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Title: The Choice of Life
Author: Leblanc, Georgette
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Choice of Life" ***

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THE CHOICE OF LIFE

by

GEORGETTE LEBLANC

Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos



[Illustration: Georgette Leblanc]



New York
Dodd, Mead and Company
1914

Copyright, 1914, by
Dodd, Mead and Company
Published, March, 1914



Women are ever divided by a miserable distrust, whereas all their
weaknesses intertwined might make for their lives a crown of love and
strength and beauty....

How one of them strove to deliver her unhappy friend, the words which
she spoke to her, the examples which she set before her, the joys which
she offered her: these are what I have tried to record in this book.

                                                                G.L.



PART THE FIRST

CHAPTER I


1

Here in the garden, close to the quiet house, I sit thinking of that
strange meeting in the village. A blackbird at regular intervals sings
the same refrain, which is taken up by others in the distance. The
lily's chalice gleams under the blazing sun; and the humbler flowers
meekly droop their heads. White butterflies are everywhere, flitting
restlessly hither and thither. So fierce is the splendour of the day
that I cannot raise my eyes to the summit of the trees; and my quivering
lids show me the whole sky through my lashes.

Thereupon it seems to me that the emotion which bursts from my heart,
like a too-brilliant light, compels me to close the shutters of my brain
as well. In my mind, even as before my eyes, distances are lessened and
I see stretched before me that more or less illusive goal which we would
all fain reach in the desires of our finer selves.

This idea is soothing to me, for, in my eagerness to act, I am tired of
demanding from my reason reasons which it cannot vouchsafe me.

Is there anything definite amid the uncertainty of these blind efforts,
these unaccountable impulses, which have so often, ever since the first
awakening of my unconsciousness, urged me towards other women? What have
I wanted hitherto? What was it that I hoped when I stretched out my
hands to them, when I looked upon their lives, when I searched their
hearts, when at times I changed the very nature of their strivings? I
did not know then; and even now I do not succeed in explaining to myself
the fever that makes my thoughts tingle and burn. I do not understand, I
do not know. How did that dream stand firm amid the total annihilation
of unprofitable illusions? Is there then an element of reality, a
definite truth that encourages me, though I do not discern it?

I see myself going forward recklessly, like a traveller who knows that
there is somewhere a goal and who makes for it blindly, with the same
assurance as though the goal stood bright and luminous on a
mountain-top.

My only apology for these continual excursions is that I lay claim to
no rigidity of purpose; and I should almost be ashamed to come with
principles and axioms to those whom I am carrying away. Then why alter
the course of their destiny? Why appeal to their sympathy and their
confidence? What better lot have I to offer them and what can I hope for
even if they respond? Certainly I wish them fairer and more perfect,
freed from their childish dread of criticism, armed with a prouder and
more personal conception of honour than the code which is laid upon
them, respectful of their life and also encompassing it with infinite
indulgence and kindness. But is not that a wild ideal? In my memory, I
still see them smiling at it, those radiant faces which all my sermons
could not cloud, or which, vainly striving to understand them, never
reflected anything but their crudest and most extravagant features!

The newcomer with the grave countenance, the new soul divined beneath a
beauty that pleases me, will she at long last teach me how much is
possible and realisable in the vague ideal to which I pay homage,
without as yet being able to define it?

I dare not hope.

Hitherto, events have not justified me any more than my reason.

The swift walker goes alone upon his road; there is never any but his
shadow to follow him.

I know how conscious we are of our weakness when we try to bring our
energies into action; and I know that my pride will suffer, for I have
never seen my footprint on the sand without pitying myself....


2

Those who are close to our soul have no need of our words to understand
it; and those who are far removed from it do not hear us speak. Then for
whom do we speak, alas?

The blackbird's song describes precious waves in the still air; pearls
are scattered over the blue sky.

The lily's whiteness ascends like a fervent prayer; the bees make haste;
the careless butterflies enjoy their little day. Near me, a tiny ant
exhausts herself in a task too heavy for her strength. Lowly and
excellent counsellors, does not each of them set me the example of her
humble efforts?



CHAPTER II


1

It was yesterday. When I woke, the cornfield under my windows, which
seemed a steadfast sea of gold, had already half disappeared. The
scythes flashed in the sun; and the ripe corn fell in great unresisting
masses.

The smallest details of that meeting are present in my memory; and I do
not weary of living every moment of it over again. The air was cool. I
still feel the caress of my sleeves, which the wind set fluttering over
my arms. I drank the breeze in great gulps. It filled me, it revived me
from head to foot. My skirts hampered me and I went slowly, holding my
hat in both hands before my face and vaguely guided by the little
patches of landscape that showed through the loose straw: a glimpse of
blue sky, of swaying tree-tops, smoking chimneys and a dim horizon.

I have come to the far end of the field, where the reapers are. It is
the hour of the first meal. The men have laid down their scythes, the
girls have ceased to bind the sheaves and all are sitting on the slope
beside the road.

Curious, I go closer still. A young woman, whom the others call
"mademoiselle," is kneeling a few steps away from me, in front of the
provision-basket; she has her back turned to me and is distributing
slices of bread and cream-cheese to the labourers; she hands the jug
filled with cider to the one nearest her, who drinks and sends it round.
For one second the movement of her arm passes between the sky and my
gaze, which wavers a little owing to the brilliancy of the light; and
that arm dewy with heat appears to me admirably moulded, with bold, pure
lines.

She is dressed like her companions, in a coarse linen skirt, whose
uncouth folds disguise her hips, and a calico smock imprisoned in a
black laced bodice, a sort of shapeless, barbarous cuirass. A
broad-brimmed straw hat, adorned with a faded ribbon, casts its shadow
on her shoulders; but, when she bends her head, I see the glint of her
hair, whose tightly bound and twisted masses shine like coils of gold.

The rather powerful neck is beautifully modelled. It is delicately
hollowed at the nape, where a little silver chain accentuates the
gentle curve. I can see almost nothing of her figure under the clumsy
clothes, but its proportions appear to me accurate and fairly slender.

I feel inclined to go away without a word; my fastidious eyes bring me
misgivings. When the first taste is good, why risk a second? But one of
the reapers has seen me. He bids me a friendly good-morning; and, before
I have time to answer, she has turned round.

It is so rare, in our country districts, to see a beautiful woman that,
for an instant, I blame the charm of the hour and accuse the friendly
light of complicity. But little by little her perfection overcomes my
doubts; and, the more I watch her, the lovelier I think her. The almost
statuesque slowness of her movements, the vigorous line of her body, the
glad colours that adorn her mouth, her cheeks and her bare arms seem to
make her share in the health of the soil. The fair human sheaf is bound
to nature like the golden sheaves that surround it.

Without stirring, we two stand looking at each other face to face.


2

O miracle of beauty, sovran of happiness and magnet of wandering eyes,
that day it shone in the noon-day sun like a star on the forehead of
that unhappy life; and it and it alone stayed my steps!

But for it, should I have dreamt, in the presence of that humble girl,
of one of those quests which appeal to the hearts of us women, hearts
fed on eternal illusions? But for it, should I have suspected a
sorrowing soul in the depths of those limpid eyes? And, at this moment,
should I be asking of my weakness the strength that constrains, of my
doubts the faith that saves, of my pity the tenderness that consoles and
heals?


3

I had moved to go, happy without knowing why; I hastened my steps. With
my soul heavier and my feet lighter than before, I walked away, glorying
in my meeting as in a victory over chance, over the thousand trifles,
the thousand blind agencies that incessantly keep us from what we seek
and from what unconsciously seeks us.

I could have laughed for joy; and it would have been sweet to me, when
I passed into the garden, to proclaim my glee aloud. But the peace of
things laid silence upon me. I slowly followed the paths, bordered with
marigolds and balsam, that lead to the house; and, when I passed under
the blinds, which a friend's hand had gently drawn for me, I heard my
everyday voice describing my discovery and my delight in sober tones.

And yet the moment of exaltation still charged my life; it seemed to me
clearer and deeper; and I thought that enthusiasm is in us like a
too-full cup, which overflows at the least movement of the soul.


4

I made enquiries that same evening; and all that I learnt encourages me.

She lives at the end of our village of Sainte-Colombe. She was brought
up at the convent in the town hard by and left it at the age of
eighteen. Since then, she has not been happy. On Sunday she is never
with the merrymaking crowd. She has never been seen at church. She
neither prays nor dances.



CHAPTER III


1

I took the road leading to the farm at which she lives. The yard is a
large one, the trees that hem it in are old and planted close together.
One can hardly see the straggling, thatched buildings from the road; and
I walked round the place without being able to satisfy my curiosity. She
lives there, I was told, with an old woman, her godmother, about whom
the people of the countryside tell stories of murder and debauchery. I
have seen her sometimes. She gives a disagreeable impression. She is a
tall, lean woman, with wisps of white hair straggling about her face.
Her waving arms and twitching hands carry a perpetual vague menace. The
black, deep-set eyes gleam evilly in her ivory face; and her hard thin
mouth, which opens straight across it, often hums coarse ditties in a
cracked voice.

Her curious attire completes the disorder of her appearance. Over her
rough peasant's clothes, some article of cast-off apparel cuts a strange
and lamentable figure: a muslin morning-wrap, once white and covered
with filmy lace; long, faded ribbons, which fasten a showy Watteau pleat
to the back, with ravelled ends spreading over the thick red-cotton
skirt; old pink-satin slippers, with pointed heels that sink into the
mud. In point of fact, I could say the exact number of times when I have
seen her and why I noticed her, for the sight of her always hurt me
cruelly when I met her in the sweet stillness of the country lanes.

For a long time, I wandered round the farm. I was moving away, picking
flowers as I went, when suddenly, at a bend in the road, I saw the girl
who filled my thoughts. She was sitting on a heap of stones; and two
large pails of milk stood beside her. Her attitude betokened great
weariness; and her drooping arms seemed to enjoy the rest.

I lingered a little while in front of her. Her face appeared to me
lovelier than on the first occasion, though her uncovered head allowed
me to see her magnificent hair plastered down so as to leave it no
freedom whatever. She answered my smile with a blush; and, when I looked
at her thick and awkward hands, she clasped and unclasped them with an
embarrassed air.


2

Just now, at the wane of the day, I was singing in the drawing-room,
with the windows open. I caught sight in the mirror of the sky ablaze
with red and rose quickly from the piano to see the sun dip into the
sea.... Near the garden, behind the hedge, I surprised the young girl
trying to hide....


