Part 2 out of 6
Paris is still a desert. The largest and most populous city becomes
obscure and insignificant at your feet when you view it from the heights
of an all-absorbing passion. I feel as isolated as if I were on the
South Sea or on the sands of Sahara. Happily our bodies assume
mechanical habits that act instead of the will. Without this precious
faculty of matter my isolation would lead me to a dreamy and stupid
immobility. Thus, in the eyes of strangers, my life is always the same.
They see no change in my manners and appearance; I keep up my
acquaintances and pleasures and seek the society of my friends. I have
not the heart to join a conversation, but leave it to be carried on by
others. My fixed attention and absorbed manner of listening convey the
idea that I am deeply interested in what is being said, and he who
undertakes to relate anything to me is so satisfied with my style of
listening that he prolongs to infinity his monologue. Then my thoughts
take flight and travel around the world; to the seas, archipelagoes,
continents and deserts I have visited. These are the only moments of
relief that I enjoy, for I have the modesty to refrain from thinking of
my love in the presence of others. I still possess enough innocence of
heart to believe that the four letters of this sweetest of all words
would be stamped on my brow in characters of fire, thus betraying a
secret that indifference responds to with pitying smiles or heartless
The thousand memories sown here and there in my peregrinations pass so
vividly before me, that, standing in the bright sunlight, with eyes
open, I dream over again those visions of my sleepless nights in foreign
Thought, ever-rebellious thought, which the most imperious will can
neither check nor guide, begins to wander over the world, thus kindly
granting a truce to the torments of my passions; then it works to suit
my wishes, a complaisance it never shows me when I am alone. I am
indebted for this relief to the officious and loquacious intervention of
the first idler I meet, one whose name I scarcely know, although he
calls me his friend. I always gaze with a feeling of compassionate
benevolence upon the retreating steps of this unfortunate gossip, who
leaves with the idea of having diverted me by his monologue to which my
eyes alone have listened. As a general thing, people whom you meet have
started out with one dominant idea or engrossing subject, and they
imagine that the universe is disposed to attach the same importance to
the matter that they themselves do. These expectations are often
gratified, for the streets are filled by hungry listeners who wander
around with ears outstretched, eager to share any and everybody's
A serious passion reveals to us a world within a world. Thus far, all
that I have seen and heard seems to be full of error; men and things
assume aspects under which I fail to recognise them. It seems as though
I had yesterday been born a second time, and that my first life has left
me nothing but confused recollections, and in this chaos of the past, I
vainly seek for a single rule of conduct for the present. I have dipped
into books written on the passions; I have read every sentence,
aphorism, drama, tragedy and romance written by the sages; I have sought
among the heroes of history and of the stage for the human expression of
a sentiment to which my own experience might respond, and which would
serve me as a guide or consolation.
I am, as it were, in a desert island where nothing betrays the passage
of man, and I am compelled to dwell there without being able to trace
the footsteps of those who have gone before. Yesterday I was present at
the representation of the _Misanthrope_. I said to myself, here is a man
in love; his character is drawn by a master hand, they say; he listens
to sonnets, hums a little song, disputes with a bad author, discourses
at length with his rivals, sustains a philosophical disputation with a
friend, is churlish to the woman he loves, and finally is consoled by
saying he will hide himself from the eyes of the world.
I would erect, at my own expense, a monument to Moliere if Alceste would
make my love take this form.
I have never seen an inventory of the torments of love--some of them
have the most vulgar and some the most innocent names in the world. Some
poet make his love-sick hero say:--
"Un jour, Dieu, par pitie, delivra les enfers
Des tourments que pour vous, madame, j'ai soufferts!"
I thought the poet intended to develop his idea, but unfortunately the
tirade here ends. 'Tis always very vague, cloudy poetry that describes
unknown torments; it seems to be a popular style, however, for all the
poetry of the present day is confined to misty complaints in cloudy
language. No moralist is specific in his sorrows. All lovers cry out in
chorus that they suffer horribly. Each suffering deserves an analysis
and a name. By way of example, my dear Edgar, I will describe one
torment that I am sure you have never known or even heard of, happy
mortal that you are!
The headquarters of this torment is at the office of the Poste-Restante,
on Jean-Jacques-Rousseau street. The lovers in _la Nouvelle Heloise_
never mentioned this place of torture, although they wrote so many
I have opened a correspondence with three of my servants--this
torture, however, is not the one to which I allude. These three men, at
this present moment, are sojourning in the three neighboring towns in
which Mlle. de Chateaudun has acquaintances, relations or friends. One
of these towns is Fontainebleau, where she first went when she left
Paris. I have charged them to be very circumspect in obtaining all the
information they can concerning her movements. Her mysterious retreat
must be in one of these three localities, so I watch them all. I told
them to direct all my letters to the Poste-Restante.
My porter, with the cunning sagacity of his profession, imagines he has
discovered some scandalous romance, because he brings me every day a
letter in the handwriting of my valet. You may imagine the complication
of my torment. I am afraid of my porter, therefore I go myself to the
post-office, that receptacle of all the secrets of Paris.
Usually the waiting-room is full of wretched men, each an epistolary
Tantalus, who, with eyes fixed on the wooden grating, implore the clerk
for a post-marked deception. 'Tis a sad spectacle, and I am sure that
there is a post-office in purgatory, where tortured souls go to inquire
if their deliverance has been signed in heaven.
The clerks in the post-office never seem to be aware of the impatient
murmurs around them. What administrative calmness beams on the fresh
faces of these distributors of consolation and of despair! In the agony
of waiting, minutes lose their mathematical value, and the hands of the
clock become motionless on the dial like impaled serpents. The
operations of the office proceed with a slowness that seems like a
miniature eternity. This anxious crowd stand in single file, forming a
living chain of eager notes of interrogation, and, as fate always
reserves the last link for me, I have to witness the filing-off of these
troubled souls. This office brings men close together, and obliterates
all social distinctions; in default of letters one always receives
lessons of equality gratis.
Here you see handsome young men whose dishevelled locks and pale faces
bear traces of sleepless nights--the Damocles of the Bourse, who feels
the sword of bankruptcy hanging over his head--forsaken sweethearts,
whose hopes wander with beating drums upon African shores--timid women
veiled in black, weeping and mourning for the dead, so as to smile more
effectively upon the living.
If each person were to call out the secret of his letter, the clerks
themselves would veil their faces and forget the postal alphabet. A
painful silence reigns over this scene of anxious waiting; at long
intervals a hoarse voice calls out his Christian name, and woe to its
owner if his ancestors have not bequeathed him a short or easily
The other day I was present at a strange scene caused by the association
of seven syllables. An unhappy-looking wretch went up to the railing and
gave out his name--_Sidoine Tarboriech_--these two words inflicted on us
the following dialogue:--"Is it all one name?" asked the clerk, without
deigning to glance at the unfortunate owner of these syllables. "Two
names," said the man, timidly, as if he were fully aware of the disgrace
inflicted upon him at the baptismal font. "Did you say _Antoine_?" said
the clerk. "Sidoine, Monsieur." "Is it your Christian name?" "'Tis the
name of my godfather, Saint Sidoine, 23 of August." "Ah! there is a
Saint Sidoine, is there? Well, Sidoine ... Sidoine--what else?"
"Tarboriech." "Are you a German?" "From Toulon, opposite the Arsenal."
During this dialogue the rest of the unfortunates broke their chain with
convulsive impatience, and made the floor tremble under the nervous
stamping of their feet. The clerk calmly turned over with his
methodically bent finger, a large bundle of letters, and would
occasionally pause when the postal hieroglyphics effaced an address
under a total eclipse of crests, seals and numbers recklessly heaped on;
for the clerk who posts and endorses the letters takes great pains to
cover the address with a cloud of ink, this little peculiarity all
postmen delight in. But to return to our dialogue: "Excuse me, sir,"
said the clerk, "did you say your name is spelt with _Dar_ or _Tar_?"
"_Tar_, sir, _Tar!_ "--"With a _D?_"--"No, sir, with a _T.,
Tarboriech!_" "We have nothing for you, sir." "Oh, sir, impossible!
there certainly _must_ be a letter for me." "There is no letter, sir;
nothing commencing with T." "Did you look for my Christian name,
Sidoine?" "But, sir, we don't arrange the mail according to Christian
names." "But you know, sir, I am a younger son, and at home I am called
This interesting dialogue was now drowned by the angry complaining of
some young men, who in a state of exasperation stamped up and down the
room jerking out an epigrammatic psalm of lamentations. I'll give you a
few verses of it: "Heavens! some names ought to be suppressed! This is
getting to be intolerable, when a man has the misfortune to be named
_Extasboriech_, he ought _not_ to have his letters sent to the
_Poste_-Restante! If I were afflicted with such a name, I would have the
Keeper of the Seals to change it."
The imperturbable clerk smiled blandly through his little barred window,
and said, "Gentlemen, we must do our duty scrupulously, I only do for
this gentleman what each of you would wish done for yourself under
"Oh, of course!" cried out one young man, who was wildly buttoning and
unbuttoning his coat as if he wanted to fight the subject through; "but
we are not cursed with names so abominable as this man's!"
"Gentlemen," said the clerk, "no offensive personalities, I beg." Then
turning to the miserable culprit, he continued: "Can you tell me, sir,
from what place you expect a letter?" "From Lavalette, monsieur, in the
province of Var." "Very good; and you think that perhaps your Christian
name only is on the address--Sidoine?"
"My cousin always calls me Sidoine."
"His cousin is right," said a sulky voice in the corner.
This, my dear Edgar, is a sample of the non-classified tortures that I
suffer every morning in this den of expiation, before I, the last one of
all, can reach the clerk's sanctuary; once there I assume a careless air
and gay tone of voice as I negligently call out my name. No doubt you
think this a very simple, easy thing to do, but first listen a moment: I
felt the "Star" gradually sinking under me near the Malouine Islands,
the sixty-eighth degree of latitude kept me a prisoner in its sea of ice
at the South Pole; I passed two consecutive days and nights on board the
_Esmerelda_, between fire and inundation; and if I were to extract the
quintessence of the agonies experienced upon these three occasions it
could never equal the intense torture I suffer at the Poste-Restante.
Three seals broken, three letters opened, three overwhelming
disappointments! Nothing! nothing! nothing! Oh miserable synonym of
despair! Oh cruel type of death! Why do you appear before me each day
as if to warn my foolish heart that all hope is dead! Then how dreary
and empty to me is this cold, unfeeling world we move in! I feel
oppressed by the weight of my sorrowful yearning that hourly grows more
unbearable and more hopeless; my lungs seem filled with leaden air, and
all the blood in my heart stands still. In thinking of the time that
must be dragged through till this same hour to-morrow, I feel neither
the strength nor courage to endure it with its intolerable succession of
eternal minutes. How can I bridge over this gulf of twenty-four hours
that divides to-day from to-morrow? How false are all the ancient and
modern allegories, invented to afflict man with the knowledge that his
days are rapidly passing away! How foolish is that wisdom that mourns
over our fugitive years as being nothing but a few short minutes! I
would give all my fortune to be able to write the _Hora Fugit_ of the
poet, and offer for the first time to man these two words as an axiom of
There is nothing absolutely true in all the writings of the sages.
