Letters of Two Brides/Chapter XLIX

Letters of Two Brides by Honore de Balzac

October 1833.

My Dear Daniel,—I need two witnesses for my marriage. I beg of you to come to-morrow evening for this purpose, bringing with you our worthy and honored friend, Joseph Bridau. She who is to be my wife, with an instinctive divination of my dearest wishes, has declared her intention of living far from the world in complete retirement. You, who have done so much to lighten my penury, have been left in ignorance of my love; but you will understand that absolute secrecy was essential.

This will explain to you why it is that, for the last year, we have seen so little of each other. On the morrow of my wedding we shall be parted for a long time; but, Daniel, you are of stuff to understand me. Friendship can subsist in the absence of the friend. There may be times when I shall want you badly, but I shall not see you, at least not in my own house. Here again she has forestalled our wishes. She has sacrificed to me her intimacy with a friend of her childhood, who has been a sister to her. For her sake, then, I also must relinquish my comrade!

From this fact alone you will divine that ours is no mere passing fancy, but love, absolute, perfect, godlike; love based upon the fullest knowledge that can bind two hearts in sympathy. To me it is a perpetual spring of purest delight.

Yet nature allows of no happiness without alloy; and deep down, in the innermost recess of my heart, I am conscious of a lurking thought, not shared with her, the pang of which is for me alone. You have too often come to the help of my inveterate poverty to be ignorant how desperate matters were with me. Where should I have found courage to keep up the struggle of life, after seeing my hopes so often blighted, but for your cheering words, your tactful aid, and the knowledge of what you had come through? Briefly, then, my friend, she freed me from that crushing load of debt, which was no secret to you. She is wealthy, I am penniless. Many a time have I exclaimed, in one of my fits of idleness, "Oh for some great heiress to cast her eye on me!" And now, in presence of this reality, the boy's careless jest, the unscrupulous cynicism of the outcast, have alike vanished, leaving in their place only a bitter sense of humiliation, which not the most considerate tenderness on her part, nor my own assurance of her noble nature, can remove. Nay, what better proof of my love could there exist, for her or for myself, than this shame, from which I have not recoiled, even when powerless to overcome it? The fact remains that there is a point where, far from protecting, I am the protected.

This is my pain which I confide to you.

Except in this one particular, dear Daniel, my fondest dreams are more than realized. Fairest and noblest among women, such a bride might indeed raise a man to giddy heights of bliss. Her gentle ways are seasoned with wit, her love comes with an ever-fresh grace and charm; her mind is well informed and quick to understand; in person, she is fair and lovely, with a rounded slimness, as though Raphael and Rubens had conspired to create a woman! I do not know whether I could have worshiped with such fervor at the shrine of a dark beauty; a brunette always strikes me as an unfinished boy. She is a widow, childless, and twenty-seven years of age. Though brimful of life and energy, she has her moods also of dreamy melancholy. These rare gifts go with a proud aristocratic bearing; she has a fine presence.

She belongs to one of those old families who make a fetich of rank, yet loves me enough to ignore the misfortune of my birth. Our secret passion is now of long standing; we have made trial, each of the other, and find that in the matter of jealousy we are twin spirits; our thoughts are the reverberation of the same thunderclap. We both love for the first time, and this bewitching springtime has filled its days for us with all the images of delight that fancy can paint in laughing, sweet, or musing mood. Our path has been strewn with the flowers of tender imaginings. Each hour brought its own wealth, and when we parted, it was to put our thoughts in verse. Not for a moment did I harbor the idea of sullying the brightness of such a time by giving the rein to sensual passion, however it might chafe within. She was a widow and free; intuitively, she realized all the homage implied in this constant self-restraint, which often moved her to tears. Can you not read in this, my friend, a soul of noble temper? In mutual fear we shunned even the first kiss of love.

"We have each a wrong to reproach ourselves with," she said one day.

"Where is yours?" I asked.

"My marriage," was her reply.

Daniel, you are a giant among us and you love one of the most gifted women of the aristocracy, which has produced my Armande; what need to tell you more? Such an answer lays bare to you a woman's heart and all the happiness which is in store for your friend, MARIE GASTON.