It was impossible for Angelique to sleep that night. A nervous wakefulness kept her burning eyelids from closing, and her extreme weakness seemed greater than ever. The Huberts had gone to their room, and at last, when it was near midnight, so great a fear came over her that she would die if she were to remain longer in bed, she preferred to get up, notwithstanding the immense effort required to do so.
She was almost stifled. Putting on a dressing-gown and warm slippers, she crept along slowly as far as the window, which she opened wide. The winter was somewhat rainy, but of a mild dampness; so the air was pleasant to breathe. She sank back into her great armchair, after having turned up the wick of a lamp which was on a table near her, and which was always allowed to be kept burning during the entire night. There, by the side of the volume of the “Golden Legend,” was the bouquet of hydrangeas and hollyhocks which she had begun to copy. That she might once more attach herself to the life which she realised was fast passing from her she had a sudden fancy to work, and drawing her frame forward, she made a few stitches with her trembling fingers. The red silk of the rose-tremiere seemed of a deeper hue than ever, in contrast with her white hands: it was almost as if it were the blood from her veins which was quietly flowing away drop by drop.
But she, who for two hours had turned in vain from side to side in the burning bedclothes, yielded almost immediately to sleep as soon as she was seated. Her head drooped a little toward her right shoulder, being supported by the back of her chair, and the silk remaining in her motionless hands, a looker-on would have thought she was still embroidering. White as snow, perfectly calm, she slept under the light of the lamp in the chamber, still and quiet as a tomb. The faded, rosy draperies of the great royal couch were paler than ever in their shady corner, and the gloom of the walls of the room was only relieved by the great chest of drawers, the wardrobe, and the chairs of old carved oak. Minutes passed; her slumber was deep and dreamless.
At last there was a slight sound, and Felicien suddenly appeared on the balcony, pale, trembling, and, like herself, looking very worn and thin, and his countenance distressed. When he saw her reclining in the easy chair, pitiable and yet so beautiful to look at, he rushed at once into the chamber, and his heart grew heavy with infinite grief as he went forward, and, falling on his knees before her, gazed at her with an expression of utter despair. Could it be that she was so hopelessly ill? Was it unhappiness that had caused her to be so weak, and to have wasted way to such a degree that she appeared to him light as air while she lay there, like a feather which the slightest breath would blow away? In her sleep, her suffering and her patient resignation were clearly seen. He in fact would have known her only by her lily-like grace, the delicate outlines of her neck, her drooping shoulders, and her oval face, transfigured like that of a youthful virgin mounting towards heaven. Her exquisite hair was now only a mass of light, and her pure soul shone under the soft transparency of her skin. She had all the ethereal beauty of the saints relieved from their bodies. He was both dazzled and distressed; the violent shock rendered him incapable of moving, and, with hands clasped, he remained silent. She did not awake as he continued to watch her.
A little air from the half-closed lips of Felicien must have passed across Angelique’s face, as all at once she opened her great eyes. Yet she did not start, but in her turn looked at him with a smile, as if he were a vision. Yes, it was he! She recognised him well, although he was greatly changed. But she did not think she was awake, for she often saw him thus in her dreams, and her trouble was increased when, rousing from her sleep, she realised the truth.
He held his hands out towards her and spoke:
“My dearest, I love you. I was told that you were ill, and came to you immediately. Look at me! Here I am, and I love you.”
She straightened herself up quickly. She shuddered, as with a mechanical movement she passed her fingers over her eyes.
“Doubt no longer, then. See me at your feet, and realise that I love you now, as I have ever done.”
Then she exclaimed:
“Oh! is it you? I had given up expecting you, and yet you are here.”
With her feeble, trembling hands, she had taken his, thus assuring herself that he was not a fanciful vision of her sleep.
“You have always loved me, and I love you for ever. Yes, notwithstanding everything; and more deeply even than I should have ever thought it possible to do.”