3

I had never seen her; but now, because I saw her one day, I am always
seeing her.

Do we then behold only what we seek? It is a sad thought. We shall be
called upon to die before we have seen everything, understood
everything, loved and embraced everything. Our skirts will have brushed
against joys which we shall not have felt; our streaming tresses will
have passed through perfumes which we shall not have breathed; our mouth
will have kissed flowers which our hands have not known how to pick; and
very often our eyes will have seen without acquainting our intelligence.
We shall not have been observant continually.

It is a pity that things possess no other life than that which we
bestow upon them. I dislike to find that, for me, everything is subject
to my observation and my knowledge. The first is great indeed, but the
second is so small!...


4

A few years ago, the parish priest was on his way to the church at four
o'clock one morning, to celebrate the harvest mass, when he saw a
strange thing floating on the surface of the pool that washes the steps
of the wayside crucifix. As he approached, he perceived that it was a
woman's long hair. A moment later, they drew the body of a young and
beautiful girl to the bank. With nothing on her but her night-dress, she
seemed to have run straight from her bed to the pond. The gossips of the
neighbourhood will never cease chattering over this incident and the
shock which it gave the priest; and, though there is no other pond in
the village, the poor girl will be everlastingly reproached with
choosing "God's Pool" for her attempt at suicide.

Is it not enough for me to know that she is out of place amid her coarse
surroundings and that she is not happy there?


5

I have been expecting her for a week. I am wishing with all my might
that she may come; I am drawing her with my eyes, with my smile, with my
manner and with my will. But I say nothing to her. She must be able to
take to herself all the credit of this first act of independence.
Moreover, it will give me the evidence which I require of some sympathy
between us.

Outwardly, I am following a strict principle. Really, I am yielding to a
fear: am I not about to perform a dangerous and rather mad action, in
once more taking upon myself the responsibility of another's life?

We are not always unaware of the follies which we are about to commit;
but it is natural that the immediate joys should eclipse the probable
misfortunes and help us to go boldly forward.

Besides, the inquisitive know no weariness. They go with outstretched
hand to the assistance of events, heedless of increasing the chances of
suffering, because they always find, in return, something to occupy
their restlessness. Let us not blame them. In contemplating the good or
evil outcome of an action, we behold but its main lines; we do not see
the thousand little broken strokes that go to compose it. They make the
total of our days; and they have to be lived.



CHAPTER IV


1

A broad avenue of beeches stretches in front of our garden; and at the
far end is the open country. Here we have placed a seat which looks out
over space. Nothing but fields and fields, as far as the eye can reach;
nothing but land and sky. We love the security of this elemental
landscape, where the alternations of light succeed one another
inexorably. The noontides are fierce and dazzling. The soft, opalescent
mornings are fragrant with love and pleasure. But, most of all, the
sunsets attract us by their unwearied variety, sometimes sober and
tender, ever fainter and more ethereal, sometimes blood-red, monstrous
and barbaric.

The one which I watched to-day was pale and grey; and the obedient earth
humbly espoused its gentle tones. With my hands clasped in my lap, it
seemed to me that I was drinking in the peace that filled my heart; and
my eyes, which unconsciously fastened on my hands, held for a moment my
whole life enclosed there.

Then I heard indistinctly steps approaching me. A woman sat down on the
bench. The corner of her apron had brushed against my knees; I raised my
head and saw the young girl sitting by my side.

She said, simply:

"Here I am."

And at this short speech my mind is in a tumult; thoughts rush wildly
through my brain without my being able to follow one of them. I press
her hands, I look at her, I laugh, while little cries of delight burst
from my lips:

"You are here at last! I was expecting you! Do you know that you are
very pretty ... and that you look sweet and kind?... Make haste and tell
me all about yourself...."

But she does not answer. She stares at me with wide-open eyes; and my
impulsive phrases strike with such force against her stupefaction that
each one of them seems by degrees to fall back upon myself. I in my turn
am left utterly dumfounded; she is so ill at ease that I myself become
nervous; her astonishment embarrasses me; I secretly laugh at my own
discomfiture; and I end by asking, feebly:

"What's your name?"

"Rose."

"Rose ... Roseline.... My name is...."

And I burst out laughing. We were really talking like two children
trying to make friends. I threw my arm round her waist and put my lips
to her cheek. I loved its milky perfume. My kiss left a little white
mark which the blood soon flushed again.

She told me that she had seen me from a distance and that she had come
running up without stopping. I was careful not to ask her what she
wanted to tell me, for I knew that she had obeyed my wishes rather than
her own; and I led her towards the house:

"Rose, my dear Rose.... I know that you are unhappy."

She stops, gives me a quick look and then turns red and lowers her eyes.
Thereupon, so as not to startle her, I ask her about her work and about
the farm.

Rose answers shily, in short sentences, and we walk about in the garden.
From time to time, she stops to pull up a weed; methodically, she breaks
off the flowers hanging faded from their stalks; occasionally, she makes
a reference, full of sound sense, to the care required by plants and
vegetables. But my will passes like an obliterating line over all that
we say, over all that we do; and, while Rose anxiously tries to fill the
silence, I lie in wait, ready for a word, a sigh, a look that will
enable me to go straight to the heart of that soul, which I am eager to
grasp even as we take in our hand a mysterious object of which we are
trying to discover the secret.

Alas, the darkness between us is too dense and there is only the light
of her beautiful eyes, those sad, submissive eyes, to guide my pity! Our
conversation is somewhat laboured; the girl evades any direct question;
and any opinion which I venture to form can be only of the vaguest.

She seems to me to be lacking in spirit, of a nervous and despondent
temperament, but not unintelligent. I know nothing of her mental powers.
We sometimes see an active intelligence directing very inferior
abilities, just as our good friend the dog is an excellent shepherd to
his silly, docile flock. In her, the most ordinary ideas are so
logically dovetailed that one is tempted to accept them even when one
hesitates to approve them. Her mind must be free from baseness, for
throughout our conversation she made no effort to please me. Would it
not have needed a very quick discernment, a very uncommon shrewdness to
know so soon that she would please me better like that?

That was what I said to myself by way of encouragement, so great was my
haste to pour into her ears those instinctive words of hope and
independence which it was natural to utter. And, let them be premature
or tardy, barren or fruitful, I could not refrain from speaking them....

But suddenly she released herself: it was already past the time for
milking the cows; they must be waiting for her. Nevertheless, she gave a
shrug of the shoulders which implied that she cared little whether she
was late or not; and, with a "Good-bye till to-morrow!" she went off
heavily, making the ground ring with the steady tramp of her wooden
shoes.

For an instant I stood motionless in the orchard. Her shrill voice still
sounded in my ears; and the constraint of her attitude oppressed me. The
road by which she had just gone was now hardly visible. A fog rose from
the sea and gradually blotted out everything. The plains, the hills, the
cottages vanished one by one; and already, around me, veils of mist
clung to the branches of the apple-trees. At regular intervals, the boom
of the fog-horn startled the silence.


2

Those who pass through our life and who will simply play a part there
take shape in successive images. The first, a fair but illusive picture,
fades away as another sadly obtrudes itself; and another, paler yet,
comes in its turn; and thus they all vanish, becoming less and less
distinct until the end, until the day when a last, vague outline is
fixed in our memory.

How different is the process in the case of those who are to remain in
our existence and blend with it for all time! It is then as though the
living reality at the very outset shattered the image formed by our
admiration and triumphantly took its place. In point of fact, it
vivifies it and, later, heightens it, colours it, ever enriching it with
all the benefits which the daily round brings to healthy minds. Those
beings will always remain with us, whatever happens; they will be more
present in their absence than things which are actually present; and the
taste, the colour, the very life itself of our life will never reach us
except through them.

I thought of all this vaguely. There were two women before me: one,
coarse and awkward, was obliterating the other, so beautiful amid the
ripe corn. Alas, should I ever see that other again? Was she not one of
those images which fade out of our remembrance, becoming ever paler and
more shadowy?

I felt a little discouraged. But perhaps the sadness of the hour was
influencing me? My feminine nerves must be affected by this damp, warm
mist. I went back to the house, doing my utmost simply to think that I
was about to undertake a "rather difficult" task.

Under the lamp, which the outside pall had caused to be lit earlier than
usual, and in the brightness of the red-and-white dining-room, decked
with gorgeous flowers, I discovered another side to my interview. While
I was describing it laughingly, my disappointment had seemed natural;
and, my eagerness being now reinforced by pity, a new fervour inspired
my curiosity.

In sensitive and therefore anxious natures, the very excess of the
sensation makes the impression received subject to violent reaction. It
goes up and down, down and up; and not until it slackens a little can
reason intervene and bring it to its normal level.



CHAPTER V


1

I have before me one of those little exercise-books whose covers are gay
with pictures of soldiers or rural scenes. It is Rose's diary. I
received it this morning, I have read it and it has left me both pleased
and touched.

It is a very simple and rather commonplace narrative, but one which, in
my eyes, has the outstanding merit of sincerity. To me it represents the
story of a real living creature, of a woman whom I saw yesterday, whom I
shall see to-morrow and whose suffering is but a step removed from my
happiness. The smallest details of that story have a familiar voice and
aspect....

Poor girl! Would not one think that an evil genius had taken pleasure in
playing with her destiny, like a child playing at ball? She was born of
poor parents. Her father, a carpenter, was a drunkard and frequently out
of work. He would often come home at night intoxicated, when he would
beat his wife and threaten to kill her. Coarse scenes, visions of
murder, screams, oaths and suppressed weeping were the first images and
the first sounds that stamped themselves on Rose's memory. One's heart
bleeds to think of those child-souls which open in the same hour to the
light of day and to horror, gaining their knowledge of life whilst
trembling lest they should lose it. We see them caught in a hurricane of
madness, like little leaves whirling in the storm; and to the end of
their days they will shudder at the thought of it.

She was left an orphan at the age of six. A neighbour offered to take
her, a wealthy and devout old man, who sent her to the Nuns of the
Visitation at the neighbouring town.

Of those quiet, uneventful years in the convent there is nothing in
particular to record. The child is perfectly happy, nor could she be
otherwise, for she is naturally reasonable and she is in no danger of
forgetting how kind fate has been to her. She pictures what she might
have been, she sees what she is; and her soul is full of gladness.

