The Hated Son, by Honoré de Balzac

Chapter 3. The Mother’s Love

For several days the count remained assiduously beside his wife, showing her attentions to which self-interest imparted a sort of tenderness. The countess saw, however, that she alone was the object of these attentions. The hatred of the father for his son showed itself in every detail; he abstained from looking at him or touching him; he would rise abruptly and leave the room if the child cried; in short, he seemed to endure it living only through the hope of seeing it die. But even this self-restraint was galling to the count. The day on which he saw that the mother’s intelligent eye perceived, without fully comprehending, the danger that threatened her son, he announced his departure on the morning after the mass for her churching was solemnized, under pretext of rallying his forces to the support of the king.

Such were the circumstances which preceded and accompanied the birth of Etienne d’Herouville. If the count had no other reason for wishing the death of this disowned son poor Etienne would still have been the object of his aversion. In his eyes the misfortune of a rickety, sickly constitution was a flagrant offence to his self-love as a father. If he execrated handsome men, he also detested weakly ones, in whom mental capacity took the place of physical strength. To please him a man should be ugly in face, tall, robust, and ignorant. Etienne, whose debility would bow him, as it were, to the sedentary occupations of knowledge, was certain to find in his father a natural enemy. His struggle with that colossus began therefore from his cradle, and his sole support against that cruel antagonist was the heart of his mother whose love increased, by a tender law of nature, as perils threatened him.

Buried in solitude after the abrupt departure of the count, Jeanne de Saint-Savin owed to her child the only semblance of happiness that consoled her life. She loved him as women love the child of an illicit love; obliged to suckle him, the duty never wearied her. She would not let her women care for the child. She dressed and undressed him, finding fresh pleasures in every little care that he required. Happiness glowed upon her face as she obeyed the needs of the little being. As Etienne had come into the world prematurely, no clothes were ready for him, and those that were needed she made herself — with what perfection, you know, ye mothers, who have worked in silence for a treasured child. The days had never hours long enough for these manifold occupations and the minute precautions of the nursing mother; those days fled by, laden with her secret content.

The counsel of the bonesetter still continued in the countess’s mind. She feared for her child, and would gladly not have slept in order to be sure that no one approached him during her sleep; and she kept his cradle beside her bed. In the absence of the count she ventured to send for the bonesetter, whose name she had caught and remembered. To her, Beauvouloir was a being to whom she owed an untold debt of gratitude; and she desired of all things to question him on certain points relating to her son. If an attempt were made to poison him, how should she foil it? In what way ought she to manage his frail constitution? Was it well to nurse him long? If she died, would Beauvouloir undertake the care of the poor child’s health?

To the questions of the countess, Beauvouloir, deeply touched, replied that he feared, as much as she did, an attempt to poison Etienne; but there was, he assured her, no danger as long as she nursed the child; and in future, when obliged to feed him, she must taste the food herself.

“If Madame la comtesse,” he said, “feels anything strange upon her tongue, a prickly, bitter, strong salt taste, reject the food. Let the child’s clothes be washed under her own eye and let her keep the key of the chest which contains them. Should anything happen to the child send instantly to me.”

These instructions sank deep into Jeanne’s heart. She begged Beauvouloir to regard her always as one who would do him any service in her power. On that the poor man told her that she held his happiness in her hands.

Then he related briefly how the Comte d’Herouville had in his youth loved a courtesan, known by the name of La Belle Romaine, who had formerly belonged to the Cardinal of Lorraine. Abandoned by the count before very long, she had died miserably, leaving a child named Gertrude, who had been rescued by the Sisters of the Convent of Poor Clares, the Mother Superior of which was Mademoiselle de Saint-Savin, the countess’s aunt. Having been called to treat Gertrude for an illness, he, Beauvouloir, had fallen in love with her, and if Madame la comtesse, he said, would undertake the affair, she should not only more than repay him for what she thought he had done for her, but she would make him grateful to her for life. The count might, sooner or later, be brought to take an interest in so beautiful a daughter, and might protect her indirectly by making him his physician.

The countess, compassionate to all true love, promised to do her best, and pursued the affair so warmly that at the birth of her second son she did obtain from her husband a “dot” for the young girl, who was married soon after to Beauvouloir. The “dot” and his savings enabled the bonesetter to buy a charming estate called Forcalier near the castle of Herouville, and to give his life the dignity of a student and man of learning.

