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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLily Of The Valley - Chapter 3. The Two Women - Page 13
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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 3. The Two Women - Page 13 Post by :dasmithj007 Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :3441

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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 3. The Two Women - Page 13

Just as we were entering the avenue of Clochegourde Arabella's dog barked joyfully and bounded up to the carriage.

"She is here before us!" cried the countess; then after a pause she added, "I have never seen a more beautiful woman. What a hand and what a figure! Her complexion outdoes the lily, her eyes are literally bright as diamonds. But she rides too well; she loves to display her strength; I think her violent and too active,--also too bold for our conventions. The woman who recognizes no law is apt to listen only to her caprices. Those who seek to shine, to make a stir, have not the gift of constancy. Love needs tranquillity; I picture it to myself like a vast lake in which the lead can find no bottom; where tempests may be violent, but are rare and controlled within certain limits; where two beings live on a flowery isle far from the world whose luxury and display offend them. Still, love must take the imprint of the character. Perhaps I am wrong. If nature's elements are compelled to take certain forms determined by climate, why is it not the same with the feelings of individuals? No doubt sentiments, feelings, which hold to the general law in the mass, differ in expression only. Each soul has its own method. Lady Dudley is the strong woman who can traverse distances and act with the vigor of a man; she would rescue her lover and kill jailers and guards; while other women can only love with their whole souls; in moments of danger they kneel down to pray, and die. Which of the two women suits you best? That is the question. Yes, yes, Lady Dudley must surely love; she has made many sacrifices. Perhaps she will love you when you have ceased to love her!"

"Dear angel," I said, "let me ask the question you asked me; how is it that you know these things?"

"Every sorrow teaches a lesson, and I have suffered on so many points that my knowledge is vast."

My servant had heard the order given, and thinking we should return by the terraces he held my horse ready for me in the avenue. Arabella's dog had scented the horse, and his mistress, drawn by very natural curiosity, had followed the animal through the woods to the avenue.

"Go and make your peace," said Henriette, smiling without a tinge of sadness. "Say to Lady Dudley how much she mistakes my intention; I wished to show her the true value of the treasure which has fallen to her; my heart holds none but kind feelings, above all neither anger nor contempt. Explain to her that I am her sister, and not her rival."

"I shall not go," I said.

"Have you never discovered," she said with lofty pride, "that certain propitiations are insulting? Go!"

I rode towards Lady Dudley wishing to know the state of her mind. "If she would only be angry and leave me," I thought, "I could return to Clochegourde."

The dog led me to an oak, from which, as I came up, Arabella galloped crying out to me, "Come! away! away!" All that I could do was to follow her to Saint Cyr, which we reached about midnight.

"That lady is in perfect health," said Arabella as she dismounted.

Those who know her can alone imagine the satire contained in that remark, dryly said in a tone which meant, "I should have died!"

"I forbid you to utter any of your sarcasms about Madame de Mortsauf," I said.

"Do I displease your Grace in remarking upon the perfect health of one so dear to your precious heart? Frenchwomen hate, so I am told, even their lover's dog. In England we love all that our masters love; we hate all they hate, because we are flesh of their flesh. Permit me therefore to love this lady as much as you yourself love her. Only, my dear child," she added, clasping me in her arms which were damp with rain, "if you betray me, I shall not be found either lying down or standing up, not in a carriage with liveried lackeys, nor on horseback on the moors of Charlemagne, nor on any other moor beneath the skies, nor in my own bed, nor beneath a roof of my forefathers; I shall not be anywhere, for I will live no longer. I was born in Lancashire, a country where women die for love. Know you, and give you up? I will yield you to none, not even to Death, for I should die with you."

She led me to her rooms, where comfort had already spread its charms.

"Love her, dear," I said warmly. "She loves you sincerely, not in jest."

"Sincerely! you poor child!" she said, unfastening her habit.