In January 18--, Rose is seventeen. She is to pass her examinations the
following summer. Her diary here gives evidence of a steadfast and
wholehearted optimism; she views the future with joyous eyes, or rather
she does not see it at all, which is the surest way of smiling at it
cheerfully. Her eyes are still the eyes of a child, to whom the
convent-garden is a world and the present hour an eternity.

Unfortunately, she had a rude awakening to life. The old man who had
adopted her died after a few days' illness, without having time to make
arrangements for her future. The good sisters at once wrote to her
grandmother; and, the next day, Rose was packed off to Sainte-Colombe
with a parcel of indulgences, a few sacred medals and a scapular round
her neck. What more can a young life want to stay its uncertain steps?


2

From that moment, I see her delicate profile stand out against a
background of pain and sorrow, like a lovely cameo whose dainty
workmanship has been obliterated by the hand of time. Moral suffering
can refine and accentuate the character of a beautiful face, is indeed
nearly always kind to it. But here the mental distress was only the
feeble reflection of a crushing and deadening material torture. In the
evenings, when the hour of rest came at last, Rose, exhausted, accepted
it dully; her whole body called for oblivion; her heavy eyelids drooped;
and her submerged wretchedness had no time for tears.

How could the poor girl make any resistance? Her environment was too
hostile, her disposition too gentle and the task laid upon her too
oppressive.

The very look of her diary, during those Sainte-Colombe days, tells us
her story far better than the words which it contains. The first few
pages are filled with wild and incoherent sentences. There are passages
that can scarcely be deciphered and others blotted with tears. Her
suffering is not sufficiently well-expressed for it to be understood and
more or less identified, but it can be felt and divined: it is a
landscape of pain, it is the sight of an inner life which has received a
grievous wound and whose blood is gushing forth in torrents.

And then hope is exhausted drop by drop; and with it go anger and
resistance. Everything goes under, grows still and silent. For months,
Rose hardly touches her diary: here and there, scattered on pages
bearing no date, are occasional melancholy reflections, the last
flickers of an expiring consciousness....

It is then, no doubt, that one day she flies to death for deliverance.
She is saved, but for a long time remains ill and weak. When she
recovers her health, her spirit is finally broken. In silence and gloom,
she drowns all feeling in work too heavy for her strength.


3

In the district they blame this young girl who, after receiving a good
education, has acquiesced in this miserable existence. And yet I find a
thousand reasons which explain her conduct and cannot find one for
condemning it. Rose's soul is still in the chrysalis-stage. Ignorant of
her own strength and qualities, how could she make use of them?

Is not this the case with most young girls? If our moral transformations
could bring about physical changes, if a woman, like a butterfly, had to
pass through different phases before attaining her perfect state, we
should almost always see her stop at the first and die without even
approaching the second.

It is difficult enough for us merely to conceive that there are other
roads to follow than that laid down for us by chance or by parents too
often shortsighted; and when we make the discovery, our first dreams of
liberty appear so momentous and so dangerous! Is it not just then that
we need time to venture upon the most lawful actions, seeing that we
have no sense of their real proportion?

It is as though a wall separated the life that is forced upon us from
the life which we do not know. Little by little, slowly, by instinct as
much as by volition, we withdraw from the wall and it seems to become
lower. The sky above us becomes vaster, the horizon is disclosed before
our eyes and we at last distinguish what is happening on the other side.
Ah, what sight would compare with that, if it broke suddenly upon our
vision, if we could view life as we view the spreading country beneath
us, when we stand on the summit of a tower! All our senses, being
equally affected, would impart to our will a motive force which is, on
the contrary, dissipated by the tardiness of our feeble comprehension.

Yes, an age comes when our vision is clear and true; but often it is too
late to find a way out of the circle in which we are imprisoned. That is
the secret tragedy of many women's lives.

What would one not give to tell them, those women who tremble and weep,
to lift their minds high enough to see beyond their wretchedness! Let
them develop and strengthen themselves while still under the yoke, in
order to throw it off one day like a gossamer garment which one casts
aside without giving it a thought!...



CHAPTER VI


1

I am happy. Wonderful flowers lie at my feet, flowers which have been
plucked and flung aside: I will pick them all up again, all of them! I
will gather them in my arms and steep myself in their scent! One by one,
I will tend them till they lift their heads again, I will blend them
cunningly; and, when I have bound the fair sheaf, fate may do its worst!

It is no longer a question of the sanity or insanity of my experiment,
or my wisdom or unwisdom. There is a just action to be accomplished;
and, this time, circumstances favour my plans. In her distress, in her
horror of her present life, all the possibilities of deliverance might
have offered themselves to the girl: she would not have seen them, she
would even have fled from them instinctively, timid as an animal too
long confined. To save her, therefore, chance must take to itself a
substance and a name. Can I not be that chance?

She suffers; I will give her joy. She is tormented; I will give her
peace again. She knows not liberty; through me she will know its
rapture. Once already she has been snatched from death, but, on that
day, while they were carrying Rose to the presbytery, her long, golden
tresses wept along the wayside. But I will carry her where she pleases.
She shall be free and happy; and her hair shall laugh around her face.
It shall help me to light her destiny, for beauty is a beacon for
benighted hearts. Many will try to steer their course towards my
Roseline. It will be easy for her to choose her happiness.

True, I am aware how perilous and uncertain is my experiment. Will it be
possible to efface the evil impress left on that mind and body? How much
of her early grace, her early vigour shall we find? What will have
become of all the forces that, at seventeen, should still be frail as
promises, tender as the little green shoots of a first spring-day?

But no matter? The impulse is irresistible and nothing can stay me now.
Have no misgivings, Rose: hand in hand we will go through peril and
suspense. Embrace the hope which I offer you: I will bring it to pass.
Let nothing astonish you: all that is happening between us to-day is
natural. You will go hence because it is right that you should go; and
you will go of your own free will. It is not so much my heart which will
bring you comfort; it is rather your heart which will open. I shall find
in you all the good that you will receive from me.


2

I send for the girl without further delay. A fortnight has elapsed since
we first talked together; and I am anxious to know the result.

I look at her. A different woman is before my eyes. Is it a mistake? Is
it an illusion? No, it is all quite simple; and my words had no need to
be forcible or brilliant. The word that shows a glimpse of hope to the
sufferer has its own power.

She says nothing and I dare not question her. The wisdom that has made
her understand how serious the effect of my plans may be must also make
her fear their possible flippancy.

I have brought her into the dining-room. Sitting at the window, with her
hands folded in her lap and her head bowed, she remains there without
moving, heedless of the sun that is scorching her neck. Her wide-eyed
gaze wanders over things which it does not take in; her lips,
half-parted in a smile, betray the indecision of her soul. At last,
blushing all over her face, she stammers out:

"I am frightened. You have awakened my longings, my dreams. I am
frightened. I would rather be as I was before I knew you, when I only
wanted to die. When your message was brought to the farm, I swore that I
would not come; and yet ... here I am!"

I put my arm round her neck:

"It's too late," I whispered, kissing her. "To discuss the idea of
rebellion means to give way to it. Resist no longer, Roseline; let
yourself go."

Her incredulous eyes remained fixed on mine; and she said, slowly:

"There is one thing that puzzles me. How am I to express it? I should
like to know why you take so much interest in me: I am neither a friend
nor a relation." And she added, with a knowing air, "You see, what you
are doing doesn't seem quite natural!"

My heart shrank. So this peasant, this rough, simple girl knew the laws
of the world! She knew that, even in the manner of doing good, there are
customs to be followed, "conventions to be observed!" Ah, poor Rose,
though your instinctive reason is like a broad white fabric which
circumstances have not yet soiled, your character already has ugly
streaks in it; the voice of the multitude spoke through your lovely
mouth and, for a brief second, it became disfigured in my eyes! Alas, if
I wore a queer head-dress and a veil down my back and a chaplet hanging
by my side and said to you, "My child, I wish to save your soul," would
you not think my insistence quite simple and natural?

Taking her poor, deformed hands in mine, I knelt down beside her:

"Rose, the happiness which I find in helping you is a sufficient motive
for me; and I will offer you no others.... I give you my confidence
blindly, for one can do nothing without faith. I give you my confidence
and I ask for yours. Will you vouchsafe it me?"

The sun is streaming upon us; our faces are close together; my smile
calls for hers; my eyes gaze into hers; and I repeat my prayer.

Then she whispers, shily:

"You see ... I have been deceived once; perhaps you don't know...."

I interrupted her:

"I know that we must have been deceived twenty times before we learn to
give our confidence blindly, like a little child!... I know that we
must have been perpetually deceived before we understand that nothing
proves anything; that everything is unforeseen, inconsistent, and
unexpected; and that we must just simply 'believe,' because it is good
to believe and because it is sweet to offer to others what we ourselves
are unhappy enough to lack."

She went on:

"But what do you want me to do?"

"I want you to go away from here."

"Why?"

"Because you are wretched here."

"Has any one said so?"

"What does it matter what any one has said? I have only to look at you
to see that you are not happy. Oh, please don't regard this as an act of
charity, I would not even dare to talk about kindness! The interest that
impels me is one which you do not yet know; it looks to none for
recompense; it is its own reward. It is the mere joy, the mere delight
of knowledge.... Do you understand?"

She shook her head; and I began to laugh:

"I suppose I really am a little obscure!... But why do you force me to
explain myself now? You learn to understand me by degrees.... I am
leading you towards a goal of which I am almost as ignorant as you are;
I am only the guide waving a hand towards the roads which he himself has
taken and never knowing what the traveller will see or feel in the
depths of his being."

She was going to speak, but I placed my hand on her lips:

"Hush! I ask nothing more of you. I shall know how to win your
confidence."

I feel that she is silenced but not convinced. Hers is not a character
to be thus persuaded: she will wait for deeds before judging the
sincerity of words. I feel clearly that she is searching and judging me,
while I myself am engaged in discovering her; and I shall have some
curiosity in bending over the untroubled waters of that soul in order to
see my image there, as soon as there is sufficient light to reflect my
image.



CHAPTER VII


1

Rose is already almost happy. Hope is penetrating her life; and the
moments of rest filter into her days of wearisome toil like the cool
water trickling through the rocks.

As soon as she can get away on any excuse, she runs across to me.
Flushed and laughing, she hurls herself into my arms with all the
violence of a catastrophe; she crushes my cheek with a vehement kiss
which waits for no response; and my hair catches in the rough hands
squeezing my head. Smiling, I cannot help warding off the attack, while
she pours out a torrent of incoherent words at the top of her voice....