It was an unhoped-for excess of happiness, and in this first minute of absolute joy they forgot everything else in the world, giving themselves up to the delightful certainty of their mutual affection, and their ability to declare it. The sufferings of the past, the obstacles of the future, had disappeared as if by magic. They did not even think of asking how it was that they had thus come together. But there they were, mingling their tears of joy together as they embraced each other with the purest of feelings: he was overcome with pity that she was so worn by grief and illness that she seemed like a mere shadow in his arms. In the enchantment of her surprise she remained half-paralysed, trembling from exhaustion, radiant with spiritual beauty, as she lay back in her great easy chair, so physically weary that she could not raise herself without falling again, but intoxicated with this supreme contentment.
“Ah, dear Seigneur, my only remaining wish is gratified. I longed to see you before death came.”
He lifted up his head, as with a despairing movement, and said:
“Do not speak of dying. It shall not be. I am here, and I love you.”
She smiled angelically.
“I am not afraid to die now that you have assured me of your affection. The idea no longer terrifies me. I could easily fall asleep in this way, while leaning on your shoulders. Tell me once more that you love me.”
“I love you as deeply to-day as I loved you yesterday, and as I will love you on the morrow. Do not doubt it for one moment, for it is for eternity! Oh, yes, we will love each other for ever and ever.”
Angelique was enraptured, and with vague eyes looked directly before her, as if seeing something beyond the cold whiteness of the chamber. But evidently she aroused herself, as if just awaking from sleep. In the midst of this great felicity which had appeased her, she had now had time for reflection. The true facts of the case astonished her.
“You have loved me! Yet why did you not at once come to see me?”
“Your parents said that you cared for me no longer. I also nearly died when learning that. At last, I was determined to know the whole truth, and was sent away from the house, the door being absolutely closed against me, and I was forbidden to return.”
“Then they shut the door in your face? Yet my mother told me that you did not love me, and I could but believe her, since having seen you several times with that young lady, Mademoiselle Claire, I thought naturally you were obeying your father.”
“No. I was waiting. But it was cowardly on my part thus to tremble before him. My great mistake has been to allow the matter to go so far; for my duty was to have trusted only in you, to have insisted upon seeing you personally, and to have acted with you.”
There was a short silence. Angelique sat erect for an instant, as if she had received a blow, and her expression grew cold and hard, and her forehead was cut by an angry wrinkle.
“So we have both of us been deceived. Falsehoods have been told in order to separate us from each other. Notwithstanding our mutual love, we have been tortured to such a degree that they have almost killed us both. Very well, then! It is abominable, and it frees us from the promises we made. We are now at liberty to act as we will.”
An intense feeling of contempt so excited her that she stood up on her feet. She no longer realised that she was ill, but appeared to have regained her strength miraculously in the reawakening of all the passion and pride of her nature. To have thought her dream ended, and all at once to have re-found it in its full beauty and vitality, delighted her. To be able to say that they had done nothing unworthy of their love, but that it was other persons who had been the guilty ones, was a comfort. This growth of herself, this at last certain triumph, exalted her and threw her into a supreme rebellion.
She simply said:
“Come, let us go.”
And she walked around the room, brave in the return of her energy and her will. She had already selected a mantle to throw over her shoulders. A lace scarf would be sufficient for her head.
Felicien uttered one cry of joy as she thus anticipated his desire. He had merely thought of this flight, but had not had the boldness to dare propose it; and how delightful indeed it would be to go away together, to disappear, and thus put an end to all cares, to overcome all obstacles. The sooner it was done the better, for then they would avoid having to contend with reflection or afterthought.
“Yes, darling, let us go immediately. I was coming to take you. I know where we can find a carriage. Before daylight we will be far away: so far that no one will ever be able to overtake us.”
She opened her drawers, but closed them again violently, without taking anything therefrom, as her excitement increased. Could it be possible that she had suffered such torture for so many weeks! She had done everything in her power to drive him from her mind, to try to convince herself that he cared no more for her, until at last she thought she had succeeded in doing so. But it was of no use, and all this abominable work must be done over again. No! she could never have strength sufficient for that. Since they loved each other, the simplest thing in the world to do was to be married, and then no power on earth could separate them.
