Part 5 out of 6
of local colors;" and without giving me time to answer him, he left me
to give the necessary orders for lodging his suite.
When he returned, I said to him: "What does this strange masquerade
mean? The carnival has been over for some time, and will not return
immediately, as we are hardly through the summer." "It is not a
masquerade," replied Arthur, with a dogmatic coolness and transcendental
gravity which at any other time would have made me laugh. "It is a
complete system, which I shall unfold to you."
Whereupon my friend, taking off his Turkish slippers, crossed his legs
on the divan in the approved classic attitude of the Osmanli, and
running his fingers through his beard, spoke as follows:
"During my travels I have observed that no people appreciate the
peculiar beauties of the country they inhabit. No one admires his own
physiognomy; every one would like to resemble some one else. Spaniards
and Turks make endless excuses for being handsome and picturesque. The
Andalusian apologizes to you for not wearing a coat and round hat. The
Arnaout, whose costume is the most gorgeous and elegant that has ever
been worn by the human form divine, sighs as he gazes at your overcoat,
and consults with himself upon the advisability of shooting you to get
possession of it, in the first mountain gorge where he may meet you
alone or poorly attended. Civilization is the natural enemy of beauty.
All its creations are ugly. Barbarism--or rather relative barbarism--has
found the secret of form and color. Man living so near to Nature
imitates her harmony, and finds the types of his garments and his
utensils in his surroundings. Mathematics have not yet developed their
straight lines, dry angles and painful aridity. Now-a-days, picturesque
traditions are lost, the long pantaloon has invaded the universe;
frightful fashion-plates circulate everywhere; now, I refuse to believe
that man's taste has become perverted to such a degree that if he were
shown costumes combining elegance with richness, he would not prefer
them to hideous modern rags. Having made these judicious and profound
reflections, I felt as if I had been enlightened from above, and the
secret of my earthly mission revealed to me; I had come into the world
to preach costume, and, as you see, I preach it by example. Reflecting
that Turkey is the country most menaced by the overcoat and stove-pipe
hat, I went to Constantinople to bring about a reaction in favor of the
embroidered vest and the turban. My grave studies upon the subject, my
fortune and my taste have enabled me to attain the _ne plus ultra_ of
"I doubt whether a Sultan ever possessed so splendid or so
characteristic a wardrobe. I discovered among the bazaars of the cities
least infected by the modern spirit, some tailors with a profound
contempt for Frank fashions, who, with their tremulous hands, performed
marvels of cutting and embroidery. I will show you caftans braided in a
miserable little out-of-the-way village of Asia Minor, by some poor
devils whom you would not trust with your dog, which surpass, in
intricacy of design, the purest arabesques of the Alhambra, and in
color, the most gorgeous peacock tails of Eugene Delacroix or Narciso
Ruy Diaz de la Pena, a great painter, who out of commiseration for the
commonalty only makes use of a quarter of his name.
"I am happy to say that my apostleship has not been without fruit. I
have brought back to the dolman more than one young Osmanli about to rig
himself out at Buisson's; I have saved more than one horse of the Nedji
race from the insult of an English saddle; more than one tipsy Turk
addicted to champagne has returned to opium at my suggestion. Some
Georgians who were about to be admitted to the balls of the European
embassies are indebted to me for being shut up closer than ever. I
impressed upon these degenerate Orientals the disastrous results of such
a breach of propriety. I persuaded the Sultan Abdul Medjid to give up
the idea of introducing the guillotine into his empire. Without
flattering myself, I think I have done a great deal of good, and if
there were only a few more gay fellows like myself we should prevent
people from making guys of themselves--And what are you doing, my dear
Edgar?" "I am going to America, and I am waiting for the Ontario to get
up steam," "That's a good idea! You can become a savage and resuscitate
the last Mohican of Fenimore Cooper. I already see you, with a blue
turtle on your breast, eagle's feathers in your scalp, and moccasins
worked with porcupine quills. You will be very handsome; with your sad
air you will look as if you were weeping over your dead race. If I had
not been away for four years, I would accompany you, but I was in such a
hurry to put my affairs in order, that I have returned to France by way
of England, in order to avoid the quarantine. I will admit you to my
religion; you shall become my disciple; I preserve barbaric costumes,
you shall preserve savage costumes. It is not so handsome, but it is
more characteristic. There were some Indians on our steamer; I studied
them; they are the people to suit you. But, before your departure, we
will indulge in an Eastern orgie in the purest style." "My dear Granson,
I am not in a humor to take part in an orgie, even though it be an
Eastern orgie; I am desperately sad." "Very well; I see that you are;
some heart sorrow; you Occidentals are always in a state of torment
about some woman; which would never occur if they were all shut up; it
is dangerous to let such animals wander about. I am delighted that you
are so sad and melancholy. I can now prove to you the superior efficacy
of my exhilarating means. I found at Cairo, in the Teriaki Square,
opposite the hospital for the insane--wasn't it a profoundly
philosophical idea to establish in such a place dealers in
happiness?--an old scamp, dry as a papyrus of the time of Amenoteph,
shrivelled as the beards of the Pschent of the goddess Isis; this
cabalistic druggist possessed the true receipt for the preparation of
hashisch; besides, he seemed old enough to have gotten it direct from
the Old Man of the Mountain, if he were not himself the Prince of
Assassins who lived in the time of Saint Louis; this skeleton in a
parchment case furnished me with a quantity of paradise, under the guise
of green paste, in little Japanese cups done up in silver wire. I intend
to initiate you into these hypercelestial delights. I shall give you a
box of happiness, which will make you forget all the false coquettes in
Without listening to my repeated refusals, Granson begged me to call him
henceforth Sidi-Mahmoud; had his room spread with Persian rugs, ottomans
piled up in every direction, the walls cushioned to lean against, and
perfumes scattered about; three or four dusky musicians placed
themselves in a convenient recess with taraboucks, rebeks and guzlas--an
Ethiopean, naked to the waist, served us the precious drug on a red
To accommodate Granson I swallowed several spoonfuls of this greenish
confection, which, at first, seemed to be flavored with honey and
pistachio. I had dressed myself--for Granson is one of those obstinate
idiots that one is compelled to yield to in order to get rid of--in an
Anatolian costume of fabulous richness, my friend insisting that when
one ascends to Paradise he should not be annoyed by the slope of his
In a few moments I felt a slight warmth in my stomach--my body threw off
sparks and flared up like a bank-bill in the flame of a candle; I was
subject to no law of nature; weight, bulk, opacity had entirely
disappeared. I retained my form, but it became transparent; flexible,
fluid objects passed through me without inconveniencing me in the least;
I could enlarge or decrease myself to suit any place I wished to occupy.
I could transport myself at will from one place to another. I was in an
impossible world, lighted by a gleam of azure grotto, in the centre of a
bouquet of fire-works formed of everchanging sheafs, luminous flowers
with gold and silver foliage, and calices of rubies, sapphires and
diamonds; fountains of melted moonbeams, throwing their spray over
crystal vases, which sang with voices like a harmonica the arias of the
greatest singers. A symphony of perfumes followed this first
enchantment, which vanished in a shower of spangles at the end of a few
seconds; the theme was a faint odor of iris and acacia bloom which
pursued, avoided, crossed and embraced each other with delicious ease
and grace. If anything in this world can give you an approximative idea
of this exquisitely perfumed movement, it is the dance for the piccolos
in the Almee of Felicien David.
As the movement increased in sweetness and charm, the two perfumes took
the shape of the flowers from which they emanated; two irises and two
bunches of acacia bloomed in a marvellously transparent onyx vase; soon
the irises scintillated like two blue stars, the acacia flowers
dissolved into a golden stream, the onyx vase assumed a female shape,
and I recognised the lovely face and graceful form of Louise Guerin, but
idealized, passed to the state of Beatrice; I am not certain that there
did not rise from her white shoulders a pair of angel's wings--she gazed
so sadly and kindly at me that I felt my eyes fill with tears--she
seemed to regret being in heaven; from the expression of her face one
might have thought that she accused me, and at the same time entreated
I will not take you through the various windings of this marvellous
open-eyed dream; the monotonous harmony of the tarabouck and the rebek
faintly reached my ear, and served as rhythm to this wonderful poem,
which will, henceforth, make Homer, Virgil, Ariosto and Tasso as
wearisome to read as a table of logarithms. All my senses had changed
places; I saw music and heard colors; I had new perceptions, as the
denizens of a planet superior to ours must have; at will, my body was
composed of a ray, a perfume or a sweet savor; I experienced the ecstasy
of the angels fused in divine light, for the effect of hashisch bears no
resemblance whatever to that of wine and alcohol, by the use of which
the people of the North debase and stupefy themselves; its intoxication
is purely intellectual.
Little by little order was established in my brain. I began to observe
objects around me.
The candles had burned down to the socket; the musicians slept, tenderly
embracing their instruments. The handsome negress lay at my feet. I had
taken her for a cushion. A pale ray of light appeared on the horizon; it
was three o'clock in the morning. All at once a smoke-stack, puffing
forth black smoke, crossed the bar; it was the _Ontario_ leaving its
A confusion of voices was heard in the next room; my mother, having in
some way learnt of my projected exile, had broken through Granson's
orders to admit no one, and was calling for me.
I was rather mortified at being caught in such an absurd dress; but my
mother observed nothing; she had but one thought, that I was about to
leave her for ever. I do not remember what she said, such things cannot
be written, the endearments she bestowed upon me when I was only five or
six years old; finally she wept. I promised to stay and return to Paris.
How can you refuse your mother anything when she weeps? Is she not the
only woman whom we can never reproach?
After all, as you have said, Paris is the wildest desert; there you are
completely alone. Indifferent and unknown people may value sands and
If my sorrow prove too tenacious, I shall ask my friend Arthur Granson
for the address of the old Teriaki, and I shall send to Cairo for some
boxes of forgetfulness. We will share them together if you wish.
Farewell, dear Roger, I am yours mind and heart,
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel of the Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
PARIS, July 30th 18--.
O day of bliss unutterable! I have found her, it is she! As you have
opened your heart to my sadness, madame, open it to my joy. Forget the
unhappy wretch who, a few days ago, abandoned himself to his grief, who
even yesterday bade an eternal farewell to hope. That unfortunate has
ceased to exist; in his place appears a young being intoxicated with
love, for whom life is full of delight and enchantment. How does it
happen that my soul, which should soar on hymns of joy, is filled with
gloomy forebodings? Is it because man is not made for great felicity, or
that happiness is naturally sad, nearer akin to tears than to laughter,
because it feels its fragility and instinctively dreads the approaching
After having vainly searched for Mademoiselle de Chateaudun within the
walls of Rouen, M. de Monbert decided, on receipt of some new
information, to seek her among the old chateaux of Brittany. My sorrow,
feeding upon itself, counselled me not to accompany him. The fact is
that I could be of no earthly use in his search. Besides, I thought I
perceived that my presence embarrassed him. To tell the truth, we were a
constraint upon each other. Every sorrowful heart willingly believes
itself the centre of the universe, and will not admit the existence,
under heaven, of any other grief than its own. I let the Prince depart,
and set out alone for Paris. One last hope remained; I persuaded myself
that if Louise had not loved M. de Meilhan she would have left Richeport
at the same time that I did.
I got out at Pont de l'Arche, and prowled like a felon about the scenes
where happiness had come to me.