During our early talks, I tried speaking very quietly, as a hint that
she should do the same. She would shake the house with the thunder of
her most intimate confidences, bellowed after the fashion of the
peasants, who are accustomed to keep up a conversation from one end of a
field to the other. As I obtained no result, I had to speak to her
about it; and, because I did so as delicately as possible, in order not
to wound her feelings, she burst into a roar of laughter which showed me
that her rustic life had robbed her of all sensitiveness.

Being now authorised to admonish her at all times with regard to her
gestures, her voice and her accent, I often make her repeat the same
sentence; and, when I at last hear her natural voice, her original sweet
and attractive voice, to which the music is beginning to return, shily
and timidly, my heart overflows with joy. But, two minutes after, she is
again bawling out her most trivial remarks, with a cheerful unconcern
that disarms my wrath. Then I plead for silence as I would for mercy,
draw her down upon my lap, take her head in my arms and nurse her as I
would a child.


2

The stillness is so intense in the grove where we are sitting side by
side, I am so anxious for her to feel it, that I become impatient and
irritable. When I am with her, I am in a perpetual ferment. Her beauty
and her coarseness hurt me, like two ill-matched colours that attract
and wound the eyes. I calm myself by scattering all my thoughts over her
promiscuously; and, though most of them are carried away by the wind, I
imagine that I am sprinkling them on her life to make it blossom anew.

"I am nursing you in my arms to wake you, my Roseline, just as one
nurses children to put them to sleep. See what poor creatures we are! As
a rule, it is the conventions and constraint of our upbringing, with all
its artificiality and falsehood, that divide us. To-day, it is the
opposite that rises between you and me and spoils our happiness! I have
often longed to meet a woman who was so simple as to be almost
uncivilised; and, now that you are here, I dread your gestures and your
voice, which grate upon me and annoy me!"

"But am I not simple?" Rose asks, ingenuously.

"People generally confuse simplicity with ignorance, too often also with
silliness--which is not the case with you," I added, with a smile.
"Real, that is to say, conscious simplicity is not even recognised; and,
when it becomes active, it appears to vulgar minds a danger that must be
averted. The better to attack it, they disfigure it. It is this proud
and noble grace that I want you to acquire. Look, it may be compared
with this diamond which I wear on my finger. The stone is absolutely
simple; and yet through how many hands has it passed before becoming so!
How many transformations has it undergone! How magnificent is its bare
simplicity when set off by the plain gold ring! It is the same with us.
For simplicity to be beautiful in us, we must have cut and polished our
soul and person many times over. Above all, we must have learnt the
harmony of things and become fixed in that knowledge, like the stone
which you see held in these gold claws."

She asked, with an effort to modulate her voice:

"Oughtn't I to take you for my model?"

"No, Rose! You frighten me when you say that! You must not think of it.
Listen to me: if ever we are permitted to imitate any one, it is only in
the pains which she herself takes to improve herself. As for me, I
wanted to achieve simplicity and I looked for it as one looks for a spot
that is difficult to reach and easy to miss. For a long time, I wandered
beyond it. Rather than stoop to false customs, to lying conventions, I
followed the strangest fancies.... Now it all makes me laugh."

"Makes you laugh?"

"Yes, past errors are dead branches that make our present life burn
more brightly. But, when I see how I judge my former selves, I become
suspicious as to what I may soon think of my actual self; and therefore
I do not wish you to take me as an example."

Rose was still lying in my arms; and her beautiful eyes were looking up
at me. I raised her head in my hands and whispered, tenderly:

"I feel that you understand me, that my words touch you, that you trust
me and that you love me deep down in your heart; I feel that you also
will soon be able to speak and unburden yourself freely, to be silent
amid silence and peaceful amid the peace of things...."


3

The girl rose to her feet, with a glint of emotion animating her
features; and, as though to escape my eyes, she took a few steps in the
garden. While she was hidden by the bend of the narrow path fenced by
the tall sunflowers, my heart was filled with misgiving: her step was so
heavy, so clumsy! Would she ever be able to improve her walk? Judging by
the ponderous rhythm of her hips, one would always think that she was
carrying invisible burdens at the end of each of her drooping arms....

But she soon returned; and her fair countenance was so adorable amid the
golden glory of the great flowers that I could not suppress a cry of
admiration. She came towards me smiling; and, to protect herself a
little from the blinding sunlight, she was holding both hands over her
head. Was it simply the curve of her raised arms that thus transfigured
her whole bearing, that reduced the unwieldiness of her figure and made
its lines freer? It was, no doubt; but it was also the soft breeze which
now blew against her and accentuated the movement of her limbs by
plastering her thin cotton skirt against them. And the heavy gait now
seemed stately; and the excessive stride appeared virile and bold. I
watched the humble worker in the fields, the poor farm-girl; and I
thought of the proud _Victory_ whom my mind pictured enfolding all the
beauties of the Louvre in her mighty wings!



CHAPTER VIII


1

We were lying in the long grass, looking up at the sky through the
branches of the apple-trees and watching the clouds drift past.

The light was fading slowly, the leaves became dim, the birds stopped
singing.

"Rose, I do nothing but think of you. Who are you? What will become of
you? I should like to anticipate everything, so as to save you every
pain. Had you been happy and well-cared-for, I would have wished you
trouble and grief. But, strengthened as you now are by many trials, you
will be able to find in sorrows avoided and only seen in the distance
all the good which we usually draw from them by draining them to the
dregs."

"I am not afraid, I expect to be unhappy."

"I hope that you will not be unhappy. The change will be quite simple if
it is wisely brought about; you will drop out of your present life like
a ripe fruit dropping from its stalk."

"How shall I prepare myself?"

"So far, your chief merit has been patience. But now rouse yourself,
look around you, judge, find out your good and bad qualities."

Rose interrupted me:

"My good qualities! Have I any?"

"Indeed you have: plenty of common sense, a great power of resistance,
shrewdness. By means of these, you have been able to subdue the tyranny
of others: can you not escape from that of your failings? Your life has
adapted itself to an evil and stupid environment; it must now adapt
itself to the environment of your own self."


2

From the neighbouring farms came the plaintive, monotonous cry calling
the cattle home. The drowsy sky became one universal grey, while the
night dews covered the earth with a faint haze.

"I am surprised that, when you were so unhappy, solitude did not appear
to you in the light of a beautiful dream."

Rose's timid and astonished voice echoed my last words:

"A beautiful dream! Then do you like solitude?"

"Oh, Rose, I owe it the greatest, the only joys of my childhood! It was
to gain solitude that, later, I set myself to win my independence,
knowing that, if I did not meet with the love I wished, I should yet be
happier alone than among others."

"But, still, you do not live alone!"

I remained silent for a moment, stirred by that question which filled my
mind with the thought of my own happiness; and then I said in a whisper,
as though speaking to myself:

"Rose, my present life is the most exquisite form of independence and
solitude."

And I went on:

"Ah, Rose, to know how to be alone! That is the finest conquest that a
woman can make! You cannot imagine my rapture when I first found myself
in a home of my own, surrounded by all the things purchased by my work.
When I came in at the end of the day, my heart used to throb with
gladness. No pleasure has ever seemed to equal that blessed harmony
which reigned and reigns in my soul or that assured peace which no one
can take from me, because it depends only on my mood."

"Teach me that joy."

"It is only a brighter light of our own consciousness, a more detached
and loftier contemplation of what affects us, a truer way of seeing and
understanding...."

The girl murmured:

"Shall I ever have it?"

"Later, when you have gone away."

And, in response to her anxious sigh, I went on, confidently:

"And you will go away when you want to go as badly as I did, when your
object is not so much to escape unhappiness as to secure happiness; for,
when you become what I hope to see you, you will look at things so
differently! You will pity those about you, you will not judge them. The
irksome duties laid upon you will not be a burden to you. You will
understand the beauty of the country for the first time; and the thought
of leaving it will reveal its sweetness to you. But, on the other hand,
fortunately, new reasons for going will appeal to your conscience:
first, your just pride in what you are and what you may become; the
sense of your independence; and the vision of a wider and nobler
existence. And, in this way, you will go not to escape annoyance or to
please me, but as a duty towards yourself."


3

It was the silent hour when nature seems to be awaiting the darkness.
Not a breath, not a sound, while the colours of the day vanish one by
one before the life of the evening has yet begun to throb.

I turned to my companion. With a great labourer's knife in her hand, she
was solemnly whittling a piece of wood. She answered my enquiring
glance:

"It is to fasten to Blossom's horns; she's getting into bad ways...."

And, quickly, fearing lest she had hurt me, she added:

"I was listening, you know!"


4

Standing in the porch, we breathe the scent of the rose-trees laden with
roses. It has been raining heavily. Tiny drops drip from leaf to leaf;
the flowers, for a moment bowed down, raise their heads; the birds
resume their singing; and, in the sunbeams that now appear, slanting and
a little treacherous, the pebbles on the path glitter like precious
stones.

We had taken shelter, during the storm, inside the house, where we sat
eating sweets, laughing and talking without restraint. But now Rose is
uneasy; she looks at me and says, abruptly:

"Do you love me?"

"I cannot tell you yet."

She insists, coaxingly:

"Do tell me!"

"Darling, I have become very chary of words like that, for I know what
pain we can give if, after our lips have uttered them, they are not
borne out by all our later acts. As we grow in understanding, I believe
that it becomes more difficult for us to distinguish the exact value of
the friendship which we bestow."

"Why?"

"For the very reason that we grow at the same time less capable of
hatred, contempt and indifference. If a fellow-creature is natural, he
interests us by the sole fact of the life which he represents; and, if
circumstances make us meet him often, it will be hard for us to be
certain whether what we are actually lavishing upon him is friendship
or only interest."

She seemed to like listening to me; and I continued in the same strain:

"A moment, therefore, comes when our understanding is like a second
heart, a heart that seems to anticipate and complete the other, by
giving perfect security to its movements...."

A breath of wind passed and stripped the petals from a rose that hung in
the doorway. And our shoulders were covered with little scented wings.



CHAPTER IX


1

Beside the house, two old cypresses make great pools of shadow in the
bright, green garden. Motionless, they keep a pious and jealous watch
over the stone fountain whose basin seems to round itself into an
obliging mirror for their benefit. Here, amid the cool stillness, the
running water murmurs its unceasing orison.

I make Rose sit beside the fountain and slowly I begin unbinding her
hair.

