The countess's vanity, perhaps, is pardonable. Indeed, she has been described as possessing "splendid shoulders, the finest arms in the world, and a complexion of radiant brilliancy. Her soft black eyes, her full red lips, her framing masses of curled hair, her finely chiselled forehead, and the sinuous grace of her gait gave her an air of abandon and dignity together, and a haughty, yet sensuous, expression, which was very captivating."
Balzac, however, before even he had seen her, was raised to a frenzy of excited adoration; the woman became his ideal, and with her he soared to the loftiest heights of romance, pouring out before her all his hopes and aims. The countess, moreover, for her part, was fascinated by the novelist's personality, and she longed to meet the man whose books displayed such an incomparably intimate knowledge of her sex, and with this object in view arranged immediately to visit Switzerland with her husband and her child.
As soon as he had heard of the party's arrival at Neufchatel, Balzac set out posthaste from Paris, keeping as a secret from all his friends the reason for his sudden departure. The lovers had arranged to meet on the promenade, and, in order that Balzac might be able to identify her, it had been decided that the countess should be seated with one of his novels on her lap. In spite of this precaution, however, Balzac passed by her several times before he dared to speak, because the countess, in her excitement, had allowed the book partially to be concealed behind a scarf, and Balzac was greatly afraid lest he should address the wrong person. At last, however, he mustered his courage, and spoke. The momentous meeting had taken place, and in it Balzac found the fulfilment of his dreams; he was raised to an ecstasy of delight.
"There I found all that can flatter the thousand vanities of that animal called Man," he wrote to his sister, "and of a poet, the vainest of them all! But why do I talk of vanity? There is no such thing here. I am happy, very happy . . . The essential is that we are twenty-seven, that we are ravishingly beautiful, that we have the finest black hair in the world, the deliriously smooth, fine skin of a brunette, an adorable little hand, a twenty-seven-yearlove old heart, all innocent. ... I do not speak of the colossal riches: what are they when compared with a masterpiece of beauty? ... In the shade of a great oak we gave one another the furtive, earliest kiss of love! Then I swore to wait, and she to keep for me her hand, her heart." The countess has left no record of her first impressions; perhaps at first sight she was disappointed to find that this "small, fat, inelegant person" had been the idol of her dreams. This Balzac himself feared, but he thought that his eyes would redeem him; he knew their power; they were the "eyes of a sovereign, a seer, a conqueror."
At the time romance may have blinded the countess's eyes, but soon they were opened. She had fallen in love with Balzac's creations; the sight of the creator rilled her with disappointment. Her idol lay before her shattered, for, in spite of his wit, in spite of his brilliance, she saw Balzac merely as a gross and ugly, discontented egotist.
But, none the less, he was a persistent wooer, and at this time, at any rate, there can be no doubt as to the sincerity of his love. Christ mas found h i m again with the countess; on this occasion at Geneva.
Here he stayed for six weeks, six weeks of raptu r o u s happiness; but already in the distance could be seen the cloud, at present no bigger than a man's hand, which ultimately was to darken his whole life. The romance of the situation appealed to Evelina's fancy. Moreover, she had chosen Balzac, and she felt that she ought not to discard him lightly; but transfer to the man the affection and adoration which she had bestowed upon her mind's conception of him she could not.
Moreover, gradually she became obsessed with the fear, and it was a very real fear, that Balzac's pertinacity was prompted less by the force of an uncontrollable passion than by visions of the ultimate acquisition of her fortune.
Thus she began to doubt and hesitate, and her hesitation preyed upon the infatuated mind of Balzac, until finally it wrecked his life, and accelerated greatly, if it did not actually cause, his death.
The first definite quarrel occurred in 1834 while Balzac was staying at Vienna with the Hanskas. Evelina accused him of giving her a position subsidiary to his work. This is a common cause of lovers' quarrels, but in this case it was less unreasonable than in most, for. when engrossed in work Balzac was strangely unreasonable. He would write for eighteen to twenty hours a day, for weeks on end, never sleeping, and eating but rarely; hot baths formed his recreation, and strong coffee his sole stimulant. When the work had been completed, immediately he would proceed to the other extreme. Werdet records that after one of these spells of work he accompanied the novelist to Very's, the most select and expensive restaurant in Paris. Here, to the astonishment of all the other guests in the restaurant, Balzac consumed 1oo oysters, twelve chops, a young duck, a pair of roast partridges, and a sole, in addition to a dozen pears, and innumerable sweets. Having appeased his hunger, Balzac then characteristically en-deavo u r e d toborrow from his guest the money to pay the bill. Thiswerdet was unable to provide. The novelist, therefore, took five francs to tip the waiter, and stalked out of the res-t au ra nt, shouting loudly, "I am Honore de Balzac."