I wandered about for an hour, when I saw the letter-carrier coming to
the post-office for the letters to be delivered at the neighboring
chateaux. Paler and more tremulous than the silvery foliage of the
willows on the river shore, I questioned him and learned that Madame
Guerin was still at Richeport. I went away with death in my heart; in
the evening I reach Paris. Resolved to see no one in that city, and only
intending to pass a few days in solitude and silence, I sought no other
abode than the little room which I had occupied in less fortunate but
happier times. I wished to resume my old manner of living; but I had no
taste for anything. When one goes in pursuit of happiness, the way is
smiling and alluring, hope brightens the horizon; when we have clutched
it and then let it escape, everything becomes gloomy and disenchanted;
for it is a traveller whom we do not meet twice upon our road. I tried
to study, which only increased my weariness. What was the use of
knowledge and wisdom? Life was a closed book to me. I tried the poets,
who added to my sufferings, by translating them into their passionate
language. Thus, reason is baffled by the graceful apparition of a lovely
blonde, who glided across my existence like a gossamer over a clear sky,
and banished repose for ever from my heart! My eyes had scarcely rested
upon the angle of my dreams ere she took flight, leaving on my brow the
shadow of her wings! She was only a child, and that child had passed
over my destiny like a tempest! She rested for a moment in my life, like
a bird upon a branch, and my life was broken! In fact I lost all control
over myself. Young, free and rich, I was at a loss to know what to do.
What was to become of me? Turn where I would, I still saw nothing around
me but solitude and despair. During the day I mingled with the crowd and
wandered about the streets like a lost soul; returning at night
overcome, but not conquered by fatigue. Burning sleeplessness besieged
my pillow, and the little light no longer shone to comfort and encourage
me. I no longer heard, as before, a caressing voice speaking to me
through the trees of the garden. "Courage, friend! I watch and suffer
with thee." Finally, one night I saw the star peep forth and shine.
Although I had no heart for such fancies, still I felt young and joyous
again, on seeing it. As before, I gazed at it a long time. Was it the
same, that, for two years, I had seen burn and go out regularly at the
same hour? It might be doubted; but I did not doubt it for a moment,
because I took pleasure in believing it. I felt less isolated and gained
confidence, now that my star had not deserted me. I called it my martyr
when I spoke to it: "Whence comest thou? Hast thou too suffered? Hast
thou mourned my absence a little?" And, as before, I thought it answered
me in the silence of the night. Towards morning I slept, and in a dream,
I saw, as through a glass, Louise watching and working in a room as poor
as mine, by the light of the well-beloved ray. She looked pale and sad,
and from time to time stopped her work to gaze at the gleam of my lamp.
When I awoke, it was broad day; and I went out to kill time.
On the boulevard I met an old friend of my father's; he was refined,
cultivated and affectionate. He had come from our mountains, to which he
was already anxious to return, for in their valleys he had buried
himself. My dejected air and sorrowful countenance struck him. He gained
my confidence, and immediately guessed at my complaint. "What are you
doing here?" he asked; "it is an unwholesome place for grief. Return to
our mountains. Your native air will do you good. Come with me; I promise
you that your unhappiness will not hold out against the perfume of broom
and heather." Then he spoke with tender earnestness of my duties. He did
not conceal from me the obligations my fortune and the position left me
by my father, laid me under to the land where I was born; I had
neglected it too long, and the time had now come when I ought to occupy
myself seriously with its needs and interests. In short, he made me
blush for my useless days, and led me, gently and firmly, back to
reality. At night-fall I returned to my little chamber, not consoled but
stronger, and decided to set out on the morrow for the banks of the
Creuse. I did not expect to be cured, but it pleased me to mingle the
thought of Louise with the benefits that I could bestow, and to bring
down blessings upon the name which I had longed to offer her.
I immediately remarked on entering, that my little beacon shone with
unaccustomed brilliancy. It was no longer a thread of light gleaming
timidly through the foliage, but a whole window brightly illuminated,
and standing out against the surrounding darkness. Investigating the
cause of this phenomenon, I discovered that, during the day, the trees
had been felled in the garden, and peering out into the gloom, I
perceived, stretched along the ground, the trunk of the pine which, for
two years, had hid from me the room where burned the fraternal light.
Before departing, I should at least catch a glimpse of the mysterious
being, who, probably unconsciously, had occupied so many of my restless
thoughts. I could not control a sad smile at the thought of the
disenchantment that awaited me on the morrow. I passed in review the
faces which were likely to appear at that window, and as the absurd is
mixed with almost every situation in life, I declare that this
bewildering question occurred to me: "Suppose it should be Lady Penock?"
I slept little, and arose at day-break. I was restless without daring to
acknowledge to myself the cause. It would have mortified me to have to
confess that there was room beside my grief for a childish curiosity, a
poetical fancy. What is man's heart made of? He bemoans himself, wraps a
cere-cloth around him and prepares to die, and a flitting bird or a
shining light suffices to divert him. I watched the sun redden the
house-tops. Paris still slept; no sound broke the stillness of the
slumbering city, but the distant roll of the early carts over the
stones. I looked long at the dear garret, which I saw for the first time
in the eye of day. The window had neither shutter nor blind, but a
double rose-colored curtain hung before it, mingling its tint with that
of the rising sun. That window, with neither plants nor running vines to
ornament it, had an air of refinement that charmed me. The house itself
looked honest. I wrote several letters to shorten the slow hours which
wearied my patience. Every shutter that opened startled me, and sent the
blood quickly back to my heart. My reason revolted against suck
childishness; but in spite of it, something within me refused to laugh
at my folly.
After some hours, I caught a glimpse of a hand furtively drawing aside
the rose-colored curtains. That timid hand could only belong to a woman;
a man would have drawn them back unceremoniously. She must, likewise, be
a young woman; the shade of the curtains indicated it. Evidently, only a
young woman would put pink curtains before a garret-window. Whereupon I
recalled to mind the little room where I had bade adieu to Louise before
leaving Richeport. I lived over again the scene in that poetic nook;
again I saw Louise as she appeared to me at that last interview, pale,
agitated, shedding silent tears which she did not attempt to conceal.
At this remembrance my grief burst all bounds, and spent itself in
imprecations against Edgar and against myself. I sat a long time, with
my face buried in my hands, in mournful contemplation of an invisible
image. Ah! unhappy man, I exclaimed, in my despair, why did you leave
her? God offered you happiness and you refused it! She stood there,
before you, trembling, desperate, her eyes bathed in tears, awaiting but
one word to sink in your arms, and that word you refused to utter,
cowardly fleeing from her! It is now your turn to weep, unfortunate
wretch! Your life, which has but begun, is now ended, and you will not
even have the supreme consolation of melancholy regrets, for the sting
of remorse will for ever remain in your wound; you will be pursued to
your dying day by the phantom of a felicity which you would not seize!
When I raised my head, the garret-window had noiselessly opened, and
there, standing motionless in a flood of sunshine, her golden hair
lifted gently by the morning breeze, was Louise gazing at me.
Madame, try to imagine what I felt; as for me, I shall never be able to
give it expression. I tried to speak, and my voice died away on my lips;
I wished to stretch out my arms towards the celestial vision, they
seemed to be made of stone and glued to my side; I wished to rush to
her, my feet were nailed to the floor. However, she still stood there
smiling at me. Finally, after a desperate effort, I succeeded in
breaking the charm which bound me, and rushed from my room wild with
delight, mad with happiness. I was mad, that's the word. Holy madness!
cold reason should humble itself in the dust before thee! As quick as
thought, by some magic, I found myself before Louise's door. I had
recognised the house so long sought for before. I entered without a
question, guided alone by the perfume that ascended from the sanctuary;
I took Louise's hands in mine, and we stood gazing silently at each
other in an ecstasy of happiness fatally lost and miraculously
recovered; the ecstasy of two lovers, who, separated by a shipwreck,
believing each other dead, meet, radiant with love and life, upon the
same happy shore.
"Why, it was you!" she said at last, pointing to my room with a charming
"Why, it was you!" I exclaimed in my turn, eagerly glancing at a little
brass lamp which I had observed on a table covered with screens, boxes
of colors and porcelain palettes.
"You were the little light!"
"You were my evening star!"
And we both began to recite the poem of those two years of our lives,
and we found that we told the same story. Louise began my sentences and
I finished hers. In disclosing our heart secrets and the mysterious
sympathy that had existed between us for two years, we interrupted each
other with expressions of astonishment and admiration. We paused time
and time again to gaze at each other and press each other's hands, as if
to assure ourselves that we were awake and it was not all a dream. And
every moment this gay and charming refrain broke in upon our ecstasy:
"So you were the brother and friend of my poverty!"
"So you were the sister and companion of my solitude!"
We finally approached in our recollections, through many windings, our
meeting upon the banks of the Seine, under the shades of Richeport.
"What seems sad to me," she said with touching grace, "is that after
having loved me without knowing me, you should have left me as soon as
you did know me. You only worshipped your idle fancies, and, had I loved
you then," she continued, "I should have been forced to be jealous of
this little lamp."
I told her what inexorable necessity compelled me to leave Richeport and
her. Louise listened with a pensive and charming air; but when I came to
speak of Edgar's love, she burst out laughing and began to relate, in
the gayest manner, some story or other about Turks, which I failed to
"M. de Meilhan loves you, does he not?" I asked finally, with a vague
feeling of uneasiness.
"Yes, yes," she cried, "he loves me to--madness!"
"He loves you, since he is jealous."
"Yes, yes," she cried again, "jealous as a--Mussulman." and then she
began to laugh again.
"Why," I again asked, "if you did not love him, did you stay at
Richeport two or three days after I left?"
"Because I expected you to return," she replied, laying aside her
childish gayety and becoming grave and serious.
I told her of my love. I was sincere, and therefore should have been
eloquent. I saw her eyes fill with tears, which were not this time tears
of sorrow. I unfolded to her my whole life; all that I had hoped for,
longed for, suffered down to the very hour when she appeared to me as
the enchanting realization of my youthful dreams.
"You ask me," she said, "to share your destiny, and you do not know who
I am, whence I come, or whither I go."
"You mistake, I know you," I cried; "you are as noble as you are
beautiful; you come from heaven, and you will return to it. Bear me with
you on your wings."
"Sir, all that is very vague," she answered, smilingly.
"Listen," said I. "It is true that I do not know who you are; but I
know, I feel that falsehood has never profaned those lips, nor perverted
the brightness of those eyes. Here is my hand; it is the hand of a
gentleman. Take it without fear or hesitation, that is all I ask."
"M. de Villiers, it is well," she said placing her little hand in mine.
"And now," she added, "do you wish to know my life?"
"No," I replied, "you can tell me of it when you have given it to me."
"I have seen you," said I; "you can tell me nothing. I feel that there
is a mystery in your existence, but I also feel that that mystery is
honorable, that you could only conceal a treasure."
At these words an indefinable smile played around her lips.
"At least," she cried, "you know certainly that I am poor?"
"Yes," I answered, "but you have shown yourself worthy of fortune, and
I, on my part, hope that I have proved myself not altogether unworthy of
The day glided imperceptibly by, enlivened with tender communings. I
examined in all its details the room which my thoughts had so often
visited. It required considerable self-control to repress the
inclination to carry to my lips the little lamp which had brought me
more delight than Aladdin's ever could have done. I spoke of you,
madame, mingling your image with my happiness in order to complete it. I
told Louise how you would love her, that she would love you too; she
replied that she loved you already. At evening we parted, and our joyous
lamps burned throughout the night.