“Let me see. What ought I to take? Oh! how foolish I have been with all my childish scruples, when I think that others have lowered themselves so much as even to tell us falsehoods! Yes! even were I to have died, they would not have called you to me. But, tell me, must I take linen and dresses? See, here is a warmer gown. What strange ideas, what unnumbered obstacles, they put in my head. There was good on one side and evil on the other: things which one might do, and again that which one should never do; in short, such a complication of matters, it was enough to make one wild. They were all falsehoods: there was no truth in any of them. The only real happiness is to live to love the one who loves you, and to obey the promptings of the heart. You are the personification of fortune, of beauty, and of youth, my dear Seigneur; my only pleasure is in you. I give myself to you freely, and you may do with me what you wish.”
She rejoiced in this breaking-out of all the hereditary tendencies of her nature, which she thought had died within her. Sounds of distant music excited her. She saw as it were their royal departure: this son of a prince carrying her away as in a fairy-tale, and making her queen of some imaginary realm; and she was ready to follow him with her arms clasped around his neck, her head upon his breast, with such a trembling from intense feeling that her whole body grew weak from happiness. To be alone together, just they two, to abandon themselves to the galloping of horses, to flee away, and to disappear in each other’s arms. What perfect bliss it would be!
“Is it not better for me to take nothing? What good would it do in reality?”
He, partaking of her feverishness, was already at the door, as he replied:
“No, no! Take nothing whatever. Let us go at once.”
“Yes, let us go. That is the best thing to do.”
And she rejoined him. But she turned round, wishing to give a last look at the chamber. The lamp was burning with the same soft light, the bouquet of hydrangeas and hollyhocks was blooming as ever, and in her work-frame the unfinished rose, bright and natural as life, seemed to be waiting for her. But the room itself especially affected her. Never before had it seemed so white and pure to her; the walls, the bed, the air even, appeared as if filled with a clear, white breath.
Something within her wavered, and she was obliged to lean heavily against the back of a chair that was near her and not far from the door.
“What is the matter?” asked Felicien anxiously.
She did not reply, but breathed with great difficulty. Then, seized with a trembling, she could no longer bear her weight on her feet, but was forced to sit down.
“Do not be anxious; it is nothing. I only want to rest for a minute and then we will go.”
They were silent. She continued to look round the room as if she had forgotten some valuable object there, but could not tell what it was. It was a regret, at first slight, but which rapidly increased and filled her heart by degrees, until it almost stifled her. She could no longer collect her thoughts. Was it this mass of whiteness that kept her back? She had always adored white, even to such a degree as to collect bits of silk and revel over them in secret.
“One moment, just one moment more, and we will go away, my dear Seigneur.”
But she did not even make an effort to rise. Very anxious, he again knelt before her.
“Are you suffering, my dear? Cannot I do something to make you feel better? If you are shivering because you are cold, I will take your little feet in my hands, and will so warm them that they will grow strong and be able to run.”
She shook her head as she replied:
“No, no, I am not cold. I could walk. But please wait a little, just a single minute.”
He saw well that invisible chains seemed again to have taken possession of her limbs, and, little by little, were attaching themselves so strongly to her that very soon, perhaps, it would be quite impossible for him to draw her away. Yet, if he did not take her from there at once, if they did not flee together, he thought of the inevitable contest with his father on the morrow, of the distressing interview before which he had recoiled for weeks past. Then he became pressing, and besought her most ardently.
“Come, dear, the highways are not light at this hour; the carriage will bear us away in the darkness, and we will go on and on, cradled in each other’s arms, sleeping as if warmly covered with down, not fearing the night’s freshness; and when the day dawns we will continue our route in the sunshine, as we go still farther on, until we reach the country where people are always happy. No one will know us there; we will live by ourselves, lost in some great garden, having no other care than to love each other more deeply than ever at the coming of each new day. We shall find flowers as large as trees, fruits sweeter than honey. And we will live on nothing, for in the midst of this eternal spring, dear soul, we will live on our kisses.”
