The Lily of the Valley (Balzac, tr. Wormeley)/Answer to the Envoi
Jump to navigation Jump to search
- Madame la Comtesse Natalie de Manerville to Monsieur le Comte Felix de Vandenesse.
- Dear Count,—You received a letter from poor Madame de Mortsauf, which, you say, was of use in guiding you through the world,—a letter to which you owe your distinguished career. Permit me to finish your education.
- Give up, I beg of you, a really dreadful habit; do not imitate certain widows who talk of their first husband and throw the virtues of the deceased in the face of their second. I am a Frenchwoman, dear count; I wish to marry the whole of the man I love, and I really cannot marry Madame de Mortsauf too. Having read your tale with all the attention it deserves,—and you know the interest I feel in you,—it seems to me that you must have wearied Lady Dudley with the perfections of Madame de Mortsauf, and done great harm to the countess by overwhelming her with the experiences of your English love. Also you have failed in tact to me, poor creature without other merit than that of pleasing you; you have given me to understand that I cannot love as Henriette or Arabella loved you. I acknowledge my imperfections; I know them; but why so roughly make me feel them?
- Shall I tell you whom I pity?—the fourth woman whom you love. She will be forced to struggle against three others. Therefore, in your interests as well as in hers, I must warn you against the dangers of your tale. For myself, I renounce the laborious glory of loving you,—it needs too many virtues, Catholic or Anglican, and I have no fancy for rivalling phantoms. The virtues of the virgin of Clochegourde would dishearten any woman, however sure of herself she might be, and your intrepid English amazon discourages even a wish for that sort of happiness. No matter what a poor woman may do, she can never hope to give you the joys she will aspire to give. Neither heart nor senses can triumph against these memories of yours. I own that I have never been able to warm the sunshine chilled for you by the death of your sainted Henriette. I have felt you shuddering beside me.
- My friend,—for you will always be my friend,—never make such confidences again; they lay bare your disillusions; they discourage love, and compel a woman to feel doubtful of herself. Love, dear count, can only live on trustfulness. The woman who before she says a word or mounts her horse, must ask herself whether a celestial Henriette might not have spoken better, whether a rider like Arabella was not more graceful, that woman you may be very sure, will tremble in all her members. You certainly have given me a desire to receive a few of those intoxicating bouquets—but you say you will make no more. There are many other things you dare no longer do; thoughts and enjoyments you can never reawaken. No woman, and you ought to know this, will be willing to elbow in your heart the phantom whom you hold there.
- You ask me to love you out of Christian charity. I could do much, I candidly admit, for charity; in fact I could do all—except love. You are sometimes wearisome and wearied; you call your dulness melancholy. Very good,—so be it; but all the same it is intolerable, and causes much cruel anxiety to one who loves you. I have often found the grave of that saint between us. I have searched my own heart, I know myself, and I own I do not wish to die as she did. If you tired out Lady Dudley, who is a very distinguished woman, I, who have not her passionate desires, should, I fear, turn coldly against you even sooner than she did. Come, let us suppress love between us, inasmuch as you can find happiness only with the dead, and let us be merely friends—I wish it.
- Ah! my dear count, what a history you have told me! At your entrance into life you found an adorable woman, a perfect mistress, who thought of your future, made you a peer, loved you to distraction, only asked that you would be faithful to her, and you killed her! I know nothing more monstrous. Among all the passionate and unfortunate young men who haunt the streets of Paris, I doubt if there is one who would not stay virtuous ten years to obtain one half of the favors you did not know how to value! When a man is loved like that how can he ask more? Poor woman! she suffered indeed; and after you have written a few sentimental phrases you think you have balanced your account with her coffin. Such, no doubt, is the end that awaits my tenderness for you. Thank you, dear count, I will have no rival on either side of the grave. When a man has such a crime upon his conscience, at least he ought not to tell of it. I made you an imprudent request; but I was true to my woman's part as a daughter of Eve,—it was your part to estimate the effect of the answer. You ought to have deceived me; later I should have thanked you. Is it possible that you have never understood the special virtue of lovers? Can you not feel how generous they are in swearing that they have never loved before, and love at last for the first time?
- No, your programme cannot be carried out. To attempt to be both Madame de Mortsauf and Lady Dudley,—why, my dear friend, it would be trying to unite fire and water within me! Is it possible that you don't know women? Believe me, they are what they are, and they have therefore the defects of their virtues. You met Lady Dudley too early in life to appreciate her, and the harm you say of her seems to me the revenge of your wounded vanity. You understood Madame de Mortsauf too late; you punished one for not being the other,—what would happen to me if I were neither the one nor the other? I love you enough to have thought deeply about your future; in fact, I really care for you a great deal. Your air of the Knight of the Sad Countenance has always deeply interested me; I believed in the constancy of melancholy men; but I little thought that you had killed the loveliest and the most virtuous of women at the opening of your life.
- Well, I ask myself, what remains for you to do? I have thought it over carefully. I think, my friend, that you will have to marry a Mrs. Shandy, who will know nothing of love or of passion, and will not trouble herself about Madame de Mortsauf or Lady Dudley; who will be wholly indifferent to those moments of ennui which you call melancholy, during which you are as lively as a rainy day,—a wife who will be to you, in short, the excellent sister of charity whom you are seeking. But as for loving, quivering at a word, anticipating happiness, giving it, receiving it, experiencing all the tempests of passion, cherishing the little weaknesses of a beloved woman—my dear count, renounce it all! You have followed the advice of your good angel about young women too closely; you have avoided them so carefully that now you know nothing about them. Madame de Mortsauf was right to place you high in life at the start; otherwise all women would have been against you, and you never would have risen in society.
- It is too late now to begin your training over again; too late to learn to tell us what we long to hear; to be superior to us at the right moment, or to worship our pettiness when it pleases us to be petty. We are not so silly as you think us. When we love we place the man of our choice above all else. Whatever shakes our faith in our supremacy shakes our love. In flattering us men flatter themselves. If you intend to remain in society, to enjoy an intercourse with women, you must carefully conceal from them all that you have told me; they will not be willing to sow the flowers of their love upon the rocks or lavish their caresses to soothe a sickened spirit. Women will discover the barrenness of your heart and you will be ever more and more unhappy. Few among them would be frank enough to tell you what I have told you, or sufficiently good-natured to leave you without rancor, offering their friendship, like the woman who now subscribes herself
Your devoted friend,
Natalie de Manerville.