In the midst of my bliss, I do not forget, madame, the interests that
are dear to you. Have you written to Mademoiselle de Chateaudun as I
begged you to do? Have you written with firmness? Have you told your
young friend that her peace and future are at stake? Have you pointed
out to her the storm ready to burst over her head? When I left M. de
Monbert he was gloomy and irritated. Let Mademoiselle Chateaudun take
Accept the expression of my respectful homage.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS.
RENE DE CHATEAUDUN _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel of the Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
Paris, Aug. 5th 18--.
All of your letters have reached me at once. I received two yesterday
and one this morning, the latter being written first and dated at Berne.
Ah! if it had reached me in due time, what distress I would have been
spared! What! he wrote you, "I love her," and said nothing to me! When
he left me you know how unhappy he was, and I, who was made so miserable
by his departure, I thought he was indifferent!
When I told you that I was about to sacrifice myself to console Madame
de Meilhan, you must have thought me insane; I can see by your letter
from Geneva, which I received yesterday, that you were dreadfully
alarmed about me. Cursed journey! Cursed mail! A letter lost might have
destroyed my happiness for ever! This letter was delayed on the road
several days, and, during these several days, I suffered more torture
than I ever felt during the most painful moments of my life. These
useless sorrows, that I might so easily have avoided, render me
incredulous and trembling before this future of promised happiness. I
have suffered so much that joy itself finds me fearful; and then this
happiness is so great that it is natural to receive it with sadness and
He told you of his delirious joy, on recognising me at the window; but
he did not tell you, he could not tell you, of my uneasiness, of my
dreadful suspicions, my despair when I saw him in this garret.
Our situations were not the same; what astonished and delighted him,
also astonished and delighted me, but at the same time filled me with
alarm. He believed me to be poor, discovered me in an attic; it was
nothing to be surprised at; the only wonderful thing about it was that
my garret should be immediately opposite the house where he lived.... I
knew he was wealthy; I knew he was the Count de Villiers; I knew he was
of an old and noble family; I knew from his conversation that he had
travelled over Italy in a manner suitable to his rank; I found him in
Richeport, elegant and generous; he possesses great simplicity of
manner, it is true, but it is the lordly simplicity of a great man....
In fact, everything I knew about him convinces me that his proper place
was not a garret, and that if I saw him there, I did not see him in his
Remember, Valentine, that for two months I have lived upon deceptions; I
have been disillusioned; I have inspired the most varied and excessive
griefs; I have studied the most picturesque consolations; I have seen
myself lamented at the Odeon, by one lover in a box with painted women,
... and at Havre by another in a tavern with a slave.... I might now see
myself lamented at Paris by a third in a garret with a grisette! Oh!
torture! in this one instant of dread, all the arrows of jealousy
rankled in my heart. Oh! I could not be indignant this time, I could not
complain, I could only die.... And I think that if I had not seen the
pure joy beaming in his eyes, lighting up his noble countenance; if I
had not instantly divined, comprehended everything, I believe I would
have dashed myself from the window to escape the strange agony that made
my heart cold and my brain dizzy--agony that I could not and would not
endure. But he looked too happy to be culpable; he made a sign, and I
saw that he was coming over to see me. I waited for him--and in what a
state! My hair was disarranged, and I called Blanchard to assist me in
brushing it; my voice was so weak she came running to me frightened,
thinking me ill ... a thousand confused thoughts rushed through my
brain; one thing was clear: I had found him again, I was about to see
When I was dressed--oh! that morning little did I think I would need a
becoming dress, ... I sat on the sofa in my poor little parlor, and
there, pale with emotion, scarcely daring to breathe, I listened with
burning impatience to the different noises about the house. In a few
moments I heard a knock, the door open, a voice exclaim, "You, Monsieur
le Comte!" He did not wait to be announced, but came in at once to the
parlor where I was. He was so joyous at finding me, and I so delighted
at seeing him, that for the first blissful moments of our meeting
neither of us thought explanations necessary; his joy proved that he was
free to love me, and my manner showed that I might be everything to him.
When he found his voice, he said to me: "What! were you this cherished
star that I have loved for two years?"
Then I remembered my momentary fears, and said: "What! were you the
mysterious beacon? Why were you living there? Why did the Comte de
Villiers dwell in a garret?"
Then, dear Valentine, he told me his noble history; he confessed, rather
unwillingly, that he had been poor like myself; very poor, because he
had given all his fortune to save the honor of a friend, M. Frederick de
B---- Oh! how I wept, while listening to this touching story, so full of
sublime simplicity, generous carelessness and self-sacrifice! This would
have made me adore him if I had not already madly loved him. While he
was telling me, I was thinking of the unfortunate Frederick's wife, of
her anxiety, of the torture she suffered, as a wife and a mother, when
she believed her husband lost and her children ruined; of her
astonishment and wild joy when she saw them all saved; of her deep,
eternal gratitude! and I had but one thought, I said to myself: "How I
would like to talk with this woman of Raymond!"
I wished in turn to relate my own history; he refused to listen to me,
and I did not insist. I wished to be generous, and let him for some time
longer believe me to be poor and miserable. He was so happy at the idea
of enriching and ennobling me, that I had not the courage to disenchant
However, yesterday, I was obliged to tell him everything; in his
impatience to hasten our marriage he had devoted the morning to the
drawing up of his papers, contracts and settlements; for two days he had
been tormenting me for my family papers in order to arrange them, and to
find the register of my birth, which was indispensable when he appeared
before the mayor. I had always put off giving it to him, but yesterday
he entreated me so earnestly, that I was compelled to assent. In order
to prepare him for the shock, I told him my papers were in my secretary,
and that if he would come into my room he could see them. At the sight
of the grand family pictures covering the walls of my retreat, he stood
aghast; then he examined them with uneasiness. Some of the portraits
bore the names and titles of the illustrious persons they represented.
Upon reading the name, Victor Louis de Chateaudun, Marechal de France,
he stopped motionless and looked at me with a strange air; then he read,
beneath the portrait of a beautiful woman, the following inscription:
"Marie Felicite Diane de Chateaudun, Duchesse de Montignan," and turning
quickly towards me, with a face deadly pale, he exclaimed: "Louise?"
"No, not Louise, but Irene!" I replied; and my voice rang with ancestral
pride when I thus appeared before him in my true character.
For a moment he was silent, and a bitter, sad expression came over his
countenance, that frightened me. Then I thought, it is nothing but envy;
it is hard for a man who knows he is generous to be outdone in
generosity. It is disappointing, when he thinks he is bestowing
everything, to find he is about to receive millions; it is cruel, when
he dreams of making a sacrifice like the hero of a novel, to find
himself constrained to destroy all the romance by conducting the affair
on a business basis. But Raymond was more than sad, and his almost
severe demeanor alarmed my love, as well as my dignity ... he crossed to
the other side of the room and sat down. I followed him, trembling with
agitation, and my eyes filled with tears.
"You no longer love me," I said.
"I dare not love the fiancee of my friend."
"Don't mention M. de Monbert, nor your scruples, he would not understand
"But he told you he loved you, Mlle., why did you leave him so
"I distrusted this love and wished to test it."
"What is the result of the test?"
"He does not love me, and I despise him."
"He does love you, and you ought to respect him."
Then, in order to avoid painful explanations and self-justification, I
handed him a long letter I had written to my cousin, in which I related,
without telling her of my disguise, that I had seen the Prince de
Monbert at the theatre, described the people whom he was with, and my
disgust at his conduct. I begged her to read this letter to the Prince
himself, who is with her now--he has followed her to one of her estates
in Brittany; he would see from the decided tone of my letter, that my
resolution was taken, that I did not love him, and that the best thing
he could do was to forget me.
I had written this letter yesterday, under your inspiration, and to ward
off the imaginary dangers you feared. Rely upon it, my dear Valentine,
M. de Monbert knows that he has acted culpably towards me; he might,
perhaps, endeavor to prevent my marriage, but when he knows I am no
longer free, he will be compelled to resign himself to my loss; don't be
alarmed, I know of two beautiful creatures whom he will allow to console
him. A man really unhappy would not have confided the story of his
disdained love to all his friends, valets and the detectives; he would
not hand over to idle gossip a dear and sacred name; a man who has no
respect for his love, does not love seriously; he deserves neither
regard nor pity. I will write to him myself to-morrow, if you desire it;
but as to a quarrel, what does he claim? I have never given him any
rights; if he threatens to provoke my husband to a duel, I have only to
say: "Take for your seconds Messrs. Ernest and George de S., who were
intoxicated with you at the Odeon," and he will blush with shame, and
instantly recognise how odious and ridiculous is his anger.
I left Raymond alone in my room reading this letter, and I returned to
the saloon to weep bitterly. I could not bear to see him displeased with
me; I knew he would accuse me of being trifling and capricious--the idea
of having offended him pierced my heart with anguish. I know not if the
letter justified me in his eyes, whether he thought it honest and
dignified, but as soon as he had finished reading it he called me:
"Irene," he said, and I trembled with sweet emotion on hearing him, for
the first time, utter my real name; I returned to the next room, he took
my hand and continued: "Pardon me for believing, for a moment, that you
were capricious and trifling, and I forgive you for having made me act
an odious part towards one of my friends."
Then he told me in a tender voice that he understood my conduct, and
that it was right; that when one is not sure of loving her intended, or
of being loved by him, she has a right to test him, and that it was only
honest and just. Then he smilingly asked me if I did not wish to try
him, and leave him a month or two to see if I was beloved by him.
"Oh! no," I cried, "I believe in you. I do not wish to leave you. Oh!
how can true lovers live apart from each other? How can they be
separated for a single day?"
I recalled what you told me when I abandoned M. de Monbert, and
acknowledged that you were right when you said: "Genuine love is
confiding, it shuns doubt because it cannot endure it."
This sad impression that he felt upon learning that Louise Guerin was
Irene de Chateaudun, was the only cloud that passed over our happiness.
Soon joy returned to us lively and pure--and we spoke of you tenderly;
he was the poor wounded man that gave you so much uneasiness; he was the
model husband you had chosen for me, and whom I refused with such proud
Ah! my good Valentine, how I thank you for having nursed him as a
sister; how noble and charming you were to him; I would like to reward
you by having you here to witness our happiness. And you must thank the
esteemed M. de Braimes for me, and my beautiful Irene, who taught him to
love my name, and brought him a bouquet every morning; and your handsome
Henri, the golden-haired angel, who brought him his little doves in your
work-basket to take care of, while he studied his lessons. Embrace for
me these dear children he caressed, who cheered his hours of suffering,
whom I so love for his sake and yours.
Will you not let me show my appreciation of my little goddaughter by
rendering her independent of future accidents, enabling her without
imprudence to marry for love?
I am so happy in loving that I can imagine it to be the only source of
joy to others; yet this happiness is so great that I find myself asking
if my heart is equal to its blessings; if my poor reason, wearied by so
many trials, will have sufficient strength to support these violent
emotions; if happiness has not, like misery, a madness. I endeavor when
alone to calm my excited mind; I sit down and try to quietly think over
my past life with that inflexibility of judgment, that analyzing
pedantry, of which you have so often accused me.
You remember, Valentine, more than once you have told me you saw in me
two persons, a romantic young girl and a disenchanted old
philosopher.... Ah! well, to-day the romantic young girl has reached the
most thrilling chapter of her life; she feels her weak head whirl at the
prospect of such intoxicating bliss, and she appeals to the old
philosopher for assistance. She tells him how this bliss frightens her;
she begs him to reassure her about this beautiful future opening before
her, by proving to her that it is natural and logical; that it is the
result of her past life, and finally that however great it may be,
however extraordinary it may seem, it is possible, it is lasting,
because it is bought at the price of humiliation, of sorrow, of trials!
