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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 7
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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 7 Post by :dasmithj007 Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :3180

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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 7

During the rest of this month as I came from the meadows through the gardens I often saw her face at the window, and when I reached the salon she was ready at her embroidery frame. If I did not arrive at the hour expected (though never appointed), I saw a white form wandering on the terrace, and when I joined her she would say, "I came to meet you; I must show a few attentions to my youngest child."

The miserable games of backgammon had come to end. The count's late purchases took all his time in going hither and thither about the property, surveying, examining, and marking the boundaries of his new possessions. He had orders to give, rural works to overlook which needed a master's eye,--all of them planned and decided on by his wife and himself. We often went to meet him, the countess and I, with the children, who amused themselves on the way by running after insects, stag-beetles, darning-needles, they too making their bouquets, or to speak more truly, their bundles of flowers. To walk beside the woman we love, to take her on our arm, to guide her steps,--these are illimitable joys that suffice a lifetime. Confidence is then complete. We went alone, we returned with the "general," a title given to the count when he was good-humored. These two ways of taking the same path gave light and shade to our pleasure, a secret known only to hearts debarred from union. Our talk, so free as we went, had hidden significations as we returned, when either of us gave an answer to some furtive interrogation, or continued a subject, already begun, in the enigmatic phrases to which our language lends itself, and which women are so ingenious in composing. Who has not known the pleasure of such secret understandings in a sphere apart from those about us, a sphere where spirits meet outside of social laws?

One day a wild hope, quickly dispelled, took possession of me, when the count, wishing to know what we were talking of, put the inquiry, and Henriette answered in words that allowed another meaning, which satisfied him. This amused Madeleine, who laughed; after a moment her mother blushed and gave me a forbidding look, as if to say she might still withdraw from me her soul as she had once withdrawn her hand. But our purely spiritual union had far too many charms, and on the morrow it continued as before.

The hours, days, and weeks fled by, filled with renascent joys. Grape harvest, the festal season in Touraine, began. Toward the end of September the sun, less hot than during the wheat harvest, allows of our staying in the vineyards without danger of becoming overheated. It is easier to gather grapes than to mow wheat. Fruits of all kinds are ripe, harvests are garnered, bread is less dear; the sense of plenty makes the country people happy. Fears as to the results of rural toil, in which more money than sweat is often spent, vanish before a full granary and cellars about to overflow. The vintage is then like a gay dessert after the dinner is eaten; the skies of Touraine, where the autumns are always magnificent, smile upon it. In this hospitable land the vintagers are fed and lodged in the master's house. The meals are the only ones throughout the year when these poor people taste substantial, well-cooked food; and they cling to the custom as the children of patriarchal families cling to anniversaries. As the time approaches they flock in crowds to those houses where the masters are known to treat the laborers liberally. The house is full of people and of provisions. The presses are open. The country is alive with the coming and going of itinerant coopers, of carts filled with laughing girls and joyous husbandmen, who earn better wages than at any other time during the year, and who sing as they go. There is also another cause of pleasurable content: classes and ranks are equal; women, children, masters, and men, all that little world, share in the garnering of the divine hoard. These various elements of satisfaction explain the hilarity of the vintage, transmitted from age to age in these last glorious days of autumn, the remembrance of which inspired Rabelais with the bacchic form of his great work.

