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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 8
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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 2. First Love - Page 8 Post by :dasmithj007 Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :2982

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

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, "Sorrow is infinite; joys are limited,"--words which betrayed her sufferings by the comparison she made with the fleeting delights of the previous week.

"Do not slander life," I said to her. "You are ignorant of love; love gives happiness which shines in heaven."

"Hush!" she said. "I wish to know nothing of it. The Icelander would die in Italy. I am calm and happy beside you; I can tell you all my thoughts; do not destroy my confidence. Why will you not combine the virtue of the priest with the charm of a free man."

"You make me drink the hemlock!" I cried, taking her hand and laying it on my heart, which was beating fast.

"Again!" she said, withdrawing her hand as if it pained her. "Are you determined to deny me the sad comfort of letting my wounds be stanched by a friendly hand? Do not add to my sufferings; you do not know them all; those that are hidden are the worst to bear. If you were a woman you would know the melancholy disgust that fills her soul when she sees herself the object of attentions which atone for nothing, but are thought to atone for all. For the next few days I shall be courted and caressed, that I may pardon the wrong that has been done. I could then obtain consent to any wish of mine, however unreasonable. I am humiliated by his humility, by caresses which will cease as soon as he imagines that I have forgotten that scene. To owe our master's good graces to his faults--"

"His crimes!" I interrupted quickly.

"Is not that a frightful condition of existence?" she continued, with a sad smile. "I cannot use this transient power. At such times I am like the knights who could not strike a fallen adversary. To see in the dust a man whom we ought to honor, to raise him only to enable him to deal other blows, to suffer from his degradation more than he suffers himself, to feel ourselves degraded if we profit by such influence for even a useful end, to spend our strength, to waste the vigor of our souls in struggles that have no grandeur, to have no power except for a moment when a fatal crisis comes--ah, better death! If I had no children I would let myself drift on the wretched current of this life; but if I lose my courage, what will become of them? I must live for them, however cruel this life may be. You talk to me of love. Ah! my dear friend, think of the hell into which I should fling myself if I gave that pitiless being, pitiless like all weak creatures, the right to despise me. The purity of my conduct is my strength. Virtue, dear friend, is holy water in which we gain fresh strength, from which we issue renewed in the love of God."

"Listen to me, dear Henriette; I have only another week to stay here, and I wish--"

"Ah, you mean to leave us!" she exclaimed.

"You must know what my father intends to do with me," I replied. "It is now three months--"

"I have not counted the days," she said, with momentary self-abandonment. Then she checked herself and cried, "Come, let us go to Frapesle."

She called the count and the children, sent for a shawl, and when all were ready she, usually so calm and slow in all her movements, became as active as a Parisian, and we started in a body to pay a visit at Frapesle which the countess did not owe. She forced herself to talk to Madame de Chessel, who was fortunately discursive in her answers. The count and Monsieur de Chessel conversed on business. I was afraid the former might boast of his carriage and horses; but he committed no such solecisms. His neighbor questioned him about his projected improvements at the Cassine and the Rhetoriere. I looked at the count, wondering if he would avoid a subject of conversation so full of painful memories to all, so cruelly mortifying to him. On the contrary, he explained how urgent a duty it was to better the agricultural condition of the canton, to build good houses and make the premises salubrious; in short, he glorified himself with his wife's ideas. I blushed as I looked at her. Such want of scruple in a man who, on certain occasions, could be scrupulous enough, this oblivion of the dreadful scene, this adoption of ideas against which he had fought so violently, this confident belief in himself, petrified me.

When Monsieur de Chessel said to him, "Do you expect to recover your outlay?"

"More than recover it!" he exclaimed, with a confident gesture.

Such contradictions can be explained only by the word "insanity." Henriette, celestial creature, was radiant. The count was appearing to be a man of intelligence, a good administrator, an excellent agriculturist; she played with her boy's curly head, joyous for him, happy for herself. What a comedy of pain, what mockery in this drama; I was horrified by it. Later in life, when the curtain of the world's stage was lifted before me, how many other Mortsaufs I saw without the loyalty and the religious faith of this man. What strange, relentless power is it that perpetually awards an angel to a madman; to a man of heart, of true poetic passion, a base woman; to the petty, grandeur; to this demented brain, a beautiful, sublime being; to Juana, Captain Diard, whose history at Bordeaux I have told you; to Madame de Beauseant, an Ajuda; to Madame d'Aiglemont, her husband; to the Marquis d'Espard, his wife! Long have I sought the meaning of this enigma. I have ransacked many mysteries, I have discovered the reason of many natural laws, the purport of some divine hieroglyphics; of the meaning of this dark secret I know nothing. I study it as I would the form of an Indian weapon, the symbolic construction of which is known only to the Brahmans. In this dread mystery the spirit of Evil is too visibly the master; I dare not lay the blame to God. Anguish irremediable, what power finds amusement in weaving you? Can Henriette and her mysterious philosopher be right? Does their mysticism contain the explanation of humanity?

