank
innocence of a maiden soul, the perils of love's voyage, the
thousand folds of the veil of coquetry? Is not this enough to
move the coldest man's heart?
This, therefore, was M. de Montriveau's position with regard to
woman; his past life in some measure explaining the extraordinary
fact. He had been thrown, when little more than a boy, into the
hurricane of Napoleon's wars; his life had been spent on fields
of battle. Of women he knew just so much as a traveller knows of
a country when he travels across it in haste from one inn to
another. The verdict which Voltaire passed upon his eighty years
of life might, perhaps, have been applied by Montriveau to his
own thirty-seven years of existence; had he not thirty-seven
follies with which to reproach himself? At his age he was as
much a novice in love as the lad that has just been furtively
reading Faublas. Of women he had nothing to learn; of love he
knew nothing; and thus, desires, quite unknown before, sprang
from this virginity of feeling.
There are men here and there as much engrossed in the work
demanded of them by poverty or ambition, art or science, as M. de
Montriveau by war and a life of adventure--these know what it is
to be in this unusual position if they very seldom confess to it.
Every man in Paris is supposed to have been in love. No woman in
Paris cares to take what other women have passed over. The dread
of being taken for a fool is the source of the coxcomb's bragging
so common in France; for in France to have the reputation of a
fool is to be a foreigner in one's own country. Vehement desire
seized on M. de Montriveau, desire that had gathered strength
from the heat of the desert and the first stirrings of a heart
unknown as yet in its suppressed turbulence.
A strong man, and violent as he was strong, he could keep mastery
over himself; but as he talked of indifferent things, he retired
within himself, and swore to possess this woman, for through that
thought lay the only way to love for him. Desire became a solemn
compact made with himself, an oath after the manner of the Arabs
among whom he had lived; for among them a vow is a kind of
contract made with Destiny a man's whole future is solemnly
pledged to fulfil it, and everything even his own death, is
regarded simply as a means to the one end.
A younger man would have said to himself, "I should very much
like to have the Duchess for my mistress!" or, "If the Duchesse
de Langeais cared for a man, he would be a very lucky rascal!"
But the General said, "I will have Mme de Langeais for my
mistress." And if a man takes such an idea into his head when
his heart has never been touched before, and love begins to be a
kind of religion with him, he little knows in what a hell he has
set his foot.
Armand de Montriveau suddenly took flight and went home in the
first hot fever-fit of the first love that he had known. When a
man has kept all his boyish beliefs, illusions, frankness, and
impetuosity into middle age, his first impulse is, as it were, to
stretch out a hand to take the thing that he desires; a little
later he realises that there is a gulf set between them, and that
it is all but impossible to cross it. A sort of childish
impatience seizes him, he wants the thing the more, and trembles
or cries. Wherefore, the next day, after the stormiest
reflections that had yet perturbed his mind, Armand de Montriveau
discovered that he was under the yoke of the senses, and his
bondage made the heavier by his love.
The woman so cavalierly treated in his thoughts of yesterday had
become a most sacred and dreadful power. She was to be his
world, his life, from this time forth. The greatest joy, the
keenest anguish, that he had yet known grew colourless before the
bare recollection of the least sensation stirred in him by her.
The swiftest revolutions in a man's outward life only touch his
interests, while passion brings a complete revulsion of feeling.
And so in those who live by feeling, rather than by
self-interest, the doers rather than the reasoners, the sanguine
rather than the lymphatic temperaments, love works a complete
revolution. In a flash, with one single reflection, Armand de
Montriveau wiped out his whole past life.
A score of times he asked himself, like a boy, "Shall I go, or
shall I not?" and then at last he dressed, came to the Hotel de
Langeais towards eight o'clock that evening, and was admitted.
He was to see the woman--ah! not the woman--the idol that he had
seen yesterday, among lights, a fresh innocent girl in gauze and
silken lace and veiling. He burst in upon her to declare his
love, as if it were a question of firing the first shot on a
field of battle.
Poor novice! He found his ethereal sylphide shrouded in a brown
cashmere dressing-gown ingeniously befrilled, lying languidly
stretched out upon a sofa in a dimly lighted boudoir. Mme de
Langeais did not so much as rise, nothing was visible of her but
her face, her hair was loose but confined by a scarf. A hand
indicated a seat, a hand that seemed white as marble to
Montriveau by the flickering light of a single candle at the
further side of the room, and a voice as soft as the light said--
"If it had been anyone else, M. le Marquis, a friend with whom I
could dispense with ceremony, or a mere acquaintance in whom I
felt but slight interest, I should have closed my door. I am
"I will go," Armand said to himself.
"But I do not know how it is," she continued (and the simple
warrior attributed the shining of her eyes to fever), "perhaps
it was a presentiment of your kind visit (and no one can be more
sensible of the prompt attention than I), but the vapours have
left my head."
"Then may I stay?"
"Oh, I should be very sorry to allow you to go. I told myself
this morning that it was impossible that I should have made the
slightest impression on your mind, and that in all probability
you took my request for one of the commonplaces of which
Parisians are lavish on every occasion. And I forgave your
ingratitude in advance. An explorer from the deserts is not
supposed to know how exclusive we are in our friendships in the
The gracious, half-murmured words dropped one by one, as if they
had been weighted with the gladness that apparently brought them
to her lips. The Duchess meant to have the full benefit of her
headache, and her speculation was fully successful. The General,
poor man, was really distressed by the lady's simulated distress.
Like Crillon listening to the story of the Crucifixion, he was
ready to draw his sword against the vapours. How could a man
dare to speak just then to this suffering woman of the love that
she inspired? Armand had already felt that it would be absurd to
fire off a declaration of love point-blank at one so far above
other women. With a single thought came understanding of the
delicacies of feeling, of the soul's requirements. To love: what
was that but to know how to plead, to beg for alms, to wait? And
as for the love that he felt, must he not prove it? His tongue
was mute, it was frozen by the conventions of the noble Faubourg,
the majesty of a sick headache, the bashfulness of love. But no
power on earth could veil his glances; the heat and the Infinite
of the desert blazed in eyes calm as a panther's, beneath the
lids that fell so seldom. The Duchess enjoyed the steady gaze
that enveloped her in light and warmth.
"Mme la Duchesse," he answered, "I am afraid I express my
gratitude for your goodness very badly. At this moment I have
but one desire--I wish it were in my power to cure the pain."
"Permit me to throw this off, I feel too warm now," she said,
gracefully tossing aside a cushion that covered her feet.
"Madame, in Asia your feet would be worth some ten thousand
"A traveller's compliment!" smiled she.
It pleased the sprightly lady to involve a rough soldier in a
labyrinth of nonsense, commonplaces, and meaningless talk, in
which he manoeuvred, in military language, as Prince Charles
might have done at close quarters with Napoleon. She took a
mischievous amusement in reconnoitring the extent of his
infatuation by the number of foolish speeches extracted from a
novice whom she led step by step into a hopeless maze, meaning to
leave him there in confusion. She began by laughing at him, but
nevertheless it pleased her to make him forget how time went.
The length of a first visit is frequently a compliment, but
Armand was innocent of any such intent. The famous explorer
spent an hour in chat on all sorts of subjects, said nothing that
he meant to say, and was feeling that he was only an instrument
on whom this woman played, when she rose, sat upright, drew the
scarf from her hair, and wrapped it about her throat, leant her
elbow on the cushions, did him the honour of a complete cure, and
rang for lights. The most graceful movement succeeded to
complete repose. She turned to M. de Montriveau, from whom she
had just extracted a confidence which seemed to interest her
deeply, and said--
"You wish to make game of me by trying to make me believe that
you have never loved. It is a man's great pretension with us.
And we always believe it! Out of pure politeness. Do we not
know what to expect from it for ourselves? Where is the man that
has found but a single opportunity of losing his heart? But you
love to deceive us, and we submit to be deceived, poor foolish
creatures that we are; for your hypocrisy is, after all, a homage
paid to the superiority of our sentiments, which are all
The last words were spoken with a disdainful pride that made the
novice in love feel like a worthless bale flung into the deep,
while the Duchess was an angel soaring back to her particular
"Confound it!" thought Armand de Montriveau, "how am I to tell
this wild thing that I love her?"
He had told her already a score of times; or rather, the Duchess
had a score of times read his secret in his eyes; and the passion
in this unmistakably great man promised her amusement, and an
interest in her empty life. So she prepared with no little
dexterity to raise a certain number of redoubts for him to carry
by storm before he should gain an entrance into her heart.
Montriveau should overleap one difficulty after another; he
should be a plaything for her caprice, just as an insect teased
by children is made to jump from one finger to another, and in
spite of all its pains is kept in the same place by its
mischievous tormentor. And yet it gave the Duchess inexpressible
happiness to see that this strong man had told her the truth.
Armand had never loved, as he had said. He was about to go, in a
bad humour with himself, and still more out of humour with her;
but it delighted her to see a sullenness that she could conjure
away with a word, a glance, or a gesture.
"Will you come tomorrow evening?" she asked. "I am going to a
ball, but I shall stay at home for you until ten o'clock."
Montriveau spent most of the next day in smoking an indeterminate
quantity of cigars in his study window, and so got through the
hours till he could dress and go to the Hotel de Langeais. To
anyone who had known the magnificent worth of the man, it would
have been grievous to see him grown so small, so distrustful of
himself; the mind that might have shed light over undiscovered
worlds shrunk to the proportions of a she-coxcomb's boudoir.
Even he himself felt that he had fallen so low already in his
happiness that to save his life he could not have told his love
to one of his closest friends. Is there not always a trace of
shame in the lover's bashfulness, and perhaps in woman a certain
exultation over diminished masculine stature? Indeed, but for a
host of motives of this kind, how explain why women are nearly
always the first to betray the secret?--a secret of which,
perhaps, they soon weary.
"Mme la Duchesse cannot see visitors, monsieur," said the man;
"she is dressing, she begs you to wait for her here."
Armand walked up and down the drawing-room, studying her taste in
the least details. He admired Mme de Langeais herself in the
objects of her choosing; they revealed her life before he could
grasp her personality and ideas. About an hour later the Duchess
came noiselessly out of her chamber. Montriveau turned, saw her
flit like a shadow across the room, and trembled. She came up to
him, not with a bourgeoise's enquiry, "How do I look?" She was
sure of herself; her steady eyes said plainly, "I am adorned to
No one surely, save the old fairy godmother of some princess in
disguise, could have wound a cloud of gauze about the dainty
throat, so that the dazzling satin skin beneath should gleam
through the gleaming folds. The Duchess was dazzling. The pale
blue colour of her gown, repeated in the flowers in her hair,
appeared by the richness of its hue to lend substance to a
fragile form grown too wholly ethereal; for as she glided towards
Armand, the loose ends of her scarf floated about her, putting
that valiant warrior in mind of the bright damosel flies that
hover now over water, now over the flowers with which they seem
to mingle and blend.
"I have kept you waiting," she said, with the tone that a woman
can always bring into her voice for the man whom she wishes to
"I would wait patiently through an eternity," said he, "if I
were sure of finding a divinity so fair; but it is no compliment
to speak of your beauty to you; nothing save worship could touch
you. Suffer me only to kiss your scarf."
"Oh, fie!" she said, with a commanding gesture, "I esteem you
enough to give you my hand."
She held it out for his kiss. A woman's hand, still moist from
the scented bath, has a soft freshness, a velvet smoothness that
sends a tingling thrill from the lips to the soul. And if a man
is attracted to a woman, and his senses are as quick to feel
pleasure as his heart is full of love, such a kiss, though chaste
in appearance, may conjure up a terrific storm.
"Will you always give it me like this?" the General asked
humbly when he had pressed that dangerous hand respectfully to
"Yes, but there we must stop," she said, smiling. She sat
down, and seemed very slow over putting on her gloves, trying to
slip the unstretched kid over all her fingers at once, while she
watched M. de Montriveau; and he was lost in admiration of the
Duchess and those repeated graceful movements of hers.
"Ah! you were punctual," she said; "that is right. I like
punctuality. It is the courtesy of kings, His Majesty says; but
to my thinking, from you men it is the most respectful flattery
of all. Now, is it not? Just tell me."
Again she gave him a side glance to express her insidious
friendship, for he was dumb with happiness sheer happiness
through such nothings as these! Oh, the Duchess understood son
metier de femme--the art and mystery of being a woman--most
marvellously well; she knew, to admiration, how to raise a man in
his own esteem as he humbled himself to her; how to reward every
step of the descent to sentimental folly with hollow flatteries.
"You will never forget to come at nine o'clock."
"No; but are you going to a ball every night?"
"Do I know?" she answered, with a little childlike shrug of the
shoulders; the gesture was meant to say that she was nothing if
not capricious, and that a lover must take her as she
was.--"Besides," she added, "what is that to you? You shall
be my escort."
"That would be difficult tonight," he objected; "I am not
"It seems to me," she returned loftily, "that if anyone has a
right to complain of your costume, it is I. Know, therefore,
monsieur le voyageur, that if I accept a man's arm, he is
forthwith above the laws of fashion, nobody would venture to
criticise him. You do not know the world, I see; I like you the
better for it."
And even as she spoke she swept him into the pettiness of that
world by the attempt to initiate him into the vanities of a woman
"If she chooses to do a foolish thing for me, I should be a
simpleton to prevent her," said Armand to himself. "She has a
liking for me beyond a doubt; and as for the world, she cannot
despise it more than I do. So, now for the ball if she likes."
The Duchess probably thought that if the General came with her
and appeared in a ballroom in boots and a black tie, nobody would
hesitate to believe that he was violently in love with her. And
the General was well pleased that the queen of fashion should
think of compromising herself for him; hope gave him wit. He had
gained confidence, he brought out his thoughts and views; he felt
nothing of the restraint that weighed on his spirits yesterday.
His talk was interesting and animated, and full of those first
confidences so sweet to make and to receive.
Was Mme de Langeais really carried away by his talk, or had she
devised this charming piece of coquetry? At any rate, she looked
up mischievously as the clock struck twelve.
"Ah! you have made me too late for the ball!" she exclaimed,
surprised and vexed that she had forgotten how time was going.
The next moment she approved the exchange of pleasures with a
smile that made Armand's heart give a sudden leap.
"I certainly promised Mme de Beauseant," she added. "They are
all expecting me."
"No--go on. I will stay. Your Eastern adventures fascinate me.
Tell me the whole story of your life. I love to share in a brave
man's hardships, and I feel them all, indeed I do!"
She was playing with her scarf, twisting it and pulling it to
pieces, with jerky, impatient movements that seemed to tell of
inward dissatisfaction and deep reflection.
"WE are fit for nothing," she went on. "Ah! we are
contemptible, selfish, frivolous creatures. We can bore
ourselves with amusements, and that is all we can do. Not one of
us that understands that she has a part to play in life. In old
days in France, women were beneficent lights; they lived to
comfort those that mourned, to encourage high virtues, to reward
artists and stir new life with noble thoughts. If the world has
grown so petty, ours is the fault. You make me loathe the ball
and this world in which I live. No, I am not giving up much for
She had plucked her scarf to pieces, as a child plays with a
flower, pulling away all the petals one by one; and now she
crushed it into a ball, and flung it away. She could show her
She rang the bell. "I shall not go out tonight," she told the
footman. Her long, blue eyes turned timidly to Armand; and by
the look of misgiving in them, he knew that he was meant to take
the order for a confession, for a first and great favour. There
was a pause, filled with many thoughts, before she spoke with
that tenderness which is often in women's voices, and not so
often in their hearts. "You have had a hard life," she said.
"No," returned Armand. "Until today I did not know what
"Then you know it now?" she asked, looking at him with a
demure, keen glance.
"What is happiness for me henceforth but this--to see you, to
hear you? . . . Until now I have only known privation; now I
know that I can be unhappy----"
"That will do, that will do," she said. "You must go; it is
past midnight. Let us regard appearances. People must not talk
about us. I do not know quite what I shall say; but the headache
is a good-natured friend, and tells no tales."
"Is there to be a ball tomorrow night?"
"You would grow accustomed to the life, I think. Very well.
Yes, we will go again tomorrow night."
There was not a happier man in the world than Armand when he went
out from her. Every evening he came to Mme de Langeais's at the
hour kept for him by a tacit understanding.
It would be tedious, and, for the many young men who carry a
redundance of such sweet memories in their hearts, it were
superfluous to follow the story step by step--the progress of a
romance growing in those hours spent together, a romance
controlled entirely by a woman's will. If sentiment went too
fast, she would raise a quarrel over a word, or when words
flagged behind her thoughts, she appealed to the feelings.
Perhaps the only way of following such Penelope's progress is by
marking its outward and visible signs.
As, for instance, within a few days of their first meeting, the
assiduous General had won and kept the right to kiss his lady's
insatiable hands. Wherever Mme de Langeais went, M. de
Montriveau was certain to be seen, till people jokingly called
him "Her Grace's orderly." And already he had made enemies;
others were jealous, and envied him his position. Mme de
Langeais had attained her end. The Marquis de Montriveau was
among her numerous train of adorers, and a means of humiliating
those who boasted of their progress in her good graces, for she
publicly gave him preference over them all.
"Decidedly, M. de Montriveau is the man for whom the Duchess
shows a preference," pronounced Mme de Serizy.
And who in Paris does not know what it means when a woman "shows
a preference?" All went on therefore according to prescribed
rule. The anecdotes which people were pleased to circulate
concerning the General put that warrior in so formidable a light,
that the more adroit quietly dropped their pretensions to the
Duchess, and remained in her train merely to turn the position to
account, and to use her name and personality to make better terms
for themselves with certain stars of the second magnitude. And
those lesser powers were delighted to take a lover away from Mme
de Langeais. The Duchess was keen-sighted enough to see these
desertions and treaties with the enemy; and her pride would not
suffer her to be the dupe of them. As M. de Talleyrand, one of
her great admirers, said, she knew how to take a second edition
of revenge, laying the two-edged blade of a sarcasm between the
pairs in these "morganatic" unions. Her mocking disdain
contributed not a little to increase her reputation as an
extremely clever woman and a person to be feared. Her character
for virtue was consolidated while she amused herself with other
people's secrets, and kept her own to herself. Yet, after two
months of assiduities, she saw with a vague dread in the depths
of her soul that M. de Montriveau understood nothing of the
subtleties of flirtation after the manner of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain; he was taking a Parisienne's coquetry in earnest.
"You will not tame HIM, dear Duchess," the old Vidame de
Pamiers had said. " 'Tis a first cousin to the eagle; he will
carry you off to his eyrie if you do not take care."
Then Mme de Langeais felt afraid. The shrewd old noble's words
sounded like a prophecy. The next day she tried to turn love to
hate. She was harsh, exacting, irritable, unbearable; Montriveau
disarmed her with angelic sweetness. She so little knew the
great generosity of a large nature, that the kindly jests with
which her first complaints were met went to her heart. She
sought a quarrel, and found proofs of affection. She persisted.
"When a man idolises you, how can he have vexed you?" asked
"You do not vex me," she answered, suddenly grown gentle and
submissive. "But why do you wish to compromise me? For me you
ought to be nothing but a FRIEND. Do you not know it? I wish I
could see that you had the instincts, the delicacy of real
friendship, so that I might lose neither your respect nor the
pleasure that your presence gives me."
"Nothing but your FRIEND!" he cried out. The terrible word
sent an electric shock through his brain. "On the faith of
these happy hours that you grant me, I sleep and wake in your
heart. And now today, for no reason, you are pleased to destroy
all the secret hopes by which I live. You have required promises
of such constancy in me, you have said so much of your horror of
women made up of nothing but caprice; and now do you wish me to
understand that, like other women here in Paris, you have
passions, and know nothing of love? If so, why did you ask my
life of me? why did you accept it?"
"I was wrong, my friend. Oh, it is wrong of a woman to yield to
such intoxication when she must not and cannot make any return."
"I understand. You have merely been coquetting with me,
"Coquetting?" she repeated. "I detest coquetry. A coquette
Armand, makes promises to many, and gives herself to none; and a
woman who keeps such promises is a libertine. This much I
believed I had grasped of our code. But to be melancholy with
humorists, gay with the frivolous, and politic with ambitious
souls; to listen to a babbler with every appearance of
admiration, to talk of war with a soldier, wax enthusiastic with
philanthropists over the good of the nation, and to give to each
one his little dole of flattery--it seems to me that this is as
much a matter of necessity as dress, diamonds, and gloves, or
flowers in one's hair. Such talk is the moral counterpart of the
toilette. You take it up and lay it aside with the plumed
head-dress. Do you call this coquetry? Why, I have never
treated you as I treat everyone else. With you, my friend, I am
sincere. Have I not always shared your views, and when you
convinced me after a discussion, was I not always perfectly glad?