Oh, the beauty of the honey-coloured waves that roll down her shoulders
and frame her face in their sweetness! Again and again I lifted and
shook out those long-imprisoned tresses, giving them life and liberty at
last. Rose, following the ancient fashion of our Norman peasant-women,
does her hair into a mass of tight little plaits, twisted so cruelly as
to forbid all freedom.

The better to efface the impress of their tyrannical past, I had to dip
them into water. They opened out, like sea-weed.

I had brought rich materials, jewels and flowers for Rose's adornment.
All her beauty, so long hidden, was at last to stand revealed. I knew
its potency, I divined its splendour; but her hair was too barbarously
done, her garments too coarse and rough for me to discover the character
of her beauty or say what constituted its nobility.

Rose, still smiling, held her head back patiently and, with closed eyes,
gave herself over to my tender mercies. Then another picture, a similar
picture, but tragic and now fading into dimness, rose in my mind; and,
almost in spite of myself, I said, softly:

"Your long hair must have floated like this, I expect, on the day when
you wished to die. And it must have been its splendour that would not
suffer such a catastrophe. I wonder, dear, that you should have wished
that, you who are so faint-hearted in the presence of life!"

Her forehead, bronzed by the summer suns, turned a warmer colour, like a
ripe apricot; the veins on her temples swelled a little; and she
murmured:

"I don't know ... I don't know...."

I made fruitless efforts to find out the cause of her embarrassment;
her face clouded; and she said nothing more. Then, after doing up her
hair, I began to drape a material around her. I was thoroughly enjoying
myself. Rose noticed it and asked me why I was smiling.

"Why?" I cried. "Why? Oh, of course, you are incapable at present of
understanding the pleasure which I feel! And how many are there who
could distinguish its true quality? People admire the new-blown flower,
they are touched by a child's first smile, they travel day and night to
stand on a mountain-top and see the dawn conquering the shadows of the
earth; and it is considered natural that, at such moments, our feminine
hearts, always ready to be poured out, should be filled with love and
incense. But it is thought strange that one of us should recognise and
greet the union of all the graces in the fairest of her sisters! And yet
one must be a woman to feel what I feel to-day, in unveiling and
adorning your beauty. For it charms me without intoxicating me, sheds
its radiance on me without dazzling me and makes my heart throb without
causing my hands to tremble.... When the lover for the first time
beholds the object of his love, longing clouds his eyes. Certainly, his
sentiment is no less noble or less great, but it is of a very different
nature! Other joys are mine, a thousand, new and glorious emotions,
emotions of the heart and of the mind, the childish and girlish joys of
dressing up, decorating and adorning, of creating form and colour, in a
word, beauty, the stuff of which happiness is made!"

Rose interrupted me:

"Happiness? Do you think so?"

"Yes, because beauty calls for love. Does not our happiness as women lie
above everything in love?"

Making one of those horrible movements with her feet, hands and
shoulders of which I had done my best to correct her, Rose expressed her
disgust with such violence as to undo the brooch with which I had just
fastened the folds of a long white drapery to her shoulders:

"Oh," she cried, "I hate love, I hate it!"

Then she covered her face with her open hands; slowly the material
slipped down to her waist; and her bust stood out against the dark
trees, white and pure as that of a marble statue.

The great calm that is born of beauty compelled me to silence. Rose
remained without moving, untroubled by the nudity which, at any other
time, she would have refused to unveil. Did her emotion make her
unconscious, or was it, on the contrary, lifting her to a plane in which
false modesty had no place? Did she, in that brief minute, realise how
our actions change their values in proportion to the fineness of our
perception?...

I threw my cloak round her and drew aside her hands: her face was wet
with tears. I cross-examined her: could she have suffered through love?

"What is the matter, Roseline? Why are you so bitter against something
you have never experienced?"

She tried to smile through her tears and said, innocently:

"It's nothing.... It was like a shower: it's over now, quite over....
You are right, I really don't know why love fills me with such horror!"

And she came quietly and sat down again beside the fountain.


2

For the third time, I began to coil and uncoil her hair:

"You see, I was wrong just now," I said, "when I uncovered your neck and
crowned your forehead. This is what suits you: the severe Roman style!
And, though that loathing which you expressed just now seems to me
unnatural, I feel almost tempted to excuse it in you, because it is so
much in keeping with your impassive loveliness."

Kneeling in front of her, I tried to make the folds of the material
follow the natural curves of her body. Meanwhile, Rose seemed to be
watching other reflections in the water than ours. Suddenly, she leant
forward and put her beautiful bronzed arms round my neck; and I felt
that she was willing me to look up. Then I raised my head and, when we
were gazing into each other's eyes, she said, laying a sort of grave
stress on every syllable:

"Do you forgive everything, absolutely everything?"

"To answer yes is not answering half enough," I said. And, kissing her,
I added, "If you had to tell me of a serious fault, I should love to
give proof of my indulgence; but are you not the best of girls?"

I had an impression, for a second, that she was hesitating and that I
was about to receive the solemn confession of a childish fault. But she
at once replied, in a decisive little way:

"I could not be as indulgent as you, really!"

"Because you are not so happy yet, my dearest.... Come, I have my own
reasons for spoiling you and coaxing you and wanting you to be
beautiful. I know what good fruits are born of those flowers of joy!...
But I have finished my work. Get up, Rose, come with me! Come and see
yourself a goddess!"

And I carried her off to the drawing-room.

Straight and slender in the long white folds falling to her feet, the
girl stands before the mirror and stares with astonishment at her
glorified image. Does she grasp the importance of this hour? Does she
reflect that, at this minute, one of the great secrets of her destiny
has been revealed to me by this woman's game which has given me a
child's pleasure? Does she know that the moment is grave, unmatched and
marvellous and that, by my friendly hands, chance is to-day showing her
the power which she can wield and the realm over which she can rule?

Her everyday clothes are lying at her feet: the coarse chemise, the
barbarous bodice, the hat trimmed with faded ribbons. Ah, Roseline, why
cannot I as easily fling far from you all that imprisons your life and
fetters your soul!

"You are beautiful!" I say to her. "You are beautiful! Do you know what
that means? Beauty is the source of happiness; and it is also the source
of goodness, forgiveness and indulgence! Your face, if you take pleasure
in looking at it, will teach you much better than I can what you must
be. It will make you kind and gentle and generous, if you have the wish
to be in perfect harmony with it. Thanks to your beauty, my Rose, you
will be able, if you have a true conception of its dignity, to achieve
one perfect moment in your life!"

Alas, she does not share my enthusiasm! I take her hand, I lead her
through the house, into all the rooms which she does not know. I keep on
hoping that, in a new mirror, in a different light, she will at last
catch sight of herself as she is and that she will weep for joy!...

Meanwhile, she accompanies me, serene and smiling, pleased above all at
my delight. In this way, we come to the last mirror; and my hopes are
frustrated. But, in truth, I am too much entranced with the vision which
she offers to my eyes to grieve at anything; and soon I am very much
inclined to think her admirable for not feeling what I should have felt
in her place. After disappointing me, the very excess of her coldness
captivates my interest; and my enthusiasm does not permit me to seek
commonplace or contemptible reasons for it.

When admiration fills a woman's soul, it becomes nothing but an immense
cup brimming with light, a flower penetrated by the noon-day sun until
the heat makes its perfume overpowering.



CHAPTER X


1

The shadows lengthen when the sun descends in the heavens; and those
which, in the broad light, enhance the brilliancy of all things now
overspread and gradually extinguish them. Thus do our anxieties increase
when our joy lessens; and those which made us smile in the plenitude of
our happiness before long make us weep....

She has lied to me! I am sure now that she has lied! What has she done?
What can she be hiding from me? I can imagine nothing that could kill
the interest which I take in her, but she has lied! I was certain of it
yesterday, after our talk, when I remembered her blushes and her
embarrassment. I wanted to write to her then and could not. Darkness has
fallen suddenly between her and me; and I no longer know to whom I am
speaking; I no longer know what soul hears me nor at what heart I
knocked!

A friend's lie hurts us even more than it humiliates us; it tells us
that we have not been understood and that we inspire distrust or fear. I
remember saying to her, one day:

"I would rather know that you hate me than ever feel that you fear me.
You must hide nothing from me, unless you want to wound me deeply; for
the person to whom we feel obliged to lie is much more responsible for
our lie than even we are."

But how can I hope that every one of my words will be remembered and
understood and turned to account! I enjoy talking into the soul of this
great baby as one likes singing in an unfurnished house; and I am none
the less conscious of the illusion of it all. If we are to influence a
fellow-creature, we do so best without aiming at it too carefully.
Success comes with time, by intercourse and example.


2

We are now on the threshold of autumn and the days are already short. By
seven o'clock, all the farms are sleeping....

When I left Rose yesterday, it was understood that she should sometimes
come to see me in the evening, when her day's work has not been too
hard. She is to come across the downs and tap at the shutters of the
room where I sit every evening after dinner.

To-day, I was hoping that she would not come and I gave a start of
annoyance when I heard her whisper outside the window:

"Mummy! Mummy, dear!"

It is a name which she sometimes gives me in play. Women who have no
children and do not expect ever to have any lend to all their emotions
an extra tenderness, an extra solicitude. It is that unemployed force in
our hearts which is striving for union with others.

Still, her affection displeased me this evening and, while I was putting
on a wrap, my hands trembled with irritation. Rose, thinking that I had
not heard her, raised her voice a little and repeated:

"Mummy! It's your little girl!"

I go out into the moonless, starless night, with my eyes still full of
the light indoors; and our hands meet blindly before exchanging a
pressure. She says good-evening and I kiss her without answering. I am
afraid of betraying my ill-humour; I feel that I am hard and spiteful,
but I hope that the mood will pass; and my anger, because it remains
unspoken, takes a form that favours forgiveness. If she confesses of her
own accord, without being impelled to do so by my attitude, I know that
my confidence in her will revive.

We walk in silence through the sombre avenue. The night seems darker
because no sound disturbs its stillness; only the dead leaves, swept
along by our skirts, drag along, utter a cry like rending silk.

Rose sighed:

"One would think the air was listening!"

I could not help exclaiming:

"That's rather fine, what you said then!"

And silence closes in again around our two little lives, both doubtless
stirred by one and the same thought.

We go a little farther and sit down in the fields, where an unfinished
haystack offers us a couch. We can hardly distinguish the line of the
horizon between the dark earth and the dark sky. A bat flits across our
faces; and Rose says, quietly:

"It's flying low. That means fine weather to-morrow. I must get in
the...."