The autumn leaves were falling during the last few days which I passed in the valley, days of lowering clouds, which do sometimes obscure the heaven of Touraine, so pure, so warm at that fine season. The evening before my departure Madame de Mortsauf took me to the terrace before dinner.

"My dear Felix," she said, after we had taken a turn in silence under the leafless trees, "you are about to enter the world, and I wish to go with you in thought. Those who have suffered much have lived and known much. Do not think that solitary souls know nothing of the world; on the contrary, they are able to judge it. Hear me: If I am to live in and for my friend I must do what I can for his heart and for his conscience. When the conflict rages it is hard to remember rules; therefore let me give you a few instructions, the warnings of a mother to her son. The day you leave us I shall give you a letter, a long letter, in which you will find my woman's thoughts on the world, on society, on men, on the right methods of meeting difficulty in this great clash of human interests. Promise me not to read this letter till you reach Paris. I ask it from a fanciful sentiment, one of those secrets of womanhood not impossible to understand, but which we grieve to find deciphered; leave me this covert way where as a woman I wish to walk alone."

"Yes, I promise it," I said, kissing her hand.

"Ah," she added, "I have one more promise to ask of you; but grant it first."

"Yes, yes!" I cried, thinking it was surely a promise of fidelity.

"It does not concern myself," she said smiling, with some bitterness. "Felix, do not gamble in any house, no matter whose it be; I except none."

"I will never play at all," I replied.

"Good," she said. "I have found a better use for your time than to waste it on cards. The end will be that where others must sooner or later be losers you will invariably win."

"How so?"

"The letter will tell you," she said, with a playful smile, which took from her advice the serious tone which might certainly have been that of a grandfather.

The countess talked to me for an hour, and proved the depth of her affection by the study she had made of my nature during the last three months. She penetrated the recesses of my heart, entering it with her own; the tones of her voice were changeful and convincing; the words fell from maternal lips, showing by their tone as well as by their meaning how many ties already bound us to each other.

"If you knew," she said in conclusion, "with what anxiety I shall follow your course, what joy I shall feel if you walk straight, what tears I must shed if you strike against the angles! Believe that my affection has no equal; it is involuntary and yet deliberate. Ah, I would that I might see you happy, powerful, respected,--you who are to me a living dream."

She made me weep, so tender and so terrible was she. Her feelings came boldly to the surface, yet they were too pure to give the slightest hope even to a young man thirsting for pleasure. Ignoring my tortured flesh, she shed the rays, undeviating, incorruptible, of the divine love, which satisfies the soul only. She rose to heights whither the prismatic pinions of a love like mine were powerless to bear me. To reach her a man must needs have won the white wings of the seraphim.

"In all that happens to me I will ask myself," I said, "'What would my Henriette say?'"

"Yes, I will be the star and the sanctuary both," she said, alluding to the dreams of my childhood.

"You are my light and my religion," I cried; "you shall be my all."

"No," she answered; "I can never be the source of your pleasures."

She sighed; the smile of secret pain was on her lips, the smile of the slave who momentarily revolts. From that day forth she was to me, not merely my beloved, but my only love; she was not IN my heart as a woman who takes a place, who makes it hers by devotion or by excess of pleasure given; but she was my heart itself,--it was all hers, a something necessary to the play of my muscles. She became to me as Beatrice to the Florentine, as the spotless Laura to the Venetian, the mother of great thoughts, the secret cause of resolutions which saved me, the support of my future, the light shining in the darkness like a lily in a wood. Yes, she inspired those high resolves which pass through flames, which save the thing in peril; she gave me a constancy like Coligny's to vanquish conquerors, to rise above defeat, to weary the strongest wrestler.

The next day, having breakfasted at Frapesle and bade adieu to my kind hosts, I went to Clochegourde. Monsieur and Madame de Mortsauf had arranged to drive with me to Tours, whence I was to start the same night for Paris. During the drive the countess was silent; she pretended at first to have a headache; then she blushed at the falsehood, and expiated it by saying that she could not see me go without regret. The count invited me to stay with them whenever, in the absence of the Chessels, I might long to see the valley of the Indre once more. We parted heroically, without apparent tears, but Jacques, who like other delicate children was quickly touched, began to cry, while Madeleine, already a woman, pressed her mother's hand.