With a lover's vanity I tried to exhibit Henriette's noble character to this imperious creature. While her waiting-woman, who did not understand a word of French, arranged her hair I endeavored to picture Madame de Mortsauf by sketching her life; I repeated many of the great thoughts she had uttered at a crisis when nearly all women become either petty or bad. Though Arabella appeared to be paying no attention she did not lose a single word.

"I am delighted," she said when we were alone, "to learn your taste for pious conversation. There's an old vicar on one of my estates who understands writing sermons better than any one I know; the country-people like him, for he suits his prosing to his hearers. I'll write to my father to-morrow and ask him to send the good man here by steamboat; you can meet him in Paris, and when once you have heard him you will never wish to listen to any one else,--all the more because his health is perfect. His moralities won't give you shocks that make you weep; they flow along without tempests, like a limpid stream, and will send you to sleep. Every evening you can if you like satisfy your passion for sermons by digesting one with your dinner. English morality, I do assure you, is as superior to that of Touraine as our cutlery, our plate, and our horses are to your knives and your turf. Do me the kindness to listen to my vicar; promise me. I am only a woman, my dearest; I can love, I can die for you if you will; but I have never studied at Eton, or at Oxford, or in Edinburgh. I am neither a doctor of laws nor a reverend; I can't preach morality; in fact, I am altogether unfit for it, I should be awkward if I tried. I don't blame your tastes; you might have others more depraved, and I should still endeavor to conform to them, for I want you to find near me all you like best,--pleasures of love, pleasures of food, pleasures of piety, good claret, and virtuous Christians. Shall I wear hair-cloth to-night? She is very lucky, that woman, to suit you in morality. From what college did she graduate? Poor I, who can only give you myself, who can only be your slave--"

"Then why did you rush away when I wanted to bring you together?"

"Are you crazy, Amedee? I could go from Paris to Rome disguised as a valet; I would do the most unreasonable thing for your sake; but how can you expect me to speak to a woman on the public roads who has never been presented to me,--and who, besides, would have preached me a sermon under three heads? I speak to peasants, and if I am hungry I would ask a workman to share his bread with me and pay him in guineas, --that is all proper enough; but to stop a carriage on the highway, like the gentlemen of the road in England, is not at all within my code of manners. You poor child, you know only how to love; you don't know how to live. Besides, I am not like you as yet, dear angel; I don't like morality. Still, I am capable of great efforts to please you. Yes, I will go to work; I will learn how to preach; you shall have no more kisses without verses of the Bible interlarded."

She used her power and abused it as soon as she saw in my eyes the ardent expression which was always there when she began her sorceries. She triumphed over everything, and I complacently told myself that the woman who loses all, sacrifices the future, and makes love her only virtue, is far above Catholic polemics.

"So she loves herself better than she loves you?" Arabella went on. "She sets something that is not you above you. Is that love? how can we women find anything to value in ourselves except that which you value in us? No woman, no matter how fine a moralist she may be, is the equal of a man. Tread upon us, kill us; never embarrass your lives on our account. It is for us to die, for you to live, great and honored. For us the dagger in your hand; for you our pardoning love. Does the sun think of the gnats in his beams, that live by his light? they stay as long as they can and when he withdraws his face they die--"

"Or fly somewhere else," I said interrupting her.

"Yes, somewhere else," she replied, with an indifference that would have piqued any man into using the power with which she invested him. "Do you really think it is worthy of womanhood to make a man eat his bread buttered with virtue, and to persuade him that religion is incompatible with love? Am I a reprobate? A woman either gives herself or she refuses. But to refuse and moralize is a double wrong, and is contrary to the rule of the right in all lands. Here, you will get only excellent sandwiches prepared by the hand of your servant Arabella, whose sole morality is to imagine caresses no man has yet felt and which the angels inspire."