Figures even, in their inexorable and systematic order, have their
errors just as often as do words and apothems. An hour of pain and an
hour of pleasure have no resemblance to each other save on the dial.
_My_ hours are weary years.
You understand then, my dear Edgar, that I write you these long letters,
not to please you, but to relieve my own mind. In writing to you I
divert my attention from painful contemplation, and expatriate my ideas.
A pen is the only instrument capable of killing time when time wishes to
kill us. A pen is the faithless auxiliary of thought; unknown to us it
sometimes penetrates the secret recesses of our hearts, where we
flattered ourselves the horizon of our sorrows was hid from the world.
Thus, if you discover in my letter any symptoms of mournful gayety, you
may know they are purely pen-fancies. I have no connection with them
except that my fingers guide the pen.
Sometimes I determine to abandon Paris and bury myself in some rural
retreat, where lonely meditation may fill my sorrowing heart with the
balm of oblivion; but in charity to myself I wish to avoid the absurdity
of this self-deception. Nothing is more hurtful than trying a useless
remedy, for it destroys your confidence in all other remedies, and fills
your soul with despair. Then, again, Paris is peculiarly fitted for
curing these nameless maladies--'tis the modern Thebais, deserted
because 'tis crowded--silent because 'tis noisy; there, every man can
pitch his tent and nurse his favorite sorrows without being disturbed by
intruders. Solitude is the worst of companions when you wish to drown
the past in Lethe's soothing stream. However, 'tis useless for me to
reason in this apparently absurd way in order to compel myself to remain
in the heart of this great city, for I cannot and must not quit Paris at
present; 'tis the central point of my operations; here I can act with
the greatest efficacy in the combinations of my searches--to leave Paris
is to break the threads of my labyrinth. Besides, my duties as a man of
the world impose cruel tortures upon me; if fate continues to work
against me and I am compelled to retire from the world, the consolation
of having escaped these social tortures will be mine; so you see, after
all, there is a silver lining to my dark cloud. When we cannot attain
good we can mitigate the evil.
Last Thursday Countess L. opened the season with an unusual event--a
betrothment ball. Her select friends were invited to a sort of rehearsal
of the wedding party; her beautiful cousin is to be married to our young
friend Didier, whom we named Scipio Africanus. Marshal Bugeaud has given
him a six-months' leave, and healed his wounded shoulder with a
Now, I know you will agree with me that my presence was necessary at
this ball. I nerved myself for this new agony, and arrived there in the
middle of a quadrille. Never did a comedian, stepping on the stage,
study his manner and assume a gay look with more care than I did as I
entered the room. I glided through the figures of the dance, and reached
the further end of the ball-room which was filled with gossiping
dowagers. Now I began to play my role of a happy man.
Everybody knows I am weak enough to enjoy a ball with all the passion
of a young girl, therefore I willingly joined the dancers. I selected a
sinfully ugly woman, so as to direct my devotions to the antipodes of
beauty--the more unlike Irene the better for me. My partner possessed
that charming wit that generally accompanies ideal ugliness in a woman.
We talked, laughed, danced with foolish gayety--each note of the music
was accompanied by a witticism--we exchanged places and sallies at the
same time--we invented a new style of conversation, very preferable to
the dawdling gossip of a drawing-room. There is an exhilaration
attending a conversation carried on with your feet flying and
accompanied by delightful music; every eye gazed at us; every ear, in
the whirl of the dance, almost touched our lips and caught what we said.
Our gayety seemed contagious, and the whole room smiled approval. My
partner was radiant with joy; the fast moving of her feet, the
excitement of her mind, the exaltation of triumph, the halo of wit had
transfigured this woman; she positively appeared handsome!
For one instant I forgot my despair in the happy thought that I had just
done the noblest deed of my life; I had danced with a wall-flower, whose
only crime was her ugliness, and had changed her misery into bliss by
rendering her all the intoxicating ovations due only to beauty.
But alas! there was a fatal reaction awaiting me. Glancing across the
room I intercepted the tender looks of two lovers, looks of mutual love
that brought me back to my own misery, and made my heart bleed afresh at
the thought that love like this might have been mine! What is more
touchingly beautiful than the sight of a betrothed couple who exist in a
little world of their own, and, ignoring the indifferent crowd around
them, gaze at each other with such a wealth of love and trust in the
future! I brought this image of a promised but lost happiness home with
me. Oh! if I could blame Irene I would console myself by flying in a fit
of legitimate anger! but this resource fails me--I can blame no one but
myself. Irene knows not how dear she is to me, I only half told her of
my love,--I flattered myself that I had a long future in which to prove
my devotion by deeds instead of words. Had she known how deeply I loved
her, she never could have deserted me.
Your unhappy friend,
ROGER DE MONBERT.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
St. Dominique Street (Paris).
Richeport, May 26th 18--.
Dear Roger:--You have understood me. I did not wish to annoy you with
hackneyed condolences or sing with you an elegiac duet; but I have not
the less sympathized with your sorrows; I have even evolved a system out
of them. Were I forsaken, I should deplore the blindness of the
unfortunate creature who could renounce the happiness of possessing me,
and congratulate myself upon getting rid of a heart unworthy of me.
Besides, I have always felt grateful to those benevolent beauties who
take upon themselves the disagreeable task of breaking off an
engagement. At first, there is a slight feeling of wounded self-love,
but as I have for some time concluded that the world contains an
infinity of beings endowed with charms superior to mine, it only lasts a
moment, and if the scratch bleed a little, I consider myself indemnified
by a tirade against woman's bad taste. Since you do not possess this
philosophy, Mlle. de Chateaudun must be found, at any cost; you know my
principles: I have a profound respect for any genuine passion. We will
not discuss the merits or the faults of Irene; you desire her, that
suffices; you shall have her, or I will lose the little Malay I learnt
in Java when I went to see those dancing-girls, whose preference has
such a disastrous effect upon Europeans. Your secret police is about to
be increased by a new spy; I espouse your anger, and place myself
entirely at the service of your wrath. I know some of the relatives of
Mlle. de Chateaudun, who has connections in the neighboring departments,
and in your behalf I have beaten about the chateaux for many miles
around. I have not yet found what I am searching for; but I have
discovered in the dullest houses a number of pretty faces who would ask
nothing better, dear Roger, than to console you, that is if you are not,
like Rachel, refusing to be comforted; for if there be no lack of women
always ready to decoy a successful lover, some can, also, be found
disposed to undertake the cure of a profound despair; these are the
services which the best friends cheerfully render. I will only permit
myself to ask you one question. Are you sure, before abandoning yourself
to the violence of an invisible grief, that Mlle. de Chateaudun has ever
existed? If she exists, she cannot have evaporated! The diamond alone
ascends entire to heaven and disappears, leaving no trace behind. One
cannot abstract himself, in this way, like a quintessence from a
civilized centre; in 18--the suppression of any human being seems to me
impossible. Mademoiselle Irene has been too well brought up to throw
herself into the water like a grisette; if she had done so, the zephyrs
would have borne ashore her cloak or her umbrella; a woman's bonnet,
when it comes from Beaudrand, always floats. Perhaps she wishes to
subject you to some romantic ordeal to see if you are capable of dying
of grief for her; do not gratify her so far. Double your serenity and
coolness, and, if need be, paint like a dowager; it is necessary to
sustain before these affected dames the dignity of the uglier sex of
which we have the honor of forming a part. I approve the position you
have taken. The Pale Faces should bear moral torture with the same
impassiveness with which the Red Skins endure physical torture.
Roaming about in your interests, I had the beginning of an adventure
which I must recount to you. It does not relate to a duchess, I warn
you; I leave those sort of freaks to republicans. In love-making, I
value beauty solely, it is the only aristocracy I look for; pretty women
are baronesses, charming ones countesses; beauties become marchionesses,
and I recognise a queen by her hands and not by her sceptre, by her brow
and not by her crown. Such is my habit. Beyond this I am without
prejudice; I do not disdain princesses provided they are as handsome as
I had a presentiment that Alfred intended paying me a visit, and with
that wonderful acuteness which characterizes me, I said to myself: If he
comes here, hospitality will force me to endure the agony of his
presence as long as he pleases to impose it upon me, a torture forgotten
in Dante's Hell; if I go to see him the situation is reversed. I can
leave under the first indispensable pretext, that will not fail to offer
itself, three days after my arrival, and I thus deprive him of all
motive for invading my wigwam at Richeport. Whereupon I went to Nantes,
where his relatives reside, with whom he is passing the summer.
At the expiration of four hours I suddenly remembered that most urgent
business recalled me to my mother; but what was my anguish, when I saw
my execrable friend accompany me to the railroad station, in a traveling
suit, a cap on his head, a valise under his arm! Happily, he was going
to Havre by way of Rouen, and I was relieved from all fear of invasion.
At this juncture, my dear friend, endeavor to tear yourself away, for a
moment, from the contemplation of your grief, and take some interest in
my story. To so distinguished a person as yourself it has at least the
advantage of beginning in an entirely homely and prosaic manner. I
should never have committed the error of writing you anything
extraordinary; you are surfeited with the incredible; the supernatural
is a twice-told tale; between you and the marvellous secret affinities
exist; miracles hunt you up; you find yourself in conjunction with
phenomena; what never happens has happened to you; and in the world that
you, in every sense, have wandered o'er, no novelty offers itself but
The first time you ever attempted to do anything like other people--to
marry--you failed. Your only talent is for the impossible; therefore, I
hope that my recital, a little after the style of Paul de Kock's
romances, an author admired by great ladies and kitchen girls, will give
you infinite surprise and possess all the attraction and freshness of
There were already two persons in the compartment into which the
conductor hurried us; two women, one old and the other young.
To prevent Alfred from playing the agreeable, I took possession of the
corner fronting the youngest, leaving to my tiresome friend the freezing
perspective of the older woman.
You know I have no fancy for sustaining what is called the honor of
French gallantry--a gallantry which consists in wearying with ill-timed
attention, with remarks upon the rain and the fine weather, interlarded
with a thousand and one stupid rhymes, the women forced by circumstances
to travel alone.
I settled myself in my corner after making a slight bow on perceiving
the presence of women in the car, one of whom evidently merited the
attention of every young commercial traveler and troubadour. I set
myself to examine my vis-a-vis, dividing my attention between
picturesque studies and studies physiognomical.
The result of my picturesque observations was that I never saw so many
poppies before. Probably they were the red sparks from the locomotive
taking root and blooming along the road.
My physiognomical studies were more extended, and, without flattering
myself, I believe Lavater himself would have approved them.
The cowl does not make the friar, but dress makes the woman. I shall
begin by giving you an extremely detailed description of the toilet of
my incognita. This is an accustomed method, which proves that it is a
good one, since everybody makes use of it. My fair unknown wore neither
a bark blanket fastened about her waist, nor rings in her nose, nor
bracelets on her ankles, nor rings on her toes, which must appear
extraordinary to you.
She wore, perhaps, the only costume that your collection lacks, that of
a Parisian grisette. You, who know by heart the name of every article of
a Hottentot's attire, who are strong upon Esquimaux fashions and know
just how many rows of pins a Patagonian of the haut ton wears in her
lower lip, have never thought of sketching such an one.