The children, Jacques and Madeleine, had never seen a vintage; I was like them, and they were full of infantine delight at finding a sharer of their pleasure; their mother, too, promised to accompany us. We went to Villaines, where baskets are manufactured, in quest of the prettiest that could be bought; for we four were to cut certain rows reserved for our scissors; it was, however, agreed that none of us were to eat too many grapes. To eat the fat bunches of Touraine in a vineyard seemed so delicious that we all refused the finest grapes on the dinner-table. Jacques made me swear I would go to no other vineyard, but stay closely at Clochegourde. Never were these frail little beings, usually pallid and smiling, so fresh and rosy and active as they were this morning. They chattered for chatter's sake, and trotted about without apparent object; they suddenly seemed, like other children, to have more life than they needed; neither Monsieur nor Madame de Mortsauf had ever seen them so before. I became a child again with them, more of a child than either of them, perhaps; I, too, was hoping for my harvest. It was glorious weather when we went to the vineyard, and we stayed there half the day. How we disputed as to who had the finest grapes and who could fill his basket quickest! The little human shoots ran to and fro from the vines to their mother; not a bunch could be cut without showing it to her. She laughed with the good, gay laugh of her girlhood when I, running up with my basket after Madeleine, cried out, "Mine too! See mine, mamma!" To which she answered: "Don't get overheated, dear child." Then passing her hand round my neck and through my hair, she added, giving me a little tap on the cheek, "You are melting away." It was the only caress she ever gave me. I looked at the pretty line of purple clusters, the hedges full of haws and blackberries; I heard the voices of the children; I watched the trooping girls, the cart loaded with barrels, the men with the panniers. Ah, it is all engraved on my memory, even to the almond-tree beside which she stood, girlish, rosy, smiling, beneath the sunshade held open in her hand. Then I busied myself in cutting the bunches and filling my basket, going forward to empty it in the vat, silently, with measured bodily movement and slow steps that left my spirit free. I discovered then the ineffable pleasure of an external labor which carries life along, and thus regulates the rush of passion, often so near, but for this mechanical motion, to kindle into flame. I learned how much wisdom is contained in uniform labor; I understood monastic discipline.

For the first time in many days the count was neither surly nor cruel. His son was so well; the future Duc de Lenoncourt-Mortsauf, fair and rosy and stained with grape-juice, rejoiced his heart. This day being the last of the vintage, he had promised a dance in front of Clochegourde in honor of the return of the Bourbons, so that our festival gratified everybody. As we returned to the house, the countess took my arm and leaned upon it, as if to let my heart feel the weight of hers,--the instinctive movement of a mother who seeks to convey her joy. Then she whispered in my ear, "You bring us happiness."

Ah, to me, who knew her sleepless nights, her cares, her fears, her former existence, in which, although the hand of God sustained her, all was barren and wearisome, those words uttered by that rich voice brought pleasures no other woman in the world could give me.

"The terrible monotony of my life is broken, all things are radiant with hope," she said after a pause. "Oh, never leave me! Do not despise my harmless superstitions; be the elder son, the protector of the younger."

In this, Natalie, there is nothing romantic. To know the infinite of our deepest feelings, we must in youth cast our lead into those great lakes upon whose shores we live. Though to many souls passions are lava torrents flowing among arid rocks, other souls there be in whom passion, restrained by insurmountable obstacles, fills with purest water the crater of the volcano.

We had still another fete. Madame de Mortsauf, wishing to accustom her children to the practical things of life, and to give them some experience of the toil by which men earn their living, had provided each of them with a source of income, depending on the chances of agriculture. To Jacques she gave the produce of the walnut-trees, to Madeleine that of the chestnuts. The gathering of the nuts began soon after the vintage,--first the chestnuts, then the walnuts. To beat Madeleine's trees with a long pole and hear the nuts fall and rebound on the dry, matted earth of a chestnut-grove; to see the serious gravity of the little girl as she examined the heaps and estimated their probable value, which to her represented many pleasures on which she counted; the congratulations of Manette, the trusted servant who alone supplied Madame de Mortsauf's place with the children; the explanations of the mother, showing the necessity of labor to obtain all crops, so often imperilled by the uncertainties of climate,--all these things made up a charming scene of innocent, childlike happiness amid the fading colors of the late autumn.

Madeleine had a little granary of her own, in which I was to see her brown treasure garnered and share her delight. Well, I quiver still when I recall the sound of each basketful of nuts as it was emptied on the mass of yellow husks, mixed with earth, which made the floor of the granary. The count bought what was needed for the household; the farmers and tenants, indeed, every one around Clochegourde, sent buyers to the Mignonne, a pet name which the peasantry give even to strangers, but which in this case belonged exclusively to Madeleine.