"Dear little one!" said the countess, kissing Jacques passionately.

When I was alone at Tours after dinner a wild, inexplicable desire known only to young blood possessed me. I hired a horse and rode from Tours to Pont-de-Ruan in an hour and a quarter. There, ashamed of my folly, I dismounted, and went on foot along the road, stepping cautiously like a spy till I reached the terrace. The countess was not there, and I imagined her ill; I had kept the key of the little gate, by which I now entered; she was coming down the steps of the portico with the two children to breathe in sadly and slowly the tender melancholy of the landscape, bathed at that moment in the setting sun.

"Mother, here is Felix," said Madeleine.

"Yes," I whispered; "it is I. I asked myself why I should stay at Tours while I still could see you; why not indulge a desire that in a few days more I could not gratify."

"He won't leave us again, mother," cried Jacques, jumping round me.

"Hush!" said Madeleine; "if you make such a noise the general will come."

"It is not right," she said. "What folly!"

The tears in her voice were the payment of what must be called a usurious speculation of love.

"I had forgotten to return this key," I said smiling.

"Then you will never return," she said.

"Can we ever be really parted?" I asked, with a look which made her drop her eyelids for all answer.

I left her after a few moments passed in that happy stupor of the spirit where exaltation ends and ecstasy begins. I went with lagging step, looking back at every minute. When, from the summit of the hill, I saw the valley for the last time I was struck with the contrast it presented to what it was when I first came there. Then it was verdant, then it glowed, glowed and blossomed like my hopes and my desires. Initiated now into the gloomy secrets of a family, sharing the anguish of a Christian Niobe, sad with her sadness, my soul darkened, I saw the valley in the tone of my own thoughts. The fields were bare, the leaves of the poplars falling, the few that remained were rusty, the vine-stalks were burned, the tops of the trees were tan-colored, like the robes in which royalty once clothed itself as if to hide the purple of its power beneath the brown of grief. Still in harmony with my thoughts, the valley, where the yellow rays of the setting sun were coldly dying, seemed to me a living image of my heart.

To leave a beloved woman is terrible or natural, according as the mind takes it. For my part, I found myself suddenly in a strange land of which I knew not the language. I was unable to lay hold of things to which my soul no longer felt attachment. Then it was that the height and the breadth of my love came before me; my Henriette rose in all her majesty in this desert where I existed only through thoughts of her. That form so worshipped made me vow to keep myself spotless before my soul's divinity, to wear ideally the white robe of the Levite, like Petrarch, who never entered Laura's presence unless clothed in white. With what impatience I awaited the first night of my return to my father's roof, when I could read the letter which I felt of during the journey as a miser fingers the bank-bills he carries about him. During the night I kissed the paper on which my Henriette had manifested her will; I sought to gather the mysterious emanations of her hand, to recover the intonations of her voice in the hush of my being. Since then I have never read her letters except as I read that first letter; in bed, amid total silence. I cannot understand how the letters of our beloved can be read in any other way; yet there are men, unworthy to be loved, who read such letters in the turmoil of the day, laying them aside and taking them up again with odious composure.

Here, Natalie, is the voice which echoed through the silence of that night. Behold the noble figure which stood before me and pointed to the right path among the cross-ways at which I stood.

To Monsieur le Vicomte Felix de Vandenesse:

What happiness for me, dear friend, to gather the scattered elements of my experience that I may arm you against the dangers of the world, through which I pray that you pass scatheless. I have felt the highest pleasures of maternal love as night after night I have thought of these things. While writing this letter, sentence by sentence, projecting my thoughts into the life you are about to lead, I went often to my window. Looking at the towers of Frapesle, visible in the moonlight, I said to myself, "He sleeps, I wake for him." Delightful feelings! which recall the happiest of my life, when I watched Jacques sleeping in his cradle and waited till he wakened, to feed him with my milk. You are the man-child whose soul must now be strengthened by precepts never taught in schools, but which we women have the privilege of inculcating. These precepts will influence your success; they prepare the way for it, they will secure it. Am I not exercising a spiritual motherhood in giving you a standard by which to judge the actions of your life; a motherhood comprehended, is it not, by the child? Dear Felix, let me, even though I may make a few mistakes, let me give to our friendship a proof of the disinterestedness which sanctifies it.