Comforted by the kind physician, the countess felt that to her were given joys unknown to other mothers. Mother and child, two feeble beings, seemed united in one thought, they understood each other long before language could interpret between them. From the moment when Etienne first turned his eyes on things about him with the stupid eagerness of a little child, his glance had rested on the sombre hangings of the castle walls. When his young ear strove to listen and to distinguish sounds, he heard the monotonous ebb and flow of the sea upon the rocks, as regular as the swinging of a pendulum. Thus places, sounds, and things, all that strikes the senses and forms the character, inclined him to melancholy. His mother, too, was doomed to live and die in the clouds of melancholy; and to him, from his birth up, she was the only being that existed on the earth, and filled for him the desert. Like all frail children, Etienne’s attitude was passive, and in that he resembled his mother. The delicacy of his organs was such that a sudden noise, or the presence of a boisterous person gave him a sort of fever. He was like those little insects for whom God seems to temper the violence of the wind and the heat of the sun; incapable, like them, of struggling against the slightest obstacle, he yielded, as they do, without resistance or complaint, to everything that seemed to him aggressive. This angelic patience inspired in the mother a sentiment which took away all fatigue from the incessant care required by so frail a being.

Soon his precocious perception of suffering revealed to him the power that he had upon his mother; often he tried to divert her with caresses and make her smile at his play; and never did his coaxing hands, his stammered words, his intelligent laugh fail to rouse her from her reverie. If he was tired, his care for her kept him from complaining.

“Poor, dear, little sensitive!” cried the countess as he fell asleep tired with some play which had driven the sad memories from her mind, “how can you live in this world? who will understand you? who will love you? who will see the treasures hidden in that frail body? No one! Like me, you are alone on earth.”

She sighed and wept. The graceful pose of her child lying on her knees made her smile sadly. She looked at him long, tasting one of those pleasures which are a secret between mothers and God. Etienne’s weakness was so great that until he was a year and a half old she had never dared to take him out of doors; but now the faint color which tinted the whiteness of his skin like the petals of a wild rose, showed that life and health were already there.

One morning the countess, giving herself up to the glad joy of all mothers when their first child walks for the first time, was playing with Etienne on the floor when suddenly she heard the heavy step of a man upon the boards. Hardly had she risen with a movement of involuntary surprise, when the count stood before her. She gave a cry, but endeavored instantly to undo that involuntary wrong by going up to him and offering her forehead for a kiss.

“Why not have sent me notice of your return?” she said.

“My reception would have been more cordial, but less frank,” he answered bitterly.

Suddenly he saw the child. The evident health in which he found it wrung from him a gesture of surprise mingled with fury. But he repressed his anger, and began to smile.

“I bring good news,” he said. “I have received the governorship of Champagne and the king’s promise to be made duke and peer. Moreover, we have inherited a princely fortune from your cousin; that cursed Huguenot, Georges de Chaverny is killed.”

The countess turned pale and dropped into a chair. She saw the secret of the devilish smile on her husband’s face.

“Monsieur,” she said in a voice of emotion, “you know well that I loved my cousin Chaverny. You will answer to God for the pain you inflict upon me.”

At these words the eye of the count glittered; his lips trembled, but he could not utter a word, so furious was he; he flung his dagger on the table with such violence that the metal resounded like a thunder-clap.

“Listen to me,” he said in his strongest voice, “and remember my words. I will never see or hear the little monster you hold in your arms. He is your child, and not mine; there is nothing of me in him. Hide him, I say, hide him from my sight, or —”

“Just God!” cried the countess, “protect us!”

“Silence!” said her husband. “If you do not wish me to throttle him, see that I never find him in my way.”

“Then,” said the countess gathering strength to oppose her tyrant, “swear to me that if you never meet him you will do nothing to injure him. Can I trust your word as a nobleman for that?”

“What does all this mean?” said the count.

“If you will not swear, kill us now together!” cried the countess, falling on her knees and pressing her child to her breast.

“Rise, madame. I give you my word as a man of honor to do nothing against the life of that cursed child, provided he lives among the rocks between the sea and the house, and never crosses my path. I will give him that fisherman’s house down there for his dwelling, and the beach for a domain. But woe betide him if I ever find him beyond those limits.”

The countess began to weep.

“Look at him!” she said. “He is your son.”

“Madame!”

At that word, the frightened mother carried away the child whose heart was beating like that of a bird caught in its nest. Whether innocence has a power which the hardest men cannot escape, or whether the count regretted his violence and feared to plunge into despair a creature so necessary to his pleasures and also to his worldly prosperity, it is certain that his voice was as soft as it was possible to make it when his wife returned.