She trembled under these burning words, with which he heated her face, and her whole being seemed to be fainting away at the representation of these promised joys.
“Oh! in a few minutes I will be ready; but wait a little longer.”
“Then, if journeying fatigues us, we will come back here. We will rebuild the Chateau d’Hautecoeur, and we will pass the rest of our lives there. That is my ideal dream. If it is necessary, we will spend willingly all our fortune therein. Once more shall its donjon overlook from its height the two valleys. We will make our home in the Pavilion d’Honneur, between the Tower of David and the Tower of Charlemagne. The colossal edifice shall be restored as in the days of its primitive power: the galleries, the dwellings, the chapels, shall appear in the same barbaric luxury as before. And I shall wish for us to lead the life of olden times; you a princess and I a prince, surrounded by a large company of armed vassals and of pages. Our walls of fifteen feet of thickness will isolate us, and we shall be as our ancestors were, of whom it is written in the Legend. When the sun goes down behind the hills we will return from hunting, mounted on great white horses, greeted respectfully by the peasants as they kneel before us. The horn will resound in welcome, the drawbridge will be lowered for us. In the evening, kings will dine at our table. At night, our couch will be on a platform surmounted by a canopy like a throne. While we sleep peacefully in purple and gold, soft music will be played in the distance.”
Quivering with pride and pleasure, she smiled now, but soon, overcome by the great suffering that again took possession of her, her lips assumed a mournful expression and the smile disappeared. As with a mechanical movement of her hands she drove away the tempting pictures he called forth, he redoubled his ardour, and wished to make her his by seizing her and carrying her away in his arms.
“Come, dear. Come with me. Let us go, and forget everything but our united happiness.”
Disengaging herself brusquely, she escaped him, with an instinctive rebellion, and trying to stand up, this cry came at last from her:
“No, no! I cannot go. I no longer have the power to do so.”
However, again lamenting her fate, still torn by the contest in her soul, hesitating and stammering, she again turned towards him imploringly.
“I beg you to be good and not hurry me too much, but wait awhile. I would so gladly obey you, in order to prove to you my love; I would like above all to go away on your arm to that beautiful far-away country, where we could live royally in the castle of your dreams. It seems to me an easy thing to do, so often have I myself planned our flight. Yet now, what shall I say to you? It appears to me quite an impossibility; it is as if a door had suddenly been walled up between us and prevented me from going out.”
He wished to try to fascinate her again, but she quieted him with a movement of her hands.
“No; do not say anything more. It is very singular, but in proportion as you utter such sweet, such tender words, which ought to convince me, fear takes possession of me and chills me to the heart. My God! What is the matter with me? It is really that which you say which drives me from you. If you continue, I can no longer listen to you; you will be obliged to go away. Yet wait — wait a little longer!”
She walked very slowly about the room, anxiously seeking to resume her self-control, while he looked at her in despair.
“I thought to have loved you no longer; but it was certainly only a feeling of pique, since just now, as soon as I found you again at my feet, my heart beat rapidly, and my first impulse was to follow you as if I were your slave. Then, if I love you, why am I afraid of you? What is it that prevents me from leaving this room, as if invisible hands were holding me back by my whole body, and even by each hair of my head?”
She had stopped near her bed; then she went as far as the wardrobe, then to the different articles of furniture, one after the other. They all seemed united to her person by invisible ties. Especially the walls of the room, the grand whiteness of the mansard roof, enveloped her with a robe of purity, that she could leave behind her only with tears; and henceforth all this would be a part of her being; the spirit of her surroundings had entered into her. And she realised this fact stronger than ever when she found herself opposite her working-frame, which was resting at the side of the table under the lamplight. Her heart softened as she saw the half-made rose, which she would never finish were she to go away in this secret, criminal manner. The years of work were brought back to her mind: those quiet, happy years, during which life had been one long experience of peace and honesty, so that now she rebelled at the thought of committing a fault and of thus fleeing in the arms of her lover. Each day in this little, fresh house of the embroiderers, the active and pure life she had led there, away from all worldly temptations, had, as it were, made over all the blood in her veins.