In short, I love you, but only as a devout and pure woman may
love. I have thought it over. I am a married woman, Armand. My
way of life with M. de Langeais gives me liberty to bestow my
heart; but law and custom leave me no right to dispose of my
person. If a woman loses her honour, she is an outcast in any
rank of life; and I have yet to meet with a single example of a
man that realises all that our sacrifices demand of him in such a
case. Quite otherwise. Anyone can foresee the rupture between
Mme de Beauseant and M. d'Ajuda (for he is going to marry Mlle de
Rochefide, it seems), that affair made it clear to my mind that
these very sacrifices on the woman's part are almost always the
cause of the man's desertion. If you had loved me sincerely, you
would have kept away for a time.--Now, I will lay aside all
vanity for you; is not that something? What will not people say
of a woman to whom no man attaches himself? Oh, she is
heartless, brainless, soulless; and what is more, devoid of
charm! Coquettes will not spare me. They will rob me of the
very qualities that mortify them. So long as my reputation is
safe, what do I care if my rivals deny my merits? They certainly
will not inherit them. Come, my friend; give up something for
her who sacrifices so much for you. Do not come quite so often;
I shall love you none the less."
"Ah!" said Armand, with the profound irony of a wounded heart
in his words and tone. "Love, so the scribblers say, only feeds
on illusions. Nothing could be truer, I see; I am expected to
imagine that I am loved. But, there!--there are some thoughts
like wounds, from which there is no recovery. My belief in you
was one of the last left to me, and now I see that there is
nothing left to believe in this earth."
She began to smile.
"Yes," Montriveau went on in an unsteady voice, "this Catholic
faith to which you wish to convert me is a lie that men make for
themselves; hope is a lie at the expense of the future; pride, a
lie between us and our fellows; and pity, and prudence, and
terror are cunning lies. And now my happiness is to be one more
lying delusion; I am expected to delude myself, to be willing to
give gold coin for silver to the end. If you can so easily
dispense with my visits; if you can confess me neither as your
friend nor your lover, you do not care for me! And I, poor fool
that I am, tell myself this, and know it, and love you!"
"But, dear me, poor Armand, you are flying into a passion!"
"I flying into a passion?"
"Yes. You think that the whole question is opened because I ask
you to be careful."
In her heart of hearts she was delighted with the anger that
leapt out in her lover's eyes. Even as she tortured him, she was
criticising him, watching every slightest change that passed over
his face. If the General had been so unluckily inspired as to
show himself generous without discussion (as happens occasionally
with some artless souls), he would have been a banished man
forever, accused and convicted of not knowing how to love. Most
women are not displeased to have their code of right and wrong
broken through. Do they not flatter themselves that they never
yield except to force? But Armand was not learned enough in this
kind of lore to see the snare ingeniously spread for him by the
Duchess. So much of the child was there in the strong man in
"If all you want is to preserve appearances," he began in his
simplicity, "I am willing to----"
"Simply to preserve appearances!" the lady broke in; "why,
what idea can you have of me? Have I given you the slightest
reason to suppose that I can be yours?"
"Why, what else are we talking about?" demanded Montriveau.
"Monsieur, you frighten me ! . . . No, pardon me. Thank you,"
she added, coldly; "thank you, Armand. You have given me timely
warning of imprudence; committed quite unconsciously, believe it,
my friend. You know how to endure, you say. I also know how to
endure. We will not see each other for a time; and then, when
both of us have contrived to recover calmness to some extent, we
will think about arrangements for a happiness sanctioned by the
world. I am young, Armand; a man with no delicacy might tempt a
woman of four-and-twenty to do many foolish, wild things for his
sake. But YOU! You will be my friend, promise me that you
"The woman of four-and-twenty," returned he, "knows what she
He sat down on the sofa in the boudoir, and leant his head on his
"Do you love me, madame?" he asked at length, raising his head,
and turning a face full of resolution upon her. "Say it
straight out; Yes or No!"
His direct question dismayed the Duchess more than a threat of
suicide could have done; indeed, the woman of the nineteenth
century is not to be frightened by that stale stratagem, the
sword has ceased to be part of the masculine costume. But in the
effect of eyelids and lashes, in the contraction of the gaze, in
the twitching of the lips, is there not some influence that
communicates the terror which they express with such vivid
"Ah, if I were free, if----"
"Oh! is it only your husband that stands in the way?" the
General exclaimed joyfully, as he strode to and fro in the
boudoir. "Dear Antoinette, I wield a more absolute power than
the Autocrat of all the Russias. I have a compact with Fate; I
can advance or retard destiny, so far as men are concerned, at my
fancy, as you alter the hands of a watch. If you can direct the
course of fate in our political machinery, it simply means (does
it not?) that you understand the ins and outs of it. You shall
be free before very long, and then you must remember your
"Armand!" she cried. "What do you mean? Great heavens! Can
you imagine that I am to be the prize of a crime? Do you want to
kill me? Why! you cannot have any religion in you! For my own
part, I fear God. M. de Langeais may have given me reason to
hate him, but I wish him no manner of harm."
M. de Montriveau beat a tattoo on the marble chimneypiece, and
only looked composedly at the lady.
"Dear," continued she, "respect him. He does not love me, he
is not kind to me, but I have duties to fulfil with regard to
him. What would I not do to avert the calamities with which you
threaten him?--Listen," she continued after a pause, "I will
not say another word about separation; you shall come here as in
the past, and I will still give you my forehead to kiss. If I
refused once or twice, it was pure coquetry, indeed it was. But
let us understand each other," she added as he came closer.
"You will permit me to add to the number of my satellites; to
receive even more visitors in the morning than heretofore; I mean
to be twice as frivolous; I mean to use you to all appearance
very badly; to feign a rupture; you must come not quite so often,
and then, afterwards----"
While she spoke, she had allowed him to put an arm about her
waist, Montriveau was holding her tightly to him, and she seemed
to feel the exceeding pleasure that women usually feel in that
close contact, an earnest of the bliss of a closer union. And
then, doubtless she meant to elicit some confidence, for she
raised herself on tiptoe, and laid her forehead against Armand's
"And then," Montriveau finished her sentence for her, "you
shall not speak to me of your husband. You ought not to think of
Mme de Langeais was silent awhile.
"At least," she said, after a significant pause, "at least you
will do all that I wish without grumbling, you will not be
naughty; tell me so, my friend? You wanted to frighten me, did
you not? Come, now, confess it ? . . . You are too good ever to
think of crimes. But is it possible that you can have secrets
that I do not know? How can you control Fate?"
"Now, when you confirm the gift of the heart that you have
already given me, I am far too happy to know exactly how to
answer you. I can trust you, Antoinette; I shall have no
suspicion, no unfounded jealousy of you. But if accident should
set you free, we shall be one----"
"Accident, Armand?" (With that little dainty turn of the head
that seems to say so many things, a gesture that such women as
the Duchess can use on light occasions, as a great singer can act
with her voice.) "Pure accident," she repeated. "Mind that.
If anything should happen to M. de Langeais by your fault, I
should never be yours."
And so they parted, mutually content. The Duchess had made a
pact that left her free to prove to the world by words and deeds
that M. de Montriveau was no lover of hers. And as for him, the
wily Duchess vowed to tire him out. He should have nothing of
her beyond the little concessions snatched in the course of
contests that she could stop at her pleasure. She had so pretty
an art of revoking the grant of yesterday, she was so much in
earnest in her purpose to remain technically virtuous, that she
felt that there was not the slightest danger for her in
preliminaries fraught with peril for a woman less sure of her
self-command. After all, the Duchess was practically separated
from her husband; a marriage long since annulled was no great
sacrifice to make to her love.
Montriveau on his side was quite happy to win the vaguest
promise, glad once for all to sweep aside, with all scruples of
conjugal fidelity, her stock of excuses for refusing herself to
his love. He had gained ground a little, and congratulated
himself. And so for a time he took unfair advantage of the
rights so hardly won. More a boy than he had ever been in his
life, he gave himself up to all the childishness that makes first
love the flower of life. He was a child again as he poured out
all his soul, all the thwarted forces that passion had given him,
upon her hands, upon the dazzling forehead that looked so pure to
his eyes; upon her fair hair; on the tufted curls where his lips
were pressed. And the Duchess, on whom his love was poured like
a flood, was vanquished by the magnetic influence of her lover's
warmth; she hesitated to begin the quarrel that must part them
forever. She was more a woman than she thought, this slight
creature, in her effort to reconcile the demands of religion with
the ever-new sensations of vanity, the semblance of pleasure
which turns a Parisienne's head. Every Sunday she went to Mass;
she never missed a service; then, when evening came, she was
steeped in the intoxicating bliss of repressed desire. Armand
and Mme de Langeais, like Hindoo fakirs, found the reward of
their continence in the temptations to which it gave rise.
Possibly, the Duchess had ended by resolving love into fraternal
caresses, harmless enough, as it might have seemed to the rest of
the world, while they borrowed extremes of degradation from the
licence of her thoughts. How else explain the incomprehensible
mystery of her continual fluctuations? Every morning she
proposed to herself to shut her door on the Marquis de
Montriveau; every evening, at the appointed hour, she fell under
the charm of his presence. There was a languid defence; then she
grew less unkind. Her words were sweet and soothing. They were
lovers--lovers only could have been thus. For him the Duchess
would display her most sparkling wit, her most captivating wiles;
and when at last she had wrought upon his senses and his soul,
she might submit herself passively to his fierce caresses, but
she had her nec plus ultra of passion; and when once it was
reached, she grew angry if he lost the mastery of himself and
made as though he would pass beyond. No woman on earth can brave
the consequences of refusal without some motive; nothing is more
natural than to yield to love; wherefore Mme de Langeais promptly
raised a second line of fortification, a stronghold less easy to
carry than the first. She evoked the terrors of religion. Never
did Father of the Church, however eloquent, plead the cause of
God better than the Duchess. Never was the wrath of the Most
High better justified than by her voice. She used no preacher's
commonplaces, no rhetorical amplifications. No. She had a
"pulpit-tremor" of her own. To Armand's most passionate
entreaty, she replied with a tearful gaze, and a gesture in which
a terrible plenitude of emotion found expression. She stopped
his mouth with an appeal for mercy. She would not hear another
word; if she did, she must succumb; and better death than
"Is it nothing to disobey God?" she asked him, recovering a
voice grown faint in the crises of inward struggles, through
which the fair actress appeared to find it hard to preserve her
self-control. "I would sacrifice society, I would give up the
whole world for you, gladly; but it is very selfish of you to ask
my whole after-life of me for a moment of pleasure. Come, now!
are you not happy?" she added, holding out her hand; and
certainly in her careless toilette the sight of her afforded
consolations to her lover, who made the most of them.
Sometimes from policy, to keep her hold on a man whose ardent
passion gave her emotions unknown before, sometimes in weakness,
she suffered him to snatch a swift kiss; and immediately, in
feigned terror, she flushed red and exiled Armand from the sofa
so soon as the sofa became dangerous ground.
"Your joys are sins for me to expiate, Armand; they are paid for
by penitence and remorse," she cried.
And Montriveau, now at two chairs' distance from that
aristocratic petticoat, betook himself to blasphemy and railed
against Providence. The Duchess grew angry at such times.
"My friend," she said drily, "I do not understand why you
decline to believe in God, for it is impossible to believe in
man. Hush, do not talk like that. You have too great a nature
to take up their Liberal nonsense with its pretension to abolish
Theological and political disputes acted like a cold douche on
Montriveau; he calmed down; he could not return to love when the
Duchess stirred up his wrath by suddenly setting him down a
thousand miles away from the boudoir, discussing theories of
absolute monarchy, which she defended to admiration. Few women
venture to be democrats; the attitude of democratic champion is
scarcely compatible with tyrannous feminine sway. But often, on
the other hand, the General shook out his mane, dropped politics
with a leonine growling and lashing of the flanks, and sprang
upon his prey; he was no longer capable of carrying a heart and
brain at such variance for very far; he came back, terrible with
love, to his mistress. And she, if she felt the prick of fancy
stimulated to a dangerous point, knew that it was time to leave
her boudoir; she came out of the atmosphere surcharged with
desires that she drew in with her breath, sat down to the piano,
and sang the most exquisite songs of modern music, and so baffled
the physical attraction which at times showed her no mercy,
though she was strong enough to fight it down.
At such times she was something sublime in Armand's eyes; she was
not acting, she was genuine; the unhappy lover was convinced that
she loved him. Her egoistic resistance deluded him into a belief
that she was a pure and sainted woman; he resigned himself; he
talked of Platonic love, did this artillery officer!
When Mme de Langeais had played with religion sufficiently to
suit her own purposes, she played with it again for Armand's
benefit. She wanted to bring him back to a Christian frame of
mind; she brought out her edition of Le Genie du Christianisme,
adapted for the use of military men. Montriveau chafed; his yoke
was heavy. Oh! at that, possessed by the spirit of
contradiction, she dinned religion into his ears, to see whether
God might not rid her of this suitor, for the man's persistence
was beginning to frighten her. And in any case she was glad to
prolong any quarrel, if it bade fair to keep the dispute on moral
grounds for an indefinite period; the material struggle which
followed it was more dangerous.
But if the time of her opposition on the ground of the marriage
law might be said to be the epoque civile of this sentimental
warfare, the ensuing phase which might be taken to constitute the
epoque religieuse had also its crisis and consequent decline of
Armand happening to come in very early one evening, found M.
l'Abbe Gondrand, the Duchess's spiritual director, established in
an armchair by the fireside, looking as a spiritual director
might be expected to look while digesting his dinner and the
charming sins of his penitent. In the ecclesiastic's bearing
there was a stateliness befitting a dignitary of the Church; and
the episcopal violet hue already appeared in his dress. At sight
of his fresh, well-preserved complexion, smooth forehead, and
ascetic's mouth, Montriveau's countenance grew uncommonly dark;
he said not a word under the malicious scrutiny of the other's
gaze, and greeted neither the lady nor the priest. The lover
apart, Montriveau was not wanting in tact; so a few glances
exchanged with the bishop-designate told him that here was the
real forger of the Duchess's armoury of scruples.
That an ambitious abbe should control the happiness of a man of
Montriveau's temper, and by underhand ways! The thought burst in
a furious tide over his face, clenched his fists, and set him
chafing and pacing to and fro; but when he came back to his place
intending to make a scene, a single look from the Duchess was
enough. He was quiet.
Any other woman would have been put out by her lover's gloomy
silence; it was quite otherwise with Mme de Langeais. She
continued her conversation with M. de Gondrand on the necessity
of re-establishing the Church in its ancient splendour. And she
The Church, she maintained, ought to be a temporal as well as a
spiritual power, stating her case better than the Abbe had done,
and regretting that the Chamber of Peers, unlike the English
House of Lords, had no bench of bishops. Nevertheless, the Abbe
rose, yielded his place to the General, and took his leave,
knowing that in Lent he could play a return game. As for the
Duchess, Montriveau's behaviour had excited her curiosity to such
a pitch that she scarcely rose to return her director's low bow.
"What is the matter with you, my friend?"
"Why, I cannot stomach that Abbe of yours."
"Why did you not take a book?" she asked, careless whether the
Abbe, then closing the door, heard her or no.
The General paused, for the gesture which accompanied the
Duchess's speech further increased the exceeding insolence of her
"My dear Antoinette, thank you for giving love precedence of the
Church; but, for pity's sake, allow me to ask one question."
"Oh! you are questioning me! I am quite willing. You are my
friend, are you not? I certainly can open the bottom of my heart
to you; you will see only one image there."
"Do you talk about our love to that man?"
"He is my confessor."
"Does he know that I love you?"
"M. de Montriveau, you cannot claim, I think, to penetrate the
secrets of the confessional?"
"Does that man know all about our quarrels and my love for
"That man, monsieur; say God!"
"God again! _I_ ought to be alone in your heart. But leave God
alone where He is, for the love of God and me. Madame, you SHALL
NOT go to confession again, or----"
"Or?" she repeated sweetly.
"Or I will never come back here."
"Then go, Armand. Good-bye, good-bye forever."
She rose and went to her boudoir without so much as a glance at
Armand, as he stood with his hand on the back of a chair. How
long he stood there motionless he himself never knew. The soul
within has the mysterious power of expanding as of contracting
He opened the door of the boudoir. It was dark within. A faint
voice was raised to say sharply--
"I did not ring. What made you come in without orders? Go
"Then you are ill," exclaimed Montriveau.
"Stand up, monsieur, and go out of the room for a minute at any
rate," she said, ringing the bell.
"Mme la Duchesse rang for lights?" said the footman, coming in
with the candles. When the lovers were alone together, Mme de
Langeais still lay on her couch; she was just as silent and
motionless as if Montriveau had not been there.
"Dear, I was wrong," he began, a note of pain and a sublime
kindness in his voice. "Indeed, I would not have you without
"It is fortunate that you can recognise the necessity of a
conscience," she said in a hard voice, without looking at him.
"I thank you in God's name."
The General was broken down by her harshness; this woman seemed
as if she could be at will a sister or a stranger to him. He
made one despairing stride towards the door. He would leave her
forever without another word. He was wretched; and the Duchess
was laughing within herself over mental anguish far more cruel
than the old judicial torture. But as for going away, it was not
in his power to do it. In any sort of crisis, a woman is, as it
were, bursting with a certain quantity of things to say; so long
as she has not delivered herself of them, she experiences the
sensation which we are apt to feel at the sight of something
incomplete. Mme de Langeais had not said all that was in her
mind. She took up her parable and said--
"We have not the same convictions, General, I am pained to
think. It would be dreadful if a woman could not believe in a
religion which permits us to love beyond the grave. I set
Christian sentiments aside; you cannot understand them. Let me
simply speak to you of expediency. Would you forbid a woman at
court the table of the Lord when it is customary to take the
sacrament at Easter? People must certainly do something for
their party. The Liberals, whatever they may wish to do, will
never destroy the religious instinct. Religion will always be a
political necessity. Would you undertake to govern a nation of
logic-choppers? Napoleon was afraid to try; he persecuted
ideologists. If you want to keep people from reasoning, you must
give them something to feel. So let us accept the Roman Catholic
Church with all its consequences. And if we would have France go
to mass, ought we not to begin by going ourselves? Religion, you
see, Armand, is a bond uniting all the conservative principles
which enable the rich to live in tranquillity. Religion and the
rights of property are intimately connected. It is certainly a
finer thing to lead a nation by ideas of morality than by fear of
the scaffold, as in the time of the Terror--the one method by
which your odious Revolution could enforce obedience. The priest
and the king--that means you, and me, and the Princess my
neighbour; and, in a word, the interests of all honest people
personified. There, my friend, just be so good as to belong to
your party, you that might be its Sylla if you had the slightest
ambition that way. I know nothing about politics myself; I argue
from my own feelings; but still I know enough to guess that
society would be overturned if people were always calling its
foundations in question----"
"If that is how your Court and your Government think, I am sorry
for you," broke in Montriveau. "The Restoration, madam, ought
to say, like Catherine de Medici, when she heard that the battle
of Dreux was lost, `Very well; now we will go to the
meeting-house.' Now 1815 was your battle of Dreux. Like the
royal power of those days, you won in fact, while you lost in
right. Political Protestantism has gained an ascendancy over
people's minds. If you have no mind to issue your Edict of
Nantes; or if, when it is issued, you publish a Revocation; if
you should one day be accused and convicted of repudiating the
Charter, which is simply a pledge given to maintain the interests
established under the Republic, then the Revolution will rise
again, terrible in her strength, and strike but a single blow.
It will not be the Revolution that will go into exile; she is the
very soil of France. Men die, but people's interests do not die.
. . . Eh, great Heavens! what are France and the crown and
rightful sovereigns, and the whole world besides, to us? Idle
words compared with my happiness. Let them reign or be hurled
from the throne, little do I care. Where am I now?"
"In the Duchesse de Langeais's boudoir, my friend."
"No, no. No more of the Duchess, no more of Langeais; I am with
my dear Antoinette."
"Will you do me the pleasure to stay where you are," she said,
laughing and pushing him back, gently however.
"So you have never loved me," he retorted, and anger flashed in
lightning from his eyes.
"No, dear"; but the "No" was equivalent to "Yes."
"I am a great ass," he said, kissing her hands. The terrible
queen was a woman once more.--"Antoinette," he went on, laying
his head on her feet, "you are too chastely tender to speak of
our happiness to anyone in this world."