A well-approved description of a grisette should commence with her foot.
The grisette is the Andalouse of Paris; she possesses the talent of
being able to pass through the mire of Lutetia on tiptoe, like a dancer
who studies her steps, without soiling her white stockings with a single
speck of mud. The manolas of Madrid, the cigaretas of Seville in their
satin slippers are not better shod; mine--pardon the anticipation of
this possessive pronoun--put forward from under the seat an
irreproachable boot and aristocratically turned ankle. If she would give
me that graceful buskin to place in my museum beside the shoe of
Carlotta Grisi, the Princess Houn-Gin's boot and Gracia of Grenada's
slipper, I would fill it with gold or sugar-plums, as she pleased.
As to her dress, I acknowledge, without any feeling of mortification,
that it was of mousseline; but the secret of its making was preserved by
the modiste. It was tight and easy at the same time, a perfect fit
attained by Palmyre in her moments of inspiration; a black silk
mantilla, a little straw bonnet trimmed plainly with ribbon, and a green
gauze veil, half thrown back, completed the adornment, or rather absence
of ornament, of this graceful creature.
Heavens! I had like to have forgotten the gloves! Gloves are the weak
point of a grisette's costume. To be fresh, they must be renewed often,
but they cost the price of two days' work. Hers were, O horror!
imitation Swedish, which truth compels me to value at nineteen
ha'-pennies, or ninety-five centimes, to conform to the new monetary
A worsted work-bag, half filled, was placed beside her. What could it
hold? Some circulating library novel? Do not be uneasy, the bag only
contained a roll and a paper of bonbons from Boissier, dainties which
play an important part in my story.
Now I must draw you an exact sketch of this pretty Parisian's face--for
such she was. A Parisian alone could wear, with such grace, a
I abhor bonnets; nevertheless, on some occasions, I am forced to
acknowledge that they produce quite a pleasing effect. They represent a
kind of queer flower, whose core is formed of a woman's head; a
full-blown rose, which, in the place of stamens and pistils, bears
glances and smiles.
The half-raised veil of my fair unknown only exposed to view a chin of
perfect mould, a little strawberry mouth and half of her nose, perhaps
three-quarters. What pretty, delicately turned nostrils, pink as the
shells of the South Sea! The upper part of the face was bathed in a
transparent, silvery shadow, under which the quiver of the eyelids might
be imagined and the liquid fire of her glance. As to her cheeks--you
must await the succession of events if you desire more ample
description; for the ears of her bonnet, drawn down by the strings,
concealed their contour; what could be seen of them was of a delicate
rose color. Her eyes and hair will form a special paragraph.
Now that you are sufficiently enlightened upon the subject of the
perspective which your friend enjoyed on the cars between Mantes and
Pont-de-l'Arche, I will pass to another exercise, highly recommended in
rhetorical treatises, and describe, by way of a set-off and contrast,
the female monster that served as shadow to this ideal grisette.
This frightful companion appeared very suspicious. Was she the duenna,
the mother or an old relative? At any rate she was very ugly, not
because her head was like a stone mask with spiral eyebrows, and lips
slashed like the fossa of a heraldic dolphin, but vulgarity had stamped
the mask, making its features common, coarse and dull. The habit of
servile compliance had deprived them of all true expression; she
squinted, her smile was vaguely stupid, and she wore an air of spurious
good-nature, indicative of country birth; a dark merino dress, cloak of
sombre hue, a bonnet under which stood out the many ruffles of a rumpled
cap, completed the attire of the creature.
The grisette is a gay, chattering bird, which at fifteen escapes from
the nest never to return; it is not her custom to drag about a mother
after her, this is the special mania of actresses who resort to all
sorts of tricks ignored by the proud and independent grisette. The
grisette seems instinctively to know that the presence of an old woman
about a young one exerts an unhealthy influence. It suggests sorcery and
the witches' vigil; snails seek roses only to spread their slime over
them, and old age only approaches youth from a discreditable motive.
This woman was not the mother of my incognita; so sweet a flower could
not grow upon such a rugged bush. I heard the antique say in the
humblest tone, "Mlle, if you wish, I will put down the blind; the
cinders might hurt you."
Doubtless she was some relative; for a grisette never has a companion,
and duennas pertain exclusively to Spanish infantas.
Was my grisette simply an adventuress, graced by a hired mother to give
her an air of respectability? No, there was the seal of simple honesty
stamped upon her whole person; a care in the details of her simple
toilet, which separated her from that venturous class. A wandering
princess would not show such exactitude in her dress; she would betray
herself by a ragged shawl worn over a new dress, by silk stockings with
boots down at heel, by something ripped and out of order. Besides, the
old woman did not take snuff nor smell of brandy.
I made these observations in less time than it takes to write them,
through Alfred's inexhaustible chatter, who imagines, like many people,
that you are vexed if the conversation flags an instant. Besides,
between you and me, I think he wished to impress these women with an
idea of his importance, for he talked to me of the whole world. I do not
know how it happened, but this whirlwind of words seemed to interest my
incognita, who had all along remained quietly ensconced in her corner.
The few words uttered by her were not at all remarkable; an observation
upon a mass of great black clouds piled up in a corner of the horizon
that threatened a shower; but I was charmed with the fresh and silvery
tone of her voice. The music of the words--it is going to
rain--penetrated my soul like an air from Bellini, and I felt something
stir in my heart, which, well cultivated, might turn into love.
The locomotive soon devoured the distance between Mantos and Pont de
l'Arche. An abominable scraping of iron and twisting of brakes was
heard, and the train stopped. I was terribly alarmed lest the grisette
and her companion should continue their route, but they got out at the
station. O Roger wasn't I a happy dog? While they were employed in
hunting up some parcel, the vehicle which runs between the station and
Pont de l'Arche left, weighed down with trunks and travellers; so that
the two women and myself were compelled, in spite of the weather, to
walk to Pont de l'Arche. Large drops began to sprinkle the dust. One of
those big black clouds which I mentioned opened, and long streams of
rain fell from its gloomy folds like arrows from an overturned quiver.
A moss-covered shed, used to put away farming implements, odd
cart-wheels, performed for us the same service as the classic grotto
which sheltered Eneas and Dido under similar circumstances. The wild
branches of the hawthorn and sweet-briar added to the rusticity of our
My unknown, although visibly annoyed by this delay, resigned herself to
her fate, and watched the rain falling in torrents. O Robinson Crusoe,
how I envied you, at that moment, your famous goat-skin umbrella! how
gracefully would I have offered its shelter to this beauty as far as
Pont de l'Arche, for she was going to Pont de l'Arche, right into the
lion's mouth. Time passed. The vehicle would not return until the next
train was due, that is in five or six hours; I had not told them to come
for me; our situation was most melancholy.
My infanta opened daintily her little bag, took from it a roll and some
bonbons, which she began to eat in the most graceful manner imaginable,
but having breakfasted before leaving Mantes, I was dying of hunger; I
suppose I must have looked covetously at her provisions, for she began
to laugh and offered me half of her pittance, which I accepted. In the
division, I don't know how it happened, but my hand touched hers--she
drew it quickly away, and bestowed upon me a look of such royal disdain
that I said to myself--This young girl is destined for the dramatic
profession,--she plays the Marguerites and the Clytemnestras in the
provinces until she possesses _embonpoint_ enough to appear at Porte
Saint Martin or the Odeon. This vampire is her dresser--everything was
I promised you a paragraph upon her eyes and hair; her eyes were a
changeable gray, sometimes blue, sometimes green, according to the
expression and the light; her chestnut locks were separated in two
glossy braids, half satin, half velvet--many a great lady would have
paid high for such hair.
The shower over, a wild resolution was unanimously taken to set out on
foot for Pont de l'Arche, notwithstanding the mud and the puddles.
Having entered into the good graces of the infanta by speech full of
wisdom and gesture carefully guarded, we set out together, the old woman
following a few steps behind, and the marvellous little boot arrived at
its destination without being soiled the least in the world--grisettes
are perfect partridges--the house of Madame Taverneau, the
post-mistress, where my incognita stopped.
You are a prince of very little penetration, dear Roger, if you have not
divined that you will receive a letter from me every day, and even two,
if I have to send empty envelopes or recopy the Complete Letter Writer.
To whom will I not write? No minister of state will ever have so
extended a correspondence.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel of the Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
PONT DE L'ARCHE, May 29th 18--.
Valentine, this time I rebel, and question your infallibility.
It is useless for you to say to me, "You do not love him." I tell you I
do love him, and intend to marry him. Nevertheless you excite my
admiration in pronouncing against me this very well-turned sentence.
"Genuine and fervid love is not so ingenuous. When you love deeply, you
respect the object of your devotion and are fearful of giving offence by
daring to test him.
"When you love sincerely you are not so venturesome. It is so necessary
for you to trust him, that you treasure up your faith and risk it not in
"Real love is timid, it would rather err than suspect, it buries doubts
instead of nursing them, and very wisely, for love cannot survive
This is a magnificent period, and you should send it to Balzac; he
delights in filling his novels with such very woman-like phrases.
I admit that your ideas are just and true when applied to love alone;
but if this love is to end in marriage, the "test" is no longer
"suspicious trifling," and one has the right to try the constancy of a
character without offending the dignity of love.
Marriage, and especially a marriage of inclination, is so serious a
matter, that we cannot exercise too much prudence and reasonable delay
before taking the final step.
You say, "Love is timid;" well, so is Hymen. One dares not lightly utter
the irrevocable promise, "Thine for life!" these words make us hesitate.
When we wish to be honorable and faithfully keep our oaths, we pause a
little before we utter them.
Now I can hear you exclaim, "You are not in love; if you were, instead
of being frightened by these words, they would reassure you; you would
be quick to say 'Thine for life,' and you could never imagine that there
existed any other man you could love."
I am aware that this gives you weapons to be used against me; I know I
am foolish! but--well, I feel that there is some one somewhere that I
could love more deeply!
This silly idea sometimes makes me pause and question, but it grows
fainter daily, and I now confess that it is folly, childish to cherish
such a fancy. In spite of your opinion, I persist in believing that I am
in love with Roger. And when you know him, you will understand how
natural it is for me to love him.
I would at this very moment be talking to him in Paris but for you!
Don't be astonished, for your advice prevented my returning to Paris
Alas! I asked you for aid, and you add to my anxiety.
I left the hotel de Langeac with a joyful heart. The test will be
favorable, thought I,--and when I have seen Roger in the depths of
despair for a few days, seeking me everywhere, impatiently expecting me,
blaming me a little and regretting me deeply, I will suddenly appear
before him, happy and smiling! I will say, "Roger, you love me; I left
you to think of you from afar, to question my own heart--to try the
strength of your devotion; I now return without fear and with renewed
confidence in myself and in you; never again shall we be separated!"
I intend to frankly confess everything to him; but you say the
confession will be fatal to me. "If you intend to marry M. de Moubert,
for Heaven's sake keep him in ignorance of the motive of your departure;
invent an excuse--be called off to perform a duty--to nurse a sick
friend; choose any story you please, rather than let him suspect you ran
away to experiment upon the degree of his love."
You add, "he loves you devotedly and never will he forgive you for
inflicting on him these unnecessary sufferings; a proud and deserving
love never pardons suspicious and undeserved trials of its faith."