In yielding you to the world I am renouncing you; but I love you too well not to sacrifice my happiness to your welfare. For the last four months you have made me reflect deeply on the laws and customs which regulate our epoch. The conversations I have had with my aunt, well-known to you who have replaced her, the events of Monsieur de Mortsauf's life, which he has told me, the tales related by my father, to whom society and the court are familiar in their greatest as well as in their smallest aspects, all these have risen in my memory for the benefit of my adopted child at the moment when he is about to be launched, well-nigh alone, among men; about to act without adviser in a world where many are wrecked by their own best qualities thoughtlessly displayed, while others succeed through a judicious use of their worst.

I ask you to ponder this statement of my opinion of society as a whole; it is concise, for to you a few words are sufficient.

I do not know whether societies are of divine origin or whether they were invented by man. I am equally ignorant of the direction in which they tend. What I do know certainly is the fact of their existence. No sooner therefore do you enter society, instead of living a life apart, than you are bound to consider its conditions binding; a contract is signed between you. Does society in these days gain more from a man than it returns to him? I think so; but as to whether the individual man finds more cost than profit, or buys too dear the advantages he obtains, concerns the legislator only; I have nothing to say to that. In my judgment you are bound to obey in all things the general law, without discussion, whether it injures or benefits your personal interests. This principle may seem to you a very simple one, but it is difficult of application; it is like sap, which must infiltrate the smallest of the capillary tubes to stir the tree, renew its verdure, develop its flowers, and ripen fruit. Dear, the laws of society are not all written in a book; manners and customs create laws, the more important of which are often the least known. Believe me, there are neither teachers, nor schools, nor text-books for the laws that are now to regulate your actions, your language, your visible life, the manner of your presentation to the world, and your quest of fortune. Neglect those secret laws or fail to understand them, and you stay at the foot of the social system instead of looking down upon it. Even though this letter may seem to you diffuse, telling you much that you have already thought, let me confide to you a woman's ethics.

To explain society on the theory of individual happiness adroitly won at the cost of the greater number is a monstrous doctrine, which in its strict application leads men to believe that all they can secretly lay hold of before the law or society or other individuals condemn it as a wrong is honestly and fairly theirs. Once admit that claim and the clever thief goes free; the woman who violates her marriage vow without the knowledge of the world is virtuous and happy; kill a man, leaving no proof for justice, and if, like Macbeth, you win a crown you have done wisely; your selfish interests become the higher law; the only question then is how to evade, without witnesses or proof, the obstacles which law and morality place between you and your self-indulgence. To those who hold this view of society, the problem of making their fortune, my dear friend, resolves itself into playing a game where the stakes are millions or the galleys, political triumphs or dishonor. Still, the green cloth is not long enough for all the players, and a certain kind of genius is required to play the game. I say nothing of religious beliefs, nor yet of feelings; what concerns us now is the running-gear of the great machine of gold and iron, and its practical results with which men's lives are occupied. Dear child of my heart, if you share my horror at this criminal theory of the world, society will present to your mind, as it does to all sane minds, the opposite theory of duty. Yes, you will see that man owes himself to man in a thousand differing ways. To my mind, the duke and peer owe far more to the workman and the pauper than the pauper and the workman owe to the duke. The obligations of duty enlarge in proportion to the benefits which society bestows on men; in accordance with the maxim, as true in social politics as in business, that the burden of care and vigilance is everywhere in proportion to profits. Each man pays his debt in his own way. When our poor toiler at the Rhetoriere comes home weary with his day's work has he not done his duty? Assuredly he has done it better than many in the ranks above him.

If you take this view of society, in which you are about to seek a place in keeping with your intellect and your faculties, you must set before you as a generating principle and mainspring, this maxim: never permit yourself to act against either your own conscience or the public conscience. Though my entreaty may seem to you superfluous, yet I entreat, yes, your Henriette implores you to ponder the meaning of that rule. It seems simple but, dear, it means that integrity, loyalty, honor, and courtesy are the safest and surest instruments for your success. In this selfish world you will find many to tell you that a man cannot make his way by sentiments, that too much respect for moral considerations will hinder his advance. It is not so; you will see men ill-trained, ill-taught, incapable of measuring the future, who are rough to a child, rude to an old woman, unwilling to be irked by some worthy old man on the ground that they can do nothing for him; later, you will find the same men caught by the thorns which they might have rendered pointless, and missing their triumph for some trivial reason; whereas the man who is early trained to a sense of duty does not meet the same obstacles; he may attain success less rapidly, but when attained it is solid and does not crumble like that of others.

