Esther Happy/Section 9

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Esther Happy by Honoré de Balzac, translated by James Waring
Section 9

Lucien took a cab in the Rue de la Planche, got out of it on the Boulevards, took another by the Madeleine, and desired the driver to have the gates opened and drive in at the house in the Rue Taitbout.

On going in at eleven o'clock, he found Esther in tears, but dressed as she was wont to dress to do him honor. She awaited her Lucien reclining on a sofa covered with white satin brocaded with yellow flowers, dressed in a bewitching wrapper of India muslin with cherry-colored bows; without her stays, her hair simply twisted into a knot, her feet in little velvet slippers lined with cherry-colored satin; all the candles were burning, the hookah was prepared. But she had not smoked her own, which stood beside her unlighted, emblematical of her loneliness. On hearing the doors open she sprang up like a gazelle, and threw her arms round Lucien, wrapping him like a web caught by the wind and flung about a tree.

"Parted.—Is it true?"

"Oh, just for a few days," replied Lucien.

Esther released him, and fell back on her divan like a dead thing.

In these circumstances, most women babble like parrots. Oh! how they love! At the end of five years they feel as if their first happiness were a thing of yesterday, they cannot give you up, they are magnificent in their indignation, despair, love, grief, dread, dejection, presentiments. In short, they are as sublime as a scene from Shakespeare. But make no mistake! These women do not love. When they are really all that they profess, when they love truly, they do as Esther did, as children do, as true love does; Esther did not say a word, she lay with her face buried in the pillows, shedding bitter tears.

Lucien, on his part, tried to lift her up, and spoke to her.

"But, my child, we are not to part. What, after four years of happiness, is this the way you take a short absence.—What on earth do I do to all these girls?" he added to himself, remembering that Coralie had loved him thus.

"Ah, monsieur, you are so handsome," said Europe.

The senses have their own ideal. When added to this fascinating beauty we find the sweetness of nature, the poetry, that characterized Lucien, it is easy to conceive of the mad passion roused in such women, keenly alive as they are to external gifts, and artless in their admiration. Esther was sobbing quietly, and lay in an attitude expressive of the deepest distress.

"But, little goose," said Lucien, "did you not understand that my life is at stake?"

At these words, which he chose on purpose, Esther started up like a wild animal, her hair fell, tumbling about her excited face like wreaths of foliage. She looked steadily at Lucien.

"Your life?" she cried, throwing up her arms, and letting them drop with a gesture known only to a courtesan in peril. "To be sure; that friend's note speaks of serious risk."

She took a shabby scrap of paper out of her sash; then seeing Europe, she said, "Leave us, my girl."

When Europe had shut the door she went on—"Here, this is what he writes," and she handed to Lucien a note she had just received from Carlos, which Lucien read aloud:—

  "You must leave to-morrow at five in the morning; you will be
  taken to a keeper's lodge in the heart of the Forest of
  Saint-Germain, where you will have a room on the first floor. Do
  not quit that room till I give you leave; you will want for nothing.
  The keeper and his wife are to be trusted. Do not write to Lucien.
  Do not go to the window during daylight; but you may walk by night
  with the keeper if you wish for exercise. Keep the carriage blinds
  down on the way. Lucien's life is at stake.

  "Lucien will go to-night to bid you good-bye; burn this in his
  presence."

Lucien burned the note at once in the flame of a candle.

"Listen, my own Lucien," said Esther, after hearing him read this letter as a criminal hears the sentence of death; "I will not tell you that I love you; it would be idiotic. For nearly five years it has been as natural to me to love you as to breathe and live. From the first day when my happiness began under the protection of that inscrutable being, who placed me here as you place some little curious beast in a cage, I have known that you must marry. Marriage is a necessary factor in your career, and God preserve me from hindering the development of your fortunes.

"That marriage will be my death. But I will not worry you; I will not do as the common girls do who kill themselves by means of a brazier of charcoal; I had enough of that once; twice raises your gorge, as Mariette says. No, I will go a long way off, out of France. Asie knows the secrets of her country; she will help me to die quietly. A prick—whiff, it is all over!

"I ask but one thing, my dearest, and that is that you will not deceive me. I have had my share of living. Since the day I first saw you, in 1824, till this day, I have known more happiness than can be put into the lives of ten fortunate wives. So take me for what I am—a woman as strong as I am weak. Say 'I am going to be married.' I will ask no more of you than a fond farewell, and you shall never hear of me again."

There was a moment's silence after this explanation as sincere as her action and tone were guileless.

"Is it that you are going to be married?" she repeated, looking into Lucien's blue eyes with one of her fascinating glances, as brilliant as a steel blade.

"We have been toiling at my marriage for eighteen months past, and it is not yet settled," replied Lucien. "I do not know when it can be settled; but it is not in question now, child!—It is the Abbe, I, you.—We are in real peril. Nucingen saw you——"

"Yes, in the wood at Vincennes," said she. "Did he recognize me?"

"No," said Lucien. "But he has fallen so desperately in love with you, that he would sacrifice his coffers. After dinner, when he was describing how he had met you, I was so foolish as to smile involuntarily, and most imprudently, for I live in a world like a savage surrounded by the traps of a hostile tribe. Carlos, who spares me the pains of thinking, regards the position as dangerous, and he has undertaken to pay Nucingen out if the Baron takes it into his head to spy on us; and he is quite capable of it; he spoke to me of the incapacity of the police. You have lighted a flame in an old chimney choked with soot."

"And what does your Spaniard propose to do?" asked Esther very softly.

"I do not know in the least," said Lucien; "he told me I might sleep soundly and leave it to him;"—but he dared not look at Esther.

"If that is the case, I will obey him with the dog-like submission I profess," said Esther, putting her hand through Lucien's arm and leading him into her bedroom, saying, "At any rate, I hope you dined well, my Lulu, at that detestable Baron's?"

"Asie's cooking prevents my ever thinking a dinner good, however famous the chef may be, where I happen to dine. However, Careme did the dinner to-night, as he does every Sunday."

Lucien involuntarily compared Esther with Clotilde. The mistress was so beautiful, so unfailingly charming, that she had as yet kept at arm's length the monster who devours the most perennial loves— Satiety.

"What a pity," thought he, "to find one's wife in two volumes. In one—poetry, delight, love, devotion, beauty, sweetness——"

Esther was fussing about, as women do, before going to bed; she came and went and fluttered round, singing all the time; you might have thought her a humming-bird.

"In the other—a noble name, family, honors, rank, knowledge of the world!—And no earthly means of combining them!" cried Lucien to himself.

Next morning, at seven, when the poet awoke in the pretty pink-and-white room, he found himself alone. He rang, and Europe hurried in.

"What are monsieur's orders?"

"Esther?"

"Madame went off this morning at a quarter to five. By Monsieur l'Abbe's order, I admitted a new face—carriage paid."

"A woman?"

"No, sir, an English woman—one of those people who do their day's work by night, and we are ordered to treat her as if she were madame. What can you have to say to such hack!—Poor Madame, how she cried when she got into the carriage. 'Well, it has to be done!' cried she. 'I left that poor dear boy asleep,' said she, wiping away her tears; 'Europe, if he had looked at me or spoken my name, I should have stayed—I could but have died with him.'—I tell you, sir, I am so fond of madame, that I did not show her the person who has taken her place; some waiting maids would have broken her heart by doing so."

"And is the stranger there?"

"Well, sir, she came in the chaise that took away madame, and I hid her in my room in obedience to my instructions——"

"Is she nice-looking?"

"So far as such a second-hand article can be. But she will find her part easy enough if you play yours, sir," said Europe, going to fetch the false Esther.