Now what can I do? Invent a falsehood? All falsehoods are stupid! Then I
would have to write it, for I could not undertake to lie to his face.
With strangers and people indifferent to me, I might manage it; but to
look into the face of the man who loves me, who gazes so honestly into
my eyes when I speak to him, who understands every expression of my
countenance, who observes and admires the blush that flushes my cheek,
who is familiar with every modulation of my voice, as a musician with
the tones of his instrument--
Why, it is a moral impossibility to attempt such a thing! A forced
smile, a false tone, would put him on his guard at once; he becomes
At his first question my fine castle of lies vanishes into air, and I
have to fall back on the unvarnished truth.
To gratify you, Valentine, I will lie, but lie at a distance. I feel
that it is necessary to put many stations and provinces between my
native candor and the people I am to deceive.
Why do you scold me so much? You must see that I have not acted
thoughtlessly; my conduct is strange, eccentric and mysterious to no one
To every one else it is perfectly proper. I am supposed to be in the
neighborhood of Fontainebleau, with the Duchess de Langeac, at her
daughter's house; and as the poor girl is very sick and receives no
company, I can disappear for a short time without my absence calling
forth remark, or raising an excitement in the country.
I have told my cousin a part of the truth--she understands my scruples
and doubts. She thinks it very natural that I should wish to consider
the matter over before engaging myself for life; she knows that I am
staying with an old friend, and as I have promised to return home in two
weeks, she is not a bit uneasy about me.
"My child," she said when we parted, "if you decide to marry, I will go
with you to Paris; if not, you shall go with us to enjoy the waters of
Aix." I have discovered that Aix is a good place to learn news of our
friends in Isere. You also reproach me for not having told Roger all my
troubles; for having hidden from him what you flatteringly call "the
most beautiful pages of my life."
O, Valentine! in this matter I am wiser than you, in spite of your
matronly experience and acknowledged wisdom. Doubtless you understand
better than I do, the serious affairs of life, but about the
frivolities, I think I know best, and I tell you that courage in a woman
is not an attraction in the eyes of these latter-day beaux.
Their weak minds, with an affected nicety, prefer a sighing,
supplicating coquette, decked in pretty ribbons, surrounded by luxuries
that are the price of her dignity; one who pours her sorrows into the
lover's ear--yes! I say they prefer such a one to a noble woman who
bravely faces misery with proud resignation, who refuses the favors of
those she despises, and calm, strong, self-reliant, waters with her
tears her hard-earned bread.
Believe me, men are more inclined to love women they can pity than women
they must admire and respect; feminine courage in adversity is to them a
disagreeable picture in an ugly frame; that is to say, a poorly dressed
woman in a poorly furnished room. So you now see why, not wishing to
disgust my future husband, I was careful that he should not see this
Ah! you speak to me of my dear ideal, and you say you love him? Ah! to
him alone could I fearlessly read these beautiful pages of my life. But
let us banish him from our minds; I would forget him!
Once I was very near betraying myself; my cousin and I called on a
Russian lady residing in furnished apartments on Rivoli street.
M. de Monbert was there--as I took a seat near the fire, the Countess R.
handed me a screen--I at once recognised a painting of my own. It
represented Paul and Virginia gardening with Domingo.
How horrible did all three look! Time and dust had curiously altered the
faces of my characters; by an inexplicable phenomenon Virginia and
Domingo had changed complexions; Virginia was a negress, and Domingo was
enfranchised, bleached, he had cast aside the tint of slavery and was a
pure Caucasian. The absurdity of the picture made me laugh, and M. de
Monbert inquired the cause of my merriment. I showed him the screen, and
he said "How very horrible!" and I was about to add "I painted it," when
some one interrupted us, and so prevented the betrayal of my secret.
You will not have to scold me any more; I am going to take your advice
and leave Pont de l'Arche to-day. Oh I how I wish I were in Paris this
minute! I am dreadfully tired of this little place, it is so wearying to
When I was really poor, the modest life I had to lead, the cruel
privations I had to suffer, seemed to me to be noble and dignified.
Misery has its grandeur, and every sorrow has its poetry; but when the
humility of life is voluntary and privations mere caprices, misery loses
all its prestige, and the romantic sufferings we needlessly impose on
ourselves, are intolerable, because there is no courage or merit in
This sentiment I feel must be natural, for my old companion in
misfortune, my good and faithful Blanchard, holds the same views that I
do. You know how devoted she was to me during my long weary days of
She faithfully served me three years with no reward other than the
approval of her own conscience. She, who was so proud of keeping my
mother's house, resembling a stewardess of the olden time; when
misfortune came, converted herself for my sake into maid of all work!
Inspired by love for me, she patiently endured the hardships and
dreariness of our sad situation; not a complaint, not a murmur, not a
reproach. To see her so quietly resigned, you would have supposed that
she had been both chamber-maid and cook all her life, that is if you
never tasted her dishes! I shall always remember her first dinner. O,
the Spartan broth of that day! She must have gotten the receipt from
"The Good Lacedemonian Cook Book."
I confidently swallowed all she put before me. Strange and mysterious
ragout! I dared not ask what was in it, but I vainly sought for the
relics of any animal I had ever seen; what did she make it of? It is a
secret that I fear I shall die without discovering.
Well, this woman, so devoted, so resigned in the days of adversity; this
feminine Caleb, whose generous care assuaged my misery; who, when I
suffered, deemed it her duty to suffer with me; when I worked day and
night, considered it an honor to labor day and night with me--now that
she knows we are restored to our fortune, cannot endure the least
All day long she complains. Every order is received with imprecatory
mutterings, such as "What an idiotic idea! What folly! to be as rich as
Croesus and find amusement in poverty! To come and live in a little hole
with common people and refuse to visit duchesses in their castles!
People must not be surprised if I don't obey orders that I don't
She is stubborn and refractory. She will drive me to despair, so
determined does she seem to thwart all my plans. I tell her to call me
Madame; she persists in calling me Mademoiselle. I told her to bring
simple dresses and country shoes; she has brought nothing but
embroidered muslins, cobweb handkerchiefs and gray silk boots. I
entreated her to put on a simple dress, when she came with me. This made
her desperate, and through vengeance and maliciously exaggerated zeal
she bundled herself up like an old witch. I tried to make her comprehend
that her frightfulness far exceeded my wildest wishes; she thereupon
disarmed me with this sublime reply:
"I had nothing but new hats and new shawls, and so had to _borrow_ these
clothes to obey Mademoiselle's orders."
Would you believe it? The proud old woman has destroyed or hidden all
the old clothes that were witnesses of our past misery. I am more
humble, and have kept everything. When I returned to my little garret, I
was delighted to see again my modest furniture, my pretty pink chintz
curtains, my thin blue carpet, my little ebony shelves, and then all the
precious objects I had saved from the wreck; my father's old
easy-chair, my mother's work-table, and all of our family portraits,
concealed, like proud intruders, in one corner of the room, where
haughty marshals, worthy prelates, coquettish marquises, venerable
abbesses, sprightly pages and gloomy cavaliers all jostled together, and
much astonished to find themselves in such a wretched little room, and
what is worse, shamefully disowned by their unworthy descendant. I love
my garret, and remained there three days before coming here; and there I
left my fine princess dresses and put on my modest travelling suit;
there the elegant Irene once more became the interesting widow of the
imaginary Albert Guerin. We started at nine in the morning. I had the
greatest difficulty in getting ready for the early train, so soon have I
forgotten my old habit of early rising. When I look back and recall how
for three years I arose at dawn, it looks like a wretched dream. I
suppose it is because I have become so lazy.
It is distressing to think that only six months have passed since I was
raised from the depths of poverty, and here I am already spoiled by good
Misfortune is a great master, but like all masters he only is obeyed
when present; we work with him, but when his back is turned forget his
We reached the depot as the train was starting, obtaining comfortable
seats. I met with a most interesting adventure, that is, interesting to
me; how small the world is! I had for a companion an old friend of
Roger, but who fortunately did not know me; it was M. Edgar de Meilhan,
the poet, whose talents I admire, and whose acquaintance I had long
desired; judging from his conversation he must be quite an original
character. But he was accompanied by one of those explanatory gossips
who seem born to serve as cicerones to the entire world, and render
useless all penetrating perspicacity.
These sort of bores are amusing to meet on a journey; rather well
informed, they quote their favorite authors very neatly in order to
display the extent of their information; they also have a happy way of
imposing on the ignorant people, who sit around with wide-stretched
mouths, listening to the string of celebrated names so familiarly
repeated as to indicate a personal intimacy with each and all of them;
in a word, it is a way of making the most of your acquaintance, as your
witty friend M.L. would say. Now I must give you a portrait of this
gentleman; it shall be briefly done.
He was an angular man, with a square forehead, a square nose, a square
mouth, a square chin, a square smile, a square hand, square shoulders,
square gayety, square jokes; that is to say, he is coarse, heavy and
rugged. A coarse mind cultivated often appears smooth and moves easily
in conversation, but a square mind is always awkward and threatening.
Well, this square man evidently "made the most of his acquaintances" for
my benefit, for poor little me, an humble violet met by chance on the
road! He spoke of M. Guizot having mentioned this to him; of M. Thiers,
who dined with him lately, having said that to him; of Prince Max de
Beauvau, whom he bet with at the last Versailles races; of the beautiful
Madame de Magnoncourt, with whom he danced at the English ambassador's
ball; of twenty other distinguished personages with whom he was
intimate, and finally he mentioned Prince Roger de Monbert, the
eccentric tiger-hunter, who for the last two months had been the lion of
Paris. At the name of Roger I became all attention; the square man
"But you, my dear Edgar, were brought up with him, were you not?"
"Yes," said the poet.
"Have you seen him since his return?"
"Not yet, but I hear from him constantly; I had a letter yesterday."
"They say he is engaged to the beautiful heiress, Irene de Chateaudun,
and will be married very soon."
"'Tis an idle rumor," said M. de Meilhan, in a dry tone that forced his
dreadful friend to select another topic of conversation.
Oh, how curious I was to find out what Roger had written to M. de
Meilhan! Roger had a confidant! He had told him about me! What could he
have said? Oh, this dreadful letter! What would I not give to see it! My
sole thought is, how can I obtain it; unconsciously I gazed at M. de
Meilhan, with an uneasy perplexity that must have astonished him and
given him a queer idea of my character.
I was unable to conceal my joy, when I heard him say he lived at
Richeport, and that he intended stopping at Pont de l'Arche, which is
but a short distance from his estate; my satisfaction must have appeared
A dreadful storm detained us two hours in the neighborhood of the depot.
We remained in company under the shed, and watched the falling rain. My
situation was embarrassing; I wished to be agreeable and polite to M. de
Meilhan that I might encourage him to call at Madama Taverneau's, Pont
de l'Arche, and then again I did not wish to be so very gracious and
attentive as to inspire him with too much assurance. It was a difficult
game to play. I must boldly risk making a bad impression, and at the
same time keep him at a respectful distance. Well, I succeeded in
solving the problem within the pale of legitimate curiosity, offering to
share with my companion in misfortune a box of bon-bons, intended for
But what attentions he showered on me before meriting this great
sacrifice! What ingenious umbrellas he improvised for me under this
inhospitable shed, that grudgingly lent us a perfidious and capricious
shelter! What charming seats, skilfully made of sticks and logs driven
into the wet ground!