"Oh!" she cried, rising to her feet with a swift, graceful
spring, "you are a great simpleton." And without another word
she fled into the drawing-room.
"What is it now?" wondered the General, little knowing that the
touch of his burning forehead had sent a swift electric thrill
through her from foot to head.
In hot wrath he followed her to the drawing-room, only to hear
divinely sweet chords. The Duchess was at the piano. If the man
of science or the poet can at once enjoy and comprehend, bringing
his intelligence to bear upon his enjoyment without loss of
delight, he is conscious that the alphabet and phraseology of
music are but cunning instruments for the composer, like the wood
and copper wire under the hands of the executant. For the poet
and the man of science there is a music existing apart,
underlying the double expression of this language of the spirit
and senses. Andiamo mio ben can draw tears of joy or pitying
laughter at the will of the singer; and not unfrequently one here
and there in the world, some girl unable to live and bear the
heavy burden of an unguessed pain, some man whose soul vibrates
with the throb of passion, may take up a musical theme, and lo!
heaven is opened for them, or they find a language for themselves
in some sublime melody, some song lost to the world.
The General was listening now to such a song; a mysterious music
unknown to all other ears, as the solitary plaint of some
mateless bird dying alone in a virgin forest.
"Great Heavens! what are you playing there?" he asked in an
"The prelude of a ballad, called, I believe, Fleuve du Tage."
"I did not know that there was such music in a piano," he
"Ah!" she said, and for the first time she looked at him as a
woman looks at the man she loves, "nor do you know, my friend,
that I love you, and that you cause me horrible suffering; and
that I feel that I must utter my cry of pain without putting it
too plainly into words. If I did not, I should yield----But you
"And you will not make me happy!"
"Armand, I should die of sorrow the next day."
The General turned abruptly from her and went. But out in the
street he brushed away the tears that he would not let fall.
The religious phase lasted for three months. At the end of that
time the Duchess grew weary of vain repetitions; the Deity, bound
hand and foot, was delivered up to her lover. Possibly she may
have feared that by sheer dint of talking of eternity she might
perpetuate his love in this world and the next. For her own
sake, it must be believed that no man had touched her heart, or
her conduct would be inexcusable. She was young; the time when
men and women feel that they cannot afford to lose time or to
quibble over their joys was still far off. She, no doubt, was on
the verge not of first love, but of her first experience of the
bliss of love. And from inexperience, for want of the painful
lessons which would have taught her to value the treasure poured
out at her feet, she was playing with it. Knowing nothing of the
glory and rapture of the light, she was fain to stay in the
Armand was just beginning to understand this strange situation;
he put his hope in the first word spoken by nature. Every
evening, as he came away from Mme de Langeais's, he told himself
that no woman would accept the tenderest, most delicate proofs of
a man's love during seven months, nor yield passively to the
slighter demands of passion, only to cheat love at the last. He
was waiting patiently for the sun to gain power, not doubting but
that he should receive the earliest fruits. The married woman's
hesitations and the religious scruples he could quite well
understand. He even rejoiced over those battles. He mistook the
Duchess's heartless coquetry for modesty; and he would not have
had her otherwise. So he had loved to see her devising
obstacles; was he not gradually triumphing over them? Did not
every victory won swell the meagre sum of lovers' intimacies long
denied, and at last conceded with every sign of love? Still, he
had had such leisure to taste the full sweetness of every small
successive conquest on which a lover feeds his love, that these
had come to be matters of use and wont. So far as obstacles
went, there were none now save his own awe of her; nothing else
left between him and his desire save the whims of her who allowed
him to call her Antoinette. So he made up his mind to demand
more, to demand all. Embarrassed like a young lover who cannot
dare to believe that his idol can stoop so low, he hesitated for
a long time. He passed through the experience of terrible
reactions within himself. A set purpose was annihilated by a
word, and definite resolves died within him on the threshold. He
despised himself for his weakness, and still his desire remained
Nevertheless, one evening, after sitting in gloomy melancholy, he
brought out a fierce demand for his illegally legitimate rights.
The Duchess had not to wait for her bond-slave's request to guess
his desire. When was a man's desire a secret? And have not
women an intuitive knowledge of the meaning of certain changes of
"What! you wish to be my friend no longer?" she broke in at the
first words, and a divine red surging like new blood under the
transparent skin, lent brightness to her eyes. "As a reward for
my generosity, you would dishonour me? Just reflect a little. I
myself have thought much over this; and I think always for us
BOTH. There is such a thing as a woman's loyalty, and we can no
more fail in it than you can fail in honour. _I_ cannot blind
myself. If I am yours, how, in any sense, can I be M. de
Langeais's wife? Can you require the sacrifice of my position,
my rank, my whole life in return for a doubtful love that could
not wait patiently for seven months? What! already you would rob
me of my right to dispose of myself? No, no; you must not talk
like this again. No, not another word. I will not, I cannot
listen to you."
Mme de Langeais raised both hands to her head to push back the
tufted curls from her hot forehead; she seemed very much excited.
"You come to a weak woman with your purpose definitely planned
out. You say--`For a certain length of time she will talk to me
of her husband, then of God, and then of the inevitable
consequences. But I will use and abuse the ascendancy I shall
gain over her; I will make myself indispensable; all the bonds of
habit, all the misconstructions of outsiders, will make for me;
and at length, when our liaison is taken for granted by all the
world, I shall be this woman's master.'--Now, be frank; these are
your thoughts! Oh! you calculate, and you say that you love.
Shame on you! You are enamoured? Ah! that I well believe! You
wish to possess me, to have me for your mistress, that is all!
Very well then, No! The DUCHESSE DE LANGEAIS will not descend so
far. Simple bourgeoises may be the victims of your treachery--I,
never! Nothing gives me assurance of your love. You speak of my
beauty; I may lose every trace of it in six months, like the dear
Princess, my neighbour. You are captivated by my wit, my grace.
Great Heavens! you would soon grow used to them and to the
pleasures of possession. Have not the little concessions that I
was weak enough to make come to be a matter of course in the last
few months? Some day, when ruin comes, you will give me no
reason for the change in you beyond a curt, `I have ceased to
care for you.'--Then, rank and fortune and honour and all that
was the Duchesse de Langeais will be swallowed up in one
disappointed hope. I shall have children to bear witness to my
shame, and----" With an involuntary gesture she interrupted
herself, and continued: "But I am too good-natured to explain
all this to you when you know it better than I. Come! let us
stay as we are. I am only too fortunate in that I can still
break these bonds which you think so strong. Is there anything
so very heroic in coming to the Hotel de Langeais to spend an
evening with a woman whose prattle amuses you?--a woman whom you
take for a plaything? Why, half a dozen young coxcombs come here
just as regularly every afternoon between three and five. They,
too, are very generous, I am to suppose? I make fun of them;
they stand my petulance and insolence pretty quietly, and make me
laugh; but as for you, I give all the treasures of my soul to
you, and you wish to ruin me, you try my patience in endless
ways. Hush, that will do, that will do," she continued, seeing
that he was about to speak, "you have no heart, no soul, no
delicacy. I know what you want to tell me. Very well,
then--yes. I would rather you should take me for a cold,
insensible woman, with no devotion in her composition, no heart
even, than be taken by everybody else for a vulgar person, and be
condemned to your so-called pleasures, of which you would most
certainly tire, and to everlasting punishment for it afterwards.
Your selfish love is not worth so many sacrifices. . . ."
The words give but a very inadequate idea of the discourse which
the Duchess trilled out with the quick volubility of a
bird-organ. Nor, truly, was there anything to prevent her from
talking on for some time to come, for poor Armand's only reply to
the torrent of flute notes was a silence filled with cruelly
painful thoughts. He was just beginning to see that this woman
was playing with him; he divined instinctively that a devoted
love, a responsive love, does not reason and count the
consequences in this way. Then, as he heard her reproach him
with detestable motives, he felt something like shame as he
remembered that unconsciously he had made those very
calculations. With angelic honesty of purpose, he looked within,
and self-examination found nothing but selfishness in all his
thoughts and motives, in the answers which he framed and could
not utter. He was self-convicted. In his despair he longed to
fling himself from the window. The egoism of it was intolerable.
What indeed can a man say when a woman will not believe in love?
Let me prove how much I love you.--The _I_ is always there.
The heroes of the boudoir, in such circumstances, can follow the
example of the primitive logician who preceded the Pyrrhonists
and denied movement. Montriveau was not equal to this feat.
With all his audacity, he lacked this precise kind which never
deserts an adept in the formulas of feminine algebra. If so many
women, and even the best of women, fall a prey to a kind of
expert to whom the vulgar give a grosser name, it is perhaps
because the said experts are great PROVERS, and love, in spite of
its delicious poetry of sentiment, requires a little more
geometry than people are wont to think.
Now the Duchess and Montriveau were alike in this--they were both
equally unversed in love lore. The lady's knowledge of theory
was but scanty; in practice she knew nothing whatever; she felt
nothing, and reflected over everything. Montriveau had had but
little experience, was absolutely ignorant of theory, and felt
too much to reflect at all. Both therefore were enduring the
consequences of the singular situation. At that supreme moment
the myriad thoughts in his mind might have been reduced to the
formula--"Submit to be mine ----' words which seem horribly
selfish to a woman for whom they awaken no memories, recall no
ideas. Something nevertheless he must say. And what was more,
though her barbed shafts had set his blood tingling, though the
short phrases that she discharged at him one by one were very
keen and sharp and cold, he must control himself lest he should
lose all by an outbreak of anger.
"Mme la Duchesse, I am in despair that God should have invented
no way for a woman to confirm the gift of her heart save by
adding the gift of her person. The high value which you yourself
put upon the gift teaches me that I cannot attach less importance
to it. If you have given me your inmost self and your whole
heart, as you tell me, what can the rest matter? And besides, if
my happiness means so painful a sacrifice, let us say no more
about it. But you must pardon a man of spirit if he feels
humiliated at being taken for a spaniel."
The tone in which the last remark was uttered might perhaps have
frightened another woman; but when the wearer of a petticoat has
allowed herself to be addressed as a Divinity, and thereby set
herself above all other mortals, no power on earth can be so
"M. le Marquis, I am in despair that God should not have
invented some nobler way for a man to confirm the gift of his
heart than by the manifestation of prodigiously vulgar desires.
We become bond-slaves when we give ourselves body and soul, but a
man is bound to nothing by accepting the gift. Who will assure
me that love will last? The very love that I might show for you
at every moment, the better to keep your love, might serve you as
a reason for deserting me. I have no wish to be a second edition
of Mme de Beauseant. Who can ever know what it is that keeps you
beside us? Our persistent coldness of heart is the cause of an
unfailing passion in some of you; other men ask for an untiring
devotion, to be idolised at every moment; some for gentleness,
others for tyranny. No woman in this world as yet has really
read the riddle of man's heart."
There was a pause. When she spoke again it was in a different
"After all, my friend, you cannot prevent a woman from trembling
at the question, `Will this love last always?' Hard though my
words may be, the dread of losing you puts them into my mouth.
Oh, me! it is not I who speaks, dear, it is reason; and how
should anyone so mad as I be reasonable? In truth, I am nothing
of the sort."
The poignant irony of her answer had changed before the end into
the most musical accents in which a woman could find utterance
for ingenuous love. To listen to her words was to pass in a
moment from martyrdom to heaven. Montriveau grew pale; and for
the first time in his life, he fell on his knees before a woman.
He kissed the Duchess's skirt hem, her knees, her feet; but for
the credit of the Faubourg Saint-Germain it is necessary to
respect the mysteries of its boudoirs, where many are fain to
take the utmost that Love can give without giving proof of love
The Duchess thought herself generous when she suffered herself to
be adored. But Montriveau was in a wild frenzy of joy over her
complete surrender of the position.
"Dear Antoinette," he cried. "Yes, you are right; I will not
have you doubt any longer. I too am trembling at this
moment--lest the angel of my life should leave me; I wish I could
invent some tie that might bind us to each other irrevocably."
"Ah!" she said, under her breath, "so I was right, you see."
"Let me say all that I have to say; I will scatter all your
fears with a word. Listen! if I deserted you, I should deserve
to die a thousand deaths. Be wholly mine, and I will give you
the right to kill me if I am false. I myself will write a letter
explaining certain reasons for taking my own life; I will make my
final arrangements, in short. You shall have the letter in your
keeping; in the eye of the law it will be a sufficient
explanation of my death. You can avenge yourself, and fear
nothing from God or men."
"What good would the letter be to me? What would life be if I
had lost your love? If I wished to kill you, should I not be
ready to follow? No; thank you for the thought, but I do not
want the letter. Should I not begin to dread that you were
faithful to me through fear? And if a man knows that he must
risk his life for a stolen pleasure, might it not seem more
tempting? Armand, the thing I ask of you is the one hard thing
"Then what is it that you wish?"
"Your obedience and my liberty."
"Ah, God!" cried he, "I am a child."
"A wayward, much spoilt child," she said, stroking the thick
hair, for his head still lay on her knee. "Ah! and loved far
more than he believes, and yet he is very disobedient. Why not
stay as we are? Why not sacrifice to me the desires that hurt
me? Why not take what I can give, when it is all that I can
honestly grant? Are you not happy?"
"Oh yes, I am happy when I have not a doubt left. Antoinette,
doubt in love is a kind of death, is it not?"
In a moment he showed himself as he was, as all men are under the
influence of that hot fever; he grew eloquent, insinuating. And
the Duchess tasted the pleasures which she reconciled with her
conscience by some private, Jesuitical ukase of her own; Armand's
love gave her a thrill of cerebral excitement which custom made
as necessary to her as society, or the Opera. To feel that she
was adored by this man, who rose above other men, whose character
frightened her; to treat him like a child; to play with him as
Poppaea played with Nero--many women, like the wives of King
Henry VIII, have paid for such a perilous delight with all the
blood in their veins. Grim presentiment! Even as she
surrendered the delicate, pale, gold curls to his touch, and felt
the close pressure of his hand, the little hand of a man whose
greatness she could not mistake; even as she herself played with
his dark, thick locks, in that boudoir where she reigned a queen,
the Duchess would say to herself--
"This man is capable of killing me if he once finds out that I
am playing with him."
Armand de Montriveau stayed with her till two o'clock in the
morning. From that moment this woman, whom he loved, was neither
a duchess nor a Navarreins; Antoinette, in her disguises, had
gone so far as to appear to be a woman. On that most blissful
evening, the sweetest prelude ever played by a Parisienne to what
the world calls "a slip"; in spite of all her affectations of a
coyness which she did not feel, the General saw all maidenly
beauty in her. He had some excuse for believing that so many
storms of caprice had been but clouds covering a heavenly soul;
that these must be lifted one by one like the veils that hid her
divine loveliness. The Duchess became, for him, the most simple
and girlish mistress; she was the one woman in the world for him;
and he went away quite happy in that at last he had brought her
to give him such pledges of love, that it seemed to him
impossible but that he should be but her husband henceforth in
secret, her choice sanctioned by Heaven.
Armand went slowly home, turning this thought in his mind with
the impartiality of a man who is conscious of all the
responsibilities that love lays on him while he tastes the
sweetness of its joys. He went along the Quais to see the widest
possible space of sky; his heart had grown in him; he would fain
have had the bounds of the firmament and of earth enlarged. It
seemed to him that his lungs drew an ampler breath.
In the course of his self-examination, as he walked, he vowed to
love this woman so devoutly, that every day of her life she
should find absolution for her sins against society in unfailing
happiness. Sweet stirrings of life when life is at the full!
The man that is strong enough to steep his soul in the colour of
one emotion, feels infinite joy as glimpses open out for him of
an ardent lifetime that knows no diminution of passion to the
end; even so it is permitted to certain mystics, in ecstasy, to
behold the Light of God. Love would be naught without the belief
that it would last forever; love grows great through constancy.
It was thus that, wholly absorbed by his happiness, Montriveau
"We belong to each other forever!"
The thought was like a talisman fulfilling the wishes of his
life. He did not ask whether the Duchess might not change,
whether her love might not last. No, for he had faith. Without
that virtue there is no future for Christianity, and perhaps it
is even more necessary to society. A conception of life as
feeling occurred to him for the first time; hitherto he had lived
by action, the most strenuous exertion of human energies, the
physical devotion, as it may be called, of the soldier.
Next day M. de Montriveau went early in the direction of the
Faubourg Saint-Germain. He had made an appointment at a house
not far from the Hotel de Langeais; and the business over, he
went thither as if to his own home. The General's companion
chanced to be a man for whom he felt a kind of repulsion whenever
he met him in other houses. This was the Marquis de
Ronquerolles, whose reputation had grown so great in Paris
boudoirs. He was witty, clever, and what was more--courageous;
he set the fashion to all the young men in Paris. As a man of
gallantry, his success and experience were equally matters of
envy; and neither fortune nor birth was wanting in his case,
qualifications which add such lustre in Paris to a reputation as
a leader of fashion.
"Where are you going?" asked M. de Ronquerolles.
"To Mme de Langeais's."
"Ah, true. I forgot that you had allowed her to lime you. You
are wasting your affections on her when they might be much better
employed elsewhere. I could have told you of half a score of
women in the financial world, any one of them a thousand times
better worth your while than that titled courtesan, who does with
her brains what less artificial women do with----"
"What is this, my dear fellow?" Armand broke in. "The Duchess
is an angel of innocence."
Ronquerolles began to laugh.
"Things being thus, dear boy," said he, "it is my duty to
enlighten you. Just a word; there is no harm in it between
ourselves. Has the Duchess surrendered? If so, I have nothing
more to say. Come, give me your confidence. There is no
occasion to waste your time in grafting your great nature on that
unthankful stock, when all your hopes and cultivation will come
Armand ingenuously made a kind of general report of his position,
enumerating with much minuteness the slender rights so hardly
won. Ronquerolles burst into a peal of laughter so heartless,
that it would have cost any other man his life. But from their
manner of speaking and looking at each other during that colloquy
beneath the wall, in a corner almost as remote from intrusion as
the desert itself, it was easy to imagine the friendship between
the two men knew no bounds, and that no power on earth could
"My dear Armand, why did you not tell me that the Duchess was a
puzzle to you? I would have given you a little advice which
might have brought your flirtation properly through. You must
know, to begin with, that the women of our Faubourg, like any
other women, love to steep themselves in love; but they have a
mind to possess and not to be possessed. They have made a sort
of compromise with human nature. The code of their parish gives
them a pretty wide latitude short of the last transgression. The
sweets enjoyed by this fair Duchess of yours are so many venial
sins to be washed away in the waters of penitence. But if you
had the impertinence to ask in earnest for the moral sin to which
naturally you are sure to attach the highest importance, you
would see the deep disdain with which the door of the boudoir and
the house would be incontinently shut upon you. The tender
Antoinette would dismiss everything from her memory; you would be
less than a cipher for her. She would wipe away your kisses, my
dear friend, as indifferently as she would perform her ablutions.
She would sponge love from her cheeks as she washes off rouge.
We know women of that sort--the thorough-bred Parisienne. Have
you ever noticed a grisette tripping along the street? Her face
is as good as a picture. A pretty cap, fresh cheeks, trim hair,
a guileful smile, and the rest of her almost neglected. Is not
this true to the life? Well, that is the Parisienne. She knows
that her face is all that will be seen, so she devotes all her
care, finery, and vanity to her head. The Duchess is the same;
the head is everything with her. She can only feel through her
intellect, her heart lies in her brain, she is a sort of
intellectual epicure, she has a head-voice. We call that kind of
poor creature a Lais of the intellect. You have been taken in
like a boy. If you doubt it, you can have proof of it tonight,
this morning, this instant. Go up to her, try the demand as an
experiment, insist peremptorily if it is refused. You might set
about it like the late Marechal de Richelieu, and get nothing for
Armand was dumb with amazement.
"Has your desire reached the point of infatuation?"
"I want her at any cost!" Montriveau cried out despairingly.