“Jeanne, my dear,” he said, “do not be angry with me; give me your hand. One never knows how to trust you women. I return, bringing you fresh honors and more wealth, and yet, tete-Dieu! you receive me like an enemy. My new government will oblige me to make long absences until I can exchange it for that of Lower Normandy; and I request, my dear, that you will show me a pleasant face while I am here.”

The countess understood the meaning of the words, the feigned softness of which could no longer deceive her.

“I know my duty,” she replied in a tone of sadness which the count mistook for tenderness.

The timid creature had too much purity and dignity to try, as some clever women would have done, to govern the count by putting calculation into her conduct — a sort of prostitution by which noble souls feel degraded. Silently she turned away, to console her despair with Etienne.

“Tete-Dieu! shall I never be loved?” cried the count, seeing the tears in his wife’s eyes as she left the room.

Thus incessantly threatened, motherhood became to the poor woman a passion which assumed the intensity that women put into their guilty affections. By a species of occult communion, the secret of which is in the hearts of mothers, the child comprehended the peril that threatened him and dreaded the approach of his father. The terrible scene of which he had been a witness remained in his memory, and affected him like an illness; at the sound of the count’s step his features contracted, and the mother’s ear was not so alert as the instinct of her child. As he grew older this faculty created by terror increased, until, like the savages of America, Etienne could distinguish his father’s step and hear his voice at immense distances. To witness the terror with which the count inspired her thus shared by her child made Etienne the more precious to the countess; their union was so strengthened that like two flowers on one twig they bent to the same wind, and lifted their heads with the same hope. In short, they were one life.

When the count again left home Jeanne was pregnant. This time she gave birth in due season, and not without great suffering, to a stout boy, who soon became the living image of his father, so that the hatred of the count for his first-born was increased by this event. To save her cherished child the countess agreed to all the plans which her husband formed for the happiness and wealth of his second son, whom he named Maximilien. Etienne was to be made a priest, in order to leave the property and titles of the house of Herouville to his younger brother. At that cost the poor mother believed she ensured the safety of her hated child.

No two brothers were ever more unlike than Etienne and Maximilien. The younger’s taste was all for noise, violent exercises, and war, and the count felt for him the same excessive love that his wife felt for Etienne. By a tacit compact each parent took charge of the child of their heart. The duke (for about this time Henri IV. rewarded the services of the Seigneur d’Herouville with a dukedom), not wishing, he said, to fatigue his wife, gave the nursing of the youngest boy to a stout peasant-woman chosen by Beauvouloir, and announced his determination to bring up the child in his own manner. He gave him, as time went on, a holy horror of books and study; taught him the mechanical knowledge required by a military career, made him a good rider, a good shot with an arquebuse, and skilful with his dagger. When the boy was big enough he took him to hunt, and let him acquire the savage language, the rough manners, the bodily strength, and the vivacity of look and speech which to his mind were the attributes of an accomplished man. The boy became, by the time he was twelve years old, a lion-cub ill-trained, as formidable in his way as the father himself, having free rein to tyrannize over every one, and using the privilege.

Etienne lived in the little house, or lodge, near the sea, given to him by his father, and fitted up by the duchess with some of the comforts and enjoyments to which he had a right. She herself spent the greater part of her time there. Together the mother and child roamed over the rocks and the shore, keeping strictly within the limits of the boy’s domain of beach and shells, of moss and pebbles. The boy’s terror of his father was so great that, like the Lapp, who lives and dies in his snow, he made a native land of his rocks and his cottage, and was terrified and uneasy if he passed his frontier.