And suddenly her voice breaks and she covers her face with her hands.
All is silent....

I feel myself brutally good. The certainty of the coming confession
encourages me in my coldness and I remain mute, while my heart is
beating with pity and excitement....

But she speaks at last and each note of that tear-filled voice, by turns
faltering, violent and plaintive, brings before my eyes, staring into
the darkness, every step of her soul's calvary. I listen in
astonishment. And yet do we not know that every woman's existence has
its secret? I see the long procession of those who have told me their
story. The weakest of them had found strength to love; to yield to man's
desire, the bravest had been cowardly, the truest had betrayed, the most
loyal and upright had lied. Everywhen and everywhere the flame of life
had found its way through rocks, thrust aside obstacles, subjugated
wills. Even the woman whom nature had most jealously defended, the plain
woman whom I saw imprisoned in a stunted shape and condemned to live
behind an ugly mask, even she, when she told me her love-story,
compelled me to believe that she had been the most beloved, perhaps, and
her passion the most heroic.

Rose, following the common law, had no strength to fulfil her own will,
but all strength to obey another's. Soon after arriving at
Sainte-Colombe, five years ago, she came to know a young man who had
since left the district. One day, when they were alone in the farmhouse
kitchen, he flung his arms around her and, without a word, overcame her
feeble resistance....

I could not help interrupting her story:

"Did you love him, Rose?"

"No," she said, "I did not!"

"Then, why did you yield?... Why?"

"I don't know," she sobbed. "He had such a strange, wild look, I was
frightened...."

"But what did you do afterwards?"

"He asked me to go and see him; and I went whenever he asked me...."

"Then your godmother didn't know?"

"She guessed it on the first day; and, when I refused to take anything
from him, she beat me and locked me up."

"Well, what then?"

"I managed to get out at night, by the roof...."

I would not let the subject drop:

"Then you were very, very happy when you were with him?"

But she exclaimed, artlessly:

"Oh, not at all! But he loved me, he said; and I thought that he would
always stay here, for my sake.... He went away soon, without letting me
know. When I understood that he was not coming back, I loathed myself
and him ... and I tried to do away with myself...."

She burst into fresh sobs.

I should have liked to rise and lead her away. I should have liked to
say:

"Come, cease these repinings; let us walk across the silent fields and
forget all this for ever! Every one feels love differently and looks at
it in a different light. Come, waste no time in repentance and don't go
on being angry with that man! Faults that diminish our ignorance are not
faults, but almost graces which chance bestows upon us. Come! And break
away from the bitterness that is spoiling your beauty!"

But, with a sigh, she leant her head on my shoulder and I sat motionless
and dumb: that little action on her part suddenly altered the whole
course of my feelings.

At moments of deep emotion, many different voices speak in our hearts.
They seem to clash, to drown and contradict one another; but really
they are hesitating and waiting. Even as human voices require the
striking of a chord before harmonising, so do these inner voices wait
for our unhappy friend to speak a word that shall unconsciously give the
note of the thoughts that will comfort and soothe him.

Rose whispered:

"Oh, you do not speak! Your silence frightens me!"

"Don't be afraid of it, dearest. Silence nearly always means that the
words which will follow will be just." And, summoning all my tenderness,
I added, "You see, I am trying to bind all my most diverse thoughts
together. I should like to hand them to you as I would a bunch of
flowers, for you to choose the one that will restore your peace of mind.
I am afraid of hurting you, I understand your wound so well."

The girl presses against my breast; and our kisses meet in a spontaneous
outburst of affection....

Sadly I think of all those who are weeping, weeping over like sorrows.
There are other wounded hearts bleeding in mine; my memory echoes with
the mournful prayers of the poor deluded victims of love. Alas, we are
all subject to the cruel and exquisite law that absorbs the firmest
wills in its indifferent strength!

I feel Roseline's hands quivering under my fingers, but I dare not
speak. The silence of the fields and the solemn darkness awe me. Do not
our least words seem to be written on the velvet of the night in
precious and lasting letters?...


3

At last, I wiped away her tears and long and gently tried to rally her.
But, suddenly drawing herself up, Rose cried:

"I don't understand you, I no longer understand you! What you are saying
is just so much more silence and I wait for your judgment in vain! You
have, you must have, an opinion on what I have done. The reason why I
hesitated so long to confess my fault was because I knew instinctively
that you would blame me; and now I feel you so far from me.... Please
judge me, be angry with me: it will be easier for you to forgive me
afterwards!..."

I do not know why this blind insistence offended me. Until then I had
remained calm; but at her words there burst from the depths of my being
the voice of instinct, that voice which I had tried to stifle, almost
unconsciously, by force of habit and training.... Oh, that blatant,
piercing voice! It seemed to me to rend the darkness, to scoff at my
heart and my sweet reasonableness! It was as though I saw all my kindly
dreams of tolerance and indulgence fly into a thousand splinters! Never
had I so clearly realised their brittleness. My anger was all the
greater because it was still trammelled by fragments of my reason.

I placed my hands on her shoulders and shouted close to her face, which
my eyes could not distinguish:

"Why, why will you rouse my instinct, my nerves, all those things which
should never interfere in our judgments and beyond which we should try
to look if we would understand the actions of others? You give the name
of silence to the words spoken by my reason and you wish to be judged by
a blind and senseless power! But that idiot power mercilessly condemns
all the faults committed in its name! That power, which is making me
tremble now with excitement, will tell you that you could have done
nothing worse! Do you understand? Nothing, nothing! And it will
overwhelm you with reproaches. For it is not your action that revolts
me; it is your apathy, your flabbiness, your cowardice!... You gave
yourself without knowing why! You did not surrender for the sake of the
joy that makes us fairer and better! You did not surrender because love
had taken your heart by storm! You did not sacrifice yourself to an
idea: had it been vile and base, I could still have accepted it! No, you
gave yourself without knowing why! You obeyed the will of the
first-comer, as the silliest and most docile of wives obeys the
recognised canons and conventions ... without knowing why!... Ah, Rose,
Rose! I wanted to help you to become strong and free. What a character,
what a disposition you bring me! And yet I did not ask so much! I wanted
your nature to have strength and flexibility, so that my hands might
have taken it and moulded it. I looked forward to shaping it and giving
it nobility and refinement...."

Tears choked my words. At that moment, the disappointment appeared to me
complete and irreparable. Still, so as not to sadden her unduly, I
murmured:

"Do not misunderstand me, my poor Rose; I am not saying that you soiled
yourself by yielding to that man. I should not care much if you had;
for, if the fairest forms could take birth from the mud in the gutter,
you would see me plunge my hands in it without reluctance. No, what
distresses me is your weakness; and I have simply likened your nature to
a substance without consistency and impossible to mould."

Rose moaned and sobbed:

"To please you, I will brave everything.... Don't forsake me!... Go on
loving me!..."

I divined rather than saw the body lying prone, with her head on the
ground; and the paler shadow of her hair reminded me of the dear beauty
of her. I grew calmer. The comfort of having said all that I had to say
relieved my heart and sent rippling through my veins, like a cool
stream, a more natural indulgence than that which had animated me at
first. Bending over Rose, I reflected that reason weighs heavily on a
woman's breast and that it is well to thrust it aside occasionally. I
tried to reassure her between my kisses:

"I am wrong to be so irritable and despondent; forgive me! I believe
that your nature will never be vivid or strong; but your newly-developed
conscience will save you from fresh weaknesses. Besides, in some
direction we shall find what you are capable of. Destiny asks little of
us when we have little to give it; and events pass us by of their own
accord. Your life can be gentle and passive and still be useful and
good. It is my own fault if I am disappointed: I am always more or less
of a child; and I become passionately enthusiastic on the strength of a
smile, or a pure outline, or a beautiful profile. I ought not to have
looked in you for what existed only in my imagination...."

"Then you are no longer angry with me?"

"Why should I be?"

I kissed her tenderly. Poor child, so she had suffered through love! I
pitied her; and yet the happiness of knowing her a little better
swallowed up my pity. Things move quickly in those who, not believing in
heaven, seek upon earth the beginning and the end of life and all that
comes between. And they come to prefer to the highest joys those which
foster a clearer vision and a truer comprehension.

And, trying to explain myself, I added:

"One would think that a time comes when we judge like a traveller
looking out from the top of a tower. All the differences melt into unity
before his eyes. He turns slowly and sees, on the one side, the forest;
on the other, the sea; at his feet, the noisy town, the world; a little
farther, the calm and peace of the fields; and, overhead, the infinite
indifference of the skies. And, like him, we are engrossed in what we
discover and we no longer see the tower by which we climbed nor feel
that on which our feet stand; and we are nothing, nothing but a thinking
light that settles upon some life."


4

We lay stretched in the clover that was still warm from the heat of the
day; and our arms were locked and our hair intertwined. My cheek cooled
hers, which her tears had set on fire; and the sombre peace of the sky
sank into us. We were both filled with the peculiar happiness that comes
after a painful confession, a happiness whose source is a sense of
security, a joy that seems yearning to cover us with its wings for one
halcyon hour.

"Rose, darling, never forget the feeling of relief which you have now.
That sense of security is infinitely precious. Let its fragrance remain
with you for ever. May it become impossible for you to do without it.
Seek it, insist upon it silently, even from the strangers whom you may
meet. Falsehood destroys the perfume and the bloom of women: it makes
them colourless and uniformly commonplace. Always have the courage to be
true. A sort of secret combat is waged between any two persons who meet
for the first time. Remember that, as a woman, you have always the
choice of weapons; and choose them frankly. In so doing, you will gain
courage and assurance and the great strength that springs from harmony,
from the perfect accord of our body, our mind and our speech. I do not
say that you will necessarily conquer with that weapon, but I do say
that, even if defeated, you will, contrary to the general rule, feel
mightier and more exultant than before!"

A star appeared, a quiver ran through the trees near by and passed over
all the earth. The night was rising.

I was at my ease beside my companion; our hearts were again at one. That
love-incident, however lacking in love, had brought her nearer to me.

"I do not know which path you will choose, my Rose; but we all have two
roads by which to reach the goal for which we are making: to be or to
seem. The real lovers of life will always choose the first. They will
arrive later; perhaps they will never arrive. But, after all, what does
arriving mean?"

Rose at once retorted:

"Still, why have a goal, if not to reach it?"

The girl's practical logic amused me; and our laughter rang out in
unison across the fields.