Yes, I confess it, these happy events appear to be so strange, so
impossible, that I try to explain them, to calmly analyze them and
believe in their reality.
I recall one by one all my impressions of the last four years, and exert
my mind to discover in the strangeness, in the fatality, in the
excessive injustice of my past misfortunes, a natural explanation for
extraordinary and incredible events of the present. The reverses
themselves were romantic and improbable, therefore the reparations and
consolations should in their turn be equally romantic. Is it an ordinary
thing for a young girl reared like myself in Parisian luxury, belonging
to an illustrious family, to be reduced to the sternest poverty, and
through family pride and dignity to conceal her name? Is not such
dignity, assailed by fate, destined sooner or later to vindicate itself?
You see that through myself I would have been restored to my rank. M. de
Meilhan wished to marry me without fortune or name.... Yesterday, M. de
Villiers knew not who I was; my uncle's inheritance has therefore been
of no assistance to me. I believe that native dignity will always
imperceptibly assert itself. I believe in the logic of events; order has
imperious laws; it is useless to throw statues to the ground, the time
always comes when they are restored to their pedestals. From my rank I
fell unjustly, unhappily. I must be restored to it justly. Every glaring
injustice has a natural consequent, a brilliant reparation, I have
suffered extraordinary misfortune; I have a right to realize ideal
happiness. At twenty, I lost in one year my noble and too generous
father and my poor mother; it is only just that I should have a lover to
replace these lost ones.
As to these violent passions which you pretend I have inspired, but
which are by no means serious, I examine them calmly and find in the
analysis an explanation of many of the misfortunes, many of the mistakes
of poor women, who are accused of inconstancy and perfidy, and who are,
on the contrary, only culpable through innocence and honest faith. They
believe they love, and engage themselves, and then, once engaged, they
discover that they are not in love. Genuine love is composed of two
sentiments; we experience one of these when we believe we love; we are
uneasy, agitated by an imperfect sentiment that seeks completion; we
struggle in its feeble ties; we are neither bound nor free; not happy,
nor at liberty to seek happiness at another source.... The old
philosopher speaks--hear him.
There are two kinds of love, social love and natural love; voluntary
love and involuntary love. An accomplished and deserving young man loves
a woman; he loves her, and deserves to be loved in return; she wishes to
love him, and when alone thinks of him; if his name is mentioned, she
blushes; if any one says in her presence, "Madame B. used to be in love
with him," she is disturbed, agitated. These symptoms are certain proofs
of the state of her heart, and she says to herself, "I love Adolphe,"
just as I said, "I love Roger." ... But the voice of this man does not
move her to tears; his fiery glances do not make her turn pale or blush;
her hand does not tremble in the presence of his.... She only feels for
him social love; there exists between them a harmony of ideas and
education, but no sympathy of nature.
The other love is more dangerous, especially for married women, who
mistake remorse for that honest repugnance necessarily inspired in every
woman of refined mind and romantic imagination.
I frankly confess that if I had been married, if I had no longer control
of my actions, I should have thought I was in love with Edgar.... I
should have mistaken for an odious and culpable passion, the fearful
trouble, insupportable uneasiness that his love caused me to feel. But
my vigilant reason, my implacable good faith watched over my heart; they
said: "Shun Roger;" they said: "Fear Edgar...." If I had married Roger,
woe to me! Conventional love, leaving my heart all its dreams, would
have embittered my life.... But if, more foolish still, I had married
Edgar, woe, woe to me! because one does not sacrifice with impunity to
an incomplete love all of one's theories, habits and even weaknesses and
What enlightened me quickly upon the unreality of this love was the
liberty of my position. Why being free should I fear a legitimate love?
Strange mystery! wonderful instinct! With Roger, I sadly said to myself:
"I love him, but it is not with love." ... With Edgar, I said in fright:
"This is love, yet I do not love him." And then when Raymond appeared,
my heart, my reason, my faith at the first glance recognised him, and
without hesitation, almost without prudence, I cried out, "It is he....
I love him." ... Now this is what I call real love, ideal love, harmony
of ideas and sympathy of hearts.
Oh! it does me good to be a little pedantic; I am so excited, it calms
me; I am not so afraid of going crazy when I adopt the sententious
manner. Ah! when I can laugh I am happy. Anything that for a moment
checks my wild imagination, reassures me.
This morning we laughed like two children! You will laugh too; when I
write one name it will set you off; he said to me, "I must go to my
coachmaker's and see if my travelling carriage needs any repairs." I
said, "I have a new one; I will send for it, and let you see it." In an
hour my carriage was brought into the court-yard. With peals of laughter
he recognised Lady Penock's carriage. "Lady Penock! What! do you know
Lady Penock? Are you the audacious young lover who pursued her until she
was compelled to sell me her carriage." "Yes, I was the man." Ah! how
gay we were; he was the hero of Lady Penock, his was the little light,
he was the wounded man, he was the husband selected for me! Ah! it all
makes me dizzy; and we shall set off to travel in this carriage.
Ah! Lady Penock, you must pardon him.
IRENE DE CHATEAUDUN.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
Porte Restante (Rouen).
PARIS, Aug. 11th 18--.
Here I am in Paris, gloomy, with nothing to do, not knowing how to fill
up the void in my life, discontented with myself, ridiculous in my own
eyes, alike in my love and in my despair. I have never felt so sad, so
wretched, so cast-down. My days and nights are passed in endless
self-accusation: one by one I revise every word and action relating to
Louise Guerin. I compose superb sentences which I had forgotten to
pronounce, the effect of which would have been irresistible. I tell
myself: "On such a day, you were guilty of a stupid timidity, which
would have made even a college-boy laugh." It was the moment for daring.
Louise, unseen, threw you a look which you were too stupid to
understand. The evening that Madame Taverneau was at Rouen, you allowed
yourself to be intimidated like a fool, by a few grand airs, an
affectation of virtue over which the least persistence would have
triumphed. Your delicacy ruined you. A little roughness doesn't hurt
sometimes, especially with prudes. You have not profited by a single one
of your advantages; you let every opportunity pass. In short, I am like
a general who has lost a battle, and who, having retired to his tent, in
the midst of a field strewn with the dead and the dying marks out, too
late, a strategic plan which would have infallibly gained him the
What a pitiless monster an unsatiated desire is, tearing your heart with
its sharp claws and piercing beak for want of other prey! The punishment
of Prometheus pales beside it, for the arrows of Hercules cannot reach
this unseen vulture! This is my first unsuccessful love; the first
falcon that has returned to me without bringing the dove in his talons;
I am devoured by an inexpressible rage; I pace my room like a wild
beast, uttering inarticulate cries; I do not know whether I love or
hate Louise the most, but I should take infinite delight in strangling
her with her blonde tresses and trampling her, affrighted and suppliant,
under my feet.
My good Roger, I weary you with my lamentations; but whom can we weary,
if not our friends? When will you return to Paris? Soon, I hope, since
you have ceased writing to me.
I have gone back to the lady with the turban, passing nearly every
evening in the catafalque, which she calls her drawing-room. This
lugubrious habitation suits my melancholy. She finds me more gloomy,
more Giaour-like, more Lara-like than usual; I am her hero, her god! or
rather her demon, for she has now taken to the sorceries of the satanic
school! I assure you that she annoys me inexpressibly, and yet I feel a
sort of pleasure in being admired by her. It consoles my vanity for
Louise's disdain, but not my heart. Alas! my poor heart, which still
bleeds and suffers. I caught a glimpse of Paradise through a half-open
door. The door is shut, and I weep upon the threshold!
If Louise were dead, I might be calm; but she exists, and not for
me--that thought makes life insupportable. I can think of nothing else,
and I scarcely know whether the words I write to you make any sense. I
leave my letter unfinished. I will finish it this evening if I can
succeed in diverting myself, for a moment, from this despair which
Roger, something incredible has happened, overturning every calculation,
every prevision. I am stupefied, benumbed--I was at the Marquise's,
where it was darker than usual. One solitary lamp flickered in a corner,
dozing under a huge shade. A fat gentleman, buried in an easy-chair,
drowsily retailed the news of the day.
I was not listening to him; I was thinking of Louise's little white
couch, from which I had once lifted the snowy curtain; with that
sorrowful intensity, those poignant regrets which torture rejected
lovers. Suddenly a familiar name struck my ear--the name of Irene de
Chateaudun. I became attentive--"She is to be married to-morrow,"
continued the well-posted gentleman, "to--wait a minute, I get confused
about names and dates; with that exception, my memory is excellent--a
young man, Gaston, Raymond, I am not certain which, but his first name
ends in _on_ I am sure."
I eagerly questioned the fat man; he knew nothing more; hastily
returning to my rooms I sent Joseph out to obtain further information.
My servant, who is quick and intelligent, and merits a master more given
to intrigue and gallantry than I, went to the twelve mayors' offices. He
brought me a list of all the banns that had been published.
The news was true; Irene de Chateaudun marries Raymond. What does that
signify? Irene your fiancee, Raymond our friend! What comedy of errors
is being played here? This, then, was the motive of these flights, these
disappearances. They were laughing at you. It seems to me rather an
audacious proceeding. How does it happen that Raymond, who knew of your
projected marriage with Mademoiselle de Chateaudun, should have stepped
in your shoes? This comes of deeds of prowess a la Don Quixote, and
rescues of old Englishwomen.
Hasten, my friend, by railroad, post-horses, in the stirrup, on
hippogriff's wing; what am I talking about? You will scarcely receive my
letter ere the marriage has taken place. But I will keep watch for you.
I will acquit myself of your revenge, and Mademoiselle Irene de
Chateaudun shall not become Madame Raymond de Villiers until I have
whispered that in her ear which will make her paler than her marriage
veil. As to Raymond, I am not astonished at what he has done; I felt
towards him at Richeport a hate which never deceives me and which I
always feel towards cowards and hypocrites; he talked too much of virtue
not to be a scoundrel. I would I had the power to raze out from my life
the time that I loved him. It is impossible to oppose this revolting
marriage. How is it possible that Irene de Chateaudun, who was to enjoy
the honor of being your wife, whom you had represented to me as a woman
of high intelligence and lofty culture, could have allowed herself to
be impressed, after having known you, by the jeremiads of this
sentimental sniveller? Since Eve, women have disliked all that is noble,
frank and loyal; to fall is an unconquerable necessity of their nature;
they have always preferred, to the voice of an honorable man, the
perfidious whisper of the evil spirit, which shows its painted face
among the leaves and wraps its slimy coils around the fatal tree.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS _to_ MME. LA VICOMTESSE DE BRAIMES,
Hotel de la Prefecture, Grenoble (Isere).
Paris, Aug. 11th 18--.