I know nothing more destructive than the wit of an Englishwoman; she gives it the eloquent gravity, the tone of pompous conviction with which the British hide the absurdities of their life of prejudice. French wit and humor, on the other hand, is like a lace with which our women adorn the joys they give and the quarrels they invent; it is a mental jewelry, as charming as their pretty dresses. English wit is an acid which corrodes all those on whom it falls until it bares their bones, which it scrapes and polishes. The tongue of a clever Englishwoman is like that of a tiger tearing the flesh from the bone when he is only in play. All-powerful weapon of a sneering devil, English satire leaves a deadly poison in the wound it makes. Arabella chose to show her power like the sultan who, to prove his dexterity, cut off the heads of unoffending beings with his own scimitar.

"My angel," she said, "I can talk morality too if I choose. I have asked myself whether I commit a crime in loving you; whether I violate the divine laws; and I find that my love for you is both natural and pious. Why did God create some beings handsomer than others if not to show us that we ought to adore them? The crime would be in not loving you. This lady insults you by confounding you with other men; the laws of morality are not applicable to you; for God has created you above them. Am I not drawing nearer to divine love in loving you? will God punish a poor woman for seeking the divine? Your great and luminous heart so resembles the heavens that I am like the gnats which flutter about the torches of a fete and burn themselves; are they to be punished for their error? besides, is it an error? may it not be pure worship of the light? They perish of too much piety,--if you call it perishing to fling one's self on the breast of him we love. I have the weakness to love you, whereas that woman has the strength to remain in her Catholic shrine. Now, don't frown. You think I wish her ill. No, I do not. I adore the morality which has led her to leave you free, and enables me to win you and hold you forever--for you are mine forever, are you not?"

"Yes."

"Forever and ever?"

"Yes."

"Ah! I have found favor in my lord! I alone have understood his worth! She knows how to cultivate her estate, you say. Well, I leave that to farmers; I cultivate your heart."

I try to recall this intoxicating babble, that I may picture to you the woman as she is, confirm all I have said of her, and let you into the secret of what happened later. But how shall I describe the accompaniment of the words? She sought to annihilate by the passion of her impetuous love the impressions left in my heart by the chaste and dignified love of my Henriette. Lady Dudley had seen the countess as plainly as the countess had seen her; each had judged the other. The force of Arabella's attack revealed to me the extent of her fear, and her secret admiration for her rival. In the morning I found her with tearful eyes, complaining that she had not slept.

"What troubles you?" I said.

"I fear that my excessive love will ruin me," she answered; "I have given all. Wiser than I, that woman possesses something that you still desire. If you prefer her, forget me; I will not trouble you with my sorrows, my remorse, my sufferings; no, I will go far away and die, like a plant deprived of the life-giving sun."

She was able to wring protestations of love from my reluctant lips, which filled her with joy.

"Ah!" she exclaimed, drying her eyes, "I am happy. Go back to her; I do not choose to owe you to the force of my love, but to the action of your own will. If you return here I shall know that you love me as much as I love you, the possibility of which I have always doubted."

She persuaded me to return to Clochegourde. The false position in which I thus placed myself did not strike me while still under the influence of her wiles. Yet, had I refused to return I should have given Lady Dudley a triumph over Henriette. Arabella would then have taken me to Paris. To go now to Clochegourde was an open insult to Madame de Mortsauf; in that case Arabella was sure of me. Did any woman ever pardon such crimes against love? Unless she were an angel descended from the skies, instead of a purified spirit ascending to them, a loving woman would rather see her lover die than know him happy with another. Thus, look at it as I would, my situation, after I had once left Clochegourde for the Grenadiere, was as fatal to the love of my choice as it was profitable to the transient love that held me. Lady Dudley had calculated all this with consummate cleverness. She owned to me later that if she had not met Madame de Mortsauf on the moor she had intended to compromise me by haunting Clochegourde until she did so.