Then Felicien, realising that in some inexplicable way Angelique was being reconquered and brought to her better self, felt the necessity of hastening their departure. He seized her hands and said:
“Come, dear. Time passes quickly. If we wait much longer it will be too late.”
She looked at him an instant, and then in a flash realised her true position. Freeing herself from his grasp she exclaimed, resolutely and frankly:
“It is already too late. You can see for yourself that I am unable now to follow you. Once my nature was so proud and passionate that I could have thrown my two arms around your neck in order that you might carry me away all the more quickly. But now I am no longer the same person. I am so changed that I do not recognise myself. Yes, I realise now that it is this quiet corner where I have been brought up, and the education that has been given me, that has made me what I am at present. Do you then yourself hear nothing? Do you not know that everything in this chamber calls upon me to stay? And I do not rebel in the least against this demand, for my joy at last is to obey.”
Without speaking, without attempting to discuss the question with her, he tried to take her hands again, and to lead her like an intractable child. Again she avoided him and turned slowly toward the window.
“No, I beseech you to leave me. It is not my hand that you wish for, it is my heart; and also that, of my own free will, I shall at once go away with you. But I tell you plainly that I do not wish to do so. A while ago I thought to have been as eager for flight as you are. But sure of my true self now, I know it was only the last rebellion, the agony of the old nature within me, that has just died. Little by little, without my knowledge, the good traits of my character have been drawn together and strongly united: humility, duty, and renunciation. So at each return of hereditary tendency to excess, the struggle has been less severe, and I have triumphed over temptation more easily. Now, at last, everything assures me that the supreme contest has just taken place; that henceforth it is finished for ever. I have conquered myself, and my nature is freed from the evil tendencies it had. Ah! dear Seigneur, I love you so much! Do not let us do the slightest thing to mar our happiness. To be happy it is always necessary to submit.”
As he took another step towards her, she was at the threshold of the great window, which was now wide open on to the balcony. She had stopped him with a half-smile as she said:
“You would not like to force me to throw myself down from here. Listen, and understand me when I say to you that everything which surrounds me is on my side. I have already told you that for a long time objects themselves have spoken to me. I hear voices in all directions, and never have they been so distinct as at this moment. Hear! It is the whole Clos-Marie that encourages me not to spoil my life and yours by giving myself to you without the consent of your father. This singing voice is the Chevrotte, so clear and so fresh that it seems to have put within me a purity like crystal since I have lived so near it. This other voice, like that of a crowd, tender and deep, it is that of the entire earth — the grasses, the trees, all the peaceable life of this sacred corner which has so constantly worked for the good of my soul.
“And there are other voices which come from still farther away, from the elms of the garden of Monseigneur, and from this horizon of branches, the smallest of which interests itself in me, and wishes for me to be victorious.
“Then, again, this great, sovereign voice, it is that of my old friend, the Cathedral, who, eternally awake, both day and night, has taught me many important things. Each one of the stones in the immense building, the little columns in the windows, the bell-towers of its piers, the flying buttresses of its apse, all have a murmur which I can distinguish, a language which I understand. Listen to what they say: that hope remains even in death. When one is really humble, love alone remains and triumphs. And at last, look! The air itself is filled with the whisperings of spirits. See, here are my invisible companions, the virgins, who are ever near me and aid me. Listen, listen!”