When the storm was over M. de Meilhan offered to escort us to Pont de
l'Arche; I accepted, much to the astonishment of the severe Blanchard,
who cannot understand the sudden change in my conduct, and begins to
suspect me of being in search of adventures.
When we reached our destination, and Madam Taverneau heard that M. de
Meilhan had been my escort, she was in such a state of excitement that
she could talk of nothing else. M. de Meilhan is highly thought of
here, where his family have resided many years; his mother is venerated,
and he himself beloved by all that know him. He has a moderate fortune;
with it he quietly dispenses charity and daily confers benefits with an
unknown hand. He seems to be very agreeable and witty. I have never met
so brilliant a man, except M. de Monbert. How charming it would be to
hear them talk together!
But that letter! What would I not give for that letter! If I could only
read the first four lines! I would find out what I want to know. These
first lines would tell me if Roger is really sad; if he is to be pitied,
and if it is time for me to console him. I rely a little upon the
indiscretion of M. de Meilhan to enlighten me. Poets are like doctors;
all artists are kindred spirits; they cannot refrain from telling a
romantic love affair any more than a physician can from citing his last
remarkable case; the former never name their friends, the latter never
betray their patients. But when we know beforehand, as I do, the name of
the hero or patient, we soon complete the semi-indiscretion.
So I mercilessly slander all heiresses and capricious women of fashion
that I may incite Roger's confidant to relate me my own history. I
forgot to mention that since my arrival here M. de Meilhan has been
every day to call on Madame Taverneau. She evidently imagines herself
the object of his visits. I am of a different opinion. Indeed, I fear I
have made a conquest of this dark-eyed young poet, which is not at all
flattering to me. This sudden adoration shows that he has not a very
elevated opinion of me. How he will laugh when he recognises this
adventurous widow in the proud wife of his friend!
You reproach me bitterly for having sacrificed you to Madame Taverneau.
Cruel Prefect that you are, go and accuse the government and your
consul-general of this unjust preference.
Can I reach Grenoble in three hours, as I do Rouen? Can I return from
Grenoble to Paris in three hours; fly when I wish, reappear when 'tis
necessary? In a word have you a railway? No! Well, then, trust to my
experience and believe that where locomotion is concerned there is an
end to friendship, gratitude, sympathy and devotion. Nothing is to be
considered but railways, roads, wagons that jolt you to death, but carry
you to your destination, and stages that upset and never arrive.
We cannot visit the friends we love best, but those we can get away from
with the greatest facility.
Besides, for a heroine wishing to hide herself, the asylum you offer has
nothing mysterious, it is merely a Thebais of a prefecture; and there I
am afraid of compromising you.
A Parisian in a provincial town is always standing on a volcano, one
unlucky word may cause destruction.
How difficult it is to be a Prefect! You have commenced very
properly--four children! All that is necessary to begin with. They are
such convenient excuses. To be a good Prefect one must have four
children. They are inexhaustible pretexts for escaping social horrors;
if you wish to decline a compromising invitation, your dear little girl
has got the whooping cough; when you wish to avoid dining a friend _in
transitu_, your eldest son has a dreadful fever; you desire to escape a
banquet unadorned by the presence of the big-wigs--brilliant idea! all
four children have the measles.
Now confess you did well to have the four lovely children! Without them
you would be conquered in spite of your wisdom; it requires so much
skill for a Parisian to live officially in a province!
There all the women are clever; the most insignificant citizen's wife
can outwit an old diplomat. What science they display under the most
trying and peculiar circumstances! What profound combination in their
plans of vengeance! What prudence in their malice! What patience in
their cruelty! It is dreadful! I will visit you when you reside in the
country, but while you reign over a prefecture, I have for you the
respectful horror that a democratic mind has for all authorities.
Who is this poor convalescent whose wound caused you so much anxiety?
You don't tell me his name! I understand you, Madame! Even to an old
friend you must show your administrative discretion!
Is this wounded hero young? I suppose he is, as you do not say he is
old. He is "about to leave, and return to his home;" "his home" is
rather vague, as you don't tell me his name! Now, I am different from
you; I name and fully describe every one I meet, you respond with
I well know that your destiny is fulfilled, and that mine has all the
attractiveness of a new romance. Nevertheless, you must be more
communicative if you expect to be continued in office as my confidant.
Embrace for me your dear little ones, whom I insist upon regarding as
your best counsellors at the prefecture, and tell my goddaughter, Irene,
to kiss you for me.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
Saint Dominique street, Paris.
RICHEPORT, May 31st, 18--.
Now that you are a sort of Amadis de Gaul, striking attitudes upon a
barren rock, as a sign of your lovelorn condition, you have probably
forgotten, my dear Roger, my encounter upon the cars with an ideal
grisette, who saved me from the horrors of starvation by generously
dividing with me a bag of sugar-plums. But for this unlooked-for aid, I
should have been reduced, like a famous handful of shipwrecked mariners,
to feed upon my watch-chain and vest-buttons. To a man so absorbed in
his grief, as you are, the news of the death from starvation of a friend
upon the desert island of a railway station, would make very little
impression; but I not being in love with any Irene de Chateaudun, have
preserved a pleasant recollection of this touching scene, translated
from the AEneid in modern and familiar prose.
I wrote immediately,--for my beauty, of an infinitely less exalted rank
than yours, lodges with the post-mistress,--several fabulous letters to
problematic people, in countries which do not exist, and are only
designated upon the map by a dash.
Madame Taverneau has conceived a profound respect for a young man who
has correspondents in unknown lands, barely sighted in 1821 at the
Antarctic pole, and in 1819 at the Arctic pole, so she invited me to a
little soiree musicale et dansante, of which I was to be the bright
particular star. An invitation to an exclusive ball, given at an
inaccessible house, never gave a woman with a doubtful past or an
uncertain position, half the pleasure that I felt from the entangled
sentences of Madame Taverneau in which she did not dare to hope, but
would be happy if--.
Apart from the happiness of seeing Madame Louise Guerin (my charmer's
name), I looked forward to an entirely new recreation, that of studying
the manners of the middle class in their intimate relations with each
other. I have lived with the aristocracy and with the canaille; in the
highest and lowest conditions of life are found entire absence of
pretension; in the highest, because their position is assured; in the
lowest, because it is simply impossible to alter it. None but poets are
really unhappy because they cannot climb to the stars. A half-way
position is the most false.
I thought I would go early to have some talk with Louise, but the circle
was already completed when I arrived; everybody had come first.
The guests were assembled in a large, gloomy room, gloriously called a
drawing-room, where the servant never enters without first taking off
her shoes at the door, like a Turk in a mosque, and which is only opened
on the most solemn occasions. As it is doubtful whether you have ever
set foot in a like establishment, I will give you, in imitation of the
most profound of our novel-writers (which one? you will say; they are
all profound now-a-days), a detailed description of Madame Taverneau's
Two windows, hung in red calico, held up by some black ornaments, a
complication of sticks, pegs and all sorts of implements on stamped
copper, gave light to this sanctuary, which commanded through them an
animated look-out--in the language of the commonalty--upon the
scorching, noisy highway, bordered by sickly elms sprinkled with dust,
from the constant passage of vehicles which shake the house to its
centre; wagons loaded with noisy iron, and droves of hogs, squeaking
under the drover's whip.
The floor was painted red and polished painfully bright, reminding one
of a wine-merchant's sign freshly varnished; the walls were concealed
under frightful velvet paper which so religiously catches the fluff and
dust. The mahogany furniture stood round the room, a reproach against
the discovery of America, covered with sanguinary cloth stamped in black
with subjects taken from Fontaine's fables. When I say subjects I
basely flatter the sumptuous taste of Madame Taverneau; it was the same
subject indefinitely repeated--the Fox and the Stork. How luxurious it
was to sit upon a stork's beak! In front of each chair was spread a
piece of carpet, to protect the splendor of the floor, so that the
guests when seated bore a vague resemblance to the bottles and decanters
set round the plated centrepiece of a banquet given to a deputy by his
An atrocious troubadour clock ornamented the mantel-piece representing
the templar Bois-Guilbert bearing off a gilded Rebecca upon a silver
horse. On either side of this frightful time-piece were placed two
plated lamps under globes.
This magnificence filled with secret envy more than one housekeeper of
Pont de l'Arche, and even the maid trembled as she dusted. We will not
speak of the spun-glass poodles, little sugar St. Johns, chocolate
Napoleons, a cabinet filled with common china, occupying a conspicuous
place, engravings representing the Adieux to Fontainebleau, Souvenirs
and Regrets, The Fisherman's Family, The Little Poachers, and other
hackneyed subjects. Can you imagine anything like it? For my part, I
never could understand this love for the common-place and the hideous. I
know that every one does not dwell in Alhambras, Louvres, or Parthenons,
but it is so easy to do without a clock to leave the walls bare, to
exist without Manrin's lithographs or Jazet's aquatints!
The people filling the room, seemed to me, in point of vulgarity, the
queerest in the world; their manner of speaking was marvellous,
imitating the florid style of the defunct Prudhomme, the pupil of Brard
and St. Omer. Their heads spread out over their white cravats and
immense shirt collars recalled to mind certain specimens of the gourd
tribe. Some even resemble animals, the lion, the horse, the ass; these,
all things considered, had a vegetable rather than an animal look. Of
the women I will say nothing, having resolved never to ridicule that
Among these human vegetables, Louise appeared like a rose in a cabbage
patch. She wore a simple white dress fastened at the waist by a blue
ribbon; her hair arranged in bandeaux encircled her pure brow and wound
in massive coils about her head. A Quakeress could have found no fault
with this costume, which placed in grotesque and ridiculous contrast the
hearselike trappings of the other women. It was impossible to be dressed
in better taste. I was afraid lest my Infanta should seize this
opportunity to display some marvellous toilette purchased expressly for
the occasion. That plain muslin gown which never saw India, and was
probably made by herself, touched and fascinated me. Dress has very
little weight with me. I once admired a Granada gypsy whose sole costume
consisted of blue slippers and a necklace of amber beads; but nothing
annoys me more than a badly made dress of an unbecoming shade.
The provincial dandies much preferring the rubicund gossips, with their
short necks covered with gold chains, to Madame Taverneau's young and
slender guest, I was free to talk with her under cover of Louisa
Pugett's ballads and sonatas executed by infant phenomena upon a cracked
piano hired from Rouen for the occasion.
Louisa's wit was charming. How mistaken it is to educate instinct out of
women! To replace nature by a school-mistress! She committed none of
those terrible mistakes which shock one; it was evident that she formed
her sentences herself instead of repeating formulae committed to memory.
She had either never read a novel or had forgotten it, and unless she is
a wonderful actress she remains as the great fashioner, Nature, made
her--a perfect woman. We remained a greater part of the evening seated
together in a corner like beings of another race. Profiting by the great
interest betrayed by the company in one of those _soi-disant_ innocent
games where a great deal of kissing is done, the fair girl, doubtless
fearing a rude salute on her delicate cheek, led me into her room, which
adjoins the parlor and opens into the garden by a glass door.