Jacques was less fortunate in gathering his walnuts. It rained for several days; but I consoled him with the advice to hold back his nuts and sell them a little later. Monsieur de Chessel had told me that the walnut-trees in the Brehemont, also those about Amboise and Vouvray, were not bearing. Walnut oil is in great demand in Touraine. Jacques might get at least forty sous for the product of each tree, and as he had two hundred the amount was considerable; he intended to spend it on the equipment of a pony. This wish led to a discussion with his father, who bade him think of the uncertainty of such returns, and the wisdom of creating a reserve fund for the years when the trees might not bear, and so equalizing his resources. I felt what was passing through the mother's mind as she sat by in silence; she rejoiced in the way Jacques listened to his father, the father seeming to recover the paternal dignity that was lacking to him, thanks to the ideas which she herself had prompted in him. Did I not tell you truly that in picturing this woman earthly language was insufficient to render either her character or her spirit. When such scenes occurred my soul drank in their delights without analyzing them; but now, with what vigor they detach themselves on the dark background of my troubled life! Like diamonds they shine against the settling of thoughts degraded by alloy, of bitter regrets for a lost happiness. Why do the names of the two estates purchased after the Restoration, and in which Monsieur and Madame de Mortsauf both took the deepest interest, the Cassine and the Rhetoriere, move me more than the sacred names of the Holy Land or of Greece? "Who loves, knows!" cried La Fontaine. Those names possess the talismanic power of words uttered under certain constellations by seers; they explain magic to me; they awaken sleeping forms which arise and speak to me; they lead me to the happy valley; they recreate skies and landscape. But such evocations are in the regions of the spiritual world; they pass in the silence of my own soul. Be not surprised, therefore, if I dwell on all these homely scenes; the smallest details of that simple, almost common life are ties which, frail as they may seem, bound me in closest union to the countess.

The interests of her children gave Madame de Mortsauf almost as much anxiety as their health. I soon saw the truth of what she had told me as to her secret share in the management of the family affairs, into which I became slowly initiated. After ten years' steady effort Madame de Mortsauf had changed the method of cultivating the estate. She had "put it in fours," as the saying is in those parts, meaning the new system under which wheat is sown every four years only, so as to make the soil produce a different crop yearly. To evade the obstinate unwillingness of the peasantry it was found necessary to cancel the old leases and give new ones, to divide the estate into four great farms and let them on equal shares, the sort of lease that prevails in Touraine and its neighborhood. The owner of the estate gives the house, farm-buildings, and seed-grain to tenants-at-will, with whom he divides the costs of cultivation and the crops. This division is superintended by an agent or bailiff, whose business it is to take the share belonging to the owner; a costly system, complicated by the market changes of values, which alter the character of the shares constantly. The countess had induced Monsieur de Mortsauf to cultivate a fifth farm, made up of the reserved lands about Clochegourde, as much to occupy his mind as to show other farmers the excellence of the new method by the evidence of facts. Being thus, in a hidden way, the mistress of the estate, she had slowly and with a woman's persistency rebuilt two of the farm-houses on the principle of those in Artois and Flanders. It is easy to see her motive. She wished, after the expiration of the leases on shares, to relet to intelligent and capable persons for rental in money, and thus simplify the revenues of Clochegourde. Fearing to die before her husband, she was anxious to secure for him a regular income, and to her children a property which no incapacity could jeopardize. At the present time the fruit-trees planted during the last ten years were in full bearing; the hedges, which secured the boundaries from dispute, were in good order; the elms and poplars were growing well. With the new purchases and the new farming system well under way, the estate of Clochegourde, divided into four great farms, two of which still needed new houses, was capable of bringing in forty thousand francs a year, ten thousand for each farm, not counting the yield of the vineyards, and the two hundred acres of woodland which adjoined them, nor the profits of the model home-farm. The roads to the great farms all opened on an avenue which followed a straight line from Clochegourde to the main road leading to Chinon. The distance from the entrance of this avenue to Tours was only fifteen miles; tenants would never be wanting, especially now that everybody was talking of the count's improvements and the excellent condition of his land.