When I show you that the application of this doctrine demands in the first place a mastery of the science of manners, you may think my jurisprudence has a flavor of the court and of the training I received as a Lenoncourt. My dear friend, I do attach great importance to that training, trifling as it seems. You will find that the habits of the great world are as important to you as the wide and varied knowledge that you possess. Often they take the place of such knowledge; for some really ignorant men, born with natural gifts and accustomed to give connection to their ideas, have been known to attain a grandeur never reached by others far more worthy of it. I have studied you thoroughly, Felix, wishing to know if your education, derived wholly from schools, has injured your nature. God knows the joy with which I find you fit for that further education of which I speak.

The manners of many who are brought up in the traditions of the great world are purely external; true politeness, perfect manners, come from the heart, and from a deep sense of personal dignity. This is why some men of noble birth are, in spite of their training, ill-mannered, while others, among the middle classes, have instinctive good taste and only need a few lessons to give them excellent manners without any signs of awkward imitation. Believe a poor woman who no longer leaves her valley when she tells you that this dignity of tone, this courteous simplicity in words, in gesture, in bearing, and even in the character of the home, is a living and material poem, the charm of which is irresistible; imagine therefore what it is when it takes its inspiration from the heart. Politeness, dear, consists in seeming to forget ourselves for others; with many it is social cant, laid aside when personal self-interest shows its cloven-foot; a noble then becomes ignoble. But--and this is what I want you to practise, Felix--true politeness involves a Christian principle; it is the flower of Love, it requires that we forget ourselves really. In memory of your Henriette, for her sake, be not a fountain without water, have the essence and the form of true courtesy. Never fear to be the dupe and victim of this social virtue; you will some day gather the fruit of seeds scattered apparently to the winds.

My father used to say that one of the great offences of sham politeness was the neglect of promises. When anything is demanded of you that you cannot do, refuse positively and leave no loopholes for false hopes; on the other hand, grant at once whatever you are willing to bestow. Your prompt refusal will make you friends as well as your prompt benefit, and your character will stand the higher; for it is hard to say whether a promise forgotten, a hope deceived does not make us more enemies than a favor granted brings us friends.

Dear friend, there are certain little matters on which I may dwell, for I know them, and it comes within my province to impart them. Be not too confiding, nor frivolous, nor over enthusiastic, --three rocks on which youth often strikes. Too confiding a nature loses respect, frivolity brings contempt, and others take advantage of excessive enthusiasm. In the first place, Felix, you will never have more than two or three friends in the course of your life. Your entire confidence is their right; to give it to many is to betray your real friends. If you are more intimate with some men than with others keep guard over yourself; be as cautious as though you knew they would one day be your rivals, or your enemies; the chances and changes of life require this. Maintain an attitude which is neither cold nor hot; find the medium point at which a man can safely hold intercourse with others without compromising himself. Yes, believe me, the honest man is as far from the base cowardice of Philinte as he is from the harsh virtue of Alceste. The genius of the poet is displayed in the mind of this true medium; certainly all minds do enjoy more the ridicule of virtue than the sovereign contempt of easy-going selfishness which underlies that picture of it; but all, nevertheless, are prompted to keep themselves from either extreme.

As to frivolity, if it causes fools to proclaim you a charming man, others who are accustomed to judge of men's capacities and fathom character, will winnow out your tare and bring you to disrepute, for frivolity is the resource of weak natures, and weakness is soon appraised in a society which regards its members as nothing more than organs--and perhaps justly, for nature herself puts to death imperfect beings. A woman's protecting instincts may be roused by the pleasure she feels in supporting the weak against the strong, and in leading the intelligence of the heart to victory over the brutality of matter; but society, less a mother than a stepmother, adores only the children who flatter her vanity.

As to ardent enthusiasm, that first sublime mistake of youth, which finds true happiness in using its powers, and begins by being its own dupe before it is the dupe of others, keep it within the region of the heart's communion, keep it for woman and for God. Do not hawk its treasures in the bazaars of society or of politics, where trumpery will be offered in exchange for them. Believe the voice which commands you to be noble in all things when it also prays you not to expend your forces uselessly. Unhappily, men will rate you according to your usefulness, and not according to your worth. To use an image which I think will strike your poetic mind, let a cipher be what it may, immeasurable in size, written in gold, or written in pencil, it is only a cipher after all. A man of our times has said, "No zeal, above all, no zeal!" The lesson may be sad, but it is true, and it saves the soul from wasting its bloom. Hide your pure sentiments, or put them in regions inaccessible, where their blossoms may be passionately admired, where the artist may dream amorously of his master-piece. But duties, my friend, are not sentiments. To do what we ought is by no means to do what we like. A man who would give his life enthusiastically for a woman must be ready to die coldly for his country.

