Edmee alone preserved all the freshness of sincerity and all the distinction of natural grace. Sitting on a sofa by the side of M. de Malesherbes, she was for me the same being that I had gazed on so many times in the light of the setting sun, as she sat on the stone seat at the door of Patience’s cottage.
You will readily believe that all the homage paid to my cousin fanned into fresh flames the jealousy which had been smouldering in my breast. Since the day when, in obedience to her command, I began to devote myself to work, I could hardly say whether I had dared to count on her promise that she would become my wife as soon as I was able to understand her ideas and feelings. To me, indeed, it seemed that the time for this had already arrived; for it is certain that I understood Edmee, better perhaps than any of the men who were paying their addresses to her in prose and verse. I had firmly resolved not to presume upon the oath extorted from her at Roche-Mauprat; yet, when I remembered her last promise, freely given at the chapel window, and the inferences which I could have drawn from her conversation with the abbe which I had overheard in the parlour at Sainte-Severe; when I remembered her earnestness in preventing me from going away and in directing my education; the motherly attentions she had lavished on me during my illness—did not all these things give me, if not some right, at least some reason to hope? It is true that her friendship would become icy as soon as my passion betrayed itself in words or looks; it is true that since the first day I saw her I had not advanced a single step towards close affection; it is also true that M. de la Marche frequently came to the house, and that she always showed him as much friendship as myself, though with less familiarity and more respect in it, a distinction which was naturally due to the difference in our characters and our ages, and did not indicate any preference for one or the other. It was possible, therefore, to attribute her promise to the prompting of her conscience; the interest which she took in my studies to her worship of human dignity as it stood rehabilitated by philosophy; her quiet and continued affection for M. de la March to a profound regret, kept in subjection by the strength and wisdom of her mind. These perplexities I felt very acutely. The hope of compelling her love by submission and devotion had sustained me; but this hope was beginning to grow weak; for though, as all allowed, I had made prodigious efforts and extraordinary progress, Edmee’s regard for me had been very far from increasing in the same proportion. She had not shown any astonishment at what she called my lofty intellect; she had always believed in it; she had praised it unreasonably. But she was not blind to the faults in my character, to the vices of my soul. She had reproached me with these with an inexorable sweetness, with a patience calculated to drive me to despair; for she seemed to have made up her mind that, whatever the future might bring, she would never love me more and never less.