The countess wished to put some fifteen thousand francs into each of the estates lately purchased, and to turn the present dwellings into two large farm-houses and buildings, in order that the property might bring in a better rent after the ground had been cultivated for a year or two. These ideas, so simple in themselves, but complicated with the thirty odd thousand francs it was necessary to expend upon them, were just now the topic of many discussions between herself and the count, sometimes amounting to bitter quarrels, in which she was sustained by the thought of her children's interests. The fear, "If I die to-morrow what will become of them?" made her heart beat. The gentle, peaceful hearts to whom anger is an impossibility, and whose sole desire is to shed on those about them their own inward peace, alone know what strength is needed for such struggles, what demands upon the spirit must be made before beginning the contest, what weariness ensues when the fight is over and nothing has been won. At this moment, just as her children seemed less anemic, less frail, more active (for the fruit season had had its effect on them), and her moist eyes followed them as they played about her with a sense of contentment which renewed her strength and refreshed her heart, the poor woman was called upon to bear the sharp sarcasms and attacks of an angry opposition. The count, alarmed at the plans she proposed, denied with stolid obstinacy the advantages of all she had done and the possibility of doing more. He replied to conclusive reasoning with the folly of a child who denies the influence of the sun in summer. The countess, however, carried the day. The victory of commonsense over insanity so healed her wounds that she forgot the battle. That day we all went to the Cassine and the Rhetoriere, to decide upon the buildings. The count walked alone in front, the children went next, and we ourselves followed slowly, for she was speaking in a low, gentle tone, which made her words like the murmur of the sea as it ripples on a smooth beach.

She was, she said, certain of success. A new line of communication between Tours and Chinon was to be opened by an active man, a carrier, a cousin of Manette's, who wanted a large farm on the route. His family was numerous; the eldest son would drive the carts, the second could attend to the business, the father living half-way along the road, at Rabelaye, one of the farms then to let, would look after the relays and enrich his land with the manure of the stables. As to the other farm, la Baude, the nearest to Clochegourde, one of their own people, a worthy, intelligent, and industrious man, who saw the advantages of the new system of agriculture, was ready to take a lease on it. The Cassine and the Rhetoriere need give no anxiety; their soil was the very best in the neighborhood; the farm-houses once built, and the ground brought into cultivation, it would be quite enough to advertise them at Tours; tenants would soon apply for them. In two years' time Clochegourde would be worth at least twenty-four thousand francs a year. Gravelotte, the farm in Maine, which Monsieur de Mortsauf had recovered after the emigration, was rented for seven thousand francs a year for nine years; his pension was four thousand. This income might not be a fortune, but it was certainly a competence. Later, other additions to it might enable her to go to Paris and attend to Jacques' education; in two years, she thought, his health would be established.

With what feeling she uttered the word "Paris!" I knew her thought; she wished to be as little separated as possible from her friend. On that I broke forth; I told her that she did not know me; that without talking of it, I had resolved to finish my education by working day and night so as to fit myself to be Jacques' tutor. She looked grave.

"No, Felix," she said, "that cannot be, any more than your priesthood. I thank you from my heart as a mother, but as a woman who loves you sincerely I can never allow you to be the victim of your attachment to me. Such a position would be a social discredit to you, and I could not allow it. No! I cannot be an injury to you in any way. You, Vicomte de Vandenesse, a tutor! You, whose motto is 'Ne se vend!' Were you Richelieu himself it would bar your way in life; it would give the utmost pain to your family. My friend, you do not know what insult women of the world, like my mother, can put into a patronizing glance, what degradation into a word, what contempt into a bow."

"But if you love me, what is the world to me?"

She pretended not to hear, and went on:--

"Though my father is most kind and desirous of doing all I ask, he would never forgive your taking so humble a position; he would refuse you his protection. I could not consent to your becoming tutor to the Dauphin even. You must accept society as it is; never commit the fault of flying in the face of it. My friend, this rash proposal of--"

"Love," I whispered.

"No, charity," she said, controlling her tears, "this wild idea enlightens me as to your character; your heart will be your bane. I shall claim from this moment the right to teach you certain things. Let my woman's eye see for you sometimes. Yes, from the solitudes of Clochegourde I mean to share, silently, contentedly, in your successes. As to a tutor, do not fear; we shall find some good old abbe, some learned Jesuit, and my father will gladly devote a handsome sum to the education of the boy who is to bear his name. Jacques is my pride. He is, however, eleven years old," she added after a pause. "But it is with him as with you; when I first saw you I took you to be about thirteen."