The duchess, knowing her child was not fitted to find happiness except in some humble and retired sphere, did not regret the fate that was thus imposed upon him; she used this enforced vocation to prepare him for a noble life of study and science, and she brought to the chateau Pierre de Sebonde as tutor to the future priest. Nevertheless, in spite of the tonsure imposed by the will of the father, she was determined that Etienne’s education should not be wholly ecclesiastical, and took pains to secularize it. She employed Beauvouloir to teach him the mysteries of natural science; she herself superintended his studies, regulating them according to her child’s strength, and enlivening them by teaching him Italian, and revealing to him little by little the poetic beauties of that language. While the duke rode off with Maximilien to the forest and the wild-boars at the risk of his life, Jeanne wandered with Etienne in the milky way of Petrarch’s sonnets, or the mighty labyrinth of the Divina Comedia. Nature had endowed the youth, in compensation for his infirmities, with so melodious a voice that to hear him sing was a constant delight; his mother taught him music, and their tender, melancholy songs, accompanied by a mandolin, were the favorite recreation promised as a reward for some more arduous study required by the Abbe de Sebonde. Etienne listened to his mother with a passionate admiration she had never seen except in the eyes of Georges de Chaverny. The first time the poor woman found a memory of her girlhood in the long, slow look of her child, she covered him with kisses; and she blushed when Etienne asked her why she seemed to love him better at that moment than ever before. She answered that every hour made him dearer to her. She found in the training of his soul, and in the culture of his mind, pleasures akin to those she had tasted in feeding him with her milk. She put all her pride and self-love into making him superior to herself, and not in ruling him. Hearts without tenderness covet dominion, but a true love treasures abnegation, that virtue of strength. When Etienne could not at first comprehend a demonstration, a theme, a theory, the poor mother, who was present at the lessons, seemed to long to infuse knowledge, as formerly she had given nourishment at the child’s least cry. And then, what joy suffused her eyes when Etienne’s mind seized the true sense of things and appropriated it. She proved, as Pierre de Sebonde said, that a mother is a dual being whose sensations cover two existences.

“Ah, if some woman as loving as I could infuse into him hereafter the life of love, how happy he might be!” she often thought.

But the fatal interests which consigned Etienne to the priesthood returned to her mind, and she kissed the hair that the scissors of the Church were to shear, leaving her tears upon them. Still, in spite of the unjust compact she had made with the duke, she could not see Etienne in her visions of the future as priest or cardinal; and the absolute forgetfulness of the father as to his first-born, enabled her to postpone the moment of putting him into Holy Orders.

“There is time enough,” she said to herself.

The day came when all her cares, inspired by a sentiment which seemed to enter into the flesh of her son and give it life, had their reward. Beauvouloir — that blessed man whose teachings had proved so precious to the child, and whose anxious glance at that frail idol had so often made the duchess tremble — declared that Etienne was now in a condition to live long years, provided no violent emotion came to convulse his delicate body. Etienne was then sixteen.

At that age he was just five feet, a height he never passed. His skin, as transparent and satiny as that of a little girl, showed a delicate tracery of blue veins; its whiteness was that of porcelain. His eyes, which were light blue and ineffably gentle, implored the protection of men and women; that beseeching look fascinated before the melody of his voice was heard to complete the charm. True modesty was in every feature. Long chestnut hair, smooth and very fine, was parted in the middle of his head into two bandeaus which curled at their extremity. His pale and hollow cheeks, his pure brow, lined with a few furrows, expressed a condition of suffering which was painful to witness. His mouth, always gracious, and adorned with very white teeth, wore the sort of fixed smile which we often see on the lips of the dying. His hands, white as those of a woman, were remarkably handsome. The habit of meditation had taught him to droop his head like a fragile flower, and the attitude was in keeping with his person; it was like the last grace that a great artist touches into a portrait to bring out its latent thought. Etienne’s head was that of a delicate girl placed upon the weakly and deformed body of a man.

Poesy, the rich meditations of which make us roam like botanists through the vast fields of thought, the fruitful comparison of human ideas, the enthusiasm given by a clear conception of works of genius, came to be the inexhaustible and tranquil joys of the young man’s solitary and dreamy life. Flowers, ravishing creatures whose destiny resembled his own, were his loves. Happy to see in her son the innocent passions which took the place of the rough contact with social life which he never could have borne, the duchess encouraged Etienne’s tastes; she brought him Spanish “romanceros,” Italian “motets,” books, sonnets, poems. The library of Cardinal d’Herouville came into Etienne’s possession, the use of which filled his life. These readings, which his fragile health forbade him to continue for many hours at a time, and his rambles among the rocks of his domain, were interspersed with naive meditations which kept him motionless for hours together before his smiling flowers — those sweet companions! — or crouching in a niche of the rocks before some species of algae, a moss, a seaweed, studying their mysteries; seeking perhaps a rhythm in their fragrant depths, like a bee its honey. He often admired, without purpose, and without explaining his pleasure to himself, the slender lines on the petals of dark flowers, the delicacy of their rich tunics of gold or purple, green or azure, the fringes, so profusely beautiful, of their calyxes or leaves, their ivory or velvet textures. Later, a thinker as well as a poet, he would detect the reason of these innumerable differences in a single nature, by discovering the indication of unknown faculties; for from day to day he made progress in the interpretation of the Divine Word writing upon all things here below.