"Very well. Now, look here. Be as inexorable as she is
herself. Try to humiliate her, to sting her vanity. Do NOT try
to move her heart, nor her soul, but the woman's nerves and
temperament, for she is both nervous and lymphatic. If you can
once awaken desire in her, you are safe. But you must drop these
romantic boyish notions of yours. If when once you have her in
your eagle's talons you yield a point or draw back, if you so
much as stir an eyelid, if she thinks that she can regain her
ascendancy over you, she will slip out of your clutches like a
fish, and you will never catch her again. Be as inflexible as
law. Show no more charity than the headsman. Hit hard, and then
hit again. Strike and keep on striking as if you were giving her
the knout. Duchesses are made of hard stuff, my dear Armand;
there is a sort of feminine nature that is only softened by
repeated blows; and as suffering develops a heart in women of
that sort, so it is a work of charity not to spare the rod. Do
you persevere. Ah! when pain has thoroughly relaxed those nerves
and softened the fibres that you take to be so pliant and
yielding; when a shrivelled heart has learned to expand and
contract and to beat under this discipline; when the brain has
capitulated--then, perhaps, passion may enter among the steel
springs of this machinery that turns out tears and affectations
and languors and melting phrases; then you shall see a most
magnificent conflagration (always supposing that the chimney
takes fire). The steel feminine system will glow red-hot like
iron in the forge; that kind of heat lasts longer than any other,
and the glow of it may possibly turn to love.
"Still," he continued, "I have my doubts. And, after all, is
it worth while to take so much trouble with the Duchess? Between
ourselves a man of my stamp ought first to take her in hand and
break her in; I would make a charming woman of her; she is a
thoroughbred; whereas, you two left to yourselves will never get
beyond the A B C. But you are in love with her, and just now you
might not perhaps share my views on this subject----. A pleasant
time to you, my children," added Ronquerolles, after a pause.
Then with a laugh: "I have decided myself for facile beauties;
they are tender, at any rate, the natural woman appears in their
love without any of your social seasonings. A woman that haggles
over herself, my poor boy, and only means to inspire love! Well,
have her like an extra horse--for show. The match between the
sofa and confessional, black and white, queen and knight,
conscientious scruples and pleasure, is an uncommonly amusing
game of chess. And if a man knows the game, let him be never so
little of a rake, he wins in three moves. Now, if I undertook a
woman of that sort, I should start with the deliberate purpose
of----" His voice sank to a whisper over the last words in
Armand's ear, and he went before there was time to reply.
As for Montriveau, he sprang at a bound across the courtyard of
the Hotel de Langeais, went unannounced up the stairs straight to
the Duchess's bedroom.
"This is an unheard-of thing," she said, hastily wrapping her
dressing-gown about her. "Armand! this is abominable of you!
Come, leave the room, I beg. Just go out of the room, and go at
once. Wait for me in the drawing-room.--Come now!"
"Dear angel, has a plighted lover no privilege whatsoever?"
"But, monsieur, it is in the worst possible taste of a plighted
lover or a wedded husband to break in like this upon his wife."
He came up to the Duchess, took her in his arms, and held her
tightly to him.
"Forgive, dear Antoinette; but a host of horrid doubts are
fermenting in my heart."
"DOUBTS? Fie!--Oh, fie on you!"
"Doubts all but justified. If you loved me, would you make this
quarrel? Would you not be glad to see me? Would you not have
felt a something stir in your heart? For I, that am not a woman,
feel a thrill in my inmost self at the mere sound of your voice.
Often in a ballroom a longing has come upon me to spring to your
side and put my arms about your neck."
"Oh! if you have doubts of me so long as I am not ready to
spring to your arms before all the world, I shall be doubted all
my life long, I suppose. Why, Othello was a mere child compared
"Ah!" he cried despairingly, "you have no love for me----"
"Admit, at any rate, that at this moment you are not lovable."
Then I have still to find favour in your sight?"
"Oh, I should think so. Come," added she, "with a little
imperious air, go out of the room, leave me. I am not like you;
I wish always to find favour in your eyes."
Never woman better understood the art of putting charm into
insolence, and does not the charm double the effect? is it not
enough to infuriate the coolest of men? There was a sort of
untrammelled freedom about Mme de Langeais; a something in her
eyes, her voice, her attitude, which is never seen in a woman who
loves when she stands face to face with him at the mere sight of
whom her heart must needs begin to beat. The Marquis de
Ronquerolles's counsels had cured Armand of sheepishness; and
further, there came to his aid that rapid power of intuition
which passion will develop at moments in the least wise among
mortals, while a great man at such a time possesses it to the
full. He guessed the terrible truth revealed by the Duchess's
nonchalance, and his heart swelled with the storm like a lake
rising in flood.
"If you told me the truth yesterday, be mine, dear Antoinette,"
he cried; "you shall----"
"In the first place," said she composedly, thrusting him back
as he came nearer--"in the first place, you are not to
compromise me. My woman might overhear you. Respect me, I beg
of you. Your familiarity is all very well in my boudoir in an
evening; here it is quite different. Besides, what may your `you
shall' mean? `You shall.' No one as yet has ever used that word
to me. It is quite ridiculous, it seems to me, absolutely
"Will you surrender nothing to me on this point?"
"Oh! do you call a woman's right to dispose of herself a
`point?' A capital point indeed; you will permit me to be
entirely my own mistress on that `point.' "
"And how if, believing in your promises to me, I should
absolutely require it?"
"Oh! then you would prove that I made the greatest possible
mistake when I made you a promise of any kind; and I should beg
you to leave me in peace."
The General's face grew white; he was about to spring to her
side, when Mme de Langeais rang the bell, the maid appeared, and,
smiling with a mocking grace, the Duchess added, "Be so good as
to return when I am visible."
Then Montriveau felt the hardness of a woman as cold and keen as
a steel blade; she was crushing in her scorn. In one moment she
had snapped the bonds which held firm only for her lover. She
had read Armand's intention in his face, and held that the moment
had come for teaching the Imperial soldier his lesson. He was to
be made to feel that though duchesses may lend themselves to
love, they do not give themselves, and that the conquest of one
of them would prove a harder matter than the conquest of Europe.
"Madame," returned Armand, "I have not time to wait. I am a
spoilt child, as you told me yourself. When I seriously resolve
to have that of which we have been speaking, I shall have it."
"You will have it?" queried she, and there was a trace of
surprise in her loftiness.
"I shall have it."
"Oh! you would do me a great pleasure by `resolving' to have it.
For curiosity's sake, I should be delighted to know how you would
set about it----"
"I am delighted to put a new interest into your life,"
interrupted Montriveau, breaking into a laugh which dismayed the
Duchess. "Will you permit me to take you to the ball tonight?"
"A thousand thanks. M. de Marsay has been beforehand with you.
I gave him my promise."
Montriveau bowed gravely and went.
"So Ronquerolles was right," thought he, "and now for a game
Thenceforward he hid his agitation by complete composure. No man
is strong enough to bear such sudden alternations from the height
of happiness to the depths of wretchedness. So he had caught a
glimpse of happy life the better to feel the emptiness of his
previous existence? There was a terrible storm within him; but
he had learned to endure, and bore the shock of tumultuous
thoughts as a granite cliff stands out against the surge of an
"I could say nothing. When I am with her my wits desert me.
She does not know how vile and contemptible she is. Nobody has
ventured to bring her face to face with herself. She has played
with many a man, no doubt; I will avenge them all."
For the first time, it may be, in a man's heart, revenge and love
were blended so equally that Montriveau himself could not know
whether love or revenge would carry all before it. That very
evening he went to the ball at which he was sure of seeing the
Duchesse de Langeais, and almost despaired of reaching her heart.
He inclined to think that there was something diabolical about
this woman, who was gracious to him and radiant with charming
smiles; probably because she had no wish to allow the world to
think that she had compromised herself with M. de Montriveau.
Coolness on both sides is a sign of love; but so long as the
Duchess was the same as ever, while the Marquis looked sullen and
morose, was it not plain that she had conceded nothing?
Onlookers know the rejected lover by various signs and tokens;
they never mistake the genuine symptoms for a coolness such as
some women command their adorers to feign, in the hope of
concealing their love. Everyone laughed at Montriveau; and he,
having omitted to consult his cornac, was abstracted and ill at
ease. M. de Ronquerolles would very likely have bidden him
compromise the Duchess by responding to her show of friendliness
by passionate demonstrations; but as it was, Armand de Montriveau
came away from the ball, loathing human nature, and even then
scarcely ready to believe in such complete depravity.
"If there is no executioner for such crimes," he said, as he
looked up at the lighted windows of the ballroom where the most
enchanting women in Paris were dancing, laughing, and chatting,
"I will take you by the nape of the neck, Mme la Duchesse, and
make you feel something that bites more deeply than the knife in
the Place de la Greve. Steel against steel; we shall see which
heart will leave the deeper mark."
For a week or so Mme de Langeais hoped to see the Marquis de
Montriveau again; but he contented himself with sending his card
every morning to the Hotel de Langeais. The Duchess could not
help shuddering each time that the card was brought in, and a dim
foreboding crossed her mind, but the thought was vague as a
presentiment of disaster. When her eyes fell on the name, it
seemed to her that she felt the touch of the implacable man's
strong hand in her hair; sometimes the words seemed like a
prognostication of a vengeance which her lively intellect
invented in the most shocking forms. She had studied him too
well not to dread him. Would he murder her, she wondered? Would
that bull-necked man dash out her vitals by flinging her over his
head? Would he trample her body under his feet? When, where,
and how would he get her into his power? Would he make her
suffer very much, and what kind of pain would he inflict? She
repented of her conduct. There were hours when, if he had come,
she would have gone to his arms in complete self-surrender.
Every night before she slept she saw Montriveau's face; every
night it wore a different aspect. Sometimes she saw his bitter
smile, sometimes the Jovelike knitting of the brows; or his
leonine look, or some disdainful movement of the shoulders made
him terrible for her. Next day the card seemed stained with
blood. The name of Montriveau stirred her now as the presence of
the fiery, stubborn, exacting lover had never done. Her
apprehensions gathered strength in the silence. She was forced,
without aid from without, to face the thought of a hideous duel
of which she could not speak. Her proud hard nature was more
responsive to thrills of hate than it had ever been to the
caresses of love. Ah! if the General could but have seen her, as
she sat with her forehead drawn into folds between her brows;
immersed in bitter thoughts in that boudoir where he had enjoyed
such happy moments, he might perhaps have conceived high hopes.
Of all human passions, is not pride alone incapable of
engendering anything base? Mme de Langeais kept her thoughts to
herself, but is it not permissible to suppose that M. de
Montriveau was no longer indifferent to her? And has not a man
gained ground immensely when a woman thinks about him? He is
bound to make progress with her either one way or the other
Put any feminine creature under the feet of a furious horse or
other fearsome beast; she will certainly drop on her knees and
look for death; but if the brute shows a milder mood and does not
utterly slay her, she will love the horse, lion, bull, or what
not, and will speak of him quite at her ease. The Duchess felt
that she was under the lion's paws; she quaked, but she did not
The man and woman thus singularly placed with regard to each
other met three times in society during the course of that week.
Each time, in reply to coquettish questioning glances, the
Duchess received a respectful bow, and smiles tinged with such
savage irony, that all her apprehensions over the card in the
morning were revived at night. Our lives are simply such as our
feelings shape them for us; and the feelings of these two had
hollowed out a great gulf between them
The Comtesse de Serizy, the Marquis de Ronquerolles's sister,
gave a great ball at the beginning of the following week, and Mme
de Langeais was sure to go to it. Armand was the first person
whom the Duchess saw when she came into the room, and this time
Armand was looking out for her, or so she thought at least. The
two exchanged a look, and suddenly the woman felt a cold
perspiration break from every pore. She had thought all along
that Montriveau was capable of taking reprisals in some
unheard-of way proportioned to their condition, and now the
revenge had been discovered, it was ready, heated, and boiling.
Lightnings flashed from the foiled lover's eyes, his face was
radiant with exultant vengeance. And the Duchess? Her eyes were
haggard in spite of her resolution to be cool and insolent. She
went to take her place beside the Comtesse de Serizy, who could
not help exclaiming, "Dear Antoinette! what is the matter with
you? You are enough to frighten one."
"I shall be all right after a quadrille," she answered, giving
a hand to a young man who came up at that moment.
Mme de Langeais waltzed that evening with a sort of excitement
and transport which redoubled Montriveau's lowering looks. He
stood in front of the line of spectators, who were amusing
themselves by looking on. Every time that SHE came past him, his
eyes darted down upon her eddying face; he might have been a
tiger with the prey in his grasp. The waltz came to an end, Mme
de Langeais went back to her place beside the Countess, and
Montriveau never took his eyes off her, talking all the while
with a stranger.
"One of the things that struck me most on the journey," he was
saying (and the Duchess listened with all her ears), "was the
remark which the man makes at Westminster when you are shown the
axe with which a man in a mask cut off Charles the First's head,
so they tell you. The King made it first of all to some
inquisitive person, and they repeat it still in memory of him."
"What does the man say?" asked Mme de Serizy.
" `Do not touch the axe!' " replied Montriveau, and there was
menace in the sound of his voice.
"Really, my Lord Marquis," said Mme de Langeais, "you tell
this old story that everybody knows if they have been to London,
and look at my neck in such a melodramatic way that you seem to
me to have an axe in your hand."
The Duchess was in a cold sweat, but nevertheless she laughed as
she spoke the last words.
"But circumstances give the story a quite new application,"
"How so; pray tell me, for pity's sake?"
"In this way, madame--you have touched the axe," said
Montriveau, lowering his voice.
"What an enchanting prophecy!" returned she, smiling with
assumed grace. "And when is my head to fall?"
"I have no wish to see that pretty head of yours cut off. I
only fear some great misfortune for you. If your head were
clipped close, would you feel no regrets for the dainty golden
hair that you turn to such good account?"
"There are those for whom a woman would love to make such a
sacrifice; even if, as often happens, it is for the sake of a man
who cannot make allowances for an outbreak of temper."
"Quite so. Well, and if some wag were to spoil your beauty on a
sudden by some chemical process, and you, who are but eighteen
for us, were to be a hundred years old?"
"Why, the smallpox is our Battle of Waterloo, monsieur," she
interrupted. "After it is over we find out those who love us
"Would you not regret the lovely face that?"
"Oh! indeed I should, but less for my own sake than for the sake
of someone else whose delight it might have been. And, after
all, if I were loved, always loved, and truly loved, what would
my beauty matter to me?--What do you say, Clara?"
"It is a dangerous speculation," replied Mme de Serizy.
"Is it permissible to ask His Majesty the King of Sorcerers when
I made the mistake of touching the axe, since I have not been to
London as yet?----"
"NOT SO," he answered in English, with a burst of ironical
"And when will the punishment begin?"
At this Montriveau coolly took out his watch, and ascertained the
hour with a truly appalling air of conviction.
"A dreadful misfortune will befall you before this day is out."
"I am not a child to be easily frightened, or rather, I am a
child ignorant of danger," said the Duchess. "I shall dance
now without fear on the edge of the precipice."
"I am delighted to know that you have so much strength of
character," he answered, as he watched her go to take her place
in a square dance.
But the Duchess, in spite of her apparent contempt for Armand's
dark prophecies, was really frightened. Her late lover's
presence weighed upon her morally and physically with a sense of
oppression that scarcely ceased when he left the ballroom. And
yet when she had drawn freer breath, and enjoyed the relief for a
moment, she found herself regretting the sensation of dread, so
greedy of extreme sensations is the feminine nature. The regret
was not love, but it was certainly akin to other feelings which
prepare the way for love. And then--as if the impression which
Montriveau had made upon her were suddenly revived--she
recollected his air of conviction as he took out his watch, and
in a sudden spasm of dread she went out.
By this time it was about midnight. One of her servants, waiting
with her pelisse, went down to order her carriage. On her way
home she fell naturally enough to musing over M. de Montriveau's
prediction. Arrived in her own courtyard, as she supposed, she
entered a vestibule almost like that of her own hotel, and
suddenly saw that the staircase was different. She was in a
strange house. Turning to call her servants, she was attacked by
several men, who rapidly flung a handkerchief over her mouth,
bound her hand and foot, and carried her off. She shrieked
"Madame, our orders are to kill you if you scream," a voice
said in her ear.
So great was the Duchess's terror, that she could never recollect
how nor by whom she was transported. When she came to herself,
she was lying on a couch in a bachelor's lodging, her hands and
feet tied with silken cords. In spite of herself, she shrieked
aloud as she looked round and met Armand de Montriveau's eyes.
He was sitting in his dressing-gown, quietly smoking a cigar in
"Do not cry out, Mme la Duchesse," he said, coolly taking the
cigar out of his mouth; "I have a headache. Besides, I will
untie you. But listen attentively to what I have the honour to
say to you."
Very carefully he untied the knots that bound her feet.
"What would be the use of calling out? Nobody can hear your
cries. You are too well bred to make any unnecessary fuss. If
you do not stay quietly, if you insist upon a struggle with me, I
shall tie your hands and feet again. All things considered, I
think that you have self-respect enough to stay on this sofa as
if you were lying on your own at home; cold as ever, if you will.
You have made me shed many tears on this couch, tears that I hid
from all other eyes."
While Montriveau was speaking, the Duchess glanced about her; it
was a woman's glance, a stolen look that saw all things and
seemed to see nothing. She was much pleased with the room. It
was rather like a monk's cell. The man's character and thoughts
seemed to pervade it. No decoration of any kind broke the grey
painted surface of the walls. A green carpet covered the floor.
A black sofa, a table littered with papers, two big easy-chairs,
a chest of drawers with an alarum clock by way of ornament, a
very low bedstead with a coverlet flung over it--a red cloth with
a black key border--all these things made part of a whole that
told of a life reduced to its simplest terms. A triple
candle-sconce of Egyptian design on the chimney-piece recalled
the vast spaces of the desert and Montriveau's long wanderings; a
huge sphinx-claw stood out beneath the folds of stuff at the
bed-foot; and just beyond, a green curtain with a black and
scarlet border was suspended by large rings from a spear handle
above a door near one corner of the room. The other door by
which the band had entered was likewise curtained, but the
drapery hung from an ordinary curtain-rod. As the Duchess
finally noted that the pattern was the same on both, she saw that
the door at the bed-foot stood open; gleams of ruddy light from
the room beyond flickered below the fringed border. Naturally,
the ominous light roused her curiosity; she fancied she could
distinguish strange shapes in the shadows; but as it did not
occur to her at the time that danger could come from that
quarter, she tried to gratify a more ardent curiosity.
"Monsieur, if it is not indiscreet, may I ask what you mean to
do with me?" The insolence and irony of the tone stung through
the words. The Duchess quite believed that she read extravagant
love in Montriveau's speech. He had carried her off; was not
that in itself an acknowledgment of her power?
"Nothing whatever, madame," he returned, gracefully puffing the
last whiff of cigar smoke. "You will remain here for a short
time. First of all, I should like to explain to you what you
are, and what I am. I cannot put my thoughts into words whilst
you are twisting on the sofa in your boudoir; and besides, in
your own house you take offence at the slightest hint, you ring
the bell, make an outcry, and turn your lover out at the door as
if he were the basest of wretches. Here my mind is unfettered.
Here nobody can turn me out. Here you shall be my victim for a
few seconds, and you are going to be so exceedingly kind as to
listen to me. You need fear nothing. I did not carry you off to
insult you, nor yet to take by force what you refused to grant of
your own will to my unworthiness. I could not stoop so low. You
possibly think of outrage; for myself, I have no such thoughts."
He flung his cigar coolly into the fire.
"The smoke is unpleasant to you, no doubt, madame?" he said,
and rising at once, he took a chafing-dish from the hearth, burnt
perfumes, and purified the air. The Duchess's astonishment was
only equalled by her humiliation. She was in this man's power;
and he would not abuse his power. The eyes in which love had
once blazed like flame were now quiet and steady as stars. She
trembled. Her dread of Armand was increased by a nightmare
sensation of restlessness and utter inability to move; she felt
as if she were turned to stone. She lay passive in the grip of
fear. She thought she saw the light behind the curtains grow to
a blaze, as if blown up by a pair of bellows; in another moment
the gleams of flame grew brighter, and she fancied that three
masked figures suddenly flashed out; but the terrible vision
disappeared so swiftly that she took it for an optical delusion.
"Madame," Armand continued with cold contempt, "one minute,
just one minute is enough for me, and you shall feel it
afterwards at every moment throughout your lifetime, the one
eternity over which I have power. I am not God. Listen
carefully to me," he continued, pausing to add solemnity to his
words. "Love will always come at your call. You have boundless
power over men: but remember that once you called love, and love
came to you; love as pure and true-hearted as may be on earth,
and as reverent as it was passionate; fond as a devoted woman's,
as a mother's love; a love so great indeed, that it was past the
bounds of reason. You played with it, and you committed a crime.