We now reached the Cassine, where Jacques, Madeleine, and I followed her about as children follow a mother; but we were in her way; I left her presently and went into the orchard where Martineau the elder, keeper of the place, was discussing with Martineau the younger, the bailiff, whether certain trees ought or ought not to be taken down; they were arguing the matter as if it concerned their own property. I then saw how much the countess was beloved. I spoke of it to a poor laborer, who, with one foot on his spade and an elbow on its handle, stood listening to the two doctors of pomology.

"Ah, yes, monsieur," he answered, "she is a good woman, and not haughty like those hussies at Azay, who would see us die like dogs sooner than yield us one penny of the price of a grave! The day when that woman leaves these parts the Blessed Virgin will weep, and we too. She knows what is due to her, but she knows our hardships, too, and she puts them into the account."

With what pleasure I gave that man all the money I had.

A few days later a pony arrived for Jacques, his father, an excellent horseman, wishing to accustom the child by degrees to the fatigues of such exercise. The boy had a pretty riding-dress, bought with the product of the nuts. The morning when he took his first lesson accompanied by his father and by Madeleine, who jumped and shouted about the lawn round which Jacques was riding, was a great maternal festival for the countess. The boy wore a blue collar embroidered by her, a little sky-blue overcoat fastened by a polished leather belt, a pair of white trousers pleated at the waist, and a Scotch cap, from which his fair hair flowed in heavy locks. He was charming to behold. All the servants clustered round to share the domestic joy. The little heir smiled at his mother as he passed her, sitting erect, and quite fearless. This first manly act of a child to whom death had often seemed so near, the promise of a sound future warranted by this ride which showed him so handsome, so fresh, so rosy,--what a reward for all her cares! Then too the joy of the father, who seemed to renew his youth, and who smiled for the first time in many long months; the pleasure shown on all faces, the shout of an old huntsman of the Lenoncourts, who had just arrived from Tours, and who, seeing how the boy held the reins, shouted to him, "Bravo, monsieur le vicomte!"--all this was too much for the poor mother, and she burst into tears; she, so calm in her griefs, was too weak to bear the joy of admiring her boy as he bounded over the gravel, where so often she had led him in the sunshine inwardly weeping his expected death. She leaned upon my arm unreservedly, and said: "I think I have never suffered. Do not leave us to-day."

The lesson over, Jacques jumped into his mother's arms; she caught him and held him tightly to her, kissing him passionately. I went with Madeleine to arrange two magnificent bouquets for the dinner-table in honor of the young equestrian. When we returned to the salon the countess said: "The fifteenth of October is certainly a great day with me. Jacques has taken his first riding lesson, and I have just set the last stitch in my furniture cover."

"Then, Blanche," said the count, laughing, "I must pay you for it."

He offered her his arm and took her to the first courtyard, where stood an open carriage which her father had sent her, and for which the count had purchased two English horses. The old huntsman had prepared the surprise while Jacques was taking his lesson. We got into the carriage, and went to see where the new avenue entered the main road towards Chinon. As we returned, the countess said to me in an anxious tone, "I am too happy; to me happiness is like an illness,--it overwhelms me; I fear it may vanish like a dream."

I loved her too passionately not to feel jealous,--I who could give her nothing! In my rage against myself I longed for some means of dying for her. She asked me to tell her the thoughts that filled my eyes, and I told her honestly. She was more touched than by all her presents; then taking me to the portico, she poured comfort into my heart. "Love me as my aunt loved me," she said, "and that will be giving me your life; and if I take it, must I not ever be grateful to you?