When I met the countess that morning, and found her pale and depressed like one who has not slept all night, I was conscious of exercising the instinctive perception given to hearts still fresh and generous to show them the true bearing of actions little regarded by the world at large, but judged as criminal by lofty spirits. Like a child going down a precipice in play and gathering flowers, who sees with dread that it can never climb that height again, feels itself alone, with night approaching, and hears the howls of animals, so I now knew that she and I were separated by a universe. A wail arose within our souls like an echo of that woeful "Consummatum est" heard in the churches on Good Friday at the hour the Saviour died,--a dreadful scene which awes young souls whose first love is religion. All Henriette's illusions were killed at one blow; her heart had endured its passion. She did not look at me; she refused me the light that for six long years had shone upon my life. She knew well that the spring of the effulgent rays shed by our eyes was in our souls, to which they served as pathways to reach each other, to blend them in one, meeting, parting, playing, like two confiding women who tell each other all. Bitterly I felt the wrong of bringing beneath this roof, where pleasure was unknown, a face on which the wings of pleasure had shaken their prismatic dust. If, the night before, I had allowed Lady Dudley to depart alone, if I had then returned to Clochegourde, where, it may be, Henriette awaited me, perhaps--perhaps Madame de Mortsauf might not so cruelly have resolved to be my sister. But now she paid me many ostentatious attentions,--playing her part vehemently for the very purpose of not changing it. During breakfast she showed me a thousand civilities, humiliating attentions, caring for me as though I were a sick man whose fate she pitied.

"You were out walking early," said the count; "I hope you have brought back a good appetite, you whose stomach is not yet destroyed."

This remark, which brought the smile of a sister to Henriette's lips, completed my sense of the ridicule of my position. It was impossible to be at Clochegourde by day and Saint-Cyr by night. During the day I felt how difficult it was to become the friend of a woman we have long loved. The transition, easy enough when years have brought it about, is like an illness in youth. I was ashamed; I cursed the pleasure Lady Dudley gave me; I wished that Henriette would demand my blood. I could not tear her rival in pieces before her, for she avoided speaking of her; indeed, had I spoken of Arabella, Henriette, noble and sublime to the inmost recesses of her heart, would have despised my infamy. After five years of delightful intercourse we now had nothing to say to each other; our words had no connection with our thoughts; we were hiding from each other our intolerable pain,--we, whose mutual sufferings had been our first interpreter.

Henriette assumed a cheerful look for me as for herself, but she was sad. She spoke of herself as my sister, and yet found no ground on which to converse; and we remained for the greater part of the time in constrained silence. She increased my inward misery by feigning to believe that she was the only victim.

"I suffer more than you," I said to her at a moment when my self-styled sister was betrayed into a feminine sarcasm.

"How so?" she said haughtily.

"Because I am the one to blame."

At last her manner became so cold and indifferent that I resolved to leave Clochegourde. That evening, on the terrace, I said farewell to the whole family, who were there assembled. They all followed me to the lawn where my horse was waiting. The countess came to me as I took the bridle in my hand.

"Let us walk down the avenue together, alone," she said.

I gave her my arm, and we passed through the courtyard with slow and measured steps, as though our rhythmic movement were consoling to us. When we reached the grove of trees which forms a corner of the boundary she stopped.

"Farewell, my friend," she said, throwing her head upon my breast and her arms around my neck, "Farewell, we shall never meet again. God has given me the sad power to look into the future. Do you remember the terror that seized me the day you first came back, so young, so handsome! and I saw you turn your back on me as you do this day when you are leaving Clochegourde and going to Saint-Cyr? Well, once again, during the past night I have seen into the future. Friend, we are speaking together for the last time. I can hardly now say a few words to you, for it is but a part of me that speaks at all. Death has already seized on something in me. You have taken the mother from her children, I now ask you to take her place to them. You can; Jacques and Madeleine love you--as if you had always made them suffer."

"Death!" I cried, frightened as I looked at her and beheld the fire of her shining eyes, of which I can give no idea to those who have never known their dear ones struck down by her fatal malady, unless I compare those eyes to balls of burnished silver. "Die!" I said. "Henriette, I command you to live. You used to ask an oath of me, I now ask one of you. Swear to me that you will send for Origet and obey him in everything."

"Would you oppose the mercy of God?" she said, interrupting me with a cry of despair at being thus misunderstood.

"You do not love me enough to obey me blindly, as that miserable Lady Dudley does?"