This is probably the last letter that I shall ever write to you. Do not
pity me, my fate is more worthy of envy than of pity. I never knew, I
never dreamed of anything more beautiful. It has been said time and
again that real life is tame, spiritless and disenchanted by the side of
the fictions of the poets. What a mistake! There is a more wonderful
inventor than any rhapsodist, and that inventor is called reality. It
wears the magic ring, and imagination is but a poor magician compared
with it. Madame, do not write to Mademoiselle de Chateaudun. Since you
have not done so my letters must necessarily have miscarried. Blessed be
the happy chance which prevented you from following my advice! What did
I say to you? I was a fool. Be careful not to alarm my darling. The man
has lived long enough upon whom she has bestowed her love for one single
day. Do not write, it is too late; but admire the decrees of fate. The
diamond that I had sought with the Prince de Monbert, I have unwittingly
found; I assisted in searching for it, while it was hid, unknown to me,
in my heart. Louise is Irene. Madame Guerin is Mademoiselle de
Chateaudun. If you could have seen her delight in revealing her
identity! I saw her joyful and triumphant as if her love were not the
most precious gift she could bestow. When she proclaimed herself, I felt
an icy chill pass through me; but I thanked God for the bliss which I
shall not survive, so great that death must follow after.
"Do you not love me well enough," she said, "to pardon me my fortune?"
How was she to know that in revealing herself she had signed my
She spoke, laughingly, of M. de Monbert, as she had done of Edgar; to
excuse herself she related a story of disenchantment which you already
know, madame. It would have been honorable in me, at this juncture, to
have undeceived Irene and enlightened her upon the Prince's passion. I
did so, but feebly. When happiness is offered us loaded with ball, we
have no longer the right to be generous.
We are to be married privately to-morrow, without noise or display. A
plain-looking carriage will wait for us on the Place de la Madeleine;
immediately on leaving the church we shall set out for Villiers. M. de
Meilhan is at Richeport. M. de Monbert is in Brittany. Eight days must
elapse before the news can reach them. Thus I have before me eight days
of holy intoxication. What man has ever been able to say as much?
Recall to mind the words of one of your poet friends; It is better to
die young and restore to God, your judge, a heart pure and full of
illusions. Your poet is right; only it is more ecstatic to die in the
arms of happiness, and to be buried with the flower of a love which has
not yet faded.
My love would never have followed the fatal law of common-place
affection; years would never have withered it in their passage. But what
signifies its duration, if we can crowd eternity into an hour? What
signifies the number of days if the days are full?
Nevertheless, I cannot refrain from regretting an existence which
promises so much beauty. We would have been very happy in my little
chateau on the Creuse. I was born for fireside joys, the delights of
home. I already saw my beautiful children playing over my green lawns,
and pressing joyfully around their mother. What exquisite pleasure to be
able to initiate into the mysteries of fortune the sweet and noble being
whom I then believed to be poor and friendless! I would take possession
of her life to make a long fete-day of it. What tender care would I not
bestow upon so dear and charming a destiny! Downy would be her nest,
warm the sun that shone upon her, sweet the perfumes that surrounded
her, soft the breezes that fanned her cheek, green and velvety the turf
under her delicate feet! But a truce to such sweet dreams. I know M. de
Monbert; what I have seen of him is sufficient. M. de Meilhan, too, will
not disappoint me. I shall not conceal myself; in eight days these two
men will have found me. In eight days they will knock at my door, like
two creditors, demanding restitution, one of Louise, the other of Irene.
If I were to descend to justification, even if I were to succeed in
convincing them of my loyalty and uprightness, their despair would cry
out all the louder for vengeance. Then, madame, what shall I do? Shall I
try to take the life of my friends after having robbed them of their
happiness? Let them kill me; I shall be ready; but they shall see upon
my lips, growing cold in death, the triumphant smile of victorious love;
my last sigh, breathing Irene's name, will be a cruel insult to these
unhappy men, who will envy me even in the arms of death.
I neither believe nor desire that Irene should survive me. My soul, in
leaving, will draw hers after it. What would she do here below, without
me? You will see, that feeling herself gently drawn upward, she will
leave a world that I no longer inhabit. I repeat, that I would not have
her live on earth without me. But sorrow does not always kill; youth is
strong, and nature works miracles. I have seen trees, struck by
lightning, still stand erect and put forth new leaves. I have seen
blasted lives drag their weary length to a loveless old age. I have seen
noble hearts severed from their mates, slowly consumed by the weariness
of widowhood and solitude. If we could die when we have lost those we
love, it would be too sweet to love. Jealous of his creature, God does
not always permit it. It is a grace which he accords only to the elect.
If, by a fatality not without precedent, Irene should have the strength
and misfortune to survive me, to you, madame, do I confide her. Care for
her, not with the hope of consoling her, but to banish all bitterness
from her regrets. Picture my death to her, not as the expiation of the
innocent whim of her youth, but as that of a happiness too great to go
unchecked. Tell her that there are great joys as well as great sorrows,
and that when they have outweighed the human measure of happiness, the
heart which holds them must break and grow still. Tell her, ah! above
all, tell her that I have dearly loved her, and if I carry her whole
life away with me, I leave her mine in exchange. Finally, madame, tell
her that I died blessing her, regretting that I had but one life to lay
down as the price of her love.
While I write, I see her at her window, smiling, radiant, beautiful,
beaming with happiness, resplendent with life and youth.
Farewell, madame; an eternal farewell!
RAYMOND DE VILLIERS.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
Paris, August 12th 18--.
What I wrote you yesterday was very infamous and incredible. You think
that is all; well, no! you have only half of the story. My hand trembles
with rage so that I can scarcely hold my pen. What remains to be told is
the acme of perfidy; a double-dyed treason; we have been made game of,
you as a plighted husband, I as a lover. All this seems as incoherent to
you as a dream. What can I have in common with Irene whom I have never
seen? Wait, you shall see!
My faithful Joseph discovered that the marriage was to take place at the
Church of the Madeleine, at six o'clock in the morning.
I was so agitated, so restless, so tormented by gloomy presentiments
that I did not go to bed. At the given hour I went out wrapped in my
cloak. Although it is summer-time I was cold; a slight feverish chill
ran through me. The catastrophe to come had already turned me pale.
The Madeleine stood out faintly against the gray morning sky. The livid
figures of some revellers, surprised by the day, were seen here and
there on the street corners. The stir of the great city had not yet
begun. I thought I had arrived too soon, but a carriage with neither
crest nor cipher, in charge of a servant in quiet livery, was stationed
in one of the cross-streets that run by the church.
I ascended the steps with uncertain footing, and soon saw, in one of
those spurious chapels, which have been stuck with so much trouble in
that counterfeit Greek temple, wax lights and the motions of the priest
The bride, enveloped in her veil, prostrated before the altar, seemed to
be praying fervently; the husband, as if he were not the most
contemptible of men, stood erect and proud, his face beaming with joy.
The ceremony drew to a close, Irene raised her head, but I was so placed
as not to be able to distinguish her features.
I leaned against a column in order to whisper in Irene's ear, as she
passed, a word as cutting as the crystal poniards of the bravos of
Venice, which break in the wound and slay without a drop of blood. Irene
advanced buoyantly along, leaning on Raymond's arm, with an undulating,
rhythmical grace, as if her feet trod the yielding clouds, instead of
the cold stones of the aisle. She no longer walked the earth, her
happiness lifted her up; the ardor of her delight made me comprehend
those assumptions of the Saints, who soared in their ecstasy above the
floors of their narrow cells and caverns; she felt the deep delight of a
woman who sacrifices herself.
When she reached the column that concealed me, an electrical current
doubtless warned her of my presence, for she shuddered as if struck by
an unseen arrow, and quickly turned her head; a stray sunbeam lit up her
face, and I recognised in Irene de Chateaudun, Louise Guerin; in the
rich heiress, the screen-painter of Pont de l'Arche!
Irene and Louise were the same person!
We have been treated as Cassandras of comedy; we have played in all
seriousness the scene between Horace and Arnolphe. We have confided to
each other our individual loves, hopes and sorrows. It is very amusing;
but, contrary to custom, the tragedy will come after the farce, and we
will play it so well that no one will be tempted to laugh at our
expense; we will convert ridicule into terror. Ah! Mademoiselle Irene de
Chateaudun, you imagined that you could amuse yourself with two such men
as the Prince de Moubert and Edgar de Meilhan! that there it would end,
and you had only to say to them: "I love another better!" And you,
Master Raymond, thought that your virtuous reputation would make your
perfidy appear like an act of devotion! No, no, in the drama where the
great lady was an adventuress, the artless girl a fast woman, the hero
a traitor, the lover a fool, and the betrothed husband a Geronte, the
roles are to be changed.
A hoarse cry escaped me, Irene clung convulsively to Raymond's arm, and
precipitately left the church. Raymond, without understanding this
sudden flight, yielded to it and rapidly descended the steps. The
carriage was in waiting; they got into it; the coachman whipped up his
horses and soon they were out of sight.
Irene, Louise, whatever may be your name or your mask, you shall not
long remain Madame de Villiers; a speedy widowhood will enable you to
begin your coquetries again. I regret to be compelled to strike you
through another, for _you_ merit death.
EDGAR BE MEILHAN.
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ MONSIEUR LE COMTE DE VILLIERS,
Au Chateau de Villiers (Creuse).
August 16th 18--.
I take pleasure in sending you, by way of apologue, an anecdote, which
you may read with profit.
During my travels I met with an estimable man, a Creole of the colony of
Port Natal, by the name of Smollet.
I sometimes hunted in the neighborhood of his place, and on two
occasions demanded his hospitality. He received me in a dubious manner,
admitted me to his table, scarcely spoke to me; served me with
Constantia wine, refused to accept my proffered hand, and surrendered me
his own couch to rest my wearied limbs upon. From Port Natal I wrote
this savage two notes of thanks, commencing: _My dear friend_--in
writing, I could not confer on him a title of rank, so I gave him one of
affection: _My dear friend_. My letters were ignored--as I had asked
nothing, there was nothing to answer. One evening I met the Creole
walking up the avenue of Port Natal, and advanced towards him, and held
out my hand in a friendly way. Once more he declined to accept it. My
vexation was apparent: "Monsieur," said the savage, "you appear to be an
honest, sincere young man, very unlike a European. I must enlighten and
warn your too unsuspecting mind. You have several times called me _your
dear friend_. Doing this might prove disastrous to you, and then I would
be in despair. I am not your friend; I am the friend of no one.... Avoid
me, monsieur; shun my neighborhood, shun my house. Withdraw the
confidence, that with the carelessness of a traveller you have reposed
in me.... Adieu!" This _adieu_ was accompanied by a sinister smile and a
savage look that were anything but reassuring to me. I afterwards
discovered that the Creole Smollet was a professional bandit!!
I hope, Monsieur de Villiers, that the application of this apologue will
not escape you. At all events, I will add a few lines to enlighten your
unsophisticated mind. You have always been my friend, monsieur. You have
never disclaimed this relation; you have always pressed my hand when we
met. Your professed friendship justified my confidence, and it would
have been ungrateful in me to have esteemed you less than I did the
savage. You and Mad. de Braimes have cunningly organized against me a
plot of the basest nature. Doubtless you call it a happy combination of
forces--I call it a perfidious conspiracy. I imagine I hear you and Mad.
de Braimes at this very moment laughing at your victim as you
congratulate yourselves on the success of your machinations. It affords
me pleasure to think that one of these two friends is, perhaps, a man.