One of the most important rules in the science of manners is that of almost absolute silence about ourselves. Play a little comedy for your own instruction; talk of yourself to acquaintances, tell them about your sufferings, your pleasures, your business, and you will see how indifference succeeds pretended interest; then annoyance follows, and if the mistress of the house does not find some civil way of stopping you the company will disappear under various pretexts adroitly seized. Would you, on the other hand, gather sympathies about you and be spoken of as amiable and witty, and a true friend? talk to others of themselves, find a way to bring them forward, and brows will clear, lips will smile, and after you leave the room all present will praise you. Your conscience and the voice of your own heart will show you the line where the cowardice of flattery begins and the courtesy of intercourse ceases.

One word more about a young man's demeanor in public. My dear friend, youth is always inclined to a rapidity of judgment which does it honor, but also injury. This was why the old system of education obliged young people to keep silence and study life in a probationary period beside their elders. Formerly, as you know, nobility, like art, had its apprentices, its pages, devoted body and soul to the masters who maintained them. To-day youth is forced in a hot-house; it is trained to judge of thoughts, actions, and writings with biting severity; it slashes with a blade that has not been fleshed. Do not make this mistake. Such judgments will seem like censures to many about you, who would sooner pardon an open rebuke than a secret wound. Young people are pitiless because they know nothing of life and its difficulties. The old critic is kind and considerate, the young critic is implacable; the one knows nothing, the other knows all. Moreover, at the bottom of all human actions there is a labyrinth of determining reasons on which God reserves for himself the final judgment. Be severe therefore to none but yourself.

Your future is before you; but no one in the world can make his way unaided. Therefore, make use of my father's house; its doors are open to you; the connections that you will create for yourself under his roof will serve you in a hundred ways. But do not yield an inch of ground to my mother; she will crush any one who gives up to her, but she will admire the courage of whoever resists her. She is like iron, which if beaten, can be fused with iron, but when cold will break everything less hard than itself. Cultivate my mother; for if she thinks well of you she will introduce you into certain houses where you can acquire the fatal science of the world, the art of listening, speaking, answering, presenting yourself to the company and taking leave of it; the precise use of language, the something--how shall I explain it?--which is no more superiority than the coat is the man, but without which the highest talent in the world will never be admitted within those portals.

I know you well enough to be quite sure I indulge no illusion when I imagine that I see you as I wish you to be; simple in manners, gentle in tone, proud without conceit, respectful to the old, courteous without servility, above all, discreet. Use your wit but never display it for the amusement of others; for be sure that if your brilliancy annoys an inferior man, he will retire from the field and say of you in a tone of contempt, "He is very amusing." Let your superiority be leonine. Moreover, do not be always seeking to please others. I advise a certain coldness in your relations with men, which may even amount to indifference; this will not anger others, for all persons esteem those who slight them; and it will win you the favor of women, who will respect you for the little consequence that you attach to men. Never remain in company with those who have lost their reputation, even though they may not have deserved to do so; for society holds us responsible for our friendships as well as for our enmities. In this matter let your judgments be slowly and maturely weighed, but see that they are irrevocable. When the men whom you have repulsed justify the repulsion, your esteem and regard will be all the more sought after; you have inspired the tacit respect which raises a man among his peers. I behold you now armed with a youth that pleases, grace which attracts, and wisdom with which to preserve your conquests. All that I have now told you can be summed up in two words, two old-fashioned words, "Noblesse oblige."