"Rose, morally speaking, the goal is really the means which we employ to
attain it. It is a light which we voluntarily flash in front of our
footsteps. We can neither miss it nor reach it, because it moves with
us. It becomes greater or smaller or is renewed, according to the
evolution of our strength and our life...."

We had risen from the ground and, as we talked, were slowly following
the path that skirts the orchard. Rose asked:

"Cannot you more or less describe your goal, the one you are speaking
about?"

I hesitated for a moment and, almost involuntarily, murmured:

"To know a little more ... to see a little farther ... to understand a
little better...."

Rose repeated, slowly and earnestly:

"To know a little more ... to see a little...."

But I laughingly stopped her, for the words sounded too serious in our
young souls.

The orchard-gate closed between us. I was walking away, when Rose called
to me:

"Come and kiss me again...."

I ran back to her. She leant over the hedge and I could only just
distinguish her face. Then our lips met of themselves, like flowers that
touch.

For a long time, in the still air, I heard her heavy footfall.



CHAPTER XI


1

Next day, Rose was with me early in the morning:

"I could not sleep," she said. "I wanted to speak to you without tears
or blushes. If I have done wrong, I have atoned for it; and it is done
with. All that remained of it was a sad memory; and, now that I have
considered it with you, even that is gone."

I look at her. Her appearance pleases me. Her step is firm, her cheeks
are pale, her eyes burning; she is living more ardently than usual. She
continues, with animation:

"You said to me once that people who believe in another life seem to
sweep their sins and their remorse up to the doors of eternity. For us,
you said, who have not that illusion, everything is different: we do not
put off paying the bill for our sins. We can recognise their
consequences; and that is our expiation." And you added, proudly, "It is
cowardly to look to another for it, even if that other were God!"

We are walking in the orchard. The long grass is bending under the
weight of the dew, which has decked it with a thousand glittering
jewels. As we pass by a tree laden with apples, Rose pulls a branch to
her and, without plucking the fruit, bites into it. I watch the lips
part and the white teeth meet and disappear in the juicy pulp. For a
second, the soft red mouth rounds over the fruit, which seems to match
its beauty and to be questioning Rose about her pitiful love-affairs.

"Then, Rose dear, you were not really happy for a moment with your
lover?"

"No."

"But he was young, I suppose, and more or less good-looking?"

She thinks for a moment and then bends her head.

"You remember it, Rose?"

The girl appears astonished and answers, hesitatingly:

"It is five years ago, I don't remember now...."

I was surprised in my turn and looked at her. What! She didn't remember!
She had forgotten that! Her lips had not retained the impress of the
first kiss!

My eyes closed and from the background of my life a bygone moment rose,
one of those memories that linger in the hearts of women with such
fidelity and vividness that they lack not a scent, a sound, a line, a
word, a look, a gesture!

I was twelve years old and he fifteen. It was at the seaside. Our
parents were talking a few steps away, but night was falling and a
fisherman's hut hid us from their eyes. He bent over to me and our lips
met in a simple kiss, simple as a flower with petals still unopened, for
we were both of us innocent....

I can still see the colour and the shape of the drifting clouds. I can
smell the mingled breath of the sea and of his boyish mouth. I can
remember how I felt as a frightened, trembling and enraptured little
girl.... A sailor was singing some way off; and the gulls that circled
between sea and sky seemed to be keeping the last rays of daylight upon
their white wings.

Why, I know that boy's mouth by heart and shall always know it! We often
kissed again, without even dreaming that, at this game as at all games,
there might be room for progress!... And then ... and then ... that's
all I remember of him.... The next is another memory, at another place
and another age.... And then another again....


2

Would one not think that, in the more or less happy lives of us women,
in our more or less easily traversed roads, the sensations of love are
so many illuminated floral arches that mark the different stages of our
accomplishment? We go up to them, we pass through them with hopes,
smiles or sighs. But, whatever they may be, we come out of them fairer
and better. What should we be without that, without love? The love which
is rebuked, which we are supposed to hide and blush for! The love that
entreats both our strength and our weakness, our patience and our
fervour, our passion and our reason! The love that sets in motion our
highest faculties and our lowest instincts, that makes each of us know
her own power and her own poverty by the part which she allows it to
play in her life!

In that moment, I saw and lived my joys in the kisses of childhood and
girlhood. I travelled my road again; and the arches of light seemed
higher to me and they followed hard on one another, becoming ever more
radiant and decked with gayer flowers, until this very hour when the
desired happiness has been found, established and kept fast....


3

My thoughts return to Rose, who has sat down under a tree; and I stretch
myself beside her.

A herd of cows suddenly enters the orchard. White and brown, they plunge
among the apple-trees; driven by a child, who is taking them down to the
long grass, they amble heavily along in meek-eyed resignation. A smell
of cow-shed at once reaches our nostrils; and, in the silence, we hear a
noise of busy munching....

"Darling, you, who have always lived in the midst of nature, should have
sounder and more accurate ideas on love than those of other women, while
mine are a little warped by my over-cultivated nerves and feelings. If,
for instance, you had said to me, yesterday, 'I gave myself because it
was natural,' you would have dominated my poor reason from the pinnacle
of an essential truth."

Without quite understanding what I say, Rose smiles in answer to my
smile and we remain silent; our eyes gaze without seeing and our idle
hands trail in the wet grass. We hear, without listening, the hoarse,
fat, cooing-voluptuous voices of the doves: in the cool air of the
morning, among the leaves, the flowers and the branches, it is an
undercurrent of joy rising and falling, suspended for a moment and then
beginning again, in unwearying repetition.

Rose murmurs:

"Why are you always saying that I cannot make progress without love? It
makes me unhappy when you say that. I should have liked to have nothing
in the world but your affection. You kissed me so tenderly last night,
over the hedge."

"It is not the same thing, Rose darling. Certainly, there is nothing
more harmonious and purer than the kiss that joins the lips of two
friends like ourselves. But it is not the same thing as the kiss of
love, for the value of that lies not only in what it is, but in what it
promises; and it is a delight that sometimes echoes through our whole
lives.... You will have to love before you understand."

The girl folded her arms around my waist as though to bind herself to
me:

"But how would you have me love any one but yourself?" she asked. "Have
you not given me happiness? When I am with you, I seem to be living in a
fairy-tale."

Despite the pleasure which her words gave me, I made an effort to combat
them.

The character of a woman who tries to be just is full of these little
contradictions. In proportion as her heart is satisfied, she finds her
intellect becoming clearer and stronger; and what calls for her judgment
rarely leaves her heart unmoved. If Rose had not protested, I should
still have spoken, from a sense of duty, but my words would have been
without warmth or conviction. Now it seemed to me that her charming
compliment gave added force to what I was about to utter in the interest
of another's happiness.

She leant her face against my breast and my fingers played with her
sunny hair, her unbound hair, which was now waving joyously, crowning
her with a shimmer of amber and gold.

"No," I replied, "you must fall in love in order to develop and expand.
Our women's lives are like summer days: wisdom tells us to follow their
evolution. After the morning's waiting, we want the noon-day splendour
and rapture. As you never had that rapture, you have not yet known love:
and, at your age, is not that an absurd and miserable ignorance? Is it
not right to wish for love and even to force its coming? Those who go on
waiting for it in meek resignation appear to me so guilty!... Life has
always seemed to me to be divided into two parts: the search for love;
and love. As long as we are not in love, let us continue the search for
it; let us seek stubbornly, madly, cruelly, if need be; let us be
untiring and unrelenting. There are no obstacles for the woman with a
resolute will. Let each of us follow that quest in her own manner,
according to her strength, her means and her courage, through every
danger and every pain. When we have at last found love, or rather our
love, let us go towards it without fear, without false modesty; and, if
we are loved, let us not wait to be entreated for what we can offer
generously. Let us never be pilfered of that which it is our privilege
to give!"

A tendril drops from the creeper above us and caresses our faces....

How delightful life is at this moment! The air is filled with rejoicing,
with the murmur of an infinite happiness! A tremulous haze hovers over
the fields, the insatiate doves reiterate their glad refrain. Around us,
here and there, a slender blade of grass shakes beneath the light weight
of a butterfly. But is not everything lovely in the eyes of a woman who
is talking of love? It is as though happiness were the harbinger of her
glance, flying ahead and settling upon things.

Rose, all attention and curiosity, now questioned me:

"But you, what did you do?"

"In my case," I said, "when I knew that he loved me too, I went to his
country to find him. I can still see us walking in a meadow all bright
with flowers. On the horizon, the blue sky met the sea; and, behind us,
the red roofs, the church-steeples and the tiny white houses of a Dutch
village slowly vanished from sight. He gave me his arm; and it was a joy
to me to let him feel the gladness in my heart by the motion of my hip,
on which he leant slightly. Then he said, 'You walk like a queen for
whom her subjects wait.' And I knew from his words that he was still
waiting for me, though I was by his side, and they suddenly told me
what a blissful kingdom I had to offer him!"

"Did you seek long before that day came?"

"No, once I was free, I found happiness after a few months of trouble
and difficulty; but you see, dear, I would have gone to the other end of
the world to meet my love! I had no need to journey so far; and this
makes me inclined to think that, in our search, we need to be attentive
even more than active!"

Roseline murmured, pensively:

"The men say that a certain amount of preliminary experience in love is
indispensable ... to them."

My whole soul revolted. Releasing myself from the girl's embrace, I
sprang to my feet and faced her:

"But, Rose, isn't it the same with us? And is it right to expect that a
woman should rivet her whole existence to the first smile, to the first
look, the first word that moves her? Sensible people tell us that
marriage is a lottery! By what aberration of the intellect do they come
to admit that a being's whole life should be voluntarily subjected to
chance? Not one of us would consent to such a degradation, if women in
general were not absolutely ignorant! And that is why many, too
clear-sighted to submit to a ridiculous law and lacking the courage to
infringe it, die without having known the flavour and the goodness of
life. Oh, what injustice! Is youth not short enough as it is? Is the
circle in which our poor intelligence moves not sufficiently limited?
And is it necessary, in addition, to chain us to phantom principles,
which falsify nature, disfigure goodness and vilify the miracle of the
kiss and the innocence of the flesh?"