Smiling, she had lifted up her hand with an air of the deepest attention, and her whole being was in ecstasy from the scattered breathings she heard. They were the virgins of the “Golden Legend” that her imagination called forth, as in her early childhood, and whose mystic flight came from the old book with its quaint pictures, that was placed on the little table. Agnes was first, clothed with her beautiful hair, having on her finger the ring of betrothal to the Priest Paulin. Then all the others came in turn. Barbara with her tower; Genevieve with her sheep; Cecilia with her viol; Agatha with her wounded breast; Elizabeth begging on the highways, and Catherine triumphing over the learned doctors. She did not forget the miracle that made Lucy so heavy that a thousand men and five yoke of oxen could not carry her away: nor the Governor who became blind as he tried to embrace Anastasia. Then others who seemed flying through the quiet night, still bearing marks of the wounds inflicted upon them by their cruel martyrdom, and from which rivers of milk were flowing instead of blood. Ah! to die from love like them, to die in the purity of youth at the first kiss of a beloved one!
Felicien had approached her.
“I am the one person who really lives, Angelique, and you cannot give me up for mere fancies.”
“Dreams! — fancies!” she murmured.
“Yes; for if in reality these visions seem to surround you, it is simply that you yourself have created them all. Come, dear; no longer put a part of your life into objects about you, and they will be quiet.”
She gave way to a burst of enthusiastic feeling.
“Oh no! Let them speak. Let them call out louder still! They are my strength; they give me the courage to resist you. It is a manifestation of the Eternal Grace, and never has it overpowered me so energetically as now. If it is but a dream, a dream which I have placed in my surroundings, and which comes back to me at will, what of it? It saves me, it carries me away spotless in the midst of dangers. Listen yourself. Yield, and obey like me. I no longer have even a wish to follow you.”
In spite of her weakness, she made a great effort and stood up, resolute and firm.
“But you have been deceived,” he said. “Even falsehood has been resorted to in order to separate us!”
“The faults of others will not excuse our own.”
“Ah! You have withdrawn your heart from me, and you love me no longer.”
“I love you. I oppose you only on account of our love and for our mutual happiness. Obtain the consent of your father; then come for me, and I will follow you no matter where.”
“My father! You do not know him. God only could ever make him yield. Tell me, then, is this really to be the end of everything? If my father orders me to marry Claire de Voincourt, must I in that case obey him?”
At this last blow Angelique tottered. Was no torture to be spared her? She could not restrain this heartbroken cry:
“Oh! that is too much! My sufferings are greater than I can bear. I beseech you go away quickly and do not be so cruel. Why did you come at all? I was resigned. I had learned to accept the misfortune of being no longer loved by you. Yet the moment that I am reassured of your affection, all my martyrdom recommences; and how can you expect me to live now?”
Felicien, not aware of the depth of her despair, and thinking that she had yielded simply to a momentary feeling, repeated his question:
“If my father wishes me to marry her ——”
She struggled heroically against her intense suffering; she succeeded in standing up, notwithstanding that her heart was crushed, and dragging herself slowly towards the table, as if to make room for him to pass her, she said:
“Marry her, for it is always necessary to obey.”
In his turn he was now before the window, ready to take his departure, because she had sent him away from her.
“But it will make you die if I do so.”
She had regained her calmness, and, smiling sadly, she replied:
“Oh! that work is nearly done already.”
For one moment more he looked at her, so pale, so thin, so wan; light as a feather, to be carried away by the faintest breath. Then, with a brusque movement of furious resolution, he disappeared in the night.
When he was no longer there, Angelique, leaning against the back of her armchair, stretched her hands out in agony towards the darkness, and her frail body was shaken by heavy sobs, and cold perspiration came out upon her face and neck.
“My God!” This, then, was the end, and she would never see him again. All her weakness and pain had come back to her. Her exhausted limbs no longer supported her. It was with great difficulty that she could regain her bed, upon which she fell helpless, but calm in spirit from the assurance that she had done right.
The next morning they found her there, dying. The lamp had just gone out of itself, at the dawn of day, and everything in the chamber was of a triumphal whiteness.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02