Letters of Two Brides

Letters of Two Brides

LETTERS OF TWO BRIDES HONORE DE BALZAC FIRST PART I LOUISE DE CHAULIEU TO RENEE DE MAUCOMBE. PARIS September. Sweetheart I too am free! And I am the first too unless you have written to Blois at our sweet tryst of letter-writing. Raise those great black eyes of yours fixed on my opening sentence and keep this excitement for the letter which shall tell you of my first love. By the way why always "first?" Is there I wonder a second love? Don't go running on like this you will say but tell me rather how you made your escape from the convent where you were to take your vows. Well dear I don't know about the Carmelites but the miracle of my own deliverance was I can assure you most humdrum. The cries of an alarmed conscience triumphed over the dictates of a stern policy --there's the whole mystery. The sombre melancholy which seized me after you left hastened the happy climax my aunt did not want to see me die of a decline and my mother whose one unfailing cure for my malady was a novitiate gave way before her. So I am in Paris thanks to you my love! Dear Renee could you have seen me the day I found myself parted from you well might you have gloried in the deep impression you had made on so youthful a bosom. We had lived so constantly together sharing our dreams and letting our fancy roam together that I verily believe our souls had become welded together like those two Hungarian girls whose death we heard about from M. Beauvisage--poor misnamed being! Never surely was man better cut out by nature for the post of convent physician! Tell me did you not droop and sicken with your darling? In my gloomy depression I could do nothing but count over the ties which bind us. But it seemed as though distance had loosened them; I wearied of life like a turtle-dove widowed of her mate. Death smiled sweetly on me and I was proceeding quietly to die. To be at Blois at the Carmelites consumed by dread of having to take my vows there a Mlle. de la Valliere but without her prelude and without my Renee! How could I not be sick--sick unto death? How different it used to be! That monotonous existence where every hour brings its duty its prayer its task with such desperate regularity that you can tell what a Carmelite sister is doing in any place at any hour of the night or day; that deadly dull routine which crushes out all interest in one's surroundings had become for us two a world of life and movement. Imagination had thrown open her fairy realms and in these our spirits ranged at will each in turn serving as magic steed to the other the more alert quickening the drowsy; the world from which our bodies were shut out became the playground of our fancy which reveled there in frolicsome adventure. The very /Lives of the Saints/ helped us to understand what was so carefully left unsaid! But the day when I was reft of your sweet company I became a true Carmelite such as they appeared to us a modern Danaid who instead of trying to fill a bottomless barrel draws every day from Heaven knows what deep an empty pitcher thinking to find it full. My aunt knew nothing of this inner life. How could she who has made a paradise for herself within the two acres of her convent understand my revolt against life? A religious life if embraced by girls of our age demands either an extreme simplicity of soul such as we sweetheart do not possess or else an ardor for self-sacrifice like that which makes my aunt so noble a character. But she sacrificed herself for a brother to whom she was devoted; to do the same for an unknown person or an idea is surely more than can be asked of mortals. For the last fortnight I have been gulping down so many reckless words burying so many reflections in my bosom and accumulating such a store of things to tell fit for your ear alone that I should certainly have been suffocated but for the resource of letter-writing as a sorry substitute for our beloved talks. How hungry one's heart gets! I am beginning my journal this morning and I picture to myself that yours is already started and that in a few days I shall be at home in your beautiful Gemenos valley which I know only through your descriptions just as you will live that Paris life revealed to you hitherto only in our dreams. Well then sweet child know that on a certain morning--a red-letter day in my life--there arrived from Paris a lady companion and Philippe the last remaining of my grandmother's valets charged to carry me off. When my aunt summoned me to her room and told me the news I could not speak for joy and only gazed at her stupidly. "My child" she said in her guttural voice "I can see that you leave me without regret but this farewell is not the last; we shall meet again. God has placed on your forehead the sign of the elect. You have the pride which leads to heaven or to hell but your nature is too noble to choose the downward path. I know you better than you know yourself; with you passion I can see will be very different from what it is with most women." She drew me gently to her and kissed my forehead. The kiss made my flesh creep for it burned with that consuming fire which eats away her life which has turned to black the azure of her eyes and softened the lines about them has furrowed the warm ivory of her temples and cast a sallow tinge over the beautiful face. Before replying I kissed her hands. "Dear aunt" I said "I shall never forget your kindness; and if it has not made your nunnery all that it ought to be for my health of body and soul you may be sure nothing short of a broken heart will bring me back again--and that you would not wish for me. You will not see me here again till my royal lover has deserted me and I warn you that if I catch him death alone shall tear him from me. I fear no Montespan." She smiled and said: "Go madcap and take your idle fancies with you. There is certainly more of the bold Montespan in you than of the gentle la Valliere." I threw my arms round her. The poor lady could not refrain from escorting me to the carriage. There her tender gaze was divided between me and the armorial bearings. At Beaugency night overtook me still sunk in a stupor of the mind produced by these strange parting words. What can be awaiting me in this world for which I have so hungered? To begin with I found no one to receive me; my heart had been schooled in vain. My mother was at the Bois de Boulogne my father at the Council; my brother the Duc de Rhetore never comes in I am told till it is time to dress for dinner. Miss Griffith (she is not unlike a griffin) and Philippe took me to my rooms. The suite is the one which belonged to my beloved grandmother the Princess de Vauremont to whom I owe some sort of a fortune which no one has ever told me about. As you read this you will understand the sadness which came over me as I entered a place sacred to so many memories and found the rooms just as she had left them! I was to sleep in the bed where she died. Sitting down on the edge of the sofa I burst into tears forgetting I was not alone and remembering only how often I had stood there by her knees the better to hear her words. There I had gazed upon her face buried in its brown laces and worn as much by age as by the pangs of approaching death. The room seemed to me still warm with the heat which she kept up there. How comes it that Armande-Louise-Marie de Chaulieu must be like some peasant girl who sleeps in her mother's bed the very morrow of her death? For to me it was as though the Princess who died in 1817 had passed away but yesterday. I saw many things in the room which ought to have been removed. Their presence showed the carelessness with which people busy with the affairs of state may treat their own and also the little thought which had been given since her death to this grand old lady who will always remain one of the striking figures of the eighteenth century. Philippe seemed to divine something of the cause of my tears. He told me that the furniture of the Princess had been left to me in her will and that my father had allowed all the larger suites to remain dismantled as the Revolution had left them. On hearing this I rose and Philippe opened the door of the small drawing-room which leads into the reception-rooms. In these I found all the well-remembered wreckage; the panels above the doors which had contained valuable pictures bare of all but ...