These constant and secret researches into matters occult gave to Etienne’s life the apparent somnolence of meditative genius. He would spend long days lying upon the shore, happy, a poet, all-unconscious of the fact. The sudden irruption of a gilded insect, the shimmering of the sun upon the ocean, the tremulous motion of the vast and limpid mirror of the waters, a shell, a crab, all was event and pleasure to that ingenuous young soul. And then to see his mother coming towards him, to hear from afar the rustle of her gown, to await her, to kiss her, to talk to her, to listen to her gave him such keen emotions that often a slight delay, a trifling fear would throw him into a violent fever. In him there was nought but soul, and in order that the weak, debilitated body should not be destroyed by the keen emotions of that soul, Etienne needed silence, caresses, peace in the landscape, and the love of a woman. For the time being, his mother gave him the love and the caresses; flowers and books entranced his solitude; his little kingdom of sand and shells, algae and verdure seemed to him a universe, ever fresh and new.

Etienne imbibed all the benefits of this physical and absolutely innocent life, this mental and moral life so poetically extended. A child by form, a man in mind, he was equally angelic under either aspect. By his mother’s influence his studies had removed his emotions to the region of ideas. The action of his life took place, therefore, in the moral world, far from the social world which would either have killed him or made him suffer. He lived by his soul and by his intellect. Laying hold of human thought by reading, he rose to thoughts that stirred in matter; he felt the thoughts of the air, he read the thoughts on the skies. Early he mounted that ethereal summit where alone he found the delicate nourishment that his soul needed; intoxicating food! which predestined him to sorrow whenever to these accumulated treasures should be added the riches of a passion rising suddenly in his heart.

If, at times, Jeanne de Saint-Savin dreaded that coming storm, he consoled herself with a thought which the otherwise sad vocation of her son put into her mind — for the poor mother found no remedy for his sorrows except some lesser sorrow.

“He will be a cardinal,” she thought; “he will live in the sentiment of Art, of which he will make himself the protector. He will love Art instead of loving a woman, and Art will not betray him.”

The pleasures of this tender motherhood were incessantly held in check by sad reflections, born of the strange position in which Etienne was placed. The brothers had passed the adolescent age without knowing each other, without so much as even suspecting their rival existence. The duchess had long hoped for an opportunity, during the absence of her husband, to bind the two brothers to each other in some solemn scene by which she might enfold them both in her love. This hope, long cherished, had now faded. Far from wishing to bring about an intercourse between the brothers, she feared an encounter between them, even more than between the father and son. Maximilien, who believed in evil only, might have feared that Etienne would some day claim his rights, and, so fearing, might have flung him into the sea with a stone around his neck. No son had ever less respect for a mother than he. As soon as he could reason he had seen the low esteem in which the duke held his wife. If the old man still retained some forms of decency in his manners to the duchess, Maximilien, unrestrained by his father, caused his mother many a grief.

Consequently, Bertrand was incessantly on the watch to prevent Maximilien from seeing Etienne, whose existence was carefully concealed. All the attendants of the castle cordially hated the Marquis de Saint-Sever (the name and title borne by the younger brother), and those who knew of the existence of the elder looked upon him as an avenger whom God was holding in reserve.

Etienne’s future was therefore doubtful; he might even be persecuted by his own brother! The poor duchess had no relations to whom she could confide the life and interests of her cherished child. Would he not blame her when in his violet robes he longed to be a father as she had been a mother? These thoughts, and her melancholy life so full of secret sorrows were like a mortal illness kept at bay for a time by remedies. Her heart needed the wisest management, and those about her were cruelly inexpert in gentleness. What mother’s heart would not have been torn at the sight of her eldest son, a man of mind and soul in whom a noble genius made itself felt, deprived of his rights, while the younger, hard and brutal, without talent, even military talent, was chosen to wear the ducal coronet and perpetuate the family? The house of Herouville was discarding its own glory. Incapable of anger the gentle Jeanne de Saint-Savin could only bless and weep, but often she raised her eyes to heaven, asking it to account for this singular doom. Those eyes filled with tears when she thought that at her death her cherished child would be wholly orphaned and left exposed to the brutalities of a brother without faith or conscience.