Every woman has a right to refuse herself to love which she feels
she cannot share; and if a man loves and cannot win love in
return, he is not to be pitied, he has no right to complain. But
with a semblance of love to attract an unfortunate creature cut
off from all affection; to teach him to understand happiness to
the full, only to snatch it from him; to rob him of his future of
felicity; to slay his happiness not merely today, but as long as
his life lasts, by poisoning every hour of it and every
thought--this I call a fearful crime!"
"I cannot allow you to answer me yet. So listen to me still.
In any case I have rights over you; but I only choose to exercise
one--the right of the judge over the criminal, so that I may
arouse your conscience. If you had no conscience left, I should
not reproach you at all; but you are so young! You must feel
some life still in your heart; or so I like to believe. While I
think of you as depraved enough to do a wrong which the law does
not punish, I do not think you so degraded that you cannot
comprehend the full meaning of my words. I resume."
As he spoke the Duchess heard the smothered sound of a pair of
bellows. Those mysterious figures which she had just seen were
blowing up the fire, no doubt; the glow shone through the
curtain. But Montriveau's lurid face was turned upon her; she
could not choose but wait with a fast-beating heart and eyes
fixed in a stare. However curious she felt, the heat in Armand's
words interested her even more than the crackling of the
"Madame," he went on after a pause, "if some poor wretch
commits a murder in Paris, it is the executioner's duty, you
know, to lay hands on him and stretch him on the plank, where
murderers pay for their crimes with their heads. Then the
newspapers inform everyone, rich and poor, so that the former are
assured that they may sleep in peace, and the latter are warned
that they must be on the watch if they would live. Well, you
that are religious, and even a little of a bigot, may have masses
said for such a man's soul. You both belong to the same family,
but yours is the elder branch; and the elder branch may occupy
high places in peace and live happily and without cares. Want or
anger may drive your brother the convict to take a man's life;
you have taken more, you have taken the joy out of a man's life,
you have killed all that was best in his life--his dearest
beliefs. The murderer simply lay in wait for his victim, and
killed him reluctantly, and in fear of the scaffold; but YOU . .
. ! You heaped up every sin that weakness can commit against
strength that suspected no evil; you tamed a passive victim, the
better to gnaw his heart out; you lured him with caresses; you
left nothing undone that could set him dreaming, imagining,
longing for the bliss of love. You asked innumerable sacrifices
of him, only to refuse to make any in return. He should see the
light indeed before you put out his eyes! It is wonderful how
you found the heart to do it! Such villainies demand a display
of resource quite above the comprehension of those bourgeoises
whom you laugh at and despise. They can give and forgive; they
know how to love and suffer. The grandeur of their devotion
dwarfs us. Rising higher in the social scale, one finds just as
much mud as at the lower end; but with this difference, at the
upper end it is hard and gilded over.
"Yes, to find baseness in perfection, you must look for a noble
bringing up, a great name, a fair woman, a duchess. You cannot
fall lower than the lowest unless you are set high above the rest
of the world.--I express my thoughts badly; the wounds you dealt
me are too painful as yet, but do not think that I complain. My
words are not the expression of any hope for myself; there is no
trace of bitterness in them. Know this, madame, for a
certainty--I forgive you. My forgiveness is so complete that you
need not feel in the least sorry that you came hither to find it
against your will. . . . But you might take advantage of other
hearts as child-like as my own, and it is my duty to spare them
anguish. So you have inspired the thought of justice. Expiate
your sin here on earth; God may perhaps forgive you; I wish that
He may, but He is inexorable, and will strike."
The broken-spirited, broken-hearted woman looked up, her eyes
filled with tears.
"Why do you cry? Be true to your nature. You could look on
indifferently at the torture of a heart as you broke it. That
will do, madame, do not cry. I cannot bear it any longer. Other
men will tell you that you have given them life; as for myself, I
tell you, with rapture, that you have given me blank extinction.
Perhaps you guess that I am not my own, that I am bound to live
for my friends, that from this time forth I must endure the cold
chill of death, as well as the burden of life? Is it possible
that there can be so much kindness in you? Are you like the
desert tigress that licks the wounds she has inflicted?"
The Duchess burst out sobbing.
"Pray spare your tears, madame. If I believed in them at all,
it would merely set me on my guard. Is this another of your
artifices? or is it not? You have used so many with me; how can
one think that there is any truth in you? Nothing that you do or
say has any power now to move me. That is all I have to say."
Mme de Langeais rose to her feet, with a great dignity and
humility in her bearing.
"You are right to treat me very hardly," she said, holding out
a hand to the man who did not take it; "you have not spoken
hardly enough; and I deserve this punishment."
"_I_ punish you, madame! A man must love still, to punish, must
he not? From me you must expect no feeling, nothing resembling
it. If I chose, I might be accuser and judge in my cause, and
pronounce and carry out the sentence. But I am about to fulfil a
duty, not a desire of vengeance of any kind. The cruellest
revenge of all, I think, is scorn of revenge when it is in our
power to take it. Perhaps I shall be the minister of your
pleasures; who knows? Perhaps from this time forth, as you
gracefully wear the tokens of disgrace by which society marks out
the criminal, you may perforce learn something of the convict's
sense of honour. And then, you will love!"
The Duchess sat listening; her meekness was unfeigned; it was no
coquettish device. When she spoke at last, it was after a
"Armand," she began, "it seems to me that when I resisted
love, I was obeying all the instincts of woman's modesty; I
should not have looked for such reproaches from YOU. I was weak;
you have turned all my weaknesses against me, and made so many
crimes of them. How could you fail to understand that the
curiosity of love might have carried me further than I ought to
go; and that next morning I might be angry with myself, and
wretched because I had gone too far? Alas! I sinned in
ignorance. I was as sincere in my wrongdoing, I swear to you, as
in my remorse. There was far more love for you in my severity
than in my concessions. And besides, of what do you complain? I
gave you my heart; that was not enough; you demanded, brutally,
that I should give my person----"
"Brutally?" repeated Montriveau. But to himself he said, "If
I once allow her to dispute over words, I am lost."
"Yes. You came to me as if I were one of those women. You
showed none of the respect, none of the attentions of love. Had
I not reason to reflect? Very well, I reflected. The
unseemliness of your conduct is not inexcusable; love lay at the
source of it; let me think so, and justify you to myself.--Well,
Armand, this evening, even while you were prophesying evil, I
felt convinced that there was happiness in store for us both.
Yes, I put my faith in the noble, proud nature so often tested
and proved." She bent lower. "And I was yours wholly," she
murmured in his ear. "I felt a longing that I cannot express to
give happiness to a man so violently tried by adversity. If I
must have a master, my master should be a great man. As I felt
conscious of my height, the less I cared to descend. I felt I
could trust you, I saw a whole lifetime of love, while you were
pointing to death. . . . Strength and kindness always go
together. My friend, you are so strong, you will not be unkind
to a helpless woman who loves you. If I was wrong, is there no
way of obtaining forgiveness? No way of making reparation?
Repentance is the charm of love; I should like to be very
charming for you. How could I, alone among women, fail to know a
woman's doubts and fears, the timidity that it is so natural to
feel when you bind yourself for life, and know how easily a man
snaps such ties? The bourgeoises, with whom you compared me just
now, give themselves, but they struggle first. Very well--I
struggled; but here I am!--Ah! God, he does not hear me!" she
broke off, and wringing her hands, she cried out "But I love
you! I am yours!" and fell at Armand's feet.
"Yours! yours! my one and only master!"
Armand tried to raise her.
"Madame, it is too late! Antoinette cannot save the Duchesse de
Langeais. I cannot believe in either. Today you may give
yourself; tomorrow, you may refuse. No power in earth or heaven
can insure me the sweet constancy of love. All love's pledges
lay in the past; and now nothing of that past exists."
The light behind the curtain blazed up so brightly, that the
Duchess could not help turning her head; this time she distinctly
saw the three masked figures.
"Armand," she said, "I would not wish to think ill of you.
Why are those men there? What are you going to do to me?"
"Those men will be as silent as I myself with regard to the
thing which is about to be done. Think of them simply as my
hands and my heart. One of them is a surgeon----"
"A surgeon! Armand, my friend, of all things, suspense is the
hardest to bear. Just speak; tell me if you wish for my life; I
will give it to you, you shall not take it----"
"Then you did not understand me? Did I not speak just now of
justice? To put an end to your misapprehensions," continued he,
taking up a small steel object from the table, "I will now
explain what I have decided with regard to you."
He held out a Lorraine cross, fastened to the tip of a steel rod.
"Two of my friends at this very moment are heating another
cross, made on this pattern, red-hot. We are going to stamp it
upon your forehead, here between the eyes, so that there will be
no possibility of hiding the mark with diamonds, and so avoiding
people's questions. In short, you shall bear on your forehead
the brand of infamy which your brothers the convicts wear on
their shoulders. The pain is a mere trifle, but I feared a
nervous crisis of some kind, of resistance----"
"Resistance?" she cried, clapping her hands for joy. "Oh no,
no! I would have the whole world here to see. Ah, my Armand,
brand her quickly, this creature of yours; brand her with your
mark as a poor little trifle belonging to you. You asked for
pledges of my love; here they are all in one. Ah! for me there
is nothing but mercy and forgiveness and eternal happiness in
this revenge of yours. When you have marked this woman with your
mark, when you set your crimson brand on her, your slave in soul,
you can never afterwards abandon her, you will be mine for
evermore? When you cut me off from my kind, you make yourself
responsible for my happiness, or you prove yourself base; and I
know that you are noble and great! Why, when a woman loves, the
brand of love is burnt into her soul by her own will.--Come in,
gentlemen! come in and brand her, this Duchesse de Langeais. She
is M. de Montriveau's forever! Ah! come quickly, all of you, my
forehead burns hotter than your fire!"
Armand turned his head sharply away lest he should see the
Duchess kneeling, quivering with the throbbings of her heart. He
said some word, and his three friends vanished.
The women of Paris salons know how one mirror reflects another.
The Duchess, with every motive for reading the depths of Armand's
heart, was all eyes; and Armand, all unsuspicious of the mirror,
brushed away two tears as they fell. Her whole future lay in
those two tears. When he turned round again to help her to rise,
she was standing before him, sure of love. Her pulses must have
throbbed fast when he spoke with the firmness she had known so
well how to use of old while she played with him.
"I spare you, madame. All that has taken place shall be as if
it had never been, you may believe me. But now, let us bid each
other goodbye. I like to think that you were sincere in your
coquetries on your sofa, sincere again in this outpouring of your
heart. Good-bye. I feel that there is no faith in you left in
me. You would torment me again; you would always be the Duchess,
and---- But there, good-bye, we shall never understand each
"Now, what do you wish?" he continued, taking the tone of a
master of the ceremonies--"to return home, or to go back to Mme
de Serizy's ball? I have done all in my power to prevent any
scandal. Neither your servants nor anyone else can possibly know
what has passed between us in the last quarter of an hour. Your
servants have no idea that you have left the ballroom; your
carriage never left Mme de Serizy's courtyard; your brougham may
likewise be found in the court of your own hotel. Where do you
wish to be?"
"What do you counsel, Armand?"
"There is no Armand now, Mme la Duchesse. We are strangers to
"Then take me to the ball," she said, still curious to put
Armand's power to the test. "Thrust a soul that suffered in the
world, and must always suffer there, if there is no happiness for
her now, down into hell again. And yet, oh my friend, I love you
as your bourgeoises love; I love you so that I could come to you
and fling my arms about your neck before all the world if you
asked it off me. The hateful world has not corrupted me. I am
young at least, and I have grown younger still. I am a child,
yes, your child, your new creature. Ah! do not drive me forth
out of my Eden!"
Armand shook his head.
"Ah! let me take something with me, if I go, some little thing
to wear tonight on my heart," she said, taking possession of
Armand's glove, which she twisted into her handkerchief.
"No, I am NOT like all those depraved women. You do not know
the world, and so you cannot know my worth. You shall know it
now! There are women who sell themselves for money; there are
others to be gained by gifts, it is a vile world! Oh, I wish I
were a simple bourgeoise, a working girl, if you would rather
have a woman beneath you than a woman whose devotion is
accompanied by high rank, as men count it. Oh, my Armand, there
are noble, high, and chaste and pure natures among us; and then
they are lovely indeed. I would have all nobleness that I might
offer it all up to you. Misfortune willed that I should be a
duchess; I would I were a royal princess, that my offering might
be complete. I would be a grisette for you, and a queen for
He listened, damping his cigars with his lips.
"You will let me know when you wish to go," he said.
"But I should like to stay----"
"That is another matter!"
"Stay, that was badly rolled," she cried, seizing on a cigar
and devouring all that Armand's lips had touched.
"Do you smoke?"
"Oh, what would I not do to please you?"
"Very well. Go, madame."
"I will obey you," she answered, with tears in her eyes.
"You must be blindfolded; you must not see a glimpse of the
"I am ready, Armand," she said, bandaging her eyes.
"Can you see?"
Noiselessly he knelt before her.
"Ah! I can hear you!" she cried, with a little fond gesture,
thinking that the pretence of harshness was over.
He made as if he would kiss her lips; she held up her face.
"You can see, madame."
"I am just a little bit curious."
"So you always deceive me?"
"Ah! take off this handkerchief, sir," she cried out, with the
passion of a great generosity repelled with scorn, "lead me; I
will not open my eyes."
Armand felt sure of her after that cry. He led the way; the
Duchess nobly true to her word, was blind. But while Montriveau
held her hand as a father might, and led her up and down flights
of stairs, he was studying the throbbing pulses of this woman's
heart so suddenly invaded by Love. Mme de Langeais, rejoicing in
this power of speech, was glad to let him know all; but he was
inflexible; his hand was passive in reply to the questionings of
At length, after some journey made together, Armand bade her go
forward; the opening was doubtless narrow, for as she went she
felt that his hand protected her dress. His care touched her; it
was a revelation surely that there was a little love still left;
yet it was in some sort a farewell, for Montriveau left her
without a word. The air was warm; the Duchess, feeling the heat,
opened her eyes, and found herself standing by the fire in the
Comtesse de Serizy's boudoir.
She was alone. Her first thought was for her disordered
toilette; in a moment she had adjusted her dress and restored her
"Well, dear Antoinette, we have been looking for you
everywhere." It was the Comtesse de Serizy who spoke as she
opened the door.
"I came here to breathe," said the Duchess; "it is unbearably
hot in the rooms."
"People thought that you had gone; but my brother Ronquerolles
told me that your servants were waiting for you."
"I am tired out, dear, let me stay and rest here for a minute,"
and the Duchess sat down on the sofa.
"Why, what is the matter with you? You are shaking from head to
The Marquis de Ronquerolles came in.
"Mme la Duchesse, I was afraid that something might have
happened. I have just come across your coachman, the man is as
tipsy as all the Swiss in Switzerland."
The Duchess made no answer; she was looking round the room, at
the chimney-piece and the tall mirrors, seeking the trace of an
opening. Then with an extraordinary sensation she recollected
that she was again in the midst of the gaiety of the ballroom
after that terrific scene which had changed the whole course of
her life. She began to shiver violently.
"M. de Montriveau's prophecy has shaken my nerves," she said.
"It was a joke, but still I will see whether his axe from London
will haunt me even in my sleep. So good-bye, dear.--Good-bye, M.
As she went through the rooms she was beset with enquiries and
regrets. Her world seemed to have dwindled now that she, its
queen, had fallen so low, was so diminished. And what, moreover,
were these men compared with him whom she loved with all her
heart; with the man grown great by all that she had lost in
stature? The giant had regained the height that he had lost for
a while, and she exaggerated it perhaps beyond measure. She
looked, in spite of herself, at the servant who had attended her
to the ball. He was fast asleep.
"Have you been here all the time?" she asked.
As she took her seat in her carriage she saw, in fact, that her
coachman was drunk--so drunk, that at any other time she would
have been afraid; but after a great crisis in life, fear loses
its appetite for common food. She reached home, at any rate,
without accident; but even there she felt a change in herself, a
new feeling that she could not shake off. For her, there was now
but one man in the world; which is to say that henceforth she
cared to shine for his sake alone.
While the physiologist can define love promptly by following out
natural laws, the moralist finds a far more perplexing problem
before him if he attempts to consider love in all its
developments due to social conditions. Still, in spite of the
heresies of the endless sects that divide the church of Love,
there is one broad and trenchant line of difference in doctrine,
a line that all the discussion in the world can never deflect. A
rigid application of this line explains the nature of the crisis
through which the Duchess, like most women, was to pass. Passion
she knew, but she did not love as yet.
Love and passion are two different conditions which poets and men
of the world, philosophers and fools, alike continually confound.
Love implies a give and take, a certainty of bliss that nothing
can change; it means so close a clinging of the heart, and an
exchange of happiness so constant, that there is no room left for
jealousy. Then possession is a means and not an end;
unfaithfulness may give pain, but the bond is not less close; the
soul is neither more nor less ardent or troubled, but happy at
every moment; in short, the divine breath of desire spreading
from end to end of the immensity of Time steeps it all for us in
the selfsame hue; life takes the tint of the unclouded heaven.
But Passion is the foreshadowing of Love, and of that Infinite to
which all suffering souls aspire. Passion is a hope that may be
cheated. Passion means both suffering and transition. Passion
dies out when hope is dead. Men and women may pass through this
experience many times without dishonour, for it is so natural to
spring towards happiness; but there is only one love in a
lifetime. All discussions of sentiment ever conducted on paper
or by word of mouth may therefore be resumed by two
questions--"Is it passion? Is it love?" So, since love comes
into existence only through the intimate experience of the bliss
which gives it lasting life, the Duchess was beneath the yoke of
passion as yet; and as she knew the fierce tumult, the
unconscious calculations, the fevered cravings, and all that is
meant by that word PASSION--she suffered. Through all the
trouble of her soul there rose eddying gusts of tempest, raised
by vanity or self-love, or pride or a high spirit; for all these
forms of egoism make common cause together.
She had said to this man, "I love you; I am yours!" Was it
possible that the Duchesse de Langeais should have uttered those
words--in vain? She must either be loved now or play her part of
queen no longer. And then she felt the loneliness of the
luxurious couch where pleasure had never yet set his glowing
feet; and over and over again, while she tossed and writhed
there, she said, "I want to be loved."
But the belief that she still had in herself gave her hope of
success. The Duchess might be piqued, the vain Parisienne might
be humiliated; but the woman saw glimpses of wedded happiness,
and imagination, avenging the time lost for nature, took a
delight in kindling the inextinguishable fire in her veins. She
all but attained to the sensations of love; for amid her poignant
doubt whether she was loved in return, she felt glad at heart to
say to herself, "I love him!" As for her scruples, religion,
and the world she could trample them under foot! Montriveau was
her religion now. She spent the next day in a state of moral
torpor, troubled by a physical unrest, which no words could
express. She wrote letters and tore them all up, and invented a
thousand impossible fancies.
When M. de Montriveau's usual hour arrived, she tried to think
that he would come, and enjoyed the feeling of expectation. Her
whole life was concentrated in the single sense of hearing.
Sometimes she shut her eyes, straining her ears to listen through
space, wishing that she could annihilate everything that lay
between her and her lover, and so establish that perfect silence
which sounds may traverse from afar. In her tense
self-concentration, the ticking of the clock grew hateful to her;
she stopped its ill-omened garrulity. The twelve strokes of
midnight sounded from the drawing-room.
"Ah, God!" she cried, "to see him here would be happiness.
And yet, it is not so very long since he came here, brought by
desire, and the tones of his voice filled this boudoir. And now
there is nothing."
She remembered the times that she had played the coquette with
him, and how that her coquetry had cost her her lover, and the
despairing tears flowed for long.
Her woman came at length with, "Mme la Duchesse does not know,
perhaps, that it is two o'clock in the morning; I thought that
madame was not feeling well."
"Yes, I am going to bed," said the Duchess, drying her eyes.
"But remember, Suzanne, never to come in again without orders; I
tell you this for the last time."
For a week, Mme de Langeais went to every house where there was a
hope of meeting M. de Montriveau. Contrary to her usual habits,
she came early and went late; gave up dancing, and went to the
card-tables. Her experiments were fruitless. She did not
succeed in getting a glimpse of Armand. She did not dare to
utter his name now. One evening, however, in a fit of despair,
she spoke to Mme de Serizy, and asked as carelessly as she could,
"You must have quarrelled with M. de Montriveau? He is not to
be seen at your house now."
The Countess laughed. "So he does not come here either?" she
returned. "He is not to be seen anywhere, for that matter. He
is interested in some woman, no doubt."
"I used to think that the Marquis de Ronquerolles was one of his
friends----" the Duchess began sweetly.