"Yes, yes, I will do all you ask," she cried, goaded by jealousy.

"Then I stay," I said, kissing her on the eyelids.

Frightened at the words, she escaped from my arms and leaned against a tree; then she turned and walked rapidly homeward without looking back. But I followed her; she was weeping and praying. When we reached the lawn I took her hand and kissed it respectfully. This submission touched her.

"I am yours--forever, and as you will," I said; "for I love you as your aunt loved you."

She trembled and wrung my hand.

"One look," I said, "one more, one last of our old looks! The woman who gives herself wholly," I cried, my soul illumined by the glance she gave me, "gives less of life and soul than I have now received. Henriette, thou art my best-beloved--my only love."

"I shall live!" she said; "but cure yourself as well."

That look had effaced the memory of Arabella's sarcasms. Thus I was the plaything of the two irreconcilable passions I have now described to you; I was influenced by each alternately. I loved an angel and a demon; two women equally beautiful,--one adorned with all the virtues which we decry through hatred of our own imperfections, the other with all the vices which we deify through selfishness. Returning along that avenue, looking back again and again at Madame de Mortsauf, as she leaned against a tree surrounded by her children who waved their handkerchiefs, I detected in my soul an emotion of pride in finding myself the arbiter of two such destinies; the glory, in ways so different, of women so distinguished; proud of inspiring such great passions that death must come to whichever I abandoned. Ah! believe me, that passing conceit has been doubly punished!

I know not what demon prompted me to remain with Arabella and await the moment when the death of the count might give me Henriette; for she would ever love me. Her harshness, her tears, her remorse, her Christian resignation, were so many eloquent signs of a sentiment that could no more be effaced from her heart than from mine. Walking slowly down that pretty avenue and making these reflections, I was no longer twenty-five, I was fifty years old. A man passes in a moment, even more quickly than a woman, from youth to middle age. Though long ago I drove these evil thoughts away from me, I was then possessed by them, I must avow it. Perhaps I owed their presence in my mind to the Tuileries, to the king's cabinet. Who could resist the polluting spirit of Louis XVIII.?

When I reached the end of the avenue I turned and rushed back in the twinkling of an eye, seeing that Henriette was still there, and alone! I went to bid her a last farewell, bathed in repentant tears, the cause of which she never knew. Tears sincere indeed; given, although I knew it not, to noble loves forever lost, to virgin emotions--those flowers of our life which cannot bloom again. Later, a man gives nothing, he receives; he loves himself in his mistress; but in youth he loves his mistress in himself. Later, we inoculate with our tastes, perhaps our vices, the woman who loves us; but in the dawn of life she whom we love conveys to us her virtues, her conscience. She invites us with a smile to the noble life; from her we learn the self-devotion which she practises. Woe to the man who has not had his Henriette. Woe to that other one who has never known a Lady Dudley. The latter, if he marries, will not be able to keep his wife; the other will be abandoned by his mistress. But joy to him who can find the two women in one woman; happy the man, dear Natalie, whom you love.

After my return to Paris Arabella and I became more intimate than ever. Soon we insensibly abandoned all the conventional restrictions I had carefully imposed, the strict observance of which often makes the world forgive the false position in which Lady Dudley had placed herself. Society, which delights in looking behind appearances, sanctions much as soon as it knows the secrets they conceal. Lovers who live in the great world make a mistake in flinging down these barriers exacted by the law of salons; they do wrong not to obey scrupulously all conventions which the manners and customs of a community impose,--less for the sake of others than for their own. Outward respect to be maintained, comedies to play, concealments to be managed; all such strategy of love occupies the life, renews desire, and protects the heart against the palsy of habit. But all young passions, being, like youth itself, essentially spendthrift, raze their forests to the ground instead of merely cutting the timber. Arabella adopted none of these bourgeois ideas, and yielded to them only to please me; she wished to exhibit me to the eyes of all Paris as her "sposo." She employed her powers of seduction to keep me under her roof, for she was not content with a rumored scandal which, for want of proof, was only whispered behind the fans. Seeing her so happy in committing an imprudence which frankly admitted her position, how could I help believing in her love?