Such emotions repressed, a first love unforgotten, so many sorrows ignored and hidden within her — for she kept her keenest sufferings from her cherished child — her joys embittered, her griefs unrelieved, all these shocks had weakened the springs of life and were developing in her system a slow consumption which day by day was gathering greater force. A last blow hastened it. She tried to warn the duke as to the results of Maximilien’s education, and was repulsed; she saw that she could give no remedy to the shocking seeds which were germinating in the soul of her second child. From this moment began a period of decline which soon became so visible as to bring about the appointment of Beauvouloir to the post of physician to the house of Herouville and the government of Normandy.

The former bonesetter came to live at the castle. In those days such posts belonged to learned men, who thus gained a living and the leisure necessary for a studious life and the accomplishment of scientific work. Beauvouloir had for some time desired the situation, because his knowledge and his fortune had won him numerous bitter enemies. In spite of the protection of a great family to whom he had done great services, he had recently been implicated in a criminal case, and the intervention of the Governor of Normandy, obtained by the duchess, had alone saved him from being brought to trial. The duke had no reason to repent this protection given to the old bonesetter. Beauvouloir saved the life of the Marquis de Saint-Sever in so dangerous an illness that any other physician would have failed in doing so. But the wounds of the duchess were too deep-seated and dated too far back to be cured, especially as they were constantly kept open in her home. When her sufferings warned this angel of many sorrows that her end was approaching, death was hastened by the gloomy apprehensions that filled her mind as to the future.

“What will become of my poor child without me?” was a thought renewed every hour like a bitter tide.

Obliged at last to keep her bed, the duchess failed rapidly, for she was then unable to see her son, forbidden as he was by her compact with his father to approach the house. The sorrow of the youth was equal to that of the mother. Inspired by the genius of repressed feeling, Etienne created a mystical language by which to communicate with his mother. He studied the resources of his voice like an opera-singer, and often he came beneath her windows to let her hear his melodiously melancholy voice, when Beauvouloir by a sign informed him she was alone. Formerly, as a babe, he had consoled his mother with his smiles, now, become a poet, he caressed her with his melodies.

“Those songs give me life,” said the duchess to Beauvouloir, inhaling the air that Etienne’s voice made living.

At length the day came when the poor son’s mourning began. Already he had felt the mysterious correspondences between his emotions and the movements of the ocean. The divining of the thoughts of matter, a power with which his occult knowledge had invested him, made this phenomenon more eloquent to him than to all others. During the fatal night when he was taken to see his mother for the last time, the ocean was agitated by movements that to him were full of meaning. The heaving waters seemed to show that the sea was working intestinally; the swelling waves rolled in and spent themselves with lugubrious noises like the howling of a dog in distress. Unconsciously, Etienne found himself saying:—

“What does it want of me? It quivers and moans like a living creature. My mother has often told me that the ocean was in horrible convulsions on the night when I was born. Something is about to happen to me.”

This thought kept him standing before his window with his eyes sometimes on his mother’s windows where a faint light trembled, sometimes on the ocean which continued to moan. Suddenly Beauvouloir knocked on the door of his room, opened it, and showed on his saddened face the reflection of some new misfortune.

“Monseigneur,” he said, “Madame la duchesse is in so sad a state that she wishes to see you. All precautions are taken that no harm shall happen to you in the castle; but we must be prudent; to see her you will have to pass through the room of Monseigneur the duke, the room where you were born.”

These words brought the tears to Etienne’s eyes, and he said:—

“The Ocean did speak to me!”

Mechanically he allowed himself to be led towards the door of the tower which gave entrance to the private way leading to the duchess’s room. Bertrand was awaiting him, lantern in hand. Etienne reached the library of the Cardinal d’Herouville, and there he was made to wait with Beauvouloir while Bertrand went on to unlock the other doors, and make sure that the hated son could pass through his father’s house without danger. The duke did not awake. Advancing with light steps, Etienne and Beauvouloir heard in that immense chateau no sound but the plaintive groans of the dying woman. Thus the very circumstances attending the birth of Etienne were renewed at the death of his mother. The same tempest, same agony, same dread of awaking the pitiless giant, who, on this occasion at least, slept soundly. Bertrand, as a further precaution, took Etienne in his arms and carried him through the duke’s room, intending to give some excuse as to the state of the duchess if the duke awoke and detected him. Etienne’s heart was horribly wrung by the same fears which filled the minds of these faithful servants; but this emotion prepared him, in a measure, for the sight that met his eyes in that signorial room, which he had never re-entered since the fatal day when, as a child, the paternal curse had driven him from it.

