Letters of Two Brides/Chapter XXXII

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Letters of Two Brides by Honore de Balzac

March 1826.

Do you know, dear, that it is more than three months since I have written to you or heard from you? I am the more guilty of the two, for I did not reply to your last, but you don't stand on punctilio surely?

Macumer and I have taken your silence for consent as regards the baby-wreathed luncheon service, and the little cherubs are starting this morning for Marseilles. It took six months to carry out the design. And so when Felipe asked me to come and see the service before it was packed, I suddenly waked up to the fact that we had not interchanged a word since the letter of yours which gave me an insight into a mother's heart.

My sweet, it is this terrible Paris—there's my excuse. What, pray, is yours? Oh! what a whirlpool is society! Didn't I tell you once that in Paris one must be as the Parisians? Society there drives out all sentiment; it lays en embargo on your time; and unless you are very careful, soon eats away your heart altogether. What an amazing masterpiece is the character of Celimene in Moliere's Le Misanthrope! She is the society woman, not only of Louis XIV.'s time, but of our own, and of all, time.

Where should I be but for my breastplate—the love I bear Felipe? This very morning I told him, as the outcome of these reflections, that he was my salvation. If my evenings are a continuous round of parties, balls, concerts, and theatres, at night my heart expands again, and is healed of the wounds received in the world by the delights of the passionate love which await my return.

I dine at home only when we have friends, so-called, with us, and spend the afternoon there only on my day, for I have a day now —Wednesday—for receiving. I have entered the lists with Mmes. d'Espard and de Maufrigneuse, and with the old Duchesse de Lenoncourt, and my house has the reputation of being a very lively one. I allowed myself to become the fashion, because I saw how much pleasure my success gave Felipe. My mornings are his; from four in the afternoon till two in the morning I belong to Paris. Macumer makes an admirable host, witty and dignified, perfect in courtesy, and with an air of real distinction. No woman could help loving such a husband even if she had chosen him without consulting her heart.

My father and mother have left for Madrid. Louis XVIII. being out of the way, the Duchess had no difficulty in obtaining from our good-natured Charles X. the appointment of her fascinating poet; so he is carried off in the capacity of attache.

My brother, the Duc de Rhetore, deigns to recognize me as a person of mark. As for my younger brother, The Comte de Chaulieu, this buckram warrior owes me everlasting gratitude. Before my father left, he spent my fortune in acquiring for the Count an estate of forty thousand francs a year, entailed on the title, and his marriage with Mlle. de Mortsauf, an heiress from Touraine, is definitely arranged. The King, in order to preserve the name and titles of the de Lenoncourt and de Givry families from extinction, is to confer these, together with the armorial bearings, by patent on my brother. Certainly it would never have done to allow these two fine names and their splendid motto, Faciem semper monstramus, to perish. Mlle. de Mortsauf, who is granddaughter and sole heiress of the Duc de Lenoncourt-Givry, will, it is said, inherit altogether more than one hundred thousand livres a year. The only stipulation my father has made is that the de Chaulieu arms should appear in the centre of the de Lenoncourt escutcheon. Thus my brother will be Duc de Lenoncourt. The young de Mortsauf, to whom everything would otherwise go, is in the last stage of consumption; his death is looked for every day. The marriage will take place next winter when the family are out of mourning. I am told that I shall have a charming sister-in-law in Mlle. de Mortsauf.

So you see that my father's reasoning is justified. The outcome of it all has won me many compliments, and my marriage is explained to everybody's satisfaction. To complete our success, the Prince de Talleyrand, out of affection for my grandmother, is showing himself a warm friend to Macumer. Society, which began by criticising me, has now passed to cordial admiration.

In short, I now reign a queen where, barely two years ago, I was an insignificant item. Macumer finds himself the object of universal envy, as the husband of "the most charming woman in Paris." At least a score of women, as you know, are always in that proud position. Men murmur sweet things in my ear, or content themselves with greedy glances. This chorus of longing and admiration is so soothing to one's vanity, that I confess I begin to understand the unconscionable price women are ready to pay for such frail and precarious privileges. A triumph of this kind is like strong wine to vanity, self-love, and all the self-regarding feelings. To pose perpetually as a divinity is a draught so potent in its intoxicating effects, that I am no longer surprised to see women grow selfish, callous, and frivolous in the heart of this adoration. The fumes of society mount to the head. You lavish the wealth of your soul and spirit, the treasures of your time, the noblest efforts of your will, upon a crowd of people who repay you in smiles and jealousy. The false coin of their pretty speeches, compliments, and flattery is the only return they give for the solid gold of your courage and sacrifices, and all the thought that must go to keep up without flagging the standard of beauty, dress, sparkling talk, and general affability. You are perfectly aware how much it costs, and that the whole thing is a fraud, but you cannot keep out of the vortex.

Ah! my sweetheart, how one craves for a real friend! How precious to me are the love and devotion of Felipe, and how my heart goes out to you! Joyfully indeed are we preparing for our move to Chantepleurs, where we can rest from the comedy of the Rue de Bac and of the Paris drawing-rooms. Having just read your letter again, I feel that I cannot better describe this demoniac paradise than by saying that no woman of fashion in Paris can possibly be a good mother.

Good-bye, then, for a short time, dear one. We shall stay at Chantepleurs only a week at most, and shall be with you about May 10th. So we are actually to meet again after more than two years! What changes since then! Here we are, both matrons, both in our promised land—I of love, you of motherhood.

If I have not written, my sweetest, it is not because I have forgotten you. And what of the monkey godson? Is he still pretty and a credit to me? He must be more than nine months' old now. I should dearly like to be present when he makes his first steps upon this earth; but Macumer tells me that even precocious infants hardly walk at ten months.

We shall have some good gossips there, and "cut pinafores," as the Blois folk say. I shall see whether a child, as the saying goes, spoils the pattern.

P. S.—If you deign to reply from your maternal heights, address to Chantepleurs. I am just off.