Were they both women I could not demand satisfaction. You deserve my
gratitude for your great kindness in assisting me when I most needed a
friend. When I sought Mlle, de Chateaudun with a foolish, blind anxiety,
you charitably aided me in my efforts to find her. You were my guide, my
compass, my staff; you led me over roads where Mlle, de Chateaudun never
thought of going; your guidance was so skilful that at the end of my
searches you alone found what we had both been vainly seeking. You must
have been delighted and entertained at the result, monsieur! Did Mad. de
Braimes laugh very much? Truly, monsieur, you are old beyond your years,
and your education was not confined to Greek and Latin; your talent for
acting has been cultivated by a profound study of human nature. You play
high comedy to perfection, and you should not let your extreme modesty
prevent your aspiring to a more brilliant theatre. It is a pity that
your fine acting should be wasted upon me alone. You deserve a larger
and more appreciative audience! You do not know yourself. I will hold a
mirror before your eyes; you can affect astonishment, disinterestedness,
magnanimity, and a constellation of other virtues, blooming like flowers
in the gardens of the golden age. You are a perfected comedian. If you
really possessed all the virtues you assume, you would, like Enoch,
excite the jealousy of Heaven, and be translated to your proper sphere.
A man of your transcendent virtue would be a moral scourge in our
corrupt society. He would, by contrast, humiliate his neighbors. In
these degenerate days such a combination of gifts is antagonistic to
Do relieve our anxiety by accepting the title of comedian. Acknowledge
yourself to be an actor, and our anxious fears are quieted.
I would have my mind set at rest upon one more point. Courage is another
virtue that can be assumed by a coward, and it would afford me great
pleasure to see you act the part of a _brave_ comedian.
While waiting for your answer I feel forced to insult you by thinking
that this last talent is wanting in your rich repertory. Be kind enough
to deny this imputation, and prove yourself to be a thoroughly
Your admiring audience,
ROGER DE MONBERT.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ COUNT DE VILLIERS,
Chateau de Villiers, via Gueret (Creuse).
PARIS, Aug. 16th 18--.
Noble hidalgo, illustrious knight of la Mancha; you who are so fond of
adventures and chivalric deeds, I am about to make you a proposition
which, I hope, will suit your taste: a fight with sharp weapons, be it
lance, or axe, or dagger; a struggle to the death, showing neither pity
nor quarter. I know beforehand what you are going to say: Your native
generosity will prevent you from fighting a duel with your friend. In
the first place, I am not your friend; traitors have not that honor. Do
not let that scruple stop you, refined gentleman.
Your mask has fallen off, dear Tartuffe with the fine feelings. We now
know to what figures you devote yourself. Before dragging English women
out of the flames you are well aware of their social position. You save
friends from bankruptcy at a profit of eighty per cent., and when you
make love to a grisette, you have her crest and the amount of her income
in your pocket. In coming to my house, you knew that Louise was Irene.
Madame de Braimes had acquainted you with all the circumstances during
your interesting convalescence. All this may seem very natural to others
and to a virtuous mortal, a Grandison like yourself. But I think
differently; to me your conduct appears cowardly, base and contemptible.
I should not be able to control myself, but would endeavor to make you
comprehend my opinion of you, by slapping you in the face, wherever I
met you. I hope that you will spare me such a disagreeable alternative
by consenting to _pose_ for a few moments before my sword or pistol, as
you please. Allow me to entreat you not to exhibit any grandeur of soul,
by firing in the air, it would not produce the slightest effect upon me,
for I should kill you like a dog. Your presence upon the earth annoys
me, and I do not labor for morality in deeds myself.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN.
COMTE DE VILLIERS _to_ MESSRS. ROGER DE MONBERT _and_
EDGAR DE MEILHAN,
VILLIERS, Aug 18th 18--.
Let us drop such language unworthy of you and of me. We are gentlemen,
of military descent; our fathers when they did each other the honor that
you offer me, challenged, but did not insult each other. If the affair
were equal, if I had only one to contend with, perhaps I might attempt
to bring him to reason There are two of you; come on, I await you.
COMTE DE VILLIERS XXXIX.
VILLIERS, August 21st 18--.
For two days I have been trying to answer your letter, my dear
Valentine, but I am so uneasy, nervous and excited that I dare not
commit to paper my wild and troubled thoughts; I am still sane enough to
accuse myself of madness, but dread to prove it. Were I to write down
all the strange ideas that rush through my mind, and then read them
over, conviction of insanity would stare me in the face.
I was right when I told you it was a risk to accept such a wealth of
happiness; my sweet enchantment is disturbed by dark threatening
clouds--danger lurks in the air--the lightest word fills me with
uneasiness--a letter written in a strange hand--an unexpected visitor,
who leaves Raymond looking preoccupied--everything alarms me, and he
gently chides me and asks why I look so sad. I say because I am too
happy; but he thinks this a poor reason for my depression, and to divert
my thoughts he walks with me through the beautiful valleys and tells me
of his youth and the golden dreams of his early manhood, and assures me
that his dreams of happiness are realized beyond his most exalted
hopes--that he did not believe the angels would permit so perfect a
being as myself to dwell on earth--that to be loved by me for a day, for
an hour, he would willingly give up his life, and that such a sacrifice
was a small price for such a love. I dared not mar his happiness by
giving expression to my sad fears. His presence allays my apprehensions;
he has so much confidence in the future that I cannot help being
inspired with a portion of it; thus, when he is near me, I feel happy
and reassured, but if he leaves me for a moment I am beset by myriads of
terrible threatening phantoms. I accuse myself of having been imprudent
and cruel; I fear I have not, as you say, inspired two undying passions,
two life-long devotions, but exasperated two vindictive men. I well know
that M. de Monbert did not love me, and yet I fear his unjust
resentment. I recall Edgar's absurd breach of faith, and Edgar, whose
image had until now only seemed ridiculous, Edgar appears before my
troubled vision furious and threatening. I am haunted by a vague
remembrance: The day of my wedding, after the benediction, as we were
leaving the chapel, I was terribly frightened--in the silent gloom of
the immense church I heard a voice, an angry stifled voice, utter my
name ... the name I bore at Pont de l'Arche--Louise!... I quickly turned
around to see whence came this voice that could affect me so powerfully
at such a moment! I could discover no one.... Louise!... Many women are
called Louise, it is a common name--perhaps it was some father calling
his daughter, or some brother his sister. There was nothing remarkable
in the calling of this name, and yet it filled me with alarm. I recalled
Edgar's looks on that evening he was so angry with me; the rage gleaming
in his eyes; the violent contraction of his features, his voice terrible
and stifled like the voice in the church, and I was now convinced that
his love was full of haughty pride, selfishness and hatred. But I said
to myself, if it had been he, he would have followed me and looked in
our carriage--I would have seen him in the church, or on the portico
outside.... Besides, why should he have come?... he had given up seeing
me; he could easily have found me had he so desired; he knew where
Madame Taverneau's house was in Paris, and he knew that I lived with
her; if he had hoped to be received by me, he would have simply called
to pay a visit.... Finally, if he was at this early hour--six in the
morning--in the church, at so great a distance from where I live, it was
not to act as a spy upon me. The man who called Louise was not Edgar--it
could not have been Edgar. This reflection reassured me. I questioned
Raymond; he had seen no one, heard no one. I remembered that M. de
Meilhan was not in Paris, and tried to convince myself that it was
foolish to think of him any more. But yesterday I learned in a letter
from Madame Taverneau--who as yet knows nothing of my marriage or
departure from Paris, and will not know, until a year has elapsed, of
the fortune I have settled upon her--I learned that M. de Meilhan left
Havre and came direct to Paris. His mother did not tell him that I had
gone with her to bring him home. When she found that her own influence
was sufficient to detain him in France, she was silent as to my share in
the journey. I thank her for it, as I greatly prefer he should remain
ignorant of the foolish idea I had of sacrificing myself at his shrine
in order to make his mother happy. But what alarms me is that she keeps
him in Paris because she knows that he will learn the truth at
Richeport, and because she hopes that the gayeties around him will more
quickly make him forget this love that so interfered with her ambitious
projects. So Edgar _was_ in Paris the day of my wedding ... and perhaps
... but no, who could have told him anything? I lived three miles from
the parish where I was married.... It could not have been he ... and yet
I fear that man.... I remember with what bitterness and spite he spoke
to me of Raymond, in a letter, filled with unjust reproaches, that he
wrote me three days after my departure from Richeport. In this letter,
which I immediately burned, he told me that M. de Villiers was engaged
to be married to his cousin. O how wretched this information made me! It
had been broken off years ago, but M. de Villiers thought the engagement
still existed; he spoke of it as a tie that would prevent his friend
from indulging in any pretensions to my favor; and yet what malevolence
there was in his praise of him, what jealous fear in his insolent
security! How ingenuously he said: "Since I have no cause to fear him,
why do I hate him?" I now remember this hatred, and it frightens me.
Aided by Roger he will soon know all; he will discover that Irene de
Chateaudun and Louise Guerin are the same person, and then two furious
men will demand an explanation of my trifling with their feelings and
reproach me with the duplicity of my conduct.... Valentine, do you think
they could possibly act thus? Valentine! do you think these two men, who
have so shamefully insulted my memory, so grossly betrayed me and proved
themselves disgracefully faithless, would dare lay any claims to my
love? Alas! in spite of the absurdity of such a supposition, Heaven
knows they are fully capable of acting thus; men in love have such
relaxed morality, such elastic consciences!
Under pretext of imaginary ungovernable passions, they indulge, without
compunction, in falsehood, duplicity and the desecration of every
virtue!... and yet think a pure love can condone and survive such
unpardonable wrongs. They lightly weigh the tribute due to the
refinement of a woman's heart. Their devotion is characterized by a
singular variety. The loyal love of noble women is sacrificed to please
the whims of those unblushing creatures who pursue such men with
indelicate attentions and enslave them by flattering their inordinate
vanity, and they, to preserve their self-love unhurt, pierce and
mortally wound the generous hearts that live upon their affection and
revere their very names--these they strike without pity and without
remorse. And then when the tender love falls from these broken hearts,
like water from a shattered vase, never to be recovered, they are
astonished, uneasy, ... they have broken the heart filled with love, and
now, with stupid surprise and pretended innocence, they ask what has
become of the love!... they cowardly murdered it, and are indignant that
it dared to die beneath their cruel blows. But why dwell upon Edgar and
his anger and hatred, of Roger and his fury? Fate needs not these
terrible instruments to destroy our happiness; the slightest accident,
the most trifling imprudence can serve its cruelty; every thing will
assist it in taking vengeance upon a man revelling in too much love, too
much love. The cold north wind blowing at night upon his heated brow may
strike him with the chill of death; the bridge may perfidiously break
beneath his feet and cast him in the surging torrent below; a lofty
rock, shivered by the winter frost, may fall upon him and crush him to
atoms; his favorite horse may be frightened at a shadow and hurl him
over the threatening precipice ... that child playing in front of my
window might carelessly strike him on the temple with one of those
pebbles and kill him....
Oh! Valentine, I am not laboring under an illusion. I see danger; the
world revolts against pure, unalloyed happiness; society pursues it as
an offence; nature curses it because of its perfection; to her every
perfect thing seems a monstrosity not to be borne--directly she suspects
its existence, she gives the alarm and the elements unite in conspiring
against this happiness; the thunder-bolt is warned and holds itself in
readiness to burst over the radiant brow. With human beings all the evil
passions are simultaneously aroused: secret notice, unknown voices warn
the envious people of every nation that there is somewhere a great joy
to be disturbed; that in some corner of the earth two beings exist who
sought and found each other--two hearts that love with ideal equality
and intoxicating harmony.... Chance itself, that careless railer, is
overbearing and jealous towards them; it is angry with these two beings
who voluntarily sought and conscientiously chose each other without
waiting for it to confer happiness upon them--it discovers their names,
that never knows the name of any one, and pursues them with its
animosity; it recovers its sight in order to recognise and strike them.