"It was time I finished my tapestry," she added as we re-entered the salon, where I kissed her hand as if to renew my vows. "Perhaps you do not know, Felix, why I began so formidable a piece of work. Men find the occupations of life a great resource against troubles; the management of affairs distracts their mind; but we poor women have no support within ourselves against our sorrows. To be able to smile before my children and my husband when my heart was heavy I felt the need of controlling my inward sufferings by some physical exercise. In this way I escaped the depression which is apt to follow a great strain upon the moral strength, and likewise all outbursts of excitement. The mere action of lifting my arm regularly as I drew the stitches rocked my thoughts and gave to my spirit when the tempest raged a monotonous ebb and flow which seemed to regulate its emotions. To every stitch I confided my secrets,--you understand me, do you not? Well, while doing my last chair I have thought much, too much, of you, dear friend. What you have put into your bouquets I have said in my embroidery."

The dinner was lovely. Jacques, like all children when you take notice of them, jumped into my arms when he saw the flowers I had arranged for him as a garland. His mother pretended to be jealous; ah, Natalie, you should have seen the charming grace with which the dear child offered them to her. In the afternoon we played a game of backgammon, I alone against Monsieur and Madame de Mortsauf, and the count was charming. They accompanied me along the road to Frapesle in the twilight of a tranquil evening, one of those harmonious evenings when our feelings gain in depth what they lose in vivacity. It was a day of days in this poor woman's life; a spot of brightness which often comforted her thoughts in painful hours.

Soon, however, the riding lessons became a subject of contention. The countess justly feared the count's harsh reprimands to his son. Jacques grew thin, dark circles surrounded his sweet blue eyes; rather than trouble his mother, he suffered in silence. I advised him to tell his father he was tired when the count's temper was violent; but that expedient proved unavailing, and it became necessary to substitute the old huntsman as a teacher in place of the father, who could with difficulty be induced to resign his pupil. Angry reproaches and contentions began once more; the count found a text for his continual complaints in the base ingratitude of women; he flung the carriage, horses, and liveries in his wife's face twenty times a day. At last a circumstance occurred on which a man with his nature and his disease naturally fastened eagerly. The cost of the buildings at the Cassine and the Rhetoriere proved to be half as much again as the estimate. This news was unfortunately given in the first instance to Monsieur de Mortsauf instead of to his wife. It was the ground of a quarrel, which began mildly but grew more and more embittered until it seemed as though the count's madness, lulled for a short time, was demanding its arrearages from the poor wife.

That day I had started from Frapesle at half-past ten to search for flowers with Madeleine. The child had brought the two vases to the portico, and I was wandering about the gardens and adjoining meadows gathering the autumn flowers, so beautiful, but too rare. Returning from my final quest, I could not find my little lieutenant with her white cape and broad pink sash; but I heard cries within the house, and Madeleine presently came running out.

"The general," she said, crying (the term with her was an expression of dislike), "the general is scolding mamma; go and defend her."

I sprang up the steps of the portico and reached the salon without being seen by either the count or his wife. Hearing the madman's sharp cries I first shut all the doors, then I returned and found Henriette as white as her dress.

"Never marry, Felix," said the count as soon as he saw me; "a woman is led by the devil; the most virtuous of them would invent evil if it did not exist; they are all vile."

Then followed arguments without beginning or end. Harking back to the old troubles, Monsieur de Mortsauf repeated the nonsense of the peasantry against the new system of farming. He declared that if he had had the management of Clochegourde he should be twice as rich as he now was. He shouted these complaints and insults, he swore, he sprang around the room knocking against the furniture and displacing it; then in the middle of a sentence he stopped short, complained that his very marrow was on fire, his brains melting away like his money, his wife had ruined him! The countess smiled and looked upward.

"Yes, Blanche," he cried, "you are my executioner; you are killing me; I am in your way; you want to get rid of me; you are monster of hypocrisy. She is smiling! Do you know why she smiles, Felix?"

I kept silence and looked down.

"That woman," he continued, answering his own question, "denies me all happiness; she is no more to me than she is to you, and yet she pretends to be my wife! She bears my name and fulfils none of the duties which all laws, human and divine, impose upon her; she lies to God and man. She obliges me to go long distances, hoping to wear me out and make me leave her to herself; I am displeasing to her, she hates me; she puts all her art into keeping me away from her; she has made me mad through the privations she imposes on me--for everything flies to my poor head; she is killing me by degrees, and she thinks herself a saint and takes the sacrament every month!"

