Letters of Two Brides/Chapter XIX

Letters of Two Brides by Honore de Balzac
Chapter XIX: LOUISE DE CHAULIEU TO MME. DE L'ESTORADE

Well, my Renee, you are a love of a woman, and I quite agree now that we can only be virtuous by cheating. Will that satisfy you? Moreover, the man who loves us is our property; we can make a fool or a genius of him as we please; only, between ourselves, the former happens more commonly. You will make yours a genius, and you won't tell the secret —there are two heroic actions, if you will!

Ah! if there were no future life, how nicely you would be sold, for this is martyrdom into which you are plunging of your own accord. You want to make him ambitious and to keep him in love! Child that you are, surely the last alone is sufficient.

Tell me, to what point is calculation a virtue, or virtue calculation? You won't say? Well, we won't quarrel over that, since we have Bonald to refer to. We are, and intend to remain, virtuous; nevertheless at this moment I believe that you, with all your pretty little knavery, are a better woman than I am.

Yes, I am shockingly deceitful. I love Felipe, and I conceal it from him with an odious hypocrisy. I long to see him leap from his tree to the top of the wall, and from the wall to my balcony—and if he did, how I should wither him with my scorn! You see, I am frank enough with you.

What restrains me? Where is the mysterious power which prevents me from telling Felipe, dear fellow, how supremely happy he has made me by the outpouring of his love—so pure, so absolute, so boundless, so unobtrusive, and so overflowing?

Mme. de Mirbel is painting my portrait, and I intend to give it to him, my dear. What surprises me more and more every day is the animation which love puts into life. How full of interest is every hour, every action, every trifle! and what amazing confusion between the past, the future, and the present! One lives in three tenses at once. Is it still so after the heights of happiness are reached? Oh! tell me, I implore you, what is happiness? Does it soothe, or does it excite? I am horribly restless; I seem to have lost all my bearings; a force in my heart drags me to him, spite of reason and spite of propriety. There is this gain, that I am better able to enter into your feelings.

Felipe's happiness consists in feeling himself mine; the aloofness of his love, his strict obedience, irritate me, just as his attitude of profound respect provoked me when he was only my Spanish master. I am tempted to cry out to him as he passes, "Fool, if you love me so much as a picture, what will it be when you know the real me?"

Oh! Renee, you burn my letters, don't you? I will burn yours. If other eyes than ours were to read these thoughts which pass from heart to heart, I should send Felipe to put them out, and perhaps to kill the owners, by way of additional security.

Monday.

Oh! Renee, how is it possible to fathom the heart of man? My father ought to introduce me to M. Bonald, since he is so learned; I would ask him. I envy the privilege of God, who can read the undercurrents of the heart.

Does he still worship? That is the whole question.

If ever, in gesture, glance, or tone, I were to detect the slightest falling off in the respect he used to show me in the days when he was my instructor in Spanish, I feel that I should have strength to put the whole thing from me. "Why these fine words, these grand resolutions?" you will say. Dear, I will tell you.

My fascinating father, who treats me with the devotion of an Italian cavaliere servente for his lady, had my portrait painted, as I told you, by Mme. de Mirbel. I contrived to get a copy made, good enough to do for the Duke, and sent the original to Felipe. I despatched it yesterday, and these lines with it:

  "Don Felipe, your single-hearted devotion is met by a blind
  confidence. Time will show whether this is not to treat a man as
  more than human."

It was a big reward. It looked like a promise and—dreadful to say—a challenge; but—which will seem to you still more dreadful—I quite intended that it should suggest both these things, without going so far as actually to commit me. If in his reply there is "Dear Louise!" or even "Louise," he is done for!

Tuesday.

No, he is not done for. The constitutional minister is perfect as a lover. Here is his letter:—

  "Every moment passed away from your sight has been filled by me
  with ideal pictures of you, my eyes closed to the outside world
  and fixed in meditation on your image, which used to obey the
  summons too slowly in that dim palace of dreams, glorified by your
  presence. Henceforth my gaze will rest upon this wondrous ivory
  —this talisman, might I not say?—since your blue eyes sparkle with
  life as I look, and paint passes into flesh and blood. If I have
  delayed writing, it is because I could not tear myself away from
  your presence, which wrung from me all that I was bound to keep
  most secret.