"I have never heard my brother say that he was acquainted with
Mme de Langeais did not reply. Mme de Serizy concluded from the
Duchess's silence that she might apply the scourge with impunity
to a discreet friendship which she had seen, with bitterness of
soul, for a long time past.
"So you miss that melancholy personage, do you? I have heard
most extraordinary things of him. Wound his feelings, he never
comes back, he forgives nothing; and, if you love him, he keeps
you in chains. To everything that I said of him, one of those
that praise him sky-high would always answer, `He knows how to
love!' People are always telling me that Montriveau would give
up all for his friend; that his is a great nature. Pooh! society
does not want such tremendous natures. Men of that stamp are all
very well at home; let them stay there and leave us to our
pleasant littlenesses. What do you say, Antoinette?"
Woman of the world though she was, the Duchess seemed agitated,
yet she replied in a natural voice that deceived her fair
"I am sorry to miss him. I took a great interest in him, and
promised to myself to be his sincere friend. I like great
natures, dear friend, ridiculous though you may think it. To
give oneself to a fool is a clear confession, is it not, that one
is governed wholly by one's senses?
Mme de Serizy's "preferences" had always been for commonplace
men; her lover at the moment, the Marquis d'Aiglemont, was a
fine, tall man.
After this, the Countess soon took her departure, you may be sure
Mme de Langeais saw hope in Armand's withdrawal from the world;
she wrote to him at once; it was a humble, gentle letter, surely
it would bring him if he loved her still. She sent her footman
with it next day. On the servant's return, she asked whether he
had given the letter to M. de Montriveau himself, and could not
restrain the movement of joy at the affirmative answer. Armand
was in Paris! He stayed alone in his house; he did not go out
into society! So she was loved! All day long she waited for an
answer that never came. Again and again, when impatience grew
unbearable, Antoinette found reasons for his delay. Armand felt
embarrassed; the reply would come by post; but night came, and
she could not deceive herself any longer. It was a dreadful day,
a day of pain grown sweet, of intolerable heart-throbs, a day
when the heart squanders the very forces of life in riot.
Next day she sent for an answer.
"M. le Marquis sent word that he would call on Mme la
Duchesse," reported Julien.
She fled lest her happiness should be seen in her face, and flung
herself on her couch to devour her first sensations.
"He is coming!"
The thought rent her soul. And, in truth, woe unto those for
whom suspense is not the most horrible time of tempest, while it
increases and multiplies the sweetest joys; for they have nothing
in them of that flame which quickens the images of things, giving
to them a second existence, so that we cling as closely to the
pure essence as to its outward and visible manifestation. What
is suspense in love but a constant drawing upon an unfailing
hope?--a submission to the terrible scourging of passion, while
passion is yet happy, and the disenchantment of reality has not
set in. The constant putting forth of strength and longing,
called suspense, is surely, to the human soul, as fragrance to
the flower that breathes it forth. We soon leave the brilliant,
unsatisfying colours of tulips and coreopsis, but we turn again
and again to drink in the sweetness of orange-blossoms or
volkameria-flowers compared separately, each in its own land, to
a betrothed bride, full of love, made fair by the past and
The Duchess learned the joys of this new life of hers through the
rapture with which she received the scourgings of love. As this
change wrought in her, she saw other destinies before her, and a
better meaning in the things of life. As she hurried to her
dressing-room, she understood what studied adornment and the most
minute attention to her toilet mean when these are undertaken for
love's sake and not for vanity. Even now this making ready
helped her to bear the long time of waiting. A relapse of
intense agitation set in when she was dressed; she passed through
nervous paroxysms brought on by the dreadful power which sets the
whole mind in ferment. Perhaps that power is only a disease,
though the pain of it is sweet. The Duchess was dressed and
waiting at two o clock in the afternoon. At half-past eleven
that night M. de Montriveau had not arrived. To try to give an
idea of the anguish endured by a woman who might be said to be
the spoilt child of civilisation, would be to attempt to say how
many imaginings the heart can condense into one thought. As well
endeavour to measure the forces expended by the soul in a sigh
whenever the bell rang; to estimate the drain of life when a
carriage rolled past without stopping, and left her prostrate.
"Can he be playing with me?" she said, as the clocks struck
She grew white; her teeth chattered; she struck her hands
together and leapt up and crossed the boudoir, recollecting as
she did so how often he had come thither without a summons. But
she resigned herself. Had she not seen him grow pale, and start
up under the stinging barbs of irony? Then Mme de Langeais felt
the horror of the woman's appointed lot; a man's is the active
part, a woman must wait passively when she loves. If a woman
goes beyond her beloved, she makes a mistake which few men can
forgive; almost every man would feel that a woman lowers herself
by this piece of angelic flattery. But Armand's was a great
nature; he surely must be one of the very few who can repay such
exceeding love by love that lasts forever.
"Well, I will make the advance," she told herself, as she
tossed on her bed and found no sleep there; "I will go to him.
I will not weary myself with holding out a hand to him, but I
will hold it out. A man of a thousand will see a promise of love
and constancy in every step that a woman takes towards him. Yes,
the angels must come down from heaven to reach men; and I wish to
be an angel for him."
Next day she wrote. It was a billet of the kind in which the
intellects of the ten thousand Sevignes that Paris now can number
particularly excel. And yet only a Duchesse de Langeais, brought
up by Mme la Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, could have written
that delicious note; no other woman could complain without
lowering herself; could spread wings in such a flight without
draggling her pinions in humiliation; rise gracefully in revolt;
scold without giving offence; and pardon without compromising her
Julien went with the note. Julien, like his kind, was the victim
of love's marches and countermarches.
"What did M. de Montriveau reply?" she asked, as indifferently
as she could, when the man came back to report himself.
"M. le Marquis requested me to tell Mme la Duchesse that it was
Oh the dreadful reaction of the soul upon herself! To have her
heart stretched on the rack before curious witnesses; yet not to
utter a sound, to be forced to keep silence! One of the
countless miseries of the rich!
More than three weeks went by. Mme de Langeais wrote again and
again, and no answer came from Montriveau. At last she gave out
that she was ill, to gain a dispensation from attendance on the
Princess and from social duties. She was only at home to her
father the Duc de Navarreins, her aunt the Princesse de
Blamont-Chauvry, the old Vidame de Pamiers (her maternal
great-uncle), and to her husband's uncle, the Duc de Grandlieu.
These persons found no difficulty in believing that the Duchess
was ill, seeing that she grew thinner and paler and more dejected
every day. The vague ardour of love, the smart of wounded pride,
the continual prick of the only scorn that could touch her, the
yearnings towards joys that she craved with a vain continual
longing--all these things told upon her, mind and body; all the
forces of her nature were stimulated to no purpose. She was
paying the arrears of her life of make-believe.
She went out at last to a review. M. de Montriveau was to be
there. For the Duchess, on the balcony of the Tuileries with the
Royal Family, it was one of those festival days that are long
remembered. She looked supremely beautiful in her languor; she
was greeted with admiration in all eyes. It was Montriveau's
presence that made her so fair.
Once or twice they exchanged glances. The General came almost to
her feet in all the glory of that soldier's uniform, which
produces an effect upon the feminine imagination to which the
most prudish will confess. When a woman is very much in love,
and has not seen her lover for two months, such a swift moment
must be something like the phase of a dream when the eyes embrace
a world that stretches away forever. Only women or young men can
imagine the dull, frenzied hunger in the Duchess's eyes. As for
older men, if during the paroxysms of early passion in youth they
had experience of such phenomena of nervous power; at a later day
it is so completely forgotten that they deny the very existence
of the luxuriant ecstasy--the only name that can be given to
these wonderful intuitions. Religious ecstasy is the aberration
of a soul that has shaken off its bonds of flesh; whereas in
amorous ecstasy all the forces of soul and body are embraced and
blended in one. If a woman falls a victim to the tyrannous
frenzy before which Mme de Langeais was forced to bend, she will
take one decisive resolution after another so swiftly that it is
impossible to give account of them. Thought after thought rises
and flits across her brain, as clouds are whirled by the wind
across the grey veil of mist that shuts out the sun. Thenceforth
the facts reveal all. And the facts are these.
The day after the review, Mme de Langeais sent her carriage and
liveried servants to wait at the Marquis de Montriveau's door
from eight o'clock in the morning till three in the afternoon.
Armand lived in the Rue de Tournon, a few steps away from the
Chamber of Peers, and that very day the House was sitting; but
long before the peers returned to their palaces, several people
had recognised the Duchess's carriage and liveries. The first of
these was the Baron de Maulincour. That young officer had met
with disdain from Mme de Langeais and a better reception from Mme
de Serizy; he betook himself at once therefore to his mistress,
and under seal of secrecy told her of this strange freak.
In a moment the news was spread with telegraphic speed through
all the coteries in the Faubourg Saint-Germain; it reached the
Tuileries and the Elysee-Bourbon; it was the sensation of the
day, the matter of all the talk from noon till night. Almost
everywhere the women denied the facts, but in such a manner that
the report was confirmed; the men one and all believed it, and
manifested a most indulgent interest in Mme de Langeais. Some
among them threw the blame on Armand.
"That savage of a Montriveau is a man of bronze," said they;
"he insisted on making this scandal, no doubt."
"Very well, then," others replied, "Mme de Langeais has been
guilty of a most generous piece of imprudence. To renounce the
world and rank, and fortune, and consideration for her lover's
sake, and that in the face of all Paris, is as fine a coup d'etat
for a woman as that barber's knife-thrust, which so affected
Canning in a court of assize. Not one of the women who blame the
Duchess would make a declaration worthy of ancient times. It is
heroic of Mme de Langeais to proclaim herself so frankly. Now
there is nothing left to her but to love Montriveau. There must
be something great about a woman if she says, `I will have but
one passion.' "
"But what is to become of society, monsieur, if you honour vice
in this way without respect for virtue?" asked the Comtesse de
Granville, the attorney-general's wife.
While the Chateau, the Faubourg, and the Chaussee d'Antin were
discussing the shipwreck of aristocratic virtue; while excited
young men rushed about on horseback to make sure that the
carriage was standing in the Rue de Tournon, and the Duchess in
consequence was beyond a doubt in M. de Montriveau's rooms, Mme
de Langeais, with heavy throbbing pulses, was lying hidden away
in her boudoir. And Armand?--he had been out all night, and at
that moment was walking with M. de Marsay in the Gardens of the
Tuileries. The elder members, of Mme de Langeais's family were
engaged in calling upon one another, arranging to read her a
homily and to hold a consultation as to the best way of putting a
stop to the scandal.
At three o'clock, therefore, M. le Duc de Navarreins, the Vidame
de Pamiers, the old Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, and the Duc de
Grandlieu were assembled in Mme la Duchesse de Langeais's
drawing-room. To them, as to all curious enquirers, the servants
said that their mistress was not at home; the Duchess had made no
exceptions to her orders. But these four personages shone
conspicuous in that lofty sphere, of which the revolutions and
hereditary pretensions are solemnly recorded year by year in the
Almanach de Gotha, wherefore without some slight sketch of each
of them this picture of society were incomplete.
The Princesse de Blamont-Chauvry, in the feminine world, was a
most poetic wreck of the reign of Louis Quinze. In her beautiful
prime, so it was said, she had done her part to win for that
monarch his appellation of le Bien-aime. Of her past charms of
feature, little remained save a remarkably prominent slender
nose, curved like a Turkish scimitar, now the principal ornament
of a countenance that put you in mind of an old white glove. Add
a few powdered curls, high-heeled pantoufles, a cap with
upstanding loops of lace, black mittens, and a decided taste for
ombre. But to do full justice to the lady, it must be said that
she appeared in low-necked gowns of an evening (so high an
opinion of her ruins had she), wore long gloves, and raddled her
cheeks with Martin's classic rouge. An appalling amiability in
her wrinkles, a prodigious brightness in the old lady's eyes, a
profound dignity in her whole person, together with the triple
barbed wit of her tongue, and an infallible memory in her head,
made of her a real power in the land. The whole Cabinet des
Chartes was entered in duplicate on the parchment of her brain.
She knew all the genealogies of every noble house in
Europe--princes, dukes, and counts--and could put her hand on the
last descendants of Charlemagne in the direct line. No
usurpation of title could escape the Princesse de
Young men who wished to stand well at Court, ambitious men, and
young married women paid her assiduous homage. Her salon set the
tone of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. The words of this Talleyrand
in petticoats were taken as final decrees. People came to
consult her on questions of etiquette or usages, or to take
lessons in good taste. And, in truth, no other old woman could
put back her snuff-box in her pocket as the Princess could; while
there was a precision and a grace about the movements of her
skirts, when she sat down or crossed her feet, which drove the
finest ladies of the young generation to despair. Her voice had
remained in her head during one-third of her lifetime; but she
could not prevent a descent into the membranes of the nose, which
lent to it a peculiar expressiveness. She still retained a
hundred and fifty thousand livres of her great fortune, for
Napoleon had generously returned her woods to her; so that
personally and in the matter of possessions she was a woman of no
This curious antique, seated in a low chair by the fireside, was
chatting with the Vidame de Pamiers, a contemporary ruin. The
Vidame was a big, tall, and spare man, a seigneur of the old
school, and had been a Commander of the Order of Malta. His neck
had always been so tightly compressed by a strangulation stock,
that his cheeks pouched over it a little, and he held his head
high; to many people this would have given an air of
self-sufficiency, but in the Vidame it was justified by a
Voltairean wit. His wide prominent eyes seemed to see
everything, and as a matter of fact there was not much that they
had not seen. Altogether, his person was a perfect model of
aristocratic outline, slim and slender, supple and agreeable. He
seemed as if he could be pliant or rigid at will, and twist and
bend, or rear his head like a snake.
The Duc de Navarreins was pacing up and down the room with the
Duc de Grandlieu. Both were men of fifty-six or thereabouts, and
still hale; both were short, corpulent, flourishing, somewhat
florid-complexioned men with jaded eyes, and lower lips that had
begun to hang already. But for an exquisite refinement of
accent, an urbane courtesy, and an ease of manner that could
change in a moment to insolence, a superficial observer might
have taken them for a couple of bankers. Any such mistake would
have been impossible, however, if the listener could have heard
them converse, and seen them on their guard with men whom they
feared, vapid and commonplace with their equals, slippery with
the inferiors whom courtiers and statesmen know how to tame by a
tactful word, or to humiliate with an unexpected phrase.
Such were the representatives of the great noblesse that
determined to perish rather than submit to any change. It was a
noblesse that deserved praise and blame in equal measure; a
noblesse that will never be judged impartially until some poet
shall arise to tell how joyfully the nobles obeyed the King
though their heads fell under a Richelieu's axe, and how deeply
they scorned the guillotine of '89 as a foul revenge.
Another noticeable trait in all the four was a thin voice that
agreed peculiarly well with their ideas and bearing. Among
themselves, at any rate, they were on terms of perfect equality.
None of them betrayed any sign of annoyance over the Duchess's
escapade, but all of them had learned at Court to hide their
And here, lest critics should condemn the puerility of the
opening of the forthcoming scene, it is perhaps as well to remind
the reader that Locke, once happening to be in the company of
several great lords, renowned no less for their wit than for
their breeding and political consistency, wickedly amused himself
by taking down their conversation by some shorthand process of
his own; and afterwards, when he read it over to them to see what
they could make of it, they all burst out laughing. And, in
truth, the tinsel jargon which circulates among the upper ranks
in every country yields mighty little gold to the crucible when
washed in the ashes of literature or philosophy. In every rank
of society (some few Parisian salons excepted) the curious
observer finds folly a constant quantity beneath a more or less
transparent varnish. Conversation with any substance in it is a
rare exception, and boeotianism is current coin in every zone.
In the higher regions they must perforce talk more, but to make
up for it they think the less. Thinking is a tiring exercise,
and the rich like their lives to flow by easily and without
effort. It is by comparing the fundamental matter of jests, as
you rise in the social scale from the street-boy to the peer of
France, that the observer arrives at a true comprehension of M.
de Talleyrand's maxim, "The manner is everything"; an elegant
rendering of the legal axiom, "The form is of more consequence
than the matter." In the eyes of the poet the advantage rests
with the lower classes, for they seldom fail to give a certain
character of rude poetry to their thoughts. Perhaps also this
same observation may explain the sterility of the salons, their
emptiness, their shallowness, and the repugnance felt by men of
ability for bartering their ideas for such pitiful small change.
The Duke suddenly stopped as if some bright idea occurred to him,
and remarked to his neighbour--
"So you have sold Tornthon?"
"No, he is ill. I am very much afraid I shall lose him, and I
should be uncommonly sorry. He is a very good hunter. Do you
know how the Duchesse de Marigny is?"
"No. I did not go this morning. I was just going out to call
when you came in to speak about Antoinette. But yesterday she
was very ill indeed; they had given her up, she took the
"Her death will make a change in your cousin's position."
"Not at all. She gave away her property in her lifetime, only
keeping an annuity. She made over the Guebriant estate to her
niece, Mme de Soulanges, subject to a yearly charge."
"It will be a great loss for society. She was a kind woman.
Her family will miss her; her experience and advice carried
weight. Her son Marigny is an amiable man; he has a sharp wit,
he can talk. He is pleasant, very pleasant. Pleasant? oh, that
no one can deny, but--ill regulated to the last degree. Well,
and yet it is an extraordinary thing, he is very acute. He was
dining at the club the other day with that moneyed
Chaussee-d'Antin set. Your uncle (he always goes there for his
game of cards) found him there to his astonishment, and asked if
he was a member. `Yes,' said he, `I don't go into society now; I
am living among the bankers.'--You know why?" added the Marquis,
with a meaning smile.
"No," said the Duke.
"He is smitten with that little Mme Keller, Gondreville's
daughter; she is only lately married, and has a great vogue, they
say, in that set."
"Well, Antoinette does not find time heavy on her hands, it
seems," remarked the Vidame.
"My affection for that little woman has driven me to find a
singular pastime," replied the Princess, as she returned her
snuff-box to her pocket.
"Dear aunt, I am extremely vexed," said the Duke, stopping
short in his walk. "Nobody but one of Buonaparte's men could
ask such an indecorous thing of a woman of fashion. Between
ourselves, Antoinette might have made a better choice."
"The Montriveaus are a very old family and very well connected,
my dear," replied the Princess; "they are related to all the
noblest houses of Burgundy. If the Dulmen branch of the Arschoot
Rivaudoults should come to an end in Galicia, the Montriveaus
would succeed to the Arschoot title and estates. They inherit
through their great-grandfather.
"Are you sure?"
"I know it better than this Montriveau's father did. I told him
about it, I used to see a good deal of him; and, Chevalier of
several orders though he was, he only laughed; he was an
encyclopaedist. But his brother turned the relationship to good
account during the emigration. I have heard it said that his
northern kinsfolk were most kind in every way----"
"Yes, to be sure. The Comte de Montriveau died at St.
Petersburg," said the Vidame. "I met him there. He was a big
man with an incredible passion for oysters."
"However many did he eat?" asked the Duc de Grandlieu.
"Ten dozen every day."
"And did they not disagree with him?"
"Not the least bit in the world."
"Why, that is extraordinary! Had he neither the stone nor gout,
nor any other complaint, in consequence?"
"No; his health was perfectly good, and he died through an
"By accident! Nature prompted him to eat oysters, so probably
he required them; for up to a certain point our predominant
tastes are conditions of our existence."
"I am of your opinion," said the Princess, with a smile.
"Madame, you always put a malicious construction on things,"
returned the Marquis.
"I only want you to understand that these remarks might leave a
wrong impression on a young woman's mind," said she, and
interrupted herself to exclaim, "But this niece, this niece of
"Dear aunt, I still refuse to believe that she can have gone to
M. de Montriveau," said the Duc de Navarreins.
"Bah!" returned the Princess.
"What do you think, Vidame?" asked the Marquis.
"If the Duchess were an artless simpleton, I should think
"But when a woman is in love she becomes an artless simpleton,"
retorted the Princess. "Really, my poor Vidame, you must be
"After all, what is to be done?" asked the Duke.
"If my dear niece is wise," said the Princess, "she will go to
Court this evening--fortunately, today is Monday, and reception
day--and you must see that we all rally round her and give the
lie to this absurd rumour. There are hundreds of ways of
explaining things; and if the Marquis de Montriveau is a
gentleman, he will come to our assistance. We will bring these
children to listen to reason----"
"But, dear aunt, it is not easy to tell M. de Montriveau the
truth to his face. He is one of Buonaparte's pupils, and he has
a position. Why, he is one of the great men of the day; he is
high up in the Guards, and very useful there. He has not a spark
of ambition. He is just the man to say, `Here is my commission,
leave me in peace,' if the King should say a word that he did not
"Then, pray, what are his opinions?"