I feel that we are too happy! Death stares us in the face! My soul
shudders with fear! On earth we are not allowed to taste of supreme
delight--pure, unalloyed happiness--to feel at once that ecstasy of soul
and delirium of passion--that pride of love and loftiness of a pure
conscience ... burning joys are only permitted to culpable love. When
two unfortunate beings, bound by detested ties, meet and mutually
recognise the ideals of their dreams, they are allowed to love each
other because they have met too late, because this immense joy, this
finding one's ideal, is poisoned by remorse and shame. Their criminal
happiness can remain undisturbed because it is criminal; it has the
conditions of life, frailty and misery; it bears the impress of sin,
therefore it belongs to a common humanity.... But find ideal bliss in a
legitimate union, find it in time to welcome it without shame and
cherish it without remorse; be happy as a lover and honored as a wife;
to experience the wild ardor of love and preserve the charming freshness
of purity--to delight in obeying the equitable law of the most
harmonious love by being alternately a slave and a queen; to call upon
him who calls upon you; seek him who seeks you; love him who loves
you--in a word, to be the idol of your idol!... it is too much, it
surpasses human happiness, it is stealing fire from heaven--it is, I
tell you, incurring the punishment of death!
In my enthusiasm I already stand upon the boundary of the true world---
I have a glimpse of paradise; earth recedes from my gaze; I understand
and expect death, because life has bid me a last farewell--the
exaltation that I feel belongs to the future of the blessed; it is a
triumphant dying--that final and supremely happy thought that tells me
my soul is about to take its flight.
Oh! merciful God! my brain is on fire! and why do I write you these
incoherent thoughts! Valentine, you see all excessive emotions are
alike; the delirium of joy resembles the frenzy of despair. Having
attained the summit of happiness, what do we see at our feet?... a
yawning abyss!... we have lost the steep path by which we so painfully
reached the top; once there, we have no means of gradually descending
the declivity ... from so great a height we cannot walk, we fall!
There is but one way of preserving happiness--abjure it--never welcome
it; sometimes it delights in visiting ungrateful people. Vainly do I
seek to reassure myself by expiation, by sacrifices; during these eight
days I have been lavishly giving gold in the neighborhood, I have
endowed all the children, fed the poor, enriched the hospitals; I would
willingly ruin myself by generous charity, by magnificent donations--I
would cheerfully give my entire fortune to obtain rest and peace for my
Every morning I enter the empty church and fervently pray that God will
permit me by some great sacrifice to insure my happiness. I implore him
to inflict upon me hard trials, great humiliations, intense pain,
sufferings beyond any strength, but to have mercy upon my poor heart and
spare me Raymond ... to leave me a little longer Raymond, ...
Raymond and his love!
But these tears and prayers will be vain--Raymond himself, without
understanding his presentiments, instinctively feels that his end is
approaching. His purity of soul, his magnanimity, the unexampled
disinterestedness of his conduct, are indications--these sublime virtues
are symptoms of death--this generosity, this disinterestedness are tacit
adieux. Raymond possesses none of the weaknesses of men destined for a
long life; he has indulged in none of the wicked passions of the age--he
has kept himself apart, observing but not sharing the actions of men. He
regards life as if he were a pilgrim, and takes no part in any of its
turmoils--he has not bargained for any of its disenchantments; his great
pride, his life-long, unbending loyalty have concealed a mournful
secret; he has stood aloof because he was convinced of his untimely end.
He feels self-reliant because he will only have a short time to
struggle; he is joyous and proud, because he looks upon the victory as
already won ... I weep as I admire him.
Alas! am I to regard with sorrow and fear these noble qualities--these
seductive traits that won my love? Is it because he deserves to be loved
more than any being on earth has ever been loved, that I tremble for
him! Valentine, does not such an excess of happiness excite your pity?
Ever since early this morning, I have been suffering torment--Raymond
left me for a few hours--he went to Gueret; one of his cousins returning
from the waters of Neris was to pass through there at ten o'clock, and
requested him to meet her at the hotel. Nothing is more natural, and I
have no reason to be alarmed--yet this short absence disturbs me as much
as if it were to last years--it makes me sad--it is the first time we
have been separated so long a time during these eight blissful days.
Ah! how I love him, and how heavy hangs time on my hands during his
One thought comforts me in my present state of exaltation; I am unequal
to any great misfortune.... A fatal piece of news, a painful sight, a
false alarm ... a certain dreaded name mingled with one that I
adore--ah! a false report, although immediately contradicted, would
kill me on the spot--I could not live the two minutes it would require
to hear the denial--the truth happily demonstrated. This thought
consoles me--if my happiness is to end, I shall die with it.
Valentine, it is two o'clock! Oh! why does Raymond not return? My heart
sinks--my hand trembles so that I can scarcely hold the pen--my eyes
grow dim.... What can detain him? He left at eight, and should have
returned long ago. I know well that the relative he went to see might
have been delayed on the road--she may have mistaken the time, women are
so ignorant about travelling--they never understand the timetables.
All this tells me I am wrong to be uneasy--and yet ... I shudder at
every sound.... his horse is so fiery.... I am astonished that Raymond
did not let me read his relative's letter; he said he had left it on his
table ... but I looked on the table and it was not there. I wished to
read the letter so as to find out the exact time he was to be at Gueret,
and then I could tell when to expect him home.
But this relative is the mother of the girl he was to have married....
perhaps she still loves him.... is she with her mother?... Ah! what an
absurd idea! I am so uneasy that I divert my mind by being jealous--to
avoid thinking of possible dangers, I conjure up impossible ones.... Oh!
my God! it is not his love I doubt ... his love equals mine--it is the
intensity of his love that frightens me--it is in this love so pure, so
perfect, so divine--in this complete happiness that the danger lies. Is
it not sinful to idolize one of God's creatures, when this adoration is
due to God alone--to devote one's whole existence to a human being, for
his sake to forget everything else? This is the sin before Heaven ...
Oh! if I could only see him, and once more hear his voice! That blessed
voice I love so much! How miserable I am!... What agony I suffer!... I
stifle ... my brain whirls--my mind is so confused that I cannot think
... this torture is worse than death ... And then if he should suddenly
appear before me, what joy!... Oh! I don't wish him to enter the room
at once--I would like one minute to prepare myself for the happiness of
seeing him ... one single moment.... If he were to abruptly enter, I
would become frantic with joy as I embraced him!
My dear Valentine, what a torment is love!... It is utterly impossible
for me to support another hour of this agitation. I am sure I have a
fever--I shiver with cold--I burn--my brain is on fire....
As I write this to you, seated at the window, I eagerly watch the long
avenue by which he must return.... I write a word ... a whole line so as
to give him time to approach, hoping I will see him coming when I raise
my eyes--.... After writing each line I look again.... nothing appears
in the distance; I see neither his horse nor the cloud of dust that
would announce his approach. The clock strikes! three o'clock!...
Valentine! it is fearful ... hope deserts me ... all is lost ... I feel
myself dying ... Instinct tells me that some dreadful tragedy, ruinous
to me, is now enacting on this earth.... Ah! my heart breaks ... I
suffer torture.... Raymond! Raymond! Valentine! my mother! help!...
help!... I see a horse rushing up the avenue ... but it is not Raymond's
... ah! it _is_ his ... but ... I don't see Raymond ... the saddle is
empty ... God!
This unfinished letter of the Comtesse de Villiers to Madame de Braimes
bore neither address nor signature.
ROGER DE MONBERT _to_ MONSIEUR EDGAR DE MEILHAN,
Hotel de Bellevue, Bruxelles (Belgique).
You are now at Brussels, my dear Edgar, at least for my own peace of
mind I hope so. Although I fear not for you the rigors of the law, still
I am anxious to know that you are on a safe and hospitable shore.
Criminal trials, even when they have a favorable issue, are injurious.
In your case it is necessary to keep concealed, await the result of
public opinion, and let future events regulate your conduct. Besides, as
there is no law about duelling, you must distrust the courts of justice.
The day will come when some jury, tired of so many acquittals, will
agree upon a conviction. Your case may be decided by this jury--so it is
only prudent for you to disappear, and abide the issue.
Things have entirely changed during my ten years' absence; all this is
new to me. Immediately after the duel I obeyed your instructions, and
went to see your lawyer, Delestong. With the exception of a few
omissions, I was obliged to relate everything that happened. I must tell
you exactly what I said and what I left unsaid, so that if we are
summoned before the court our testimony shall not conflict.
It was unnecessary to relate what passed between us before the duel, so
I merely said we had drawn lots as to who should be the avenger, and who
the second; nor did I deem it proper to explain the serious causes of
the duel, as it would have resulted in a long story, and the bringing in
of women's names at every turn, an unpardonable thing in a man. I simply
said the cause was serious, and of a nature to fully justify a deadly
meeting; that we, Monsieur de Meilhan and myself, left Gueret at six
o'clock in the morning; when three miles from the town, we left the
high-road of Limoges and entered that part of the woods called the
Little Cascade, where we dismounted and awaited the arrival of M. de
Villiers, who, in a few minutes, rode up to us, accompanied by two
army-officers as seconds. We exchanged bows at a distance of ten feet,
but nothing was said until the elder of the officers advanced towards
me, shook my hand, and drawing me aside, began: "We military men dare
not refuse to act on this occasion as seconds when summoned by a brave
man, but we always come with the hope of effecting a reconciliation.
These young men are hot-headed. There is some pretty woman at the root
of the difficulty, and they are acting the roles of foolish rivals. The
day has passed for men to fight about such silly things; it is no longer
the fashion. Now, cannot we arrange this matter satisfactorily, without
injuring the pride of these gentlemen?"
"Monsieur," I replied, "it is with profound regret that I decline making
any amicable settlement of this affair. Under any other circumstances I
would share your peaceable sentiments; as it is, we have come here with
a fixed determination. If you knew--"
"Do tell me the provocation--I am very anxious to learn it," said the
officer, interrupting me, eagerly.
"You ask what is impossible," I replied; "nothing could alter our
determination. We fully made up our minds before coming here."
"That being the case, monsieur," said he, "my friend and I will
withdraw; we decline to countenance a murder."
"If you retire, captain," I responded, pressing his hand, "I will also
leave, and not be answerable for the result--and what will be the
consequence? I can assure you, upon my honor, that these gentlemen will
fight without seconds."
The officer bowed and waved his hand, in sign of forced acquiescence.
After a short pause, he continued: "We have entered upon a very
distasteful affair, and the sooner it is ended the better. Have they
decided upon the weapons?"
"They have decided, monsieur, to draw lots for the choice of arms," I
"Then," he cried, "there has been no insult given or received; they are
both in the right and both in the wrong."
"Exactly so, captain."
"I suppose we will have to consent to it. Let us draw for the weapons,
since it is agreed upon."
The lot fell on the sword.
"With this weapon," I said, "all the disadvantages are on the side of M.
de Meilhan; the skilful fencing of his adversary is celebrated among
amateurs. He is one of Pons's best scholars."
"Have you brought a surgeon?" said the captain.
"Yes, monsieur, we left Dr. Gillard in a house near by."
As you see, dear Edgar, I shall lay great stress upon the disadvantages
you labored under in using the sword; and, when necessary, I shall
express in eloquent terms the agony I felt when I saw your hand, more
skilful in handling the pen than the sword, hesitatingly grasp the hilt.