On the great bed, where happiness never came, he looked for his beloved, and scarcely found her, so emaciated was she. White as her own laces, with scarcely a breath left, she gathered up all her strength to clasp Etienne’s hand, and to give him her whole soul, as heretofore, in a look. Chaverny had bequeathed to her all his life in a last farewell. Beauvouloir and Bertrand, the mother and the sleeping duke were all once more assembled. Same place, same scene, same actors! but this was funereal grief in place of the joys of motherhood; the night of death instead of the dawn of life. At that moment the storm, threatened by the melancholy moaning of the sea since sundown, suddenly burst forth.

“Dear flower of my life!” said the mother, kissing her son. “You were taken from my bosom in the midst of a tempest, and in a tempest I am taken from you. Between these storms all life has been stormy to me, except the hours I have spent with you. This is my last joy, mingled with my last pangs. Adieu, my only love! adieu, dear image of two souls that will soon be reunited! Adieu, my only joy — pure joy! adieu, my own beloved!”

“Let me follow thee!” cried Etienne.

“It would be your better fate!” she said, two tears rolling down her livid cheeks; for, as in former days, her eyes seemed to read the future. “Did any one see him?” she asked of the two men.

At this instant the duke turned in his bed; they all trembled.

“Even my last joy is mingled with pain,” murmured the duchess. “Take him away! take him away!”

“Mother, I would rather see you a moment longer and die!” said the poor lad, as he fainted by her side.

At a sign from the duchess, Bertrand took Etienne in his arms, and, showing him for the last time to his mother, who kissed him with a last look, he turned to carry him away, awaiting the final order of the dying mother.

“Love him well!” she said to the physician and Bertrand; “he has no protectors but you and Heaven.”

Prompted by an instinct which never misleads a mother, she had felt the pity of the old retainer for the eldest son of a house, for which his veneration was only comparable to that of the Jews for their Holy City, Jerusalem. As for Beauvouloir, the compact between himself and the duchess had long been signed. The two servitors, deeply moved to see their mistress forced to bequeath her noble child to none but themselves, promised by a solemn gesture to be the providence of their young master, and the mother had faith in that gesture.

The duchess died towards morning, mourned by the servants of the household, who, for all comment, were heard to say beside her grave, “She was a comely woman, sent from Paradise.”

Etienne’s sorrow was the most intense, the most lasting of sorrows, and wholly silent. He wandered no more among his rocks; he felt no strength to read or sing. He spent whole days crouched in the crevice of a rock, caring nought for the inclemency of the weather, motionless, fastened to the granite like the lichen that grew upon it; weeping seldom, lost in one sole thought, immense, infinite as the ocean, and, like that ocean, taking a thousand forms — terrible, tempestuous, tender, calm. It was more than sorrow; it was a new existence, an irrevocable destiny, dooming this innocent creature to smile no more. There are pangs which, like a drop of blood cast into flowing water, stain the whole current instantly. The stream, renewed from its source, restores the purity of its surface; but with Etienne the source itself was polluted, and each new current brought its own gall.

Bertrand, in his old age, had retained the superintendence of the stables, so as not to lose the habit of authority in the household. His house was not far from that of Etienne, so that he was ever at hand to watch over the youth with the persistent affection and simple wiliness characteristic of old soldiers. He checked his roughness when speaking to the poor lad; softly he walked in rainy weather to fetch him from his reverie in his crevice to the house. He put his pride into filling the mother’s place, so that her child might find, if not her love, at least the same attentions. This pity resembled tenderness. Etienne bore, without complaint or resistance, these attentions of the old retainer, but too many links were now broken between the hated child and other creatures to admit of any keen affection at present in his heart. Mechanically he allowed himself to be protected; he became, as it were, an intermediary creature between man and plant, or, perhaps one might say, between man and God. To what shall we compare a being to whom all social laws, all the false sentiments of the world were unknown, and who kept his ravishing innocence by obeying nought but the instincts of his heart?