"Really," sighed the Princess, "the King is, as he always has
been, a Jacobin under the Lilies of France."
"Oh! not quite so bad," said the Vidame.
"Yes; I have known him for a long while. The man that pointed
out the Court to his wife on the occasion of her first state
dinner in public with, `These are our people,' could only be a
black-hearted scoundrel. I can see Monsieur exactly the same as
ever in the King. The bad brother who voted so wrongly in his
department of the Constituent Assembly was sure to compound with
the Liberals and allow them to argue and talk. This
philosophical cant will be just as dangerous now for the younger
brother as it used to be for the elder; this fat man with the
little mind is amusing himself by creating difficulties, and how
his successor is to get out of them I do not know; he holds his
younger brother in abhorrence; he would be glad to think as he
lay dying, `He will not reign very long----' "
"Aunt, he is the King, and I have the honour to be in his
"But does your post take away your right of free speech, my
dear? You come of quite as good a house as the Bourbons. If the
Guises had shown a little more resolution, His Majesty would be a
nobody at this day. It is time I went out of this world, the
noblesse is dead. Yes, it is all over with you, my children,"
she continued, looking as she spoke at the Vidame. "What has my
niece done that the whole town should be talking about her? She
is in the wrong; I disapprove of her conduct, a useless scandal
is a blunder; that is why I still have my doubts about this want
of regard for appearances; I brought her up, and I know
Just at that moment the Duchess came out of her boudoir. She had
recognised her aunt's voice and heard the name of Montriveau.
She was still in her loose morning-gown; and even as she came in,
M. de Grandlieu, looking carelessly out of the window, saw his
niece's carriage driving back along the street. The Duke took
his daughter's face in both hands and kissed her on the forehead.
"So, dear girl," he said, "you do not know what is going on?"
"Has anything extraordinary happened, father dear?"
"Why, all Paris believes that you are with M. de Montriveau."
"My dear Antoinette, you were at home all the time, were you
not?" said the Princess, holding out a hand, which the Duchess
kissed with affectionate respect.
"Yes, dear mother; I was at home all the time. And," she
added, as she turned to greet the Vidame and the Marquis, "I
wished that all Paris should think that I was with M. de
The Duke flung up his hands, struck them together in despair, and
folded his arms.
"Then, cannot you see what will come of this mad freak?" he
asked at last.
But the aged Princess had suddenly risen, and stood looking
steadily at the Duchess, the younger woman flushed, and her eyes
fell. Mme de Chauvry gently drew her closer, and said, "My
little angel, let me kiss you!"
She kissed her niece very affectionately on the forehead, and
continued smiling, while she held her hand in a tight clasp.
"We are not under the Valois now, dear child. You have
compromised your husband and your position. Still, we will
arrange to make everything right."
"But, dear aunt, I do not wish to make it right at all. It is
my wish that all Paris should say that I was with M. de
Montriveau this morning. If you destroy that belief, however ill
grounded it may be, you will do me a singular disservice."
"Do you really wish to ruin yourself, child, and to grieve your
"My family, father, unintentionally condemned me to irreparable
misfortune when they sacrificed me to family considerations. You
may, perhaps, blame me for seeking alleviations, but you will
certainly feel for me."
"After all the endless pains you take to settle your daughters
suitably!" muttered M. de Navarreins, addressing the Vidame.
The Princess shook a stray grain of snuff from her skirts. "My
dear little girl," she said, "be happy, if you can. We are not
talking of troubling your felicity, but of reconciling it with
social usages. We all of us here assembled know that marriage is
a defective institution tempered by love. But when you take a
lover, is there any need to make your bed in the Place du
Carrousel? See now, just be a bit reasonable, and hear what we
have to say."
"I am listening."
"Mme la Duchesse," began the Duc de Grandlieu, "if it were any
part of an uncle's duty to look after his nieces, he ought to
have a position; society would owe him honours and rewards and a
salary, exactly as if he were in the King's service. So I am not
here to talk about my nephew, but of your own interests. Let us
look ahead a little. If you persist in making a scandal--I have
seen the animal before, and I own that I have no great liking for
him--Langeais is stingy enough, and he does not care a rap for
anyone but himself; he will have a separation; he will stick to
your money, and leave you poor, and consequently you will be a
nobody. The income of a hundred thousand livres that you have
just inherited from your maternal great-aunt will go to pay for
his mistresses' amusements. You will be bound and gagged by the
law; you will have to say Amen to all these arrangements.
Suppose M. de Montriveau leaves you----dear me! do not let us put
ourselves in a passion, my dear niece; a man does not leave a
woman while she is young and pretty; still, we have seen so many
pretty women left disconsolate, even among princesses, that you
will permit the supposition, an all but impossible supposition I
quite wish to believe.----Well, suppose that he goes, what will
become of you without a husband? Keep well with your husband as
you take care of your beauty; for beauty, after all, is a woman's
parachute, and a husband also stands between you and worse. I am
supposing that you are happy and loved to the end, and I am
leaving unpleasant or unfortunate events altogether out of the
reckoning. This being so, fortunately or unfortunately, you may
have children. What are they to be? Montriveaus? Very well;
they certainly will not succeed to their father's whole fortune.
You will want to give them all that you have; he will wish to do
the same. Nothing more natural, dear me! And you will find the
law against you. How many times have we seen heirs-at-law
bringing a law-suit to recover the property from illegitimate
children? Every court of law rings with such actions all over
the world. You will create a fidei commissum perhaps; and if the
trustee betrays your confidence, your children have no remedy
against him; and they are ruined. So choose carefully. You see
the perplexities of the position. In every possible way your
children will be sacrificed of necessity to the fancies of your
heart; they will have no recognised status. While they are
little they will be charming; but, Lord! some day they will
reproach you for thinking of no one but your two selves. We old
gentlemen know all about it. Little boys grow up into men, and
men are ungrateful beings. When I was in Germany, did I not hear
young de Horn say, after supper, `If my mother had been an honest
woman, I should be prince-regnant!' `IF?' We have spent our
lives in hearing plebeians say IF. IF brought about the
Revolution. When a man cannot lay the blame on his father or
mother, he holds God responsible for his hard lot. In short,
dear child, we are here to open your eyes. I will say all I have
to say in a few words, on which you had better meditate: A woman
ought never to put her husband in the right."
"Uncle, so long as I cared for nobody, I could calculate; I
looked at interests then, as you do; now, I can only feel."
"But, my dear little girl," remonstrated the Vidame, "life is
simply a complication of interests and feelings; to be happy,
more particularly in your position, one must try to reconcile
one's feelings with one's interests. A grisette may love
according to her fancy, that is intelligible enough, but you have
a pretty fortune, a family, a name and a place at Court, and you
ought not to fling them out of the window. And what have we been
asking you to do to keep them all?--To manoeuvre carefully
instead of falling foul of social conventions. Lord! I shall
very soon be eighty years old, and I cannot recollect, under any
regime, a love worth the price that you are willing to pay for
the love of this lucky young man."
The Duchess silenced the Vidame with a look; if Montriveau could
have seen that glance, he would have forgiven all.
"It would be very effective on the stage," remarked the Duc de
Grandlieu, "but it all amounts to nothing when your jointure and
position and independence is concerned. You are not grateful, my
dear niece. You will not find many families where the relatives
have courage enough to teach the wisdom gained by experience, and
to make rash young heads listen to reason. Renounce your
salvation in two minutes, if it pleases you to damn yourself;
well and good; but reflect well beforehand when it comes to
renouncing your income. I know of no confessor who remits the
pains of poverty. I have a right, I think, to speak in this way
to you; for if you are ruined, I am the one person who can offer
you a refuge. I am almost an uncle to Langeais, and I alone have
a right to put him in the wrong."
The Duc de Navarreins roused himself from painful reflections.
"Since you speak of feeling, my child," he said, "let me
remind you that a woman who bears your name ought to be moved by
sentiments which do not touch ordinary people. Can you wish to
give an advantage to the Liberals, to those Jesuits of
Robespierre's that are doing all they can to vilify the noblesse?
Some things a Navarreins cannot do without failing in duty to his
house. You would not be alone in your dishonour----"
"Come, come!" said the Princess. "Dishonour? Do not make
such a fuss about the journey of an empty carriage, children, and
leave me alone with Antoinette. Ail three of you come and dine
with me. I will undertake to arrange matters suitably. You men
understand nothing; you are beginning to talk sourly already, and
I have no wish to see a quarrel between you and my dear child.
Do me the pleasure to go."
The three gentlemen probably guessed the Princess's intentions;
they took their leave. M. de Navarreins kissed his daughter on
the forehead with, "Come, be good, dear child. It is not too
late yet if you choose."
"Couldn't we find some good fellow in the family to pick a
quarrel with this Montriveau?" said the Vidame, as they went
When the two women were alone, the Princess beckoned her niece to
a little low chair by her side.
"My pearl," said she, "in this world below, I know nothing
worse calumniated than God and the eighteenth century; for as I
look back over my own young days, I do not recollect that a
single duchess trampled the proprieties underfoot as you have
just done. Novelists and scribblers brought the reign of Louis
XV into disrepute. Do not believe them. The du Barry, my dear,
was quite as good as the Widow Scarron, and the more agreeable
woman of the two. In my time a woman could keep her dignity
among her gallantries. Indiscretion was the ruin of us, and the
beginning of all the mischief. The philosophists--the nobodies
whom we admitted into our salons--had no more gratitude or sense
of decency than to make an inventory of our hearts, to traduce us
one and all, and to rail against the age by way of a return for
our kindness. The people are not in a position to judge of
anything whatsoever; they looked at the facts, not at the form.
But the men and women of those times, my heart, were quite as
remarkable as at any other period of the Monarchy. Not one of
your Werthers, none of your notabilities, as they are called,
never a one of your men in yellow kid gloves and trousers that
disguise the poverty of their legs, would cross Europe in the
dress of a travelling hawker to brave the daggers of a Duke of
Modena, and to shut himself up in the dressing-room of the
Regent's daughter at the risk of his life. Not one of your
little consumptive patients with their tortoiseshell eyeglasses
would hide himself in a closet for six weeks, like Lauzun, to
keep up his mistress's courage while she was lying in of her
child. There was more passion in M. de Jaucourt's little finger
than in your whole race of higglers that leave a woman to better
themselves elsewhere! Just tell me where to find the page that
would be cut in pieces and buried under the floorboards for one
kiss on the Konigsmark's gloved finger!
"Really, it would seem today that the roles are exchanged, and
women are expected to show their devotion for men. These modern
gentlemen are worth less, and think more of themselves. Believe
me, my dear, all these adventures that have been made public, and
now are turned against our good Louis XV, were kept quite secret
at first. If it had not been for a pack of poetasters,
scribblers, and moralists, who hung about our waiting-women, and
took down their slanders, our epoch would have appeared in
literature as a well-conducted age. I am justifying the century
and not its fringe. Perhaps a hundred women of quality were
lost; but for every one, the rogues set down ten, like the
gazettes after a battle when they count up the losses of the
beaten side. And in any case I do not know that the Revolution
and the Empire can reproach us; they were coarse, dull,
licentious times. Faugh! it is revolting. Those are the
brothels of French history.
"This preamble, my dear child," she continued after a pause,
"brings me to the thing that I have to say. If you care for
Montriveau, you are quite at liberty to love him at your ease,
and as much as you can. I know by experience that, unless you
are locked up (but locking people up is out of fashion now), you
will do as you please; I should have done the same at your age.
Only, sweetheart, I should not have given up my right to be the
mother of future Ducs de Langeais. So mind appearances. The
Vidame is right. No man is worth a single one of the sacrifices
which we are foolish enough to make for their love. Put yourself
in such a position that you may still be M. de Langeais's wife,
in case you should have the misfortune to repent. When you are
an old woman, you will be very glad to hear mass said at Court,
and not in some provincial convent. Therein lies the whole
question. A single imprudence means an allowance and a wandering
life; it means that you are at the mercy of your lover; it means
that you must put up with insolence from women that are not so
honest, precisely because they have been very vulgarly
sharp-witted. It would be a hundred times better to go to
Montriveau's at night in a cab, and disguised, instead of sending
your carriage in broad daylight. You are a little fool, my dear
child! Your carriage flattered his vanity; your person would
have ensnared his heart. All this that I have said is just and
true; but, for my own part, I do not blame you. You are two
centuries behind the times with your false ideas of greatness.
There, leave us to arrange your affairs, and say that Montriveau
made your servants drunk to gratify his vanity and to compromise
The Duchess rose to her feet with a spring. "In Heaven's name,
aunt, do not slander him!"
The old Princess's eyes flashed.
"Dear child," she said, "I should have liked to spare such of
your illusions as were not fatal. But there must be an end of
all illusions now. You would soften me if I were not so old.
Come, now, do not vex him, or us, or anyone else. I will
undertake to satisfy everybody; but promise me not to permit
yourself a single step henceforth until you have consulted me.
Tell me all, and perhaps I may bring it all right again."
"Aunt, I promise----"
"To tell me everything?"
"Yes, everything. Everything that can be told."
"But, my sweetheart, it is precisely what cannot be told that I
want to know. Let us understand each other thoroughly. Come,
let me put my withered old lips on your beautiful forehead. No;
let me do as I wish. I forbid you to kiss my bones. Old people
have a courtesy of their own. . . . There, take me down to my
carriage," she added, when she had kissed her niece.
"Then may I go to him in disguise, dear aunt?"
"Why--yes. The story can always be denied," said the old
This was the one idea which the Duchess had clearly grasped in
the sermon. When Mme de Chauvry was seated in the corner of her
carriage, Mme de Langeais bade her a graceful adieu and went up
to her room. She was quite happy again.
"My person would have snared his heart; my aunt is right; a man
cannot surely refuse a pretty woman when she understands how to
That evening, at the Elysee-Bourbon, the Duc de Navarreins, M. de
Pamiers, M. de Marsay, M. de Grandlieu, and the Duc de
Maufrigneuse triumphantly refuted the scandals that were
circulating with regard to the Duchesse de Langeais. So many
officers and other persons had seen Montriveau walking in the
Tuileries that morning, that the silly story was set down to
chance, which takes all that is offered. And so, in spite of the
fact that the Duchess's carriage had waited before Montriveau's
door, her character became as clear and as spotless as Mambrino's
sword after Sancho had polished it up.
But, at two o'clock, M. de Ronquerolles passed Montriveau in a
deserted alley, and said with a smile, "She is coming on, is
your Duchess. Go on, keep it up!" he added, and gave a
significant cut of the riding whip to his mare, who sped off like
a bullet down the avenue.
Two days after the fruitless scandal, Mme de Langeais wrote to M.
de Montriveau. That letter, like the preceding ones, remained
unanswered. This time she took her own measures, and bribed M.
de Montriveau's man, Auguste. And so at eight o'clock that
evening she was introduced into Armand's apartment. It was not
the room in which that secret scene had passed; it was entirely
different. The Duchess was told that the General would not be at
home that night. Had he two houses? The man would give no
answer. Mme de Langeais had bought the key of the room, but not
the man's whole loyalty.
When she was left alone she saw her fourteen letters lying on an
old-fashioned stand, all of them uncreased and unopened. He had
not read them. She sank into an easy-chair, and for a while she
lost consciousness. When she came to herself, Auguste was
holding vinegar for her to inhale.
"A carriage; quick!" she ordered.
The carriage came. She hastened downstairs with convulsive
speed, and left orders that no one was to be admitted. For
twenty-four hours she lay in bed, and would have no one near her
but her woman, who brought her a cup of orange-flower water from
time to time. Suzette heard her mistress moan once or twice, and
caught a glimpse of tears in the brilliant eyes, now circled with
The next day, amid despairing tears, Mme de Langeais took her
resolution. Her man of business came for an interview, and no
doubt received instructions of some kind. Afterwards she sent
for the Vidame de Pamiers; and while she waited, she wrote a
letter to M. de Montriveau. The Vidame punctually came towards
two o'clock that afternoon, to find his young cousin looking
white and worn, but resigned; never had her divine loveliness
been more poetic than now in the languor of her agony.
"You owe this assignation to your eighty-four years, dear
cousin," she said. "Ah! do not smile, I beg of you, when an
unhappy woman has reached the lowest depths of wretchedness. You
are a gentleman, and after the adventures of your youth you must
feel some indulgence for women."
"None whatever," said he.
"Everything is in their favour."
"Ah! Well, you are one of the inner family circle; possibly you
will be the last relative, the last friend whose hand I shall
press, so I can ask your good offices. Will you, dear Vidame, do
me a service which I could not ask of my own father, nor of my
uncle Grandlieu, nor of any woman? You cannot fail to
understand. I beg of you to do my bidding, and then to forget
what you have done, whatever may come of it. It is this: Will
you take this letter and go to M. de Montriveau? will you see him
yourself, give it into his hands, and ask him, as you men can ask
things between yourselves--for you have a code of honour between
man and man which you do not use with us, and a different way of
regarding things between yourselves--ask him if he will read this
letter? Not in your presence. Certain feelings men hide from
each other. I give you authority to say, if you think it
necessary to bring him, that it is a question of life or death
for me. If he deigns----"
"DEIGNS!" repeated the Vidame.
"If he deigns to read it," the Duchess continued with dignity,
"say one thing more. You will go to see him about five o'clock,
for I know that he will dine at home today at that time. Very
good. By way of answer he must come to see me. If, three hours
afterwards, by eight o'clock, he does not leave his house, all
will be over. The Duchesse de Langeais will have vanished from
the world. I shall not be dead, dear friend, no, but no human
power will ever find me again on this earth. Come and dine with
me; I shall at least have one friend with me in the last agony.
Yes, dear cousin, tonight will decide my fate; and whatever
happens to me, I pass through an ordeal by fire. There! not a
word. I will hear nothing of the nature of comment or
advice----Let us chat and laugh together," she added, holding
out a hand, which he kissed. "We will be like two grey-headed
philosophers who have learned how to enjoy life to the last
moment. I will look my best; I will be very enchanting for you.
You perhaps will be the last man to set eyes on the Duchesse de
The Vicomte bowed, took the letter, and went without a word. At
five o'clock he returned. His cousin had studied to please him,
and she looked lovely indeed. The room was gay with flowers as
if for a festivity; the dinner was exquisite. For the
grey-headed Vidame the Duchess displayed all the brilliancy of
her wit; she was more charming than she had ever been before. At
first the Vidame tried to look on all these preparations as a
young woman's jest; but now and again the attempted illusion
faded, the spell of his fair cousin's charm was broken. He
detected a shudder caused by some kind of sudden dread, and once
she seemed to listen during a pause.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Hush!" she said.
At seven o'clock the Duchess left him for a few minutes. When
she came back again she was dressed as her maid might have
dressed for a journey. She asked her guest to be her escort,
took his arm, sprang into a hackney coach, and by a quarter to
eight they stood outside M. de Montriveau's door.
Armand meantime had been reading the following letter:--
"MY FRIEND,--I went to your rooms for a few minutes without your
knowledge; I found my letters there, and took them away. This
cannot be indifference, Armand, between us; and hatred would show
itself quite differently. If you love me, make an end of this
cruel play, or you will kill me, and afterwards, learning how
much you were loved, you might be in despair. If I have not
rightly understood you, if you have no feeling towards me but
aversion, which implies both contempt and disgust, then I give up
all hope. A man never recovers from those feelings. You will
have no regrets. Dreadful though that thought may be, it will
comfort me in my long sorrow. Regrets? Oh, my Armand, may I
never know of them; if I thought that I had caused you a single
regret----But, no, I will not tell you what desolation I should
feel. I should be living still, and I could not be your wife; it
would be too late!
"Now that I have given myself wholly to you in thought, to whom
else should I give myself?--to God. The eyes that you loved for
a little while shall never look on another man's face; and may
the glory of God blind them to all besides. I shall never hear
human voices more since I heard yours--so gentle at the first, so
terrible yesterday; for it seems to me that I am still only on
the morrow of your vengeance. And now may the will of God
consume me. Between His wrath and yours, my friend, there will
be nothing left for me but a little space for tears and prayers.
"Perhaps you wonder why I write to you? Ah! do not think ill of
me if I keep a gleam of hope, and give one last sigh to happy
life before I take leave of it forever. I am in a hideous
position. I feel all the inward serenity that comes when a great
resolution has been taken, even while I hear the last growlings
of the storm. When you went out on that terrible adventure which
so drew me to you, Armand, you went from the desert to the oasis
with a good guide to show you the way. Well, I am going out of
the oasis into the desert, and you are a pitiless guide to me.