But no sooner was I plunged into the comforts of illegal marriage than despair seized upon me; I saw my life bound to a course in direct defiance of the ideas and the advice given me by Henriette. Thenceforth I lived in the sort of rage we find in consumptive patients who, knowing their end is near, cannot endure that their lungs should be examined. There was no corner in my heart where I could fly to escape suffering; an avenging spirit filled me incessantly with thoughts on which I dared not dwell. My letters to Henriette depicted this moral malady and did her infinite harm. "At the cost of so many treasures lost, I wished you to be at least happy," she wrote in the only answer I received. But I was not happy. Dear Natalie, happiness is absolute; it allows of no comparisons. My first ardor over, I necessarily compared the two women,--a contrast I had never yet studied. In fact, all great passions press so strongly on the character that at first they check its asperities and cover the track of habits which constitute our defects and our better qualities. But later, when two lovers are accustomed to each other, the features of their moral physiognomies reappear; they mutually judge each other, and it often happens during this reaction of the character after passion, that natural antipathies leading to disunion (which superficial people seize upon to accuse the human heart of instability) come to the surface. This period now began with me. Less blinded by seductions, and dissecting, as it were, my pleasure, I undertook, without perhaps intending to do so, a critical examination of Lady Dudley which resulted to her injury.

In the first place, I found her wanting in the qualities of mind which distinguish Frenchwomen and make them so delightful to love; as all those who have had the opportunity of loving in both countries declare. When a Frenchwoman loves she is metamorphosed; her noted coquetry is used to deck her love; she abandons her dangerous vanity and lays no claim to any merit but that of loving well. She espouses the interests, the hatreds, the friendships, of the man she loves; she acquires in a day the experience of a man of business; she studies the code, she comprehends the mechanism of credit, and could manage a banker's office; naturally heedless and prodigal, she will make no mistakes and waste not a single louis. She becomes, in turn, mother, adviser, doctor, giving to all her transformations a grace of happiness which reveals, in its every detail, her infinite love. She combines the special qualities of the women of other countries and gives unity to the mixture by her wit, that truly French product, which enlivens, sanctions, justifies, and varies all, thus relieving the monotony of a sentiment which rests on a single tense of a single verb. The Frenchwoman loves always, without abatement and without fatigue, in public or in solitude. In public she uses a tone which has meaning for one only; she speaks by silence; she looks at you with lowered eyelids. If the occasion prevents both speech and look she will use the sand and write a word with the point of her little foot; her love will find expression even in sleep; in short, she bends the world to her love. The Englishwoman, on the contrary, makes her love bend to the world. Educated to maintain the icy manners, the Britannic and egotistic deportment which I described to you, she opens and shuts her heart with the ease of a British mechanism. She possesses an impenetrable mask, which she puts on or takes off phlegmatically. Passionate as an Italian when no eye sees her, she becomes coldly dignified before the world. A lover may well doubt his empire when he sees the immobility of face, the aloofness of countenance, and hears the calm voice, with which an Englishwoman leaves her boudoir. Hypocrisy then becomes indifference; she has forgotten all.

Certainly the woman who can lay aside her love like a garment may be thought to be capable of changing it. What tempests arise in the heart of a man, stirred by wounded self-love, when he sees a woman taking and dropping and again picking up her love like a piece of embroidery. These women are too completely mistresses of themselves ever to belong wholly to you; they are too much under the influence of society ever to let you reign supreme. Where a Frenchwoman comforts by a look, or betrays her impatience with visitors by witty jests, an Englishwoman's silence is absolute; it irritates the soul and frets the mind. These women are so constantly, and, under all circumstances, on their dignity, that to most of them fashion reigns omnipotent even over their pleasures. An Englishwoman forces everything into form; though in her case the love of form does not produce the sentiment of art. No matter what may be said against it, Protestantism and Catholicism explain the differences which make the love of Frenchwomen so far superior to the calculating, reasoning love of Englishwomen. Protestantism doubts, searches, and kills belief; it is the death of art and love. Where worldliness is all in all, worldly people must needs obey; but passionate hearts flee from it; to them its laws are insupportable.