On a table in the room, feebly lighted by a lamp which Louisa modestly
turned up, were scattered pell-mell, screens, boxes from Spa, alabaster
paper-weights and other details of the art of illuminating, which
profession my beauty practises; and which explains her occasional
aristocratic airs, unbecoming an humble seamstress. A bouquet just
commenced showed talent; with some lessons from St. Jean or Diaz she
would easily make a good flower painter. I told her so. She received my
encomiums as a matter of course, evincing none of that mock-modesty
which I particularly detest.
She showed me a bizarre little chest that she was making, which at
first-sight seemed to be carved out of coral; it was constructed out of
the wax-seals cut from old letters pasted together. This new mosaic was
very simple, and yet remarkably pretty. She asked me to give her, in
order to finish her box, all the striking seals I possessed, emblazoned
in figures and devices. I gave her five or six letters that I had in my
pocket, from which she dexterously cut the seals with her little
scissors. While she was thus engaged I strolled about the garden--a
Machiavellian manoeuvre, for, in order to return me my letters, she must
come in search of me.
The gardens of Madame Taverneau are not the gardens of Armida; but it is
not in the power of the commonalty to spoil entirely the work of God's
hands; trees, by the moonbeams of a summer-night, although only a few
steps from red-cotton curtains and a sanhedrim of merry tradespeople,
are still trees. In a corner of the garden stood a large acacia tree, in
full bloom, waving its yellow hair in the soft night-breeze, and
mingling its perfume with that of the flowers of the marsh iris, poised
like azure butterflies upon their long green stems.
The porch was flooded with silver light, and when Louise, having secured
her seals, appeared upon the threshold, her pure and elegant form stood
out against the dark background of the room like an alabaster statuette.
Her step, as she advanced towards me, was undulating and rhythmical like
a Greek strophe. I took my letters, and we strolled along the path
towards an arbor.
So glad was I to get away from the templar Bois-Guilbert carrying off
Rebecca, and the plated lamps, that I developed an eloquence at once
persuasive and surprising. Louise seemed much agitated; I could almost
see the beatings of her heart--the accents of her pure voice were
troubled--she spoke as one just awakened from a dream. Tell me, are not
these the symptoms, wherever you have travelled, of a budding love?
I took her hand; it was moist and cool, soft as the pulp of a magnolia
flower,--and I thought I felt her fingers faintly return my pressure.
I am delighted that this scene occurred by moonlight and under the
acacia's perfumed branches, for I affect poetical surroundings for my
love scenes. It would be disagreeable to recall a lovely face relieved
against wall-paper covered with yellow scrolls; or a declaration of love
accompanied, in the distance, by the Grace de Dieu; my first significant
interview with Louise will be associated in my thoughts with moonbeams,
the odor of the iris and the song of the cricket in the summer grass.
You, no doubt, pronounce me, dear Roger, a pitiable Don Juan, a
common-place Amilcar, for not profiting by the occasion. A young man
strolling at night in a garden with a screen painter ought at least to
have stolen a kiss! At the risk of appearing ridiculous, I did nothing
of the kind. I love Louise, and besides she has at times such an air of
hauteur, of majestic disdain that the boldest commercial traveller
steeped to the lips in Pigault-Lebrun, a sub-lieutenant wild with
absinthe would not venture such a caress--she would almost make one
believe in virtue, if such a thing were possible. Frankly, I am afraid
that I am in earnest this time. Order me a dove-colored vest,
apple-green trowsers, a pouch, a crook, in short the entire outfit of a
Lignon shepherd. I shall have a lamb washed to complete the pastoral.
How I reached the chateau, whether walking or flying, I cannot tell.
Happy as a king, proud as a god, for a new love was born in my heart.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel de la Prefecture, GRENOBLE (Isere).
PARIS, June 2d 18--.
It is five o'clock, I have just come from Pont de l'Arche, and I am
going to the Odeon, which is three miles from here; it seems to me that
the Odeon is three miles from every spot in Paris, for no matter where
you live, you are never near the Odeon!
Madame Taverneau is delighted at the prospect of treating a poor,
obscure, unsophisticated widow like myself to an evening at the theatre!
She has a box that she obtained, by some stratagem, the hour we got
here. She seemed so hurt and disappointed when I refused to accompany
her, that I was finally compelled to yield to her entreaties. The good
woman has for me a restless, troublesome affection that touches me
deeply. A vague instinct tells her that fate will lead us through
different paths in life, and in spite of herself, without being able to
explain why, she watches me as if she knew I might escape from her at
She insisted upon escorting me to Paris, although she had nothing to
call her there, and her father, who is still my garret neighbor, did not
expect her. She relies upon taking me back to Pont de l'Arche, and I
have not the courage to undeceive her; I also dread the moment when I
will have to tell her my real name, for she will weep as if she were
hearing my requiem. Tell me, what can I do to benefit her and her
husband; if they had a child I would present it with a handsome dowry,
because parents gratefully receive money for their children, when they
would proudly refuse it for themselves.
To confer a favor without letting it appear as one, requires more
consideration, caution and diplomacy than I am prepared to devote to
the subject, so you must come to my relief and decide upon some plan.
I first thought of making M. Taverneau manager of one of my estates--now
that I have estates to be managed; but he is stupid ... and alas, what a
manager he would make! He would eat the hay instead of selling it; so I
had to relinquish that idea, and as he is unfit for anything else, I
will get him an office; the government alone possesses the art of
utilizing fools. Tell me what office I can ask for that will be very
remunerative to him--consult M. de Braimes; a Prefect ought to know how
to manage such a case; ask him what is the best way of assisting a
protege who is a great fool? Let me know at once what he says.
I don't wish to speak of the subject to Roger, because it would be
revealing the past. Poor Roger, how unhappy he must be! I long so to see
him, and by great kindness make amends for my cruelty.
I told you of all the stratagems I had to resort to in order to find out
what Roger had written to M. de Meilhan about his sorrows; well, thanks
to my little sealing-wax boxes, I have seen Roger's letter! Yesterday
evening, M. de Meilhan brought me some new seals, and among the letters
he handed me was one from Roger! Imagine my feelings! I was so
frightened when I had the letter in my hand that I dared not read it;
not because I was too honorable, but too prudish; I dreaded being
embarrassed by reading facts stated in that free and easy style peculiar
to young men when writing to each other. The only concession I could
obtain from my delicacy was to glance at the three last lines: "I am not
angry with her, I am only vexed with myself," wrote the poor forsaken
man. "I never told her how much I loved her; if she had known it, never
would she have had the courage to desert me."
This simple honest sorrow affected me deeply; not wishing to read any
more, I went into the garden to return M. de Meilhan his letters, and
was glad it was too dark for him to perceive my paleness and agitation.
I at once decided to return to Paris, for I find that in spite of all
my fine programmes of cruelty, I am naturally tender-hearted and
distressed to death at the idea of making any one unhappy. I armed
myself with insensibility, and here I am already conquered by the first
groans of my victim. I would make but an indifferent tyrant, and if all
the suspicious queens and jealous empresses like Elizabeth, Catharine
and Christina had no more cruelty in their dispositions than I have, the
world would have been deprived of some of its finest tragedies.
You may congratulate yourself upon having mitigated the severity of my
decrees, for it is my anxiety to please you that has made me so suddenly
change all my plans of tests and trials. You say it is undignified to
act as a spy upon Roger, to conceal myself in Paris where he is
anxiously seeking and waiting for me; that this ridiculous play has an
air of intrigue, and had better be stopped at once or it may result
dangerously ... I am resigned--I renounce the sensible idea of testing
my future husband ... but be warned! If in the future I am tortured by
discovering any glaring defects and odious peculiarities, that what you
call my indiscretion might have revealed before it was too late, you
will permit me to come and complain to you every day, and you must
promise to listen to my endless lamentations as I repeat over and over
again. O Valentine, I have learned too late what I might have known in
time to save me! Valentine, I am miserable and disappointed--console me!
Doubtless to a young girl reared like yourself in affluence under your
mother's eye, this strange conduct appears culpable and indelicate; but
remember, that with me it is the natural result of the sad life I have
led for the last three years; this disguise, that I reassume from fancy,
was then worn from necessity, and I have earned the right of borrowing
it a little while longer from misfortune to assist me in guarding
against new sorrows. Am I not justified in wishing to profit by
experience too dearly bought? Is it not just that I should demand from
the sad past some guarantees for a brighter future, and make my bitter
sorrows the stepping-stones to a happy life? But, as I intend to follow
your advice, I'll do it gracefully without again alluding to my
To-morrow I return to Fontainebleau. I stayed there five days when I
went back with Madame Langeac; I only intended to remain a few minutes,
but my cousin was so uneasy at finding her daughter worse, that I did
not like to leave before the doctor pronounced her better. This illness
will assist me greatly in the fictions I am going to write Roger from
Fontainebleau to-morrow. I will tell him we were obliged to leave
suddenly, without having time to bid him adieu, to go and nurse a sick
relative; that she is better now, and Madame de Langeac and I will
return to Paris next week. In three days I shall return, and no one will
ever know I have been to Pont de l'Arche, except M. de Meilhan, who will
doubtless soon forget all about it; besides, he intends remaining in
Normandy till the end of the year, so there is no risk of our meeting.
Oh! I must tell you about the amusing evening M. de Meilhan and I spent
together at Madame Taverneau's. How we did laugh over it! He was king of
the feast, although he would not acknowledge it. Madame Taverneau was so
proud of entertaining the young lord of the village, that she had rushed
into the most reckless extravagance to do him honor. She had thrown the
whole town in a state of excitement by sending to Rouen for a piano. But
the grand event of the evening was a clock. Yet I must confess that the
effect was quite different from what she expected--it was a complete
failure. We usually sit in the dining-room, but for this grand occasion
the parlor was opened. On the mantel-piece in this splendid room there
is a clock adorned by a dreadful bronze horse running away with a fierce
warrior and some unheard-of Turkish female. I never saw anything so
hideous; it is even worse than your frightful clock with Columbus
discovering America! Madame Taverneau thought that M. de Meilhan, being
a poet and an artist, would compliment her upon possessing so rare and
valuable a work of art. Fortunately he said nothing--he even refrained
from smiling; this showed his great generosity and delicacy, for it is
only a man of refinement and delicacy that respects one's
illusions--especially when they are illusions in imitation bronze!
Upon my arrival here this morning, I was pained to hear that the trees
in front of my window are to be cut down; this news ought not to disturb
me in the least, as I never expect to return to this house again, yet it
makes me very sad; these old trees are so beautiful, and I have thought
so many things as I would sit and watch their long branches waving in
the summer breeze!...and the little light that shone like a star through
their thick foliage! shall I never see it again? It disappeared a year
ago, and I used to hope it would suddenly shine again. I thought: It is
absent, but will soon return to cheer my solitude. Sometimes I would
say: "Perhaps my ideal dwells in that little garret!" O foolish idea!
Vain hope! I must renounce all this poetry of youth; serious age creeps
on with his imposing escort of austere duties; he dispels the charming
fancies that console us in our sorrows; he extinguishes the bright
lights that guide us through darkness--drives away the beloved
ideal--spreads a cloud over the cherished star, and harshly cries out:
"Be reasonable!" which means: No longer hope to be happy.
