Letters of Two Brides/Chapter XXVI

Letters of Two Brides by Honore de Balzac


As Felipe has carried out, with a truly Saracenic generosity, the wishes of my father and mother in acknowledging the fortune he has not received from me, the Duchess has become even more friendly to me than before. She calls me little sly-boots, little woman of the world, and says I know how to use my tongue.

"But, dear mamma," I said to her the evening before the contract was signed, "you attribute to cunning and smartness on my part what is really the outcome of the truest, simplest, most unselfish, most devoted love that ever was! I assure you that I am not at all the 'woman of the world' you do me the honor of believing me to be."

"Come, come, Armande," she said, putting her arm on my neck and drawing me to her, in order to kiss my forehead, "you did not want to go back to the convent, you did not want to die an old maid, and, like a fine, noble-hearted Chaulieu, as you are, you recognized the necessity of building up your father's family. (The Duke was listening. If you knew, Renee, what flattery lies for him in these words.) I have watched you during the whole winter, poking your little nose into all that goes on, forming very sensible opinions about men and the present state of society in France. And you have picked out the one Spaniard capable of giving you the splendid position of a woman who reigns supreme in her own house. My little girl, you treated him exactly as Tullia treats your brother."

"What lessons they give in my sister's convent!" exclaimed my father.

A glance at my father cut him short at once; then, turning to the Duchess, I said:

"Madame, I love my future husband, Felipe de Soria, with all the strength of my soul. Although this love sprang up without my knowledge, and though I fought it stoutly when it first made itself felt, I swear to you that I never gave way to it till I had recognized in the Baron de Macumer a character worthy of mine, a heart of which the delicacy, the generosity, the devotion, and the temper are suited to my own."

"But, my dear," she began, interrupting me, "he is as ugly as . . ."

"As anything you like," I retorted quickly, "but I love his ugliness."

"If you love him, Armande," said my father, "and have the strength to master your love, you must not risk your happiness. Now, happiness in marriage depends largely on the first days—"

"Days only?" interrupted my mother. Then, with a glance at my father, she continued, "You had better leave us, my dear, to have our talk together."

"You are to be married, dear child," the Duchess then began in a low voice, "in three days. It becomes my duty, therefore, without silly whimpering, which would be unfitting our rank in life, to give you the serious advice which every mother owes to her daughter. You are marrying a man whom you love, and there is no reason why I should pity you or myself. I have only known you for a year; and if this period has been long enough for me to learn to love you, it is hardly sufficient to justify floods of tears at the idea of losing you. Your mental gifts are even more remarkable than those of your person; you have gratified maternal pride, and have shown yourself a sweet and loving daughter. I, in my turn, can promise you that you will always find a staunch friend in your mother. You smile? Alas! it too often happens that a mother who has lived on excellent terms with her daughter, as long as the daughter is a mere girl, comes to cross purposes with her when they are both women together.

"It is your happiness which I want, so listen to my words. The love which you now feel is that of a young girl, and is natural to us all, for it is woman's destiny to cling to a man. Unhappily, pretty one, there is but one man in the world for a woman! And sometimes this man, whom fate has marked out for us, is not the one whom we, mistaking a passing fancy for love, choose as husband. Strange as what I say may appear to you, it is worth noting. If we cannot love the man we have chosen, the fault is not exclusively ours, it lies with both, or sometimes with circumstances over which we have no control. Yet there is no reason why the man chosen for us by our family, the man to whom our fancy has gone out, should not be the man whom we can love. The barriers which arise later between husband and wife are often due to lack of perseverance on both sides. The task of transforming a husband into a lover is not less delicate than that other task of making a husband of the lover, in which you have just proved yourself marvelously successful.

"I repeat it, your happiness is my object. Never allow yourself, then, to forget that the first three months of your married life may work your misery if you do not submit to the yoke with the same forbearance, tenderness, and intelligence that you have shown during the days of courtship. For, my little rogue, you know very well that you have indulged in all the innocent pleasures of a clandestine love affair. If the culmination of your love begins with disappointment, dislike, nay, even with pain, well, come and tell me about it. Don't hope for too much from marriage at first; it will perhaps give you more discomfort than joy. The happiness of your life requires at least as patient cherishing as the early shoots of love.