  "Yes, closeted with you all last night and to-day, I have, for the
  first time in my life, given myself up to full, complete, and
  boundless happiness. Could you but see yourself where I have
  placed you, between the Virgin and God, you might have some idea
  of the agony in which the night has passed. But I would not offend
  you by speaking of it; for one glance from your eyes, robbed of
  the tender sweetness which is my life, would be full of torture
  for me, and I implore your clemency therefore in advance. Queen of
  my life and of my soul, oh! that you could grant me but
  one-thousandth part of the love I bear you!

  "This was the burden of my prayer; doubt worked havoc in my soul
  as I oscillated between belief and despair, between life and
  death, darkness and light. A criminal whose verdict hangs in the
  balance is not more racked with suspense than I, as I own to my
  temerity. The smile imaged on your lips, to which my eyes turned
  ever and again, and alone able to calm the storm roused by the
  dread of displeasing you. From my birth no one, not even my
  mother, has smiled on me. The beautiful young girl who was
  designed for me rejected my heart and gave hers to my brother.
  Again, in politics all my efforts have been defeated. In the eyes
  of my king I have read only thirst for vengeance; from childhood
  he has been my enemy, and the vote of the Cortes which placed me
  in power was regarded by him as a personal insult.

  "Less than this might breed despondency in the stoutest heart.
  Besides, I have no illusion; I know the gracelessness of my
  person, and am well aware how difficult it is to do justice to the
  heart within so rugged a shell. To be loved had ceased to be more
  than a dream to me when I met you. Thus when I bound myself to
  your service I knew that devotion alone could excuse my passion.

  "But, as I look upon this portrait and listen to your smile that
  whispers of rapture, the rays of a hope which I had sternly
  banished pierced the gloom, like the light of dawn, again to be
  obscured by rising mists of doubt and fear of your displeasure, if
  the morning should break to day. No, it is impossible you should
  love me yet—I feel it; but in time, as you make proof of the
  strength, the constancy, and depth of my affection, you may yield
  me some foothold in your heart. If my daring offends you, tell me
  so without anger, and I will return to my former part. But if you
  consent to try and love me, be merciful and break it gently to one
  who has placed the happiness of his life in the single thought of
  serving you."

My dear, as I read these last words, he seemed to rise before me, pale as the night when the camellias told their story and he knew his offering was accepted. These words, in their humility, were clearly something quite different from the usual flowery rhetoric of lovers, and a wave of feeling broke over me; it was the breath of happiness.

The weather has been atrocious; impossible to go to the Bois without exciting all sorts of suspicions. Even my mother, who often goes out, regardless of rain, remains at home, and alone.

Wednesday evening.

I have just seen him at the Opera, my dear; he is another man. He came to our box, introduced by the Sardinian ambassador.

Having read in my eyes that this audacity was taken in good part, he seemed awkwardly conscious of his limbs, and addressed the Marquise d'Espard as "mademoiselle." A light far brighter than the glare of the chandeliers flashed from his eyes. At last he went out with the air of a man who didn't know what he might do next.

"The Baron de Macumer is in love!" exclaimed Mme. de Maufrigneuse.

"Strange, isn't it, for a fallen minister?" replied my mother.

I had sufficient presence of mind myself to regard with curiosity Mmes. de Maufrigneuse and d'Espard and my mother, as though they were talking a foreign language and I wanted to know what it was all about, but inwardly my soul sank in the waves of an intoxicating joy. There is only one word to express what I felt, and that is: rapture. Such love as Felipe's surely makes him worthy of mine. I am the very breath of his life, my hands hold the thread that guides his thoughts. To be quite frank, I have a mad longing to see him clear every obstacle and stand before me, asking boldly for my hand. Then I should know whether this storm of love would sink to placid calm at a glance from me.

Ah! my dear, I stopped here, and I am still all in a tremble. As I wrote, I heard a slight noise outside, and rose to see what it was. From my window I could see him coming along the ridge of the wall at the risk of his life. I went to the bedroom window and made him a sign, it was enough; he leaped from the wall—ten feet—and then ran along the road, as far as I could see him, in order to show me that he was not hurt. That he should think of my fear at the moment when he must have been stunned by his fall, moved me so much that I am still crying; I don't know why. Poor ungainly man! what was he coming for? what had he to say to me?

I dare not write my thoughts, and shall go to bed joyful, thinking of all that we would say if we were together. Farewell, fair silent one. I have not time to scold you for not writing, but it is more than a month since I have heard from you! Does this mean that you are at last happy? Have you lost the "complete independence" which you were so proud of, and which to-night has so nearly played me false?