I finished my deposition in these words: "When the distance had been
settled, by casting lots, we handed our principals two swords exactly
alike; one of the adverse seconds and myself stood three steps off with
our canes raised in order to separate them at all risk, if necessary, in
obedience to the characteristically French injunction of the duelling
code as laid down by M. Chateunvillard.
"At the given signal the swords were bravely crossed; Edgar, with the
boldness of heroic inexperience, bravely attacked his adversary.
Raymond, compelled to defend himself, was astonished. At this terrible
moment, when thought paralyzes action, he was absorbed in thought. The
contest was brief. Edgar's sword, only half parried, pierced his rival's
heart. The surgeon came to gaze upon a lifeless corpse.
"Edgar mounted his horse, rode off and I have not seen him since. Those
who remained rendered the last offices to the dead."
I am obliged to write you these facts, my dear Edgar, not for
information, but to recall them to you in their exact order; and
especially, I repeat, in order to avoid contradiction on the
witness-stand. Now I must write you of what you are ignorant.
I had a duty to fulfil, much more terrible than yours, and I was obliged
to recall our execrable oath in order to renew courage and strength to
keep my promise.
Before we had cast lots for the leading part in this duel, we swore to
go ourselves to the house of this woman and announce to her the issue of
the combat, if it proved favorable to us. In the delirium of angry
excitement, filling our burning hearts at the moment, this oath appeared
to be the most reasonable thing in the world. Our blood boiled with such
violent hatred against him and her that it seemed just for vengeance,
with refined cruelty, to step over a corpse and pursue its work ere its
second victim had donned her widow's robes.
Edgar! Edgar! when I saw that blood flowing, when I saw life and youth
converted into an inanimate mass of clay, when you left me alone on this
inanimate theatre of death, my feelings underwent a sudden revolution;
this moment seemed to age me a half a century, and without lessening my
hatred, only left me a confused perception of it, with a vague memory
full of disenchantment and sadness.
The crime was great, it is true, but what a terrible expiation! What
hellish torture heaped upon him at once! To lose all at the point of the
sword, all!--youth, fortune, love, wife, celestial joys, beautiful
nature and the light of the sun!
However, dear Edgar, I remembered our solemn promise; and as you were
not here to release me, I was obliged to fulfil it to the letter. And
then again, shall I say it, this humane consideration did not extend to
the offending woman; my heart was still filled with a sentiment that has
no name in the language of the passions!--A mixture of hatred, love,
jealousy, scorn and despair.
She was not dead! A man had been sacrificed as a victim upon the altar
of this goddess: that was all.
Do not women require amusement of this sort?
She would live; to-day, she would weep; to-morrow, seek the common path
of consolation. One victim is not enough to gratify her cruel vanity!
She must be quickly consoled, that she might be ready to receive fresh
sacrifices in her temple.
My heart filled with angry passions awakened by these thoughts, I
spurred my horse, and hastened in the direction of the house that had
been described to me the day before. I soon recognised the picturesque
spot, where this accursed house lay concealed in the midst of beautiful
trees and smiling waters.
An electric shock must have communicated to you, dear Edgar, the
oppression of heart I felt at the sight of the landscape. There was the
history of love in every tree and flower. There was an ineffable record
in the hedges of the valleys; loving caresses in the murmur of the
water-lilies; ecstasies of lovers in the quivering of the leaves; divine
intoxication in the exhalations of the wild flowers, and in the lights,
shadows and gentle breezes under the mysterious alcoves of the trees.
Oh! how happy they must have been in this paradise! The whole air was
filled with the life of their love and happiness! There must have been
present a supernatural and invisible being, who was a jealous witness of
this wedded bliss, and who made use of your sword to destroy it! So much
happiness was an offence before heaven. We have been the blind
instrument of a wrathful spirit. But what mattered death after such a
day of perfect bliss! After having tasted the most exquisite tenderness
in the world! When looking at the proud young husband sitting in this
flowery bower, with the soft starlight revealing his happy face as he
tenderly and hopefully gazed on his lovely bride, who would not have
exclaimed with the poet,
"My life for a moment of bliss like this."
Who would not have welcomed your sword-thrust as the price of a moment's
duration of such divine joy?
The survivors are the unfortunate ones, because they saw but could not
taste this happiness.
Infernal Tantalus of the delights of Paradise, because their dream has
become the reality of another, and lawful vengeance leaves them a
satisfaction poisoned by remorse!
Come with me, dear Edgar, in my sad pilgrimage to this accursed house,
and with me behold the closing scene. I left the shade of the woods and
approached the lawn, that, like an immense terrace of grass and flowers,
spread before the house. I saw many strange things, and with that
comprehensive, sweeping glance of feverish excitement; two horses
covered with foam, their saddles empty and bridles dragging, trampled
down the flower-borders. One horse was Raymond's, returned riderless!
Doubtless brought home by the servant who had accompanied him.
Not a face was visible, in the sun, the shade, the orchard, on the
steps, or at the windows. I observed in the garden two rakes lying on
some beautiful lilies; they had not been carefully laid down, but
dropped in the midst of the flowers, on hearing some cry of distress
from the house.
One window was open; the rich curtains showed it to be the room of a
woman; the carelessly pushed open blinds proved that an anxious watcher
had passed long hours of feverish expectation at the window. A desolate
silence reigned around the house; this silence was fearful, and at an
hour of the day when all is life and animation, in harmony with the
singing birds and rippling waters.
I ascended the steps, mechanically noticing the beautiful flowers
clustering about the railing; flowers take a part in every catastrophe
of life. On the threshold, I forgot myself to think of you, to live with
your spirit, to walk with your feet, for my own resolution would have
failed me at this fatal moment.
In the vestibule I looked through a half-open folding-door, and, in the
funereal darkness, saw some peasantry kneeling and praying. No head was
raised to look at me. I slowly entered the room with my eyes downcast,
and lids swollen with tears I forcibly restrained. In a recess, lying on
a sofa, was something white and motionless, the sight of which froze my
blood.... It was--I cannot write her name, Edgar--it was she. My
troubled gaze could not discover whether dead or living. She seemed to
be sleeping, with her hair lying carelessly about the pillow, in the
disorder of a morning repose.
Near by was a young man-servant, his vest spotted with blood; with face
buried in his hands he was weeping bitterly.
Near her head a window was raised to admit the fresh air. This window
opened on an inner courtyard, very gloomy on account of the masses of
leaves that seemed to drop from the walls and fill it with sombreness.
Two men dressed in black, with faces more melancholy-looking than their
garments, were in this courtyard, talking in low tones; through the
window I could only see their heads and shoulders. I merely glanced at
them; my eyes, my sorrow, my hatred, my love were all concentrated upon
this woman. Absorbed by a heart-rending gaze, an instinct rather than
idea rooted me to the spot.
I waited for her to recover her senses, to open her eyes, not to add to
her anguish by a word or look of mine, but to let her see me standing
there, a living, silent accusation. Some farmer-boys entered with
lighted candles, a cross and basin of holy-water. In the disorder of my
mind, I understood nothing, but slowly walked out on the terrace, with
the vague idea of breathing a little fresh air and returning.
The serenity of the sky, the brightness of the sun, the green trees, the
fragrant flowers, the songs of the birds, offered an ironical contrast
to the scene of mourning. Often does nature refuse to countenance human
sorrows, because they are ungrateful to her goodness. She creates the
wonders of heaven to make us happy; we evoke the secrets of hell to
torture our souls and bodies. Nature is right to scorn our
You see, my dear Edgar, that I make you share all of my torments, all of
my gloomy reflections. I make you live over this hour, minute by minute,
agony on agony, as I suffered it myself.
I stood aside under a tree, waiting I know not for what; one of the men
in black, I had seen from the window, came down the steps of the terrace
and advanced towards me. I made some confused remark; the situation
supplied it with intelligence.
"You are a relation, a friend, an acquaintance?" he said, inquiringly.
"It is a terrible misfortune," he added, clasping his hands and bowing
his head; "or rather say two terrible misfortunes in one day; the poor
woman is also dead." ...
Like one in a dream I heard the latter remark, and I now transcribe it
to you as my impression of something that occurred long, long ago,
although I know it took place yesterday.
"Yes, dead," he went on to say; "we were called in too late. Bleeding
would have relieved the brain. It was a violent congestion; we have
similar cases during our practice. An immense loss to the community. A
woman who was young, beautiful as an angel, and charity itself....
He looked up, raised his hand to heaven, and walked rapidly away.
I am haunted by a memory that nothing can dispel. This spectre doubtless
follows you too, dear Edgar. It is a mute, eloquent image fashioned in
the empty air, like the outline of a grave; a phantom that the sun
drives not away, pursuing me by day and by night. It is Raymond's face
as he stood opposite to you on the field of death, his brow, his eye,
his lips, his whole bearing breathing the noblest sentiments that were
ever buried in an undeserved grave. This heroic young man met us with
the fatal conviction that his last hour had come; he felt towards us
neither hatred nor contempt; he obeyed the inexorable exigencies of the
hour, without accusation, without complaint.
The silence of Raymond clothed in sublime delicacy his friendship for
us, and his love for her. His manner expressed neither the resignation
that calls for pity nor the pride that provokes passion; his countenance
shone with modest serenity, the offspring of a grand resolve.
In a few days of conjugal bliss he had wandered through the flowery
paths of human felicity; he had exhausted the measure of divine
beatitude allotted to man on earth, and he stood nerved for the
inevitable and bloody expiation of his happiness.
All this was written on Raymond's face.
Edgar! Edgar! we were too relentless. Why should honor, the noblest of
our virtues, be the parent of so much remorse?
ROGER DE MONBERT.
EDGAR DE MEILHAN _to the_ PRINCE DE MONBERT,
St. Dominique Street, Paris (France).
Do not be uneasy, dear Roger; I have reached the frontier without being
pursued; the news of the fatal duel had not yet spread abroad. I thank
you, all the same, for the letter which you have written me, and in
which you trace the line of conduct I should pursue in case of arrest.
The moment a magistrate interferes, the clearest and least complicated
affair assumes an appearance of guilt. However, it would have been all
the same to me if I had been arrested and condemned. I fled more on your
account than on my own. No human interest can ever again influence me;
Raymond's death has ended my life!
What an inexplicable enigma is the human heart! When I saw Raymond
facing me upon the ground, an uncontrollable rage took possession of me.
The heavenly resignation of his face seemed infamous and finished
hypocrisy. I said to myself: "He apes the angel, the wretch!" and I
regretted that custom interposed a sword between him and my hatred. It
seemed so coldly ceremonious, I would have liked to tear his bosom open
with my nails and gnaw his heart out with my teeth. I knew that I would
kill him; I already saw the red lips of his wound outlined upon his
breast by the pale finger of death. When my steel crossed his, I
attempted neither thrusts nor parries. I had forgotten the little
fencing I knew. I fought at random, almost with my eyes shut; but had my
adversary been St. George or Grisier, the result would have been the
When Raymond fell I experienced a profound astonishment; something
within me broke which no hand will ever be able to restore! A gulf
opened before me which can never be filled! I stood there, gloomily
gazing upon the purple stream that flowed from the narrow wound,
fascinated in spite of myself by this spectacle of immobility succeeding
action, death succeeding life, without shade or transition; this young
man, who a moment before was radiant with life and hope, now lay
motionless before me, as impossible to resuscitate as Cheops under his
pyramid. I was rooted to the spot, unconsciously repeating to myself
Lady Macbeth's piteous cry: "Who would have thought the man to have had