Now apply these precepts to the management of life. You will hear many persons say that strategy is the chief element of success; that the best way to press through the crowd is to set some men against other men and so take their places. That was a good system for the Middle Ages, when princes had to destroy their rivals by pitting one against the other; but in these days, all things being done in open day, I am afraid it would do you ill-service. No, you must meet your competitors face to face, be they loyal and true men, or traitorous enemies whose weapons are calumny, evil-speaking, and fraud. But remember this, you have no more powerful auxiliaries than these men themselves; they are their own enemies; fight them with honest weapons, and sooner or later they are condemned. As to the first of them, loyal men and true, your straightforwardness will obtain their respect, and the differences between you once settled (for all things can be settled), these men will serve you. Do not be afraid of making enemies; woe to him who has none in the world you are about to enter; but try to give no handle for ridicule or disparagement. I say _try_, for in Paris a man cannot always belong solely to himself; he is sometimes at the mercy of circumstances; you will not always be able to avoid the mud in the gutter nor the tile that falls from the roof. The moral world has gutters where persons of no reputation endeavor to splash the mud in which they live upon men of honor. But you can always compel respect by showing that you are, under all circumstances, immovable in your principles. In the conflict of opinions, in the midst of quarrels and cross-purposes, go straight to the point, keep resolutely to the question; never fight except for the essential thing, and put your whole strength into that. You know how Monsieur de Mortsauf hates Napoleon, how he curses him and pursues him as justice does a criminal; demanding punishment day and night for the death of the Duc d'Enghien, the only death, the only misfortune, that ever brought the tears to his eyes; well, he nevertheless admired him as the greatest of captains, and has often explained to me his strategy. May not the same tactics be applied to the war of human interests; they would economize time as heretofore they economized men and space. Think this over, for as a woman I am liable to be mistaken on such points which my sex judges only by instinct and sentiment. One point, however, I may insist on; all trickery, all deception, is certain to be discovered and to result in doing harm; whereas every situation presents less danger if a man plants himself firmly on his own truthfulness. If I may cite my own case, I can tell you that, obliged as I am by Monsieur de Mortsauf's condition to avoid litigation and to bring to an immediate settlement all difficulties which arise in the management of Clochegourde, and which would otherwise cause him an excitement under which his mind would succumb, I have invariably settled matters promptly by taking hold of the knot of the difficulty and saying to our opponents: "We will either untie it or cut it!"

It will often happen that you do a service to others and find yourself ill-rewarded; I beg you not to imitate those who complain of men and declare them to be all ungrateful. That is putting themselves on a pedestal indeed! and surely it is somewhat silly to admit their lack of knowledge of the world. But you, I trust, will not do good as a usurer lends his money; you will do it--will you not?--for good's sake. Noblesse oblige. Nevertheless, do not bestow such services as to force others to ingratitude, for if you do, they will become your most implacable enemies; obligations sometimes lead to despair, like the despair of ruin itself, which is capable of very desperate efforts. As for yourself, accept as little as you can from others. Be no man's vassal; and bring yourself out of your own difficulties.

You see, dear friend, I am advising you only on the lesser points of life. In the world of politics things wear a different aspect; the rules which are to guide your individual steps give way before the national interests. If you reach that sphere where great men revolve you will be, like God himself, the sole arbiter of your determinations. You will no longer be a man, but law, the living law; no longer an individual, you are then the Nation incarnate. But remember this, though you judge, you will yourself be judged; hereafter you will be summoned before the ages, and you know history well enough to be fully informed as to what deeds and what sentiments have led to true grandeur.

I now come to a serious matter, your conduct towards women. Wherever you visit make it a principle not to fritter yourself away in a petty round of gallantry. A man of the last century who had great social success never paid attention to more than one woman of an evening, choosing the one who seemed the most neglected. That man, my dear child, controlled his epoch. He wisely reckoned that by a given time all women would speak well of him. Many young men waste their most precious possession, namely, the time necessary to create connections which contribute more than all else to social success. Your springtime is short, endeavor to make the most of it. Cultivate influential women. Influential women are old women; they will teach you the intermarriages and the secrets of all the families of the great world; they will show you the cross-roads which will bring you soonest to your goal. They will be fond of you. The bestowal of protection is their last form of love--when they are not devout. They will do you innumerable good services; sing your praises and make you desirable to society. Avoid young women. Do not think I say this from personal self-interest. The woman of fifty will do all for you, the woman of twenty will do nothing; she wants your whole life while the other asks only a few attentions. Laugh with the young women, meet them for pastime merely; they are incapable of serious thought. Young women, dear friend, are selfish, vain, petty, ignorant of true friendship; they love no one but themselves; they would sacrifice you to an evening's success. Besides, they all want absolute devotion, and your present situation requires that devotion be shown to you; two irreconcilable needs! None of these young women would enter into your interests; they would think of themselves and not of you; they would injure you more by their emptiness and frivolity than they could serve you by their love; they will waste your time unscrupulously, hinder your advance to fortune, and end by destroying your future with the best grace possible. If you complain, the silliest of them will make you think that her glove is more precious than fortune, and that nothing is so glorious as to be her slave. They will all tell you that they bestow happiness, and thus lull you to forget your nobler destiny. Believe me, the happiness they give is transitory; your great career will endure. You know not with what perfidious cleverness they contrive to satisfy their caprices, nor the art with which they will convert your passing fancy into a love which ought to be eternal. The day when they abandon you they will tell you that the words, "I no longer love you," are a full justification of their conduct, just as the words, "I love," justified their winning you; they will declare that love is involuntary and not to be coerced. Absurd! Believe me, dear, true love is eternal, infinite, always like unto itself; it is equable, pure, without violent demonstration; white hair often covers the head but the heart that holds it is ever young. No such love is found among the women of the world; all are playing comedy; this one will interest you by her misfortunes; she seems the gentlest and least exacting of her sex, but when once she is necessary to you, you will feel the tyranny of weakness and will do her will; you may wish to be a diplomat, to go and come, and study men and interests,--no, you must stay in Paris, or at her country-place, sewn to her petticoat, and the more devotion you show the more ungrateful and exacting she will be. Another will attract you by her submissiveness; she will be your attendant, follow you romantically about, compromise herself to keep you, and be the millstone about your neck. You will drown yourself some day, but the woman will come to the surface.