The countess was weeping bitterly, humiliated by the degradation of the man, to whom she kept saying for all answer, "Monsieur! monsieur! monsieur!"

Though the count's words made me blush, more for him than for Henriette, they stirred my heart violently, for they appealed to the sense of chastity and delicacy which is indeed the very warp and woof of first love.

"She is virgin at my expense," cried the count.

At these words the countess cried out, "Monsieur!"

"What do you mean with your imperious 'Monsieur!'" he shouted. "Am I not your master? Must I teach you that I am?"

He came towards her, thrusting forward his white wolf's head, now hideous, for his yellow eyes had a savage expression which made him look like a wild beast rushing out of a wood. Henriette slid from her chair to the ground to avoid a blow, which however was not given; she lay at full length on the floor and lost consciousness, completely exhausted. The count was like a murderer who feels the blood of his victim spurting in his face; he stopped short, bewildered. I took the poor woman in my arms, and the count let me take her, as though he felt unworthy to touch her; but he went before me to open the door of her bedroom next the salon,--a sacred room I had never entered. I put the countess on her feet and held her for a moment in one arm, passing the other round her waist, while Monsieur de Mortsauf took the eider-down coverlet from the bed; then together we lifted her and laid her, still dressed, on the bed. When she came to herself she motioned to us to unfasten her belt. Monsieur de Mortsauf found a pair of scissors, and cut through it; I made her breathe salts, and she opened her eyes. The count left the room, more ashamed than sorry. Two hours passed in perfect silence. Henriette's hand lay in mine; she pressed it to mine, but could not speak. From time to time she opened her eyes as if to tell me by a look that she wished to be still and silent; then suddenly, for an instant, there seemed a change; she rose on her elbow and whispered, "Unhappy man!--ah! if you did but know--"

She fell back upon the pillow. The remembrance of her past sufferings, joined to the present shock, threw her again into the nervous convulsions I had just calmed by the magnetism of love,--a power then unknown to me, but which I used instinctively. I held her with gentle force, and she gave me a look which made me weep. When the nervous motions ceased I smoothed her disordered hair, the first and only time that I ever touched it; then I again took her hand and sat looking at the room, all brown and gray, at the bed with its simple chintz curtains, at the toilet table draped in a fashion now discarded, at the commonplace sofa with its quilted mattress. What poetry I could read in that room! What renunciations of luxury for herself; the only luxury being its spotless cleanliness. Sacred cell of a married nun, filled with holy resignation; its sole adornments were the crucifix of her bed, and above it the portrait of her aunt; then, on each side of the holy water basin, two drawings of the children made by herself, with locks of their hair when they were little. What a retreat for a woman whose appearance in the great world of fashion would have made the handsomest of her sex jealous! Such was the chamber where the daughter of an illustrious family wept out her days, sunken at this moment in anguish, and denying herself the love that might have comforted her. Hidden, irreparable woe! Tears of the victim for her slayer, tears of the slayer for his victim! When the children and waiting-woman came at length into the room I left it. The count was waiting for me; he seemed to seek me as a mediating power between himself and his wife. He caught my hands, exclaiming, "Stay, stay with us, Felix!"

"Unfortunately," I said, "Monsieur de Chessel has a party, and my absence would cause remark. But after dinner I will return."

He left the house when I did, and took me to the lower gate without speaking; then he accompanied me to Frapesle, seeming not to know what he was doing. At last I said to him, "For heaven's sake, Monsieur le comte, let her manage your affairs if it pleases her, and don't torment her."

"I have not long to live," he said gravely; "she will not suffer long through me; my head is giving way."