Nevertheless, in spite of his sombre melancholy, he came to feel the need of loving, of finding another mother, another soul for his soul. But, separated from civilization by an iron wall, it was well-nigh impossible to meet with a being who had flowered like himself. Instinctively seeking another self to whom to confide his thoughts and whose life might blend with his life, he ended in sympathizing with his Ocean. The sea became to him a living, thinking being. Always in presence of that vast creation, the hidden marvels of which contrast so grandly with those of earth, he discovered the meaning of many mysteries. Familiar from his cradle with the infinitude of those liquid fields, the sea and the sky taught him many poems. To him, all was variety in that vast picture so monotonous to some. Like other men whose souls dominate their bodies, he had a piercing sight which could reach to enormous distances and seize, with admirable ease and without fatigue, the fleeting tints of the clouds, the passing shimmer of the waters. On days of perfect stillness his eyes could see the manifold tints of the ocean, which to him, like the face of a woman, had its physiognomy, its smiles, ideas, caprices; there green and sombre; here smiling and azure; sometimes uniting its brilliant lines with the hazy gleams of the horizon, or again, softly swaying beneath the orange-tinted heavens. For him all-glorious fetes were celebrated at sundown when the star of day poured its red colors on the waves in a crimson flood. For him the sea was gay and sparkling and spirited when it quivered in repeating the noonday light from a thousand dazzling facets; to him it revealed its wondrous melancholy; it made him weep whenever, calm or sad, it reflected the dun-gray sky surcharged with clouds. He had learned the mute language of that vast creation. The flux and reflux of its waters were to him a melodious breathing which uttered in his ear a sentiment; he felt and comprehended its inward meaning. No mariner, no man of science, could have predicted better than he the slightest wrath of the ocean, the faintest change on that vast face. By the manner of the waves as they rose and died away upon the shore, he could foresee tempests, surges, squalls, the height of tides, or calms. When night had spread its veil upon the sky, he still could see the sea in its twilight mystery, and talk with it. At all times he shared its fecund life, feeling in his soul the tempest when it was angry; breathing its rage in its hissing breath; running with its waves as they broke in a thousand liquid fringes upon the rocks. He felt himself intrepid, free, and terrible as the sea itself; like it, he bounded and fell back; he kept its solemn silence; he copied its sudden pause. In short, he had wedded the sea; it was now his confidant, his friend. In the morning when he crossed the glowing sands of the beach and came upon his rocks, he divined the temper of the ocean from a single glance; he could see landscapes on its surface; he hovered above the face of the waters, like an angel coming down from heaven. When the joyous, mischievous white mists cast their gossamer before him, like a veil before the face of a bride, he followed their undulations and caprices with the joy of a lover. His thought, married with that grand expression of the divine thought, consoled him in his solitude, and the thousand outlooks of his soul peopled its desert with glorious fantasies. He ended at last by divining in the motions of the sea its close communion with the celestial system; he perceived nature in its harmonious whole, from the blade of grass to the wandering stars which seek, like seeds driven by the wind, to plant themselves in ether.

Pure as an angel, virgin of those ideas which degrade mankind, naive as a child, he lived like a sea-bird, a gull, or a flower, prodigal of the treasures of poetic imagination, and possessed of a divine knowledge, the fruitful extent of which he contemplated in solitude. Incredible mingling of two creations! sometimes he rose to God in prayer; sometimes he descended, humble and resigned, to the quiet happiness of animals. To him the stars were the flowers of night, the birds his friends, the sun was a father. Everywhere he found the soul of his mother; often he saw her in the clouds; he spoke to her; they communicated, veritably, by celestial visions; on certain days he could hear her voice and see her smile; in short, there were days when he had not lost her. God seemed to have given him the power of the hermits of old, to have endowed him with some perfected inner senses which penetrated to the spirit of all things. Unknown moral forces enabled him to go farther than other men into the secrets of the Immortal labor. His yearnings, his sorrows were the links that united him to the unseen world; he went there, armed with his love, to seek his mother; realizing thus, with the sublime harmonies of ecstasy, the symbolic enterprise of Orpheus.

Often, when crouching in the crevice of some rock, capriciously curled up in his granite grotto, the entrance to which was as narrow as that of a charcoal kiln, he would sink into involuntary sleep, his figure softly lighted by the warm rays of the sun which crept through the fissures and fell upon the dainty seaweeds that adorned his retreat, the veritable nest of a sea-bird. The sun, his sovereign lord, alone told him that he had slept, by measuring the time he had been absent from his watery landscapes, his golden sands, his shells and pebbles. Across a light as brilliant as that from heaven he saw the cities of which he read; he looked with amazement, but without envy, at courts and kings, battles, men, and buildings. These daylight dreams made dearer to him his precious flowers, his clouds, his sun, his granite rocks. To attach him the more to his solitary existence, an angel seemed to reveal to him the abysses of the moral world and the terrible shocks of civilization. He felt that his soul, if torn by the throng of men, would perish like a pearl dropped from the crown of a princess into mud.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51