And yet you only, my friend, can understand how melancholy it is
to look back for the last time on happiness--to you, and you
only, I can make moan without a blush. If you grant my entreaty,
I shall be happy; if you are inexorable, I shall expiate the
wrong that I have done. After all, it is natural, is it not,
that a woman should wish to live, invested with all noble
feelings, in her friend's memory? Oh! my one and only love, let
her to whom you gave life go down into the tomb in the belief
that she is great in your eyes. Your harshness led me to
reflect; and now that I love you so, it seems to me that I am
less guilty than you think. Listen to my justification, I owe it
to you; and you that are all the world to me, owe me at least a
"I have learned by my own anguish all that I made you suffer by
my coquetry; but in those days I was utterly ignorant of love.
YOU know what the torture is, and you mete it out to me! During
those first eight months that you gave me you never roused any
feeling of love in me. Do you ask why this was so, my friend? I
can no more explain it than I can tell you why I love you now.
Oh! certainly it flattered my vanity that I should be the subject
of your passionate talk, and receive those burning glances of
yours; but you left me cold. No, I was not a woman; I had no
conception of womanly devotion and happiness. Who was to blame?
You would have despised me, would you not, if I had given myself
without the impulse of passion? Perhaps it is the highest height
to which we can rise--to give all and receive no joy; perhaps
there is no merit in yielding oneself to bliss that is foreseen
and ardently desired. Alas, my friend, I can say this now; these
thoughts came to me when I played with you; and you seemed to me
so great even then that I would not have you owe the gift to
pity----What is this that I have written?
"I have taken back all my letters; I am flinging them one by one
on the fire; they are burning. You will never know what they
confessed--all the love and the passion and the madness----
"I will say no more, Armand; I will stop. I will not say
another word of my feelings. If my prayers have not echoed from
my soul through yours, I also, woman that I am, decline to owe
your love to your pity. It is my wish to be loved, because you
cannot choose but love me, or else to be left without mercy. If
you refuse to read this letter, it shall be burnt. If, after you
have read it, you do not come to me within three hours, to be
henceforth forever my husband, the one man in the world for me;
then I shall never blush to know that this letter is in your
hands, the pride of my despair will protect my memory from all
insult, and my end shall be worthy of my love. When you see me
no more on earth, albeit I shall still be alive, you yourself
will not think without a shudder of the woman who, in three
hours' time, will live only to overwhelm you with her tenderness;
a woman consumed by a hopeless love, and faithful--not to
memories of past joys--but to a love that was slighted.
"The Duchesse de la Valliere wept for lost happiness and
vanished power; but the Duchesse de Langeais will be happy that
she may weep and be a power for you still. Yes, you will regret
me. I see clearly that I was not of this world, and I thank you
for making it clear to me.
"Farewell; you will never touch MY axe. Yours was the
executioner's axe, mine is God's; yours kills, mine saves. Your
love was but mortal, it could not endure disdain or ridicule;
mine can endure all things without growing weaker, it will last
eternally. Ah! I feel a sombre joy in crushing you that believe
yourself so great; in humbling you with the calm, indulgent smile
of one of the least among the angels that lie at the feet of God,
for to them is given the right and the power to protect and watch
over men in His name. You have but felt fleeting desires, while
the poor nun will shed the light of her ceaseless and ardent
prayer about you, she will shelter you all your life long beneath
the wings of a love that has nothing of earth in it.
"I have a presentiment of your answer; our trysting place shall
be--in heaven. Strength and weakness can both enter there, dear
Armand; the strong and the weak are bound to suffer. This
thought soothes the anguish of my final ordeal. So calm am I
that I should fear that I had ceased to love you if I were not
about to leave the world for your sake.
"Dear Vidame," said the Duchess as they reached Montriveau's
house, "do me the kindness to ask at the door whether he is at
home." The Vidame, obedient after the manner of the eighteenth
century to a woman's wish, got out, and came back to bring his
cousin an affirmative answer that sent a shudder through her.
She grasped his hand tightly in hers, suffered him to kiss her on
either cheek, and begged him to go at once. He must not watch
her movements nor try to protect her. "But the people passing
in the street," he objected.
"No one can fail in respect to me," she said. It was the last
word spoken by the Duchess and the woman of fashion.
The Vidame went. Mme de Langeais wrapped herself about in her
cloak, and stood on the doorstep until the clocks struck eight.
The last stroke died away. The unhappy woman waited ten, fifteen
minutes; to the last she tried to see a fresh humiliation in the
delay, then her faith ebbed. She turned to leave the fatal
"Oh, God!" the cry broke from her in spite of herself; it was
the first word spoken by the Carmelite.
Montriveau and some of his friends were talking together. He
tried to hasten them to a conclusion, but his clock was slow, and
by the time he started out for the Hotel de Langeais the Duchess
was hurrying on foot through the streets of Paris, goaded by the
dull rage in her heart. She reached the Boulevard d'Enfer, and
looked out for the last time through falling tears on the noisy,
smoky city that lay below in a red mist, lighted up by its own
lamps. Then she hailed a cab, and drove away, never to return.
When the Marquis de Montriveau reached the Hotel de Langeais, and
found no trace of his mistress, he thought that he had been
duped. He hurried away at once to the Vidame, and found that
worthy gentleman in the act of slipping on his flowered
dressing-gown, thinking the while of his fair cousin's happiness.
Montriveau gave him one of the terrific glances that produced the
effect of an electric shock on men and women alike.
"Is it possible that you have lent yourself to some cruel hoax,
monsieur?" Montriveau exclaimed. "I have just come from Mme de
Langeais's house; the servants say that she is out."
"Then a great misfortune has happened, no doubt," returned the
Vidame, "and through your fault. I left the Duchess at your
"At a quarter to eight."
"Good evening," returned Montriveau, and he hurried home to ask
the porter whether he had seen a lady standing on the doorstep
"Yes, my Lord Marquis, a handsome woman, who seemed very much
put out. She was crying like a Magdalen, but she never made a
sound, and stood as upright as a post. Then at last she went,
and my wife and I that were watching her while she could not see
us, heard her say, `Oh, God!' so that it went to our hearts,
asking your pardon, to hear her say it."
Montriveau, in spite of all his firmness, turned pale at those
few words. He wrote a few lines to Ronquerolles, sent off the
message at once, and went up to his rooms. Ronquerolles came
just about midnight.
Armand gave him the Duchess's letter to read.
"Well?" asked Ronquerolles.
"She was here at my door at eight o'clock; at a quarter-past
eight she had gone. I have lost her, and I love her. Oh! if my
life were my own, I could blow my brains out."
"Pooh, pooh! Keep cool," said Ronquerolles. "Duchesses do
not fly off like wagtails. She cannot travel faster than three
leagues an hour, and tomorrow we will ride six.--Confound it!
Mme de Langeais is no ordinary woman," he continued. "Tomorrow
we will all of us mount and ride. The police will put us on her
track during the day. She must have a carriage; angels of that
sort have no wings. We shall find her whether she is on the road
or hidden in Paris. There is the semaphore. We can stop her.
You shall be happy. But, my dear fellow, you have made a
blunder, of which men of your energy are very often guilty. They
judge others by themselves, and do not know the point when human
nature gives way if you strain the cords too tightly. Why did
you not say a word to me sooner? I would have told you to be
punctual. Good-bye till tomorrow," he added, as Montriveau said
nothing. "Sleep if you can," he added, with a grasp of the
But the greatest resources which society has ever placed at the
disposal of statesmen, kings, ministers, bankers, or any human
power, in fact, were all exhausted in vain. Neither Montriveau
nor his friends could find any trace of the Duchess. It was
clear that she had entered a convent. Montriveau determined to
search, or to institute a search, for her through every convent
in the world. He must have her, even at the cost of all the
lives in a town. And in justice to this extraordinary man, it
must be said that his frenzied passion awoke to the same ardour
daily and lasted through five years. Only in 1829 did the Duc de
Navarreins hear by chance that his daughter had travelled to
Spain as Lady Julia Hopwood's maid, that she had left her service
at Cadiz, and that Lady Julia never discovered that Mlle Caroline
was the illustrious duchess whose sudden disappearance filled the
minds of the highest society of Paris.
The feelings of the two lovers when they met again on either side
of the grating in the Carmelite convent should now be
comprehended to the full, and the violence of the passion
awakened in either soul will doubtless explain the catastrophe of
In 1823 the Duc de Langeais was dead, and his wife was free.
Antoinette de Navarreins was living, consumed by love, on a ledge
of rock in the Mediterranean; but it was in the Pope's power to
dissolve Sister Theresa's vows. The happiness bought by so much
love might yet bloom for the two lovers. These thoughts sent
Montriveau flying from Cadiz to Marseilles, and from Marseilles
A few months after his return to France, a merchant brig, fitted
out and munitioned for active service, set sail from the port of
Marseilles for Spain. The vessel had been chartered by several
distinguished men, most of them Frenchmen, who, smitten with a
romantic passion for the East, wished to make a journey to those
lands. Montriveau's familiar knowledge of Eastern customs made
him an invaluable travelling companion, and at the entreaty of
the rest he had joined the expedition; the Minister of War
appointed him lieutenant-general, and put him on the Artillery
Commission to facilitate his departure.
Twenty-fours hours later the brig lay to off the north-west shore
of an island within sight of the Spanish coast. She had been
specially chosen for her shallow keel and light mastage, so that
she might lie at anchor in safety half a league away from the
reefs that secure the island from approach in this direction. If
fishing vessels or the people on the island caught sight of the
brig, they were scarcely likely to feel suspicious of her at
once; and besides, it was easy to give a reason for her presence
without delay. Montriveau hoisted the flag of the United States
before they came in sight of the island, and the crew of the
vessel were all American sailors, who spoke nothing but English.
One of M. de Montriveau's companions took the men ashore in the
ship's longboat, and made them so drunk at an inn in the little
town that they could not talk. Then he gave out that the brig
was manned by treasure-seekers, a gang of men whose hobby was
well known in the United States; indeed, some Spanish writer had
written a history of them. The presence of the brig among the
reefs was now sufficiently explained. The owners of the vessel,
according to the self-styled boatswain's mate, were looking for
the wreck of a galleon which foundered thereabouts in 1778 with a
cargo of treasure from Mexico. The people at the inn and the
authorities asked no more questions.
Armand, and the devoted friends who were helping him in his
difficult enterprise, were all from the first of the opinion that
there was no hope of rescuing or carrying off Sister Theresa by
force or stratagem from the side of the little town. Wherefore
these bold spirits, with one accord, determined to take the bull
by the horns. They would make a way to the convent at the most
seemingly inaccessible point; like General Lamarque, at the
storming of Capri, they would conquer Nature. The cliff at the
end of the island, a sheer block of granite, afforded even less
hold than the rock of Capri. So it seemed at least to
Montriveau, who had taken part in that incredible exploit, while
the nuns in his eyes were much more redoubtable than Sir Hudson
Lowe. To raise a hubbub over carrying off the Duchess would
cover them with confusion. They might as well set siege to the
town and convent, like pirates, and leave not a single soul to
tell of their victory. So for them their expedition wore but two
aspects. There should be a conflagration and a feat of arms that
should dismay all Europe, while the motives of the crime remained
unknown; or, on the other hand, a mysterious, aerial descent
which should persuade the nuns that the Devil himself had paid
them a visit. They had decided upon the latter course in the
secret council held before they left Paris, and subsequently
everything had been done to insure the success of an expedition
which promised some real excitement to jaded spirits weary of
Paris and its pleasures.
An extremely light pirogue, made at Marseilles on a Malayan
model, enabled them to cross the reef, until the rocks rose from
out of the water. Then two cables of iron wire were fastened
several feet apart between one rock and another. These wire
ropes slanted upwards and downwards in opposite directions, so
that baskets of iron wire could travel to and fro along them; and
in this manner the rocks were covered with a system of baskets
and wire-cables, not unlike the filaments which a certain species
of spider weaves about a tree. The Chinese, an essentially
imitative people, were the first to take a lesson from the work
of instinct. Fragile as these bridges were, they were always
ready for use; high waves and the caprices of the sea could not
throw them out of working order; the ropes hung just sufficiently
slack, so as to present to the breakers that particular curve
discovered by Cachin, the immortal creator of the harbour at
Cherbourg. Against this cunningly devised line the angry surge
is powerless; the law of that curve was a secret wrested from
Nature by that faculty of observation in which nearly all human
M. de Montriveau's companions were alone on board the vessel, and
out of sight of every human eye. No one from the deck of a
passing vessel could have discovered either the brig hidden among
the reefs, or the men at work among the rocks; they lay below the
ordinary range of the most powerful telescope. Eleven days were
spent in preparation, before the Thirteen, with all their
infernal power, could reach the foot of the cliffs. The body of
the rock rose up straight from the sea to a height of thirty
fathoms. Any attempt to climb the sheer wall of granite seemed
impossible; a mouse might as well try to creep up the slippery
sides of a plain china vase. Still there was a cleft, a straight
line of fissure so fortunately placed that large blocks of wood
could be wedged firmly into it at a distance of about a foot
apart. Into these blocks the daring workers drove iron cramps,
specially made for the purpose, with a broad iron bracket at the
outer end, through which a hole had been drilled. Each bracket
carried a light deal board which corresponded with a notch made
in a pole that reached to the top of the cliffs, and was firmly
planted in the beach at their feet. With ingenuity worthy of
these men who found nothing impossible, one of their number, a
skilled mathematician, had calculated the angle from which the
steps must start; so that from the middle they rose gradually,
like the sticks of a fan, to the top of the cliff, and descended
in the same fashion to its base. That miraculously light, yet
perfectly firm, staircase cost them twenty-two days of toil. A
little tinder and the surf of the sea would destroy all trace of
it forever in a single night. A betrayal of the secret was
impossible; and all search for the violators of the convent was
doomed to failure.
At the top of the rock there was a platform with sheer precipice
on all sides. The Thirteen, reconnoitring the ground with their
glasses from the masthead, made certain that though the ascent
was steep and rough, there would be no difficulty in gaining the
convent garden, where the trees were thick enough for a
hiding-place. After such great efforts they would not risk the
success of their enterprise, and were compelled to wait till the
moon passed out of her last quarter.
For two nights Montriveau, wrapped in his cloak, lay out on the
rock platform. The singing at vespers and matins filled him with
unutterable joy. He stood under the wall to hear the music of
the organ, listening intently for one voice among the rest. But
in spite of the silence, the confused effect of music was all
that reached his ears. In those sweet harmonies defects of
execution are lost; the pure spirit of art comes into direct
communication with the spirit of the hearer, making no demand on
the attention, no strain on the power of listening. Intolerable
memories awoke. All the love within him seemed to break into
blossom again at the breath of that music; he tried to find
auguries of happiness in the air. During the last night he sat
with his eyes fixed upon an ungrated window, for bars were not
needed on the side of the precipice. A light shone there all
through the hours; and that instinct of the heart, which is
sometimes true, and as often false, cried within him, "She is
"She is certainly there! Tomorrow she will be mine," he said
to himself, and joy blended with the slow tinkling of a bell that
began to ring.
Strange unaccountable workings of the heart! The nun, wasted by
yearning love, worn out with tears and fasting, prayer and
vigils; the woman of nine-and-twenty, who had passed through
heavy trials, was loved more passionately than the lighthearted
girl, the woman of four-and-twenty, the sylphide, had ever been.
But is there not, for men of vigorous character, something
attractive in the sublime expression engraven on women's faces by
the impetuous stirrings of thought and misfortunes of no ignoble
kind? Is there not a beauty of suffering which is the most
interesting of all beauty to those men who feel that within them
there is an inexhaustible wealth of tenderness and consoling pity
for a creature so gracious in weakness, so strong with love? It
is the ordinary nature that is attracted by young, smooth,
pink-and-white beauty, or, in one word, by prettiness. In some
faces love awakens amid the wrinkles carved by sorrow and the
ruin made by melancholy; Montriveau could not but feel drawn to
these. For cannot a lover, with the voice of a great longing,
call forth a wholly new creature? a creature athrob with the life
but just begun breaks forth for him alone, from the outward form
that is fair for him, and faded for all the world besides. Does
he not love two women?--One of them, as others see her, is pale
and wan and sad; but the other, the unseen love that his heart
knows, is an angel who understands life through feeling, and is
adorned in all her glory only for love's high festivals.
The General left his post before sunrise, but not before he had
heard voices singing together, sweet voices full of tenderness
sounding faintly from the cell. When he came down to the foot of
the cliffs where his friends were waiting, he told them that
never in his life had he felt such enthralling bliss, and in the
few words there was that unmistakable thrill of repressed strong
feeling, that magnificent utterance which all men respect.
That night eleven of his devoted comrades made the ascent in the
darkness. Each man carried a poniard, a provision of chocolate,
and a set of house-breaking tools. They climbed the outer walls
with scaling-ladders, and crossed the cemetery of the convent.
Montriveau recognised the long, vaulted gallery through which he
went to the parlour, and remembered the windows of the room. His
plans were made and adopted in a moment. They would effect an
entrance through one of the windows in the Carmelite's half of
the parlour, find their way along the corridors, ascertain
whether the sister's names were written on the doors, find Sister
Theresa's cell, surprise her as she slept, and carry her off,
bound and gagged. The programme presented no difficulties to men
who combined boldness and a convict's dexterity with the
knowledge peculiar to men of the world, especially as they would
not scruple to give a stab to ensure silence.
In two hours the bars were sawn through. Three men stood on
guard outside, and two inside the parlour. The rest, barefooted,
took up their posts along the corridor. Young Henri de Marsay,
the most dexterous man among them, disguised by way of precaution
in a Carmelite's robe, exactly like the costume of the convent,
led the way, and Montriveau came immediately behind him. The
clock struck three just as the two men reached the dormitory
cells. They soon saw the position. Everything was perfectly
quiet. With the help of a dark lantern they read the names
luckily written on every door, together with the picture of a
saint or saints and the mystical words which every nun takes as a
kind of motto for the beginning of her new life and the
revelation of her last thought. Montriveau reached Sister
Theresa's door and read the inscription, Sub invocatione sanctae
matris Theresae, and her motto, Adoremus in aeternum. Suddenly
his companion laid a hand on his shoulder. A bright light was
streaming through the chinks of the door. M. de Ronquerolles
came up at that moment.
"All the nuns are in the church," he said; "they are beginning
the Office for the Dead."
"I will stay here," said Montriveau. "Go back into the
parlour, and shut the door at the end of the passage."
He threw open the door and rushed in, preceded by his disguised
companion, who let down the veil over his face.
There before them lay the dead Duchess; her plank bed had been
laid on the floor of the outer room of her cell, between two
lighted candles. Neither Montriveau nor de Marsay spoke a word
or uttered a cry; but they looked into each other's faces. The
General's dumb gesture tried to say, "Let us carry her away!"
"Quickly" shouted Ronquerolles, "the procession of nuns is
leaving the church. You will be caught!"
With magical swiftness of movement, prompted by an intense
desire, the dead woman was carried into the convent parlour,
passed through the window, and lowered from the walls before the
Abbess, followed by the nuns, returned to take up Sister
Theresa's body. The sister left in charge had imprudently left
her post; there were secrets that she longed to know; and so busy
was she ransacking the inner room, that she heard nothing, and
was horrified when she came back to find that the body was gone.
Before the women, in their blank amazement, could think of making
a search, the Duchess had been lowered by a cord to the foot of
the crags, and Montriveau's companions had destroyed all traces
of their work. By nine o'clock that morning there was not a sign
to show that either staircase or wire-cables had ever existed,
and Sister Theresa's body had been taken on board. The brig came
into the port to ship her crew, and sailed that day.
Montriveau, down in the cabin, was left alone with Antoinette de
Navarreins. For some hours it seemed as if her dead face was
transfigured for him by that unearthly beauty which the calm of
death gives to the body before it perishes.
"Look here," said Ronquerolles when Montriveau reappeared on
deck, "THAT was a woman once, now it is nothing. Let us tie a
cannon ball to both feet and throw the body overboard; and if
ever you think of her again, think of her as of some book that
you read as a boy."
"Yes," assented Montriveau, "it is nothing now but a dream."
"That is sensible of you. Now, after this, have passions; but
as for love, a man ought to know how to place it wisely; it is
only a woman's last love that can satisfy a man's first love."