Letters of Two Brides/Chapter XXIII

Letters of Two Brides by Honore de Balzac
Chapter XXIII: FELIPE TO LOUISE

When God beholds our faults, He sees also our repentance. Yes, my beloved mistress, you are right. I felt that I had displeased you, but knew not how. Now that you have explained the cause of your trouble, I find in it fresh motive to adore you. Like the God of Israel, you are a jealous deity, and I rejoice to see it. For what is holier and more precious than jealousy? My fair guardian angel, jealousy is an ever-wakeful sentinel; it is to love what pain is to the body, the faithful herald of evil. Be jealous of your servant, Louise, I beg of you; the harder you strike, the more contrite will he be and kiss the rod, in all submission, which proves that he is not indifferent to you.

But, alas! dear, if the pains it cost me to vanquish my timidity and master feelings you thought so feeble were invisible to you, will Heaven, think you, reward them? I assure you, it needed no slight effort to show myself to you as I was in the days before I loved. At Madrid I was considered a good talker, and I wanted you to see for yourself the few gifts I may possess. If this were vanity, it has been well punished.

Your last glance utterly unnerved me. Never had I so quailed, even when the army of France was at the gates of Cadiz and I read peril for my life in the dissembling words of my royal master. Vainly I tried to discover the cause of your displeasure, and the lack of sympathy between us which this fact disclosed was terrible to me. For in truth I have no wish but to act by your will, think your thoughts, see with your eyes, respond to your joy and suffering, as my body responds to heat and cold. The crime and the anguish lay for me in the breach of unison in that common life of feeling which you have made so fair.

"I have vexed her!" I exclaimed over and over again, like one distraught. My noble, my beautiful Louise, if anything could increase the fervor of my devotion or confirm my belief in your delicate moral intuitions, it would be the new light which your words have thrown upon my own feelings. Much in them, of which my mind was formerly but dimly conscious, you have now made clear. If this be designed as chastisement, what can be the sweetness of your rewards?

Louise, for me it was happiness enough to be accepted as your servant. You have given me the life of which I despaired. No longer do I draw a useless breath, I have something to spend myself for; my force has an outlet, if only in suffering for you. Once more I say, as I have said before, that you will never find me other than I was when first I offered myself as your lowly bondman. Yes, were you dishonored and lost, to use your own words, my heart would only cling the more closely to you for your self-sought misery. It would be my care to staunch your wounds, and my prayers should importune God with the story of your innocence and your wrongs.

Did I not tell you that the feelings of my heart for you are not a lover's only, that I will be to you father, mother, sister, brother —ay, a whole family—anything or nothing, as you may decree? And is it not your own wish which has confined within the compass of a lover's feeling so many varying forms of devotion? Pardon me, then, if at times the father and brother disappear behind the lover, since you know they are none the less there, though screened from view. Would that you could read the feelings of my heart when you appear before me, radiant in your beauty, the centre of admiring eyes, reclining calmly in your carriage in the Champs-Elysees, or seated in your box at the Opera! Then would you know how absolutely free from selfish taint is the pride with which I hear the praises of your loveliness and grace, praises which warm my heart even to the strangers who utter them! When by chance you have raised me to elysium by a friendly greeting, my pride is mingled with humility, and I depart as though God's blessing rested on me. Nor does the joy vanish without leaving a long track of light behind. It breaks on me through the clouds of my cigarette smoke. More than ever do I feel how every drop of this surging blood throbs for you.

Can you be ignorant how you are loved? After seeing you, I return to my study, and the glitter of its Saracenic ornaments sinks to nothing before the brightness of your portrait, when I open the spring that keeps it locked up from every eye and lose myself in endless musings or link my happiness to verse. From the heights of heaven I look down upon the course of a life such as my hopes dare to picture it! Have you never, in the silence of the night, or through the roar of the town, heard the whisper of a voice in your sweet, dainty ear? Does no one of the thousand prayers that I speed to you reach home?

By dint of silent contemplation of your pictured face, I have succeeded in deciphering the expression of every feature and tracing its connection with some grace of the spirit, and then I pen a sonnet to you in Spanish on the harmony of the twofold beauty in which nature has clothed you. These sonnets you will never see, for my poetry is too unworthy of its theme, I dare not send it to you. Not a moment passes without thoughts of you, for my whole being is bound up in you, and if you ceased to be its animating principle, every part would ache.

Now, Louise, can you realize the torture to me of knowing that I had displeased you, while entirely ignorant of the cause? The ideal double life which seemed so fair was cut short. My heart turned to ice within me as, hopeless of any other explanation, I concluded that you had ceased to love me. With heavy heart, and yet not wholly without comfort, I was falling back upon my old post as servant; then your letter came and turned all to joy. Oh! might I but listen for ever to such chiding!

Once a child, picking himself up from a tumble, turned to his mother with the words "Forgive me." Hiding his own hurt, he sought pardon for the pain he had caused her. Louise, I was that child, and such as I was then, I am now. Here is the key to my character, which your slave in all humility places in your hands.

But do not fear, there will be no more stumbling. Keep tight the chain which binds me to you, so that a touch may communicate your lightest wish to him who will ever remain your slave, FELIPE.