"To conclude, if by chance you should lose the lover, you will find in his place the father of your children. In this, my dear child, lies the whole secret of social life. Sacrifice everything to the man whose name you bear, the man whose honor and reputation cannot suffer in the least degree without involving you in frightful consequences. Such sacrifice is thus not only an absolute duty for women of our rank, it is also their wisest policy. This, indeed, is the distinctive mark of great moral principles, that they hold good and are expedient from whatever aspect they are viewed. But I need say no more to you on this point.

"I fancy you are of a jealous disposition, and, my dear, if you knew how jealous I am! But you must not be stupid over it. To publish your jealousy to the world is like playing at politics with your cards upon the table, and those who let their own game be seen learn nothing of their opponents'. Whatever happens, we must know how to suffer in silence."

She added that she intended having some plain talk about me with Macumer the evening before the wedding.

Raising my mother's beautiful arm, I kissed her hand and dropped on it a tear, which the tone of real feeling in her voice had brought to my eyes. In the advice she had given me, I read high principle worthy of herself and of me, true wisdom, and a tenderness of heart unspoilt by the narrow code of society. Above all, I saw that she understood my character. These few simple words summed up the lessons which life and experience had brought her, perhaps at a heavy price. She was moved, and said, as she looked at me:

"Dear little girl, you've got a nasty crossing before you. And most women, in their ignorance or their disenchantment, are as wise as the Earl of Westmoreland!"

We both laughed; but I must explain the joke. The evening before, a Russian princess had told us an anecdote of this gentleman. He had suffered frightfully from sea-sickness in crossing the Channel, and turned tail when he got near Italy, because he had heard some one speak of "crossing" the Alps. "Thank you; I've had quite enough crossings already," he said.

You will understand, Renee, that your gloomy philosophy and my mother's lecture were calculated to revive the fears which used to disturb us at Blois. The nearer marriage approached, the more did I need to summon all my strength, my resolution, and my affection to face this terrible passage from maidenhood to womanhood. All our conversations came back to my mind, I re-read your letters and discerned in them a vague undertone of sadness.

This anxiety had one advantage at least; it helped me to the regulation expression for a bride as commonly depicted. The consequence was that on the day of signing the contract everybody said I looked charming and quite the right thing. This morning, at the Mairie, it was an informal business, and only the witnesses were present.

I am writing this tail to my letter while they are putting out my dress for dinner. We shall be married at midnight at the Church of Sainte-Valere, after a very gay evening. I confess that my fears give me a martyr-like and modest air to which I have no right, but which will be admired—why, I cannot conceive. I am delighted to see that poor Felipe is every whit as timorous as I am; society grates on him, he is like a bat in a glass shop.

"Thank Heaven, the day won't last for ever!" he whispered to me in all innocence.

In his bashfulness and timidity he would have liked to have no one there.

The Sardinian ambassador, when he came to sign the contract, took me aside in order to present me with a pearl necklace, linked together by six splendid diamonds—a gift from my sister-in-law, the Duchess de Soria. Along with the necklace was a sapphire bracelet, on the under side of which were engraved the words, "Though unknown, beloved." Two charming letters came with these presents, which, however, I could not accept without consulting Felipe.

"For," I said, "I should not like to see you wearing ornaments that came from any one but me."

He kissed my hand, quite moved, and replied:

"Wear them for the sake of the inscription, and also for the kind feeling, which is sincere."

Saturday evening.

Here, then, my poor Renee, are the last words of your girl friend. After the midnight Mass, we set off for an estate which Felipe, with kind thought for me, has bought in Nivernais, on the way to Provence. Already my name is Louise de Macumer, but I leave Paris in a few hours as Louise de Chaulieu. However I am called, there will never be for you but one Louise.