Ah! Madame Taverneau calls me; she is in a hurry to start for the Odeon;
it is very early, and I don't wish to go until the last moment. I have
sent to the Hotel de Langeac for my letters, and must wait to glance
over them--they might contain news about Roger.
I have just caught a glimpse of the two ladies Madame Taverneau invited
to accompany us to the theatre.... I see a wine-colored bonnet trimmed
with green ribbons--it is horrible to look upon! Heavens--there comes
another! more intolerable than the first one! bright yellow adorned with
blue feathers!... Mercy! what a face within the bonnet! and what a
figure beneath the face! She has something glistening in her hand ... it
is ... a ... would you believe it? a travelling-bag covered with steel
beads!... she intends taking it to the theatre!... do my eyes deceive
me? _can_ she be filling it with oranges to carry with her?... she dare
not disgrace us by eating oranges.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
Saint Dominique Street, Paris.
RICHEPORT, June 3d, 18--
It seems, my dear Roger, that we are engaged in a game of interrupted
addresses. For my Louise Guerin, like your Irene de Chateaudun, has gone
I know not where, leaving me to struggle, in this land of apple trees,
with an incipient passion which she has planted in my breast. Flight has
this year become an epidemic among women.
The day after that famous soiree, I went to the post-office ostensibly
to carry the letter containing those triumphant details, but in reality
to see Louise, for any servant possessed sufficient intelligence to
acquit himself of such a commission. Imagine my surprise and
disappointment at finding instead of Madame Taverneau a strange face,
who gruffly announced that the post-mistress had gone away for a few
days with Madame Louise Guerin. The dove had flown, leaving to mark its
passage a few white feathers in its mossy nest, a faint perfume of grace
in this common-place mansion!
I could have questioned Madame Taverneau's fat substitute, but I am
principled against asking questions; things are explained soon enough.
Disenchantment is the key to all things. When I like a woman I carefully
avoid all her acquaintance, any one who can tell me aught about her. The
sound of her name pronounced by careless lips, puts me to flight; the
letters that she receives might be given me open and I should throw
them, unread, into the fire. If in speaking she makes any allusion to
the past events of her life, I change the conversation; I tremble when
she begins a recital, lest some disillusionizing incident should escape
her which would destroy the impression I had formed of her. As
studiously as others hunt after secrets I avoid them; if I have ever
learned anything of a woman I loved, it has always been in spite of my
earnest efforts, and what I have known I have carefully endeavored to
Such is my system. I said nothing to the fat woman, but entered Louise's
Everything was as she had left it.
A bunch of wild flowers, used as a model, had not had time to fade; an
unfinished bouquet rested on the easel, as if awaiting the last touches
of the pencil. Nothing betokened a final departure. One would have said
that Louise might enter at any moment. A little black mitten lay upon a
chair; I picked it up--and would have pressed it to my lips, if such an
action had not been deplorably rococo.
Then I threw myself into an old arm-chair, by the side of the bed--like
Faust in Marguerite's room--lifting the curtains with as much precaution
as if Louise reposed beneath. You are going to laugh at me, I know, dear
Roger, but I assure you, I have never been able to gaze upon a young
girl's bed without emotion.
That little pillow, the sole confidant of timid dreams, that narrow
couch, fitted like a tomb for but one alabaster form, inspired me with
tender melancholy. No anacreontic thoughts came to me, I assure you, nor
any disposition to rhyme in _ette_, herbette, filette, coudrette. The
love I bear to noble poesy saved me from such an exhibition of bad
A crucifix, over which hung a piece of blessed box, spread its ivory
arms above Louise's untroubled slumber. Such simple piety touched me. I
dislike bigots, but I detest atheists.
Musing there alone it flashed upon me that Louise Guerin had never been
married, in spite of her assertion. I am disposed to doubt the existence
of the late Albert Guerin. A sedate and austere atmosphere surrounds
Louise, suggesting the convent or the boarding-school.
I went into the garden; the sunbeams checkered the steps of the porch;
the wilted iris drooped on its stem, and the acacia flowers strewed the
pathway. Apropos of acacia flowers, do you know, that fried in batter,
they make excellent fritters? Finding myself alone in the walks where I
had strolled with her, I do not know how it happened, but I felt my
heart swell, and I sighed like a young abbe of the 17th century.
I returned to the chateau, having no excuse for remaining longer, vexed,
disappointed, wearied, idle--the habit of seeing Louise every day had
grown upon me.
And habit is everything to poor humanity, as that graceful poet Alfred
de Musset says. My feet only know the way to the post-office; what shall
I do with myself while this visit lasts? I tried to read, but my
attention wandered; I skipped the lines, and read the same paragraph
over twice; my book having fallen down I picked it up and read it for
one whole hour upside down, without knowing it--I wished to make a
monosyllabic sonnet--extremely interesting occupation--and failed. My
quatrains were tedious, and my tercets entirely too diffuse.
My mother begins to be uneasy at my dullness; she has asked twice if I
were sick--I have fallen off already a quarter of a pound; for nothing
is more enraging than to be deserted at the most critical period of
one's infatuation! Ixion of Normandy, my Juno is a screen-painter, I
open my arms and clasp only a cloud! My position, similar to yours,
cannot, however, be compared with it--mine only relates to a trifling
flirtation, a thwarted fancy, while yours is a serious passion for a
woman of your own rank who has accepted your hand, and therefore has no
right to trifle with you,--she must be found, if only for vengeance!
Remorse consumes me because of my sentimental stupidity by moonlight.
Had I profited by the night, the solitude and the occasion, Louise had
not left me; she saw clearly that I loved her, and was not displeased at
the discovery. Women are strange mixtures of timidity and rashness.
Perhaps she has gone to join her lover, some saw-bones, some
counting-house Lovelace, while I languish here in vain, like Celadon or
Lygdamis of cooing memory.
This is not at all probable, however, for Madame Taverneau would not
compromise her respectability so far as to act as chaperon to the loves
of Louise Guerin. After all, what is it to me? I am very good to trouble
myself about the freaks of a prudish screen-painter! She will return,
because the hired piano has not been sent back to Rouen, and not a soul
in the house knows a note of music but Louise, who plays quadrilles and
waltzes with considerable taste, an accomplishment she owes to her
mistress of painting, who had seen better days and possessed some skill.
Do not be too much flattered by this letter of grievances, for I only
wanted an excuse to go to the post-office to see if Louise has
returned--suppose she has not! the thought drives the blood back to my
Isn't it singular that I should fall desperately in love with this
simple shepherdess--I who have resisted the sea-green glances and smiles
of the sirens that dwell in the Parisian ocean? Have I escaped from the
Marquise's Israelite turbans only to become a slave to a straw bonnet? I
have passed safe and sound through the most dangerous defiles to be
worsted in open country; I could swim in the whirlpool, and now drown in
a fish-pond; every celebrated beauty, every renowned coquette finds me
on my guard. I am as circumspect as a cat walking over a table covered
with glass and china. It is hard to make me pose, as they say in a
certain set; but when the adversary is not to be feared, I allow him so
many advantages that in the end he subdues me.
I was not sufficiently on my guard with Louise at first.
I said to myself: "She is only a grisette"--and left the door of my
heart open--love entered in, and I fear I shall have some trouble in
driving him out.
Excuse, dear Roger, this nonsense, but I must write you something. After
all, my passion is worth as much as yours. Love is the same whether
inspired by an empress or a rope-dancer, and I am just as unhappy at
Louise's disappearance as you are at Irene's.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ MONSIEUR DE MEILHAN,
Pont de l'Arche (Eure).
PARIS, June 3d 18--.
She is in Paris!
Before knowing it I felt it. The atmosphere was filled with a voice, a
melody, a brightness, a perfume that murmured: Irene is here!
Paris appears to me once more populated; the crowd is no longer a desert
in my eyes; this great dead city has recovered its spirit of life; the
sun once more smiles upon me; the earth bounds under my feet; the soft
summer air fans my burning brow, and whispers into my ear that one
Chance has a treasure-house of atrocious combinations. Chance! The
cunning demon! He calls himself Chance so as to better deceive us. With
an infernal skilfulness he feigns not to watch us in the decisive
moments of our lives, and at the same time leads us like blind fools
into the very path he has marked out for us.
You know the two brothers Ernest and George de S. were planted by their
family in the field of diplomacy: they study Eastern languages and
affect Eastern manners. Well, yesterday we met in the Bois de Boulogne,
they in a calash, and I on horseback--I am trying riding as a moral
hygiene--as the carriage dashed by they called out to me an invitation
to dinner; I replied, "Yes," without stopping my horse. Idleness and
indolence made me say "Yes," when I should have said, "No;" but _Yes_ is
so much easier to pronounce than _No_, especially on horseback. _No_
necessitates a discussion; _Yes_ ends the matter, and economizes words
I was rather glad I had met these young sprigs of diplomacy. They are
good antidotes for low spirits, for they are always in a hilarious state
and enjoy their youth in idle pleasure, knowing they are destined to
grow old in the soporific dulness of an Eastern court.
I thought we three would be alone at dinner; alas! there were five of
Two female artistes who revelled in their precocious emancipation; two
divinities worshipped in the temple of the grand sculptors of modern
Athens; the Scylla and Charybdis of Paris.
I am in the habit of bowing with the same apparent respect to every
woman in the universe. I have bowed to the ebony women of Senegal; to
the moon-colored women of the Southern Archipelago; to the snow-white
women of Behring's Strait, and to the bronze women of Lahore and Ceylon.
Now it was impossible for me to withdraw from the presence of two fair
women whose portraits are the admiration of all connoisseurs who visit
the Louvre. Besides, I have a theory: the less respectable a woman is,
the more respect we should show her, and thus endeavor to bring her back
I remained and tried to add my fifth share of antique gayety to the
feast. We were Praxiteles, Phidias and Scopas; we had inaugurated the
modest Venus and her sister in their temples, and we drank to our model
goddesses in wines from the Ionian Archipelago.
That evening, you may remember, Antigone was played at the Odeon in the
I have another theory: in any action, foolish or wise, either carry it
through bravely when once undertaken, or refrain from undertaking it. I
had not the wisdom to refrain, therefore I was compelled to imitate the
folly of my friends; at dessert I even abused the invitation, and too
often sought to drown sorrow in the ruby cup.
We started for the Odeon. Our entrance at the theatre caused quite an
excitement. The ladies, cavalierly suspended on the arms of the two
future Eastern ambassadors, sailed in with a conscious air of epicurean
grace and dazzling beauty. The classic ushers obsequiously threw open
the doors, and led us to our box. I brought up the procession, looking
as insolent and proud as I did the day I entered the ruined pagoda of
Bangalore to carry off the statue of Sita.
The first act was being played, and the Athenian school preserved a
religious silence in front of the proscenium. The noise we made by
drawing back the curtain of our box, slamming the door and loudly
laughing, drowned for an instant the touching strains of the tragic
choir, and centred upon us the angry looks of the audience.