You can now understand what a shock my self-love received when I found that Lady Dudley could not live without the world, and that the English system of two lives was familiar to her. It was no sacrifice she felt called upon to make; on the contrary she fell naturally into two forms of life that were inimical to each other. When she loved she loved madly,--no woman of any country could be compared to her; but when the curtain fell upon that fairy scene she banished even the memory of it. In public she never answered to a look or a smile; she was neither mistress nor slave; she was like an ambassadress, obliged to round her phrases and her elbows; she irritated me by her composure, and outraged my heart with her decorum. Thus she degraded love to a mere need, instead of raising it to an ideal through enthusiasm. She expressed neither fear, nor regrets, nor desire; but at a given hour her tenderness reappeared like a fire suddenly lighted.

In which of these two women ought I to believe? I felt, as it were by a thousand pin-pricks, the infinite differences between Henriette and Arabella. When Madame de Mortsauf left me for a while she seemed to leave to the air the duty of reminding me of her; the folds of her gown as she went away spoke to the eye, as their undulating sound to the ear when she returned; infinite tenderness was in the way she lowered her eyelids and looked on the ground; her voice, that musical voice, was a continual caress; her words expressed a constant thought; she was always like unto herself; she did not halve her soul to suit two atmospheres, one ardent, the other icy. In short, Madame de Mortsauf reserved her mind and the flower of her thought to express her feelings; she was coquettish in ideas with her children and with me. But Arabella's mind was never used to make life pleasant; it was never used at all for my benefit; it existed only for the world and by the world, and it was spent in sarcasm. She loved to rend, to bite, as it were,--not for amusement but to satisfy a craving. Madame de Mortsauf would have hidden her happiness from every eye, Lady Dudley chose to exhibit hers to all Paris; and yet with her impenetrable English mask she kept within conventions even while parading in the Bois with me. This mixture of ostentation and dignity, love and coldness, wounded me constantly; for my soul was both virgin and passionate, and as I could not pass from one temperature to the other, my temper suffered. When I complained (never without precaution), she turned her tongue with its triple sting against me; mingling boasts of her love with those cutting English sarcasms. As soon as she found herself in opposition to me, she made it an amusement to hurt my feelings and humiliate my mind; she kneaded me like dough. To any remark of mine as to keeping a medium in all things, she replied by caricaturing my ideas and exaggerating them. When I reproached her for her manner to me, she asked if I wished her to kiss me at the opera before all Paris; and she said it so seriously that I, knowing her desire to make people talk, trembled lest she should execute her threat. In spite of her real passion she was never meditative, self-contained, or reverent, like Henriette; on the contrary she was insatiable as a sandy soil. Madame de Mortsauf was always composed, able to feel my soul in an accent or a glance. Lady Dudley was never affected by a look, or a pressure of the hand, nor yet by a tender word. No proof of love surprised her. She felt so strong a necessity for excitement, noise, celebrity, that nothing attained to her ideal in this respect; hence her violent love, her exaggerated fancy, --everything concerned herself and not me.

The letter you have read from Madame de Mortsauf (a light which still shone brightly on my life), a proof of how the most virtuous of women obeyed the genius of a Frenchwoman, revealing, as it did, her perpetual vigilance, her sound understanding of all my prospects--that letter must have made you see with what care Henriette had studied my material interests, my political relations, my moral conquests, and with what ardor she took hold of my life in all permissible directions. On such points as these Lady Dudley affected the reticence of a mere acquaintance. She never informed herself about my affairs, nor of my likings or dislikings as a man. Prodigal for herself without being generous, she separated too decidedly self-interest and love. Whereas I knew very well, without proving it, that to save me a pang Henriette would have sought for me that which she would never seek for herself. In any great and overwhelming misfortune I should have gone for counsel to Henriette, but I would have let myself be dragged to prison sooner than say a word to Lady Dudley.