He left me in a spasm of involuntary self-pity. After dinner I returned for news of Madame de Mortsauf, who was already better. If such were the joys of marriage, if such scenes were frequent, how could she survive them long? What slow, unpunished murder was this? During that day I understood the tortures by which the count was wearing out his wife. Before what tribunal can we arraign such crimes? These thoughts stunned me; I could say nothing to Henriette by word of mouth, but I spent the night in writing to her. Of the three or four letters that I wrote I have kept only the beginning of one, with which I was not satisfied. Here it is, for though it seems to me to express nothing, and to speak too much of myself when I ought only to have thought of her, it will serve to show you the state my soul was in:--

To Madame de Mortsauf:

How many things I had to say to you when I reached the house! I thought of them on the way, but I forgot them in your presence. Yes, when I see you, dear Henriette, I find my thoughts no longer in keeping with the light from your soul which heightens your beauty; then, too, the happiness of being near you is so ineffable as to efface all other feelings. Each time we meet I am born into a broader life; I am like the traveller who climbs a rock and sees before him a new horizon. Each time you talk with me I add new treasures to my treasury. There lies, I think, the secret of long and inexhaustible affections. I can only speak to you of yourself when away from you. In your presence I am too dazzled to see, too happy to question my happiness, too full of you to be myself, too eloquent through you to speak, too eager in seizing the present moment to remember the past. You must think of this state of intoxication and forgive me its consequent mistakes.

When near you I can only feel. Yet, I have courage to say, dear Henriette, that never, in all the many joys you have given me, never did I taste such joy as filled my soul when, after that dreadful storm through which you struggled with superhuman courage, you came to yourself alone with me, in the twilight of your chamber where that unhappy scene had brought me. I alone know the light that shines from a woman when through the portals of death she re-enters life with the dawn of a rebirth tinting her brow. What harmonies were in your voice! How words, even your words, seemed paltry when the sound of that adored voice--in itself the echo of past pains mingled with divine consolations --blessed me with the gift of your first thought. I knew you were brilliant with all human splendor, but yesterday I found a new Henriette, who might be mine if God so willed; I beheld a spirit freed from the bodily trammels which repress the ardors of the soul. Ah! thou wert beautiful indeed in thy weakness, majestic in thy prostration. Yesterday I found something more beautiful than thy beauty, sweeter than thy voice; lights more sparkling than the light of thine eyes, perfumes for which there are no words --yesterday thy soul was visible and palpable. Would I could have opened my heart and made thee live there! Yesterday I lost the respectful timidity with which thy presence inspires me; thy weakness brought us nearer together. Then, when the crisis passed and thou couldst bear our atmosphere once more, I knew what it was to breathe in unison with thy breath. How many prayers rose up to heaven in that moment! Since I did not die as I rushed through space to ask of God that he would leave thee with me, no human creature can die of joy nor yet of sorrow. That moment has left memories buried in my soul which never again will reappear upon its surface and leave me tearless. Yes, the fears with which my soul was tortured yesterday are incomparably greater than all sorrows that the future can bring upon me, just as the joys which thou hast given me, dear eternal thought of my life! will be forever greater than any future joy God may be pleased to grant me. Thou hast made me comprehend the love divine, that sure love, sure in strength and in duration, that knows no doubt or jealousy.

 

Deepest melancholy gnawed my soul; the glimpse into that hidden life was agonizing to a young heart new to social emotions; it was an awful thing to find this abyss at the opening of life,--a bottomless abyss, a Dead Sea. This dreadful aggregation of misfortunes suggested many thoughts; at my first step into social life I found a standard of comparison by which all other events and circumstances must seem petty.

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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 8 Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 8

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The next day when I entered the salon she was there alone. She looked at me for a moment, held out her hand, and said, "My friend is always too tender." Her eyes grew moist; she rose, and then she added, in a tone of desperate entreaty, "Never write thus to me again." Monsieur de Mortsauf was very kind. The countess had recovered her courage and serenity; but her pallor betrayed the sufferings of the previous night, which were calmed, but not extinguished. That evening she said to me, as she paced among the autumn leaves which rustled beneath our footsteps,
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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 6 Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 6

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This scene took place on a Tuesday. I waited until Sunday and did not cross the river. During those five days great events were happening at Clochegourde. The count received his brevet as general of brigade, the cross of Saint Louis, and a pension of four thousand francs. The Duc de Lenoncourt-Givry, made peer of France, recovered possession of two forests, resumed his place at court, and his wife regained all her unsold property, which had been made part of the imperial crown lands. The Comtesse de Mortsauf thus became an heiress. Her mother had arrived at Clochegourde, bringing her a
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