The least manoeuvring of these women of the world have many nets. The silliest triumph because too foolish to excite distrust. The one to be feared least may be the woman of gallantry whom you love without exactly knowing why; she will leave you for no motive and go back to you out of vanity. All these women will injure you, either in the present or the future. Every young woman who enters society and lives a life of pleasure and of gratified vanity is semi-corrupt and will corrupt you. Among them you will not find the chaste and tranquil being in whom you may forever reign. Ah! she who loves you will love solitude; the festivals of her heart will be your glances; she will live upon your words. May she be all the world to you, for you will be all in all to her. Love her well; give her neither griefs nor rivals; do not rouse her jealousy. To be loved, dear, to be comprehended, is the greatest of all joys; I pray that you may taste it! But run no risk of injuring the flower of your soul; be sure, be very sure of the heart in which you place your affections. That woman will never be her own self; she will never think of herself, but of you. She will never oppose you, she will have no interests of her own; for you she will see a danger where you can see none and where she would be oblivious of her own. If she suffers it will be in silence; she will have no personal vanity, but deep reverence for whatever in her has won your love. Respond to such a love by surpassing it. If you are fortunate enough to find that which I, your poor friend, must ever be without, I mean a love mutually inspired, mutually felt, remember that in a valley lives a mother whose heart is so filled with the feelings you have put there that you can never sound its depths. Yes, I bear you an affection which you will never know to its full extent; before it could show itself for what it is you would have to lose your mind and intellect, and then you would be unable to comprehend the length and breadth of my devotion.

Shall I be misunderstood in bidding you avoid young women (all more or less artful, satirical, vain, frivolous, and extravagant) and attach yourself to influential women, to those imposing dowagers full of excellent good-sense, like my aunt, who will help your career, defend you from attacks, and say for you the things that you cannot say for yourself? Am I not, on the contrary, generous in bidding you reserve your love for the coming angel with the guileless heart? If the motto Noblesse oblige sums up the advice I gave you just now, my further advice on your relations to women is based upon that other motto of chivalry, "Serve all, love one!"

Your educational knowledge is immense; your heart, saved by early suffering, is without a stain; all is noble, all is well with you. Now, Felix, WILL! Your future lies in that one word, that word of great men. My child, you will obey your Henriette, will you not? You will permit her to tell you from time to time the thoughts that are in her mind of you and of your relations to the world? I have an eye in my soul which sees the future for you as for my children; suffer me to use that faculty for your benefit; it is a faculty, a mysterious gift bestowed by my lonely life; far from its growing weaker, I find it strengthened and exalted by solitude and silence.

I ask you in return to bestow a happiness on me; I desire to see you becoming more and more important among men, without one single success that shall bring a line of shame upon my brow; I desire that you may quickly bring your fortunes to the level of your noble name, and be able to tell me I have contributed to your advancement by something better than a wish. This secret co-operation in your future is the only pleasure I can allow myself. For it, I will wait and hope.

I do not say farewell. We are separated; you cannot put my hand to your lips, but you must surely know the place you hold in the heart of your


As I read this letter I felt the maternal heart beating beneath my fingers which held the paper while I was still cold from the harsh greeting of my own mother. I understood why the countess had forbidden me to open it in Touraine; no doubt she feared that I would fall at her feet and wet them with my tears.

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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 3. The Two Women - Page 12 Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 3. The Two Women - Page 12

Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 3. The Two Women - Page 12
When we left the table I followed the countess to the terrace. When we were alone she exclaimed, "How is it possible that some women can sacrifice their children to a man? Wealth, position, the world, I can conceive of; eternity? yes, possibly; but children! deprive one's self of one's children!" "Yes, and such women would give even more if they had it; they sacrifice everything." The world was suddenly reversed before her, her ideas became confused. The grandeur of that thought struck her; a suspicion entered her mind that sacrifice, immolation justified happiness; the echo of her own inward cry

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

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