With what cool impertinence did our divinities lean over the seats and
display their round white arms, that have so often been copied in Parian
marble by our most celebrated sculptors! Our three intellectual faces,
wreathed in the silly smiles of intoxication, hovered over the silken
curls of our goddesses, thus giving the whole theatre a full view of our
Occasionally a glimmer of reason would cross my confused brain, and I
would soliloquize: Why am I disgracing myself in this way before all
these people? What possesses me to act in concert with these drunken
fools and bold women? I must rush out and apologize to the first person
It was impossible for me to follow my good impulse--some unseen hand
held me back--some mysterious influence kept me chained to the spot. We
are influenced by magic, although magicians no longer exist!
Between the acts, our two Greek statues criticised the audience in loud
tones, and their remarks, seasoned with attic salt, afforded a peculiar
supplement to the choir of Antigone.
"Those four women on our right must be sensible people," said our blonde
statue; "they have put their show-piece in front. I suppose she is the
beauty of the party; did you ever behold such dreadful bonnets and
dresses? They must have come from the Olympic Circus. If I were
disfigured in that way, I would be a box-opener, but never would be seen
"I think I have seen them before," said the bronze statue; they hire
their bonnets from the fish-market--disgusting creatures that they are!"
"What do the two in the corner look like, my angel?"
"I see nothing but a shower of curls; I suppose _she_ found it more
economical to curl her hair than to buy a bonnet. Every time I stretch
my neck to get a look at her, she hides behind those superb bonnets."
"Which proves," said Ernest, "that she is paradoxically ugly."
"I pity them, if they are seeking four husbands," said George; "and if
they are married--I pity their four husbands."
Whilst my noisy companions were trying to discover their ideal fright in
the corner of the box on our right, I felt an inexplicable contraction
of my heart--a chill pass through my whole body; my silly gayety was by
some unseen influence suddenly changed into sadness--I felt my eyes fill
with tears. The only way I could account for this revulsion in my
feelings was the growing conviction that I was disgracing myself in a
den of malefactors of both sexes. My fit of melancholy was interrupted
very opportunely by the choir chanting the hymn of Bacchus, that antique
wonder, found by Mendelssohn in the ruins of the Temple of Victory.
When the play was over, I timidly proposed that we should remain in our
box till the crowd had passed out; but our Greek statues would not hear
to it, as they had determined upon a triumphal exit. I was obliged to
The bronze statue despotically seized my arm, and dragged me toward the
stair. I felt as if I had a cold lizard clinging to me. I was seized
with that chilly sensation always felt by nervous people when they come
in contact with reptiles.
I recalled the disastrous day that I was shipwrecked on the island of
Eaei-Namove, and compelled to marry Dai-Natha, the king's daughter, in
order to escape the unpleasant alternative of being eaten alive by her
father. On the staircase of the Odeon I regretted Dai-Natha.
In the midst of the dense crowd that blockaded the stairway, I heard a
frightened cry that made the blood freeze in my veins. There was but one
woman in the world blest with so sweet a voice--musical even when raised
If I were surrounded by crashing peals of thunder, rushing waters and
yells of wild beasts, I still could recognise, through the din of all
this, the cry of a beloved woman. I am gifted with that marvellous
perception of hearing, derived from the sixth sense, the sense of love.
Irene de Chateaudun had uttered that cry of alarm--_Take care, my dear!_
she had exclaimed with that accent of fright that it is impossible to
disguise--in that tone that will be natural in spite of all the reserve
that circumstances would impose, _Take care, my dear!_
Some one near me said that a door-keeper had struck a lady on the
shoulder with a panel of a portable door which he was carrying across
the passage-way. By standing on my toes I could just catch a glimpse of
the board being balanced in the air over every one's head. My eyes could
not see the woman who had uttered this cry, but my ears told me it was
Irene de Chateaudun.
The crowd was so dense that some minutes passed before I could move a
step towards the direction of the cry, but when I had finally succeeded
in reaching the door, I flung from me the hateful arm that clung to
mine, and rushing into the street, I searched through the crowd and
looked in every carriage and under every lady's hood to catch a glimpse
of Irene, without being disconcerted by the criticisms that the people
around indulged in at my expense.
Useless trouble! I discovered nothing. The theatre kept its secret; but
that cry still rings in my ears and echoes around my heart.
This morning at daybreak I flew to the Hotel de Langeac. The porter
stared at me in amazement, and answered all my eager inquiries with a
stolid, short _no_. The windows of Irene's room were closed and had that
deserted appearance that proved the absence of its lovely
occupant--windows that used to look so bright and beautiful when I would
catch glimpses of a snowy little hand arranging the curtains, or of a
golden head gracefully bent over her work, totally unconscious of the
loving eyes feasting upon her beauty--oh! many of my happiest moments
have been spent gazing at those windows, and now how coldly and silently
they frowned upon my grief!
The porter lies! The windows lie! I exclaimed, and once more I began to
This time I had a more important object in view than trying to fatigue
my body and divert my mind. My eyes are multiplied to infinity; they
questioned at once every window, door, alley, street, carriage and store
in the city. I was like the miser who accused all Paris of having stolen
At three o'clock, when all the beauty and fashion of Paris was
promenading on Paix aux Panoramas street, I was stopped on the corner
and button-holed by one of those gossiping friends whom fiendish chance
always sends at the most trying moments in life in order to disgust us
with friendship ... A dazzling form passed before me ... Irene alone
possesses that graceful ease, that fairy-like step, that queenly
dignity--I could recognise her among a thousand--it was useless for her
to attempt disguising her exquisite elegance beneath a peasant dress---
besides I caught her eye, so all doubts were swept away; several
precious minutes were lost in trying to shake off my vexatious friend. I
abruptly bade him good-day and darted after Irene, but she has the foot
of a gazelle, and the crowd was so compact that in spite of my elbowing
and foot-crushing, I made but little headway.
Finally, through an opening in the crowd, I saw Mlle., de Chateaudun
turn the corner and enter that narrow street near the Cafe Vernon. This
time she cannot possibly escape me--she is in a long, narrow street,
with deserted galleries on either side--circumstances are propitious to
a meeting and explanation--in a minute I am in the narrow street a few
yards behind Irene. I prepare my mind for this momentous conversation
which is to decide my fate. I firmly clasp my arms to still the violent
throbbings of my heart. I am about to be translated to heaven or
engulfed by hell.
She rapidly glanced at a Chinese store in front of her and, without
showing any agitation, quietly opened the door and went in. Very good,
thought I, she will purchase some trifle and be out in a few minutes. I
will wait for her.
Five feet from the store I assumed the attitude of the god Terminus; by
the way, this store is very handsomely ornamented, and far surpasses in
its elegant collection of Chinese curiosities the largest store of the
sort in Hog Lane in the European quarter of Canton.
Another of those kind friends whom chance holds in reserve for our
annoyance, came out of a bank adjoining the store, and inferring from my
statue-like attitude that I was dying of ennui and would welcome any
diversion, rushed up to me and said:
"Ah! my dear cosmopolitan, how are you to-day? Don't you want to
accompany me to Brussels? I have just bought gold for the journey; gold
is very high, fifteen per cent."
I answered by one of those listless smiles and unintelligible
monosyllables which signifies in every language under the sun, don't
In the meantime I remained immovable, with my eyes fastened on the
Chinese store. I could have detected the flight of an atom.
My friend struck the attitude of the Colossus of Rhodes, and supporting
his chin upon the gold head of his cane which he held in the air
clenched by both hands, thus continued: "I did a very foolish thing this
morning. I bought my wife a horse, a Devonshire horse, from the Cremieux
stables.... That reminds me, my dear Roger, you are the very man to
decide a knotty question for me. I bet D'Allinville thirty louis that
... what would _you_ call a lady's horse?"
For some moments I preserved that silence which shows that we are not in
a humor for talking; but friends sent by ingenious Chance understand
nothing but the plainest language, so my friend continued his queries:
"What would you call a lady's horse?"
"I would call it a horse," said I, with indifference.
"Now, Roger, I believe you are right; D'Allinville insists that a lady's
horse is a palfrey."
"In the language of chivalry he is right."
"Then I have lost my bet?"
"My dear Roger, this question has been worrying me for two days."
"You are very fortunate to have nothing worse than a term of chivalry to
annoy you. I would give all the gold in that broker's office if my
troubles were as light as yours."
"I am afraid you _are_ unhappy, ... you have been looking sad for some
time, Roger, ... come with me to Brussels.... We can make some splendid
speculations there. Now-a-days if the aristocracy don't turn their
attention to business once in a while, they will be completely swept out
by the moneyed scum of the period. Let us make a venture: I hear of
twenty acres of land for sale, bordering on the Northern Railroad--there
is a clear gain of a hundred thousand francs as soon as the road is
finished; I offer you half--it is not a very risky game, nothing more
than playing lansquenet on a railroad!"
No signs of Irene. My impatience was so evident that this time, my
obtuse friend saw it, and, shaking me by the hand, said:
"Good bye, my dear Roger, why in the world did you not tell me I was _de
trop?_ Now that I see there is a fair lady in the case I will relieve
you of my presence. Adieu! adieu!"
He was gone, and I breathed again.
By this time my situation had become critical. This Chinese door, like
that of Acheron, refused to surrender its prey. Time was passing. I had
successively adopted every attitude of feverish expectation; I had
exhausted every pose of a museum of statues, and saw that my suspicious
blockade of the pavement alarmed the store-keepers. The broker adjoining
the Chinese store seemed to be putting himself on the defensive, and
meditating an article for the _Gazette des Tribunaux_.
I now regretted the departure of my speculating friend; his presence
would at least have given my conduct an air of respectability,--would
have legalized, so to speak, my odd behavior. This time chance left me
to my own devices.
I had held my position for two hours, and now, as a regard for public
opinion compelled me to retire, and I had no idea of doing so until I
had achieved a victory, I determined to make an attack upon the citadel
containing my queen of love and beauty. Irene had not left the store,
for she certainly had no way of escaping except by the door which was
right in front of my eyes--she must be all this time selecting some
trifle that a man could purchase in five minutes,--it takes a woman an
eternity to buy anything, no matter how small it may be! My situation
had become intolerable--I could stand it no longer; so arming myself
with superhuman courage, I bravely opened the shop-door and entered as
if it were the breach of a besieged city.
I looked around and could see nothing but a confused mingling of objects
living and dead; I could only distinguish clearly a woman bowing over
the counter, asking me a question that I did not hear. My agitation made
me deaf and blind.
"Madame," I said, "have you any ... Chinese curiosities?"
"We have, monsieur, black tea, green tea, and some very fine Pekin."
"Well, madame, ... give me some of all."
"Do you want it in boxes, monsieur?"
"In boxes, madame, if you choose."
I looked all around the room and saw nobody but two old women standing
behind another counter--no signs of Irene.
I paid for my tea, and while writing down my address, I questioned the
"I promised my wife to meet her here at three o'clock to select this
tea--not that my presence was necessary, as her taste is always
mine--but she requested me to come, and I fear I have made a mistake in
the hour, my watch has run down and I had no idea it was so late--I hope
she did not wait for me? has she been here?" Thereupon I gave a minute
description of Irene de Chateaudun, from the color of her hair to the
shade of her boot.
"Yes, monsieur, she was here about three o'clock, it is now five; she
was only here a few minutes--long enough to make a little purchase."