Up to this point the contrast relates to feelings; but it was the same in outward things. In France, luxury is the expression of the man, the reproduction of his ideas, of his personal poetry; it portrays the character, and gives, between lovers, a precious value to every little attention by keeping before them the dominant thought of the being loved. But English luxury, which at first allured me by its choiceness and delicacy, proved to be mechanical also. The thousand and one attentions shown me at Clochegourde Arabella would have considered the business of servants; each one had his own duty and speciality. The choice of the footman was the business of her butler, as if it were a matter of horses. She never attached herself to her servants; the death of the best of them would not have affected her, for money could replace the one lost by another equally efficient. As to her duty towards her neighbor, I never saw a tear in her eye for the misfortunes of another; in fact her selfishness was so naively candid that it absolutely created a laugh. The crimson draperies of the great lady covered an iron nature. The delightful siren who sounded at night every bell of her amorous folly could soon make a young man forget the hard and unfeeling Englishwoman, and it was only step by step that I discovered the stony rock on which my seeds were wasted, bringing no harvest. Madame de Mortsauf had penetrated that nature at a glance in their brief encounter. I remembered her prophetic words. She was right; Arabella's love became intolerable to me. I have since remarked that most women who ride well on horseback have little tenderness. Like the Amazons, they lack a breast; their hearts are hard in some direction, but I do not know in which.

At the moment when I begin to feel the burden of the yoke, when weariness took possession of soul and body too, when at last I comprehended the sanctity that true feeling imparts to love, when memories of Clochegourde were bringing me, in spite of distance, the fragrance of the roses, the warmth of the terrace, and the warble of the nightingales,--at this frightful moment, when I saw the stony bed beneath me as the waters of the torrent receded, I received a blow which still resounds in my heart, for at every hour its echo wakes.

I was working in the cabinet of the king, who was to drive out at four o'clock. The Duc de Lenoncourt was on service. When he entered the room the king asked him news of the countess. I raised my head hastily in too eager a manner; the king, offended by the action, gave me the look which always preceded the harsh words he knew so well how to say.

"Sire, my poor daughter is dying," replied the duke.

"Will the king deign to grant me leave of absence?" I cried, with tears in my eyes, braving the anger which I saw about to burst.

"Go, _my lord_," he answered, smiling at the satire in his words, and withholding his reprimand in favor of his own wit.

More courtier than father, the duke asked no leave but got into the carriage with the king. I started without bidding Lady Dudley good-bye; she was fortunately out when I made my preparations, and I left a note telling her I was sent on a mission by the king. At the Croix de Berny I met his Majesty returning from Verrieres. He threw me a look full of his royal irony, always insufferable in meaning, which seemed to say: "If you mean to be anything in politics come back; don't parley with the dead." The duke waved his hand to me sadly. The two pompous equipages with their eight horses, the colonels and their gold lace, the escort and the clouds of dust rolled rapidly away, to cries of "Vive le Roi!" It seemed to me that the court had driven over the dead body of Madame de Mortsauf with the utter insensibility which nature shows for our catastrophes. Though the duke was an excellent man he would no doubt play whist with Monsieur after the king had retired. As for the duchess, she had long ago given her daughter the first stab by writing to her of Lady Dudley.

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Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 3. The Two Women - Page 14 Lily Of The Valley - Chapter 3. The Two Women - Page 14

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My hurried journey was like a dream,--the dream of a ruined gambler; I was in despair at having received no news. Had the confessor pushed austerity so far as to exclude me from Clochegourde? I accused Madeleine, Jacques, the Abbe Dominis, all, even Monsieur de Mortsauf. Beyond Tours, as I came down the road bordered with poplars which leads to Poncher, which I so much admired that first day of my search for mine Unknown, I met Monsieur Origet. He guessed that I was going to Clochegourde; I guessed that he was returning. We stopped our carriages and got out, I
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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
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