I was standing against a tree, a few steps away from Rose; and my hand
plucked nervously at the leaves within my reach. The blue sky seemed
hypocritical to my eyes, the beauty of the flowers crafty and mocking. I
continued, in a tone of conviction:

"It is right that woman should make her own experiments, it is right
that she should know men to judge which of them harmonises with her....
It is by constantly encountering alien souls that she will form an idea
of what her twin soul should be. Yes, I know that a natural law rejects
this morality; and that is why I do not think the woman should give
herself until she is quite certain of her choice. It is true that her
experiments will be incomplete; the senses will have played but a small
part in them, or none at all; but must we not accommodate ourselves to
the inevitable? In any case, that woman will indeed be enlightened who,
regardless of public opinion, lives freely in the man's company,
studying him, observing him and sometimes even loving him!"

Rose listened to me without a word or a movement; only, every now and
then, her long, dark lashes, tipped with gold, would flicker for a
moment and then droop discreetly on her cool, fresh cheeks. But the
thought of her own frailty suggested an objection; and she asked:

"Don't you think that what you propose is difficult for the woman?"

"Oh, yes, difficult and, to many of us, impossible! Through a want of
pride, through love or pity, they resign themselves to an act of which
their reason does not approve and they wake up unhappy, sometimes for
ever.... It is difficult, for the woman who resists appears to the man a
sort of monster, abominable and detestable. Ah, there must be no
desertion before possession! Because we have given him our lips, we must
make him a present of our lives! Because we have consented to certain
pleasures, we must, so that he may enjoy a greater, sacrifice our future
to him!... In fact, he goes farther and says that woman, when she
indulges in those experiments, is following the dictates of a loathsome
and mean self-interest. Self-interest, when this conduct entails endless
dangers and bitterness! Self-interest, when it demands of us, before
all, an absolute contempt of a world to which nearly all are slaves,
when it exposes us to insults and suffering and increases the number of
our enemies and multiplies the obstacles in our path!... No, that woman
is not selfish who, in all good faith, plunges boldly into the adventure
at the risk of ruining herself, comes near to a man, thinking that she
has found what she is seeking and hoping that love may result. She feels
the promptings of her senses and does not resist her heart, but her
reason is awake! She will not give herself unless everything that she
learns confirms her expectations; she will give herself if she really
believes that the happiness of both depends upon it; and the combat that
is waged enables her to judge clearly of the quality of their love. She
is judge and combatant in one. She lets herself be carried along so that
she may have fuller knowledge; and it is not without pain, it is not
without love that, at the eleventh hour, she will, if need be, refuse
herself."

Rose here interrupted me:

"If she loves, if she suffers, why does she refuse herself?"

"There are a thousand degrees in love; and a woman of feeling always
suffers when she inflicts suffering."

I examined my mind for a moment and, as though it were uttering its
thoughts backwards, I continued, slowly:

"It is sometimes our duty to inflict suffering. The man's instinct is
always more or less blinded by desire; he always, either craftily or
brutally, proposes. It is for us to dispose. We are all-powerful. Peace
or discord springs from our will. He is not as well fitted to choose as
we are, because he has not the same reasons for wishing to see
comradeship follow upon passion, to see rapture give way to security. If
we are one day to be the mother of the child, are we not first of all
the mother of love? Are we not at the same time the cradle and the
tabernacle of that god? In any happy couple, is love not cast in the
woman's image much more than in the man's? The man has a thousand
things that attract and retain him elsewhere; his temperament is more
prodigal and less considerate than ours. It is in the woman that love
dwells; her sensitive nature leads her to a higher knowledge in the art
of loving; and the infinite details of her tenderness can make her seem
perfect in her lover's eyes when they do not render her exclusive...."

Struck by this last word, Rose exclaimed:

"What! According to you, love should not be exclusive!" And, lowering
her voice, she asked, "Are you not faithful?"

"We do not even think of being faithful as long as we love. We should
blush to offer love the cold homage of fidelity: it is a word devoid of
meaning in the presence of a genuine love. In love fidelity is like a
chain disappearing under the flowers. If it is one day seen, that means
that the flowers are faded."

I kneel beside her and, taking her in my arms, kiss her fondly. Through
the exquisite silence of the day, the church-bell rings out the
_Angelus_ in notes of gold. The garden is flooded with sunshine; and the
marigolds, the phlox, the jasmines, the scabious and the mallows push
their heads above their white railing. Each eager heart turns towards
the light.

"You see, my Roseline: just as the great sun shines in his glory and
governs the realm of flowers, so love must be king in the lives of us
women! He reigns and is independent of any but himself. Only," I added,
laughing, "though we accept him as king, we must not make a tyrant of
him. Poor love! I wonder what wretched transformation he must have
undergone through the ages for us to have managed to invest him with the
most selfish of human sentiments, the sense of property! So far from
that, we ought mutually to respect the life that goes with ours and
never seek to restrain it."

There is a pause; and Rose, with her face pressed to my cheek, almost
whispers:

"You are not jealous?"

I felt myself flushing and would have liked not to answer. But, alas,
would she not by degrees have discovered all the pettiness that is
ill-concealed under my thin veneer of self-control and determination? I
tried to reveal it all in one sentence:

"Know this, Rose, that it is in myself and in myself alone that I study
the women that I would not be!"


4

I watch my great girl while she talks. This rustic beauty, in her cotton
bodice, her blue print skirt and her wooden shoes, no longer shouts. She
expresses herself better and does not gesticulate so violently. She is
quieter in her movements and her shyness is not unattractive. Rays of
light filter through the branches and cast shifting patches of light on
her face and figure. I always love to observe the details of her beauty,
but to-day my heart contracts for a moment as my eyes follow the curve
of her chin, which is charming, but devoid of all firmness, and her
whole profile, which is beautiful, but lacking in decision....

Will Rose be one of those who accomplish themselves by means of love,
who exalt themselves by exalting it, who master and improve themselves
the better to control it?

Love is the great test by which our values are reckoned and weighed. The
fond vagaries of the body have taught the proud soul its limits; and
reason has wilted under a kiss like a flower under the scorching sun.
Every woman has known the exquisite luxury of forgetting herself, of
losing herself so utterly that no other thing at the moment appears to
her worth living for. She has heard the voice of the charmer exhorting
her to abandon pride, ambition, her own personality, to become, in
short, no more than an atom of happiness under a dark and splendid sky
which each moment of felicity seems to adorn with a new star.

Where the weak woman goes under, her stronger sister is never lost. The
lower she may have fallen, the higher she raises herself. She returns
from each of her strayings more fit for life. She is more resisting, for
she has known how to sway and bend without breaking; more indulgent,
because she has seen herself encompassed with weakness and beset with
longings. She knows how frail is the spring that regulates her strength,
but also how necessary that strength is to her happiness. She has come
to understand what real love means, that the union of man and woman
approaches the nearer to perfection the less the two wills are fused.
She has understood, above all, that, to contain, glorify and keep love,
we need all the energy of our respective personalities and all the
benefit of our dissimilarity!

Rose was silent.

I lay on the grass, with my arms outstretched and my eyes fixed on the
sky; and the breeze sent my hair playing over my lips. For a long while
afterwards, my thoughts continued to wander amid the fairest things in
the world.



CHAPTER XII


1

It is typical autumn weather, a dull, dark day which seems never to have
fully dawned. Beneath the burden of the weary, oppressive clouds, the
grass is greener and the roads more distinct. The light seems to rise to
the sky instead of falling from it.

I have been in the kitchen-garden for an hour. There all the plants are
beaten down by the wind and the rain; the asparagus-fronds lie across
the paths like tangled hair; but the broad-bottomed cabbages are a joy
to the eye, with their air of comfortable middle-class prosperity.
Looking at their closely enfolded hearts, I seemed to recover the
illusion of my childhood, of the days when my eyes pictured mystery in
their depths....

How amazed we are when one of our senses happens to receive a sudden
impression, in the same way as when we were children! We behold the same
object simultaneously in the present and the past; and between those two
points, identical and yet different to our eyes, our memory tries to
stretch a thread that can help it to follow the thousand and one
intermediate transformations which have led us from the false to the
true, from the wonderful to the simple, from dreams to reality. We
should, no doubt, discover here, in the subtle history of our sensations
and the different ways in which we received them, the gradual forming of
our character, the pathetic progress of our little knowledge, all the
frail elements of our personal life; in a word, the plastic substance of
our joys and sorrows....

I think of the little girl that I was, but between her and me there
stands a long array of children, girls and women. And I can do nothing
but inwardly repeat:

"How soon we lose our traces!..."

I smile at the memory of myself as we smile at the unknown child that
brushes against us in passing; and I leave myself to return to Rose....


2

She is a never-failing source of satisfaction to me. My dreams glory in
having discovered so much hidden virtue here, at my door; and I am
surprised at the new pleasures which I am constantly finding in her.

In certain natures predisposed to happiness, such happy surprises are
prolonged and constantly renewed; and this may be one of the innocent
secrets of the intellect. Are there not a thousand ways of interpreting
a feeling, even as there are a thousand ways of considering an object?
Our mind observes it daily under a different aspect, turns and turns it
again, sees it from above and below, sees it near and from afar and
loves to show it off and place it in the most favourable light. The mind
of every woman, especially of a woman with an artistic bias, is not
without a secret harmony of colour, line and proportion. Something
intentional even enters into it; and the caprices of her soul are often
but an outcome of her desire to please. Her natural instinct, which is
always inclined to give form to the most subtle of her sensations,
enables her to find in goodness the same clinging grace which she loves
in her clothes. She likes her happiness to be obvious and highly
coloured, that it may rejoice the eyes of those around her; and, so as
not to sadden their eyes, she paints the bitterness of her heart in
neutral shades of drab and grey. By thinking herself better, she appears
prettier in her own sight; and it seems to her, as she consults her
mirror, that she is replying to her own destiny. The soft waves of her
hair teach her how frail is her will by the side of her life. She learns
to bestow her own reward on the sympathy of her heart by crowning her
forehead with her two bare arms; and, when she sees the long folds of
her dress winding around her body, she recognises the sinuous, slow, but
determined bent of her feminine power.

I remember once being present at a meeting between two women who gave me
a charming proof of our natural inclination to lend shape and substance
to our thoughts and feelings. They were of different nationalities and
neither of them could speak the other's language. Both were of a warm
and sensitive nature, endowed with an analytical and artistic
temperament; and, as soon as they came together amidst the boredom of a
fashionable crowd, they sat down in a corner and, with the aid of a few
ordinary words, of facial expression, of vocal intonation, but above all
by means of gesticulation, they succeeded, in a few moments, in
explaining themselves and knowing each other better than many do after
months of intercourse.

I was interested in this strange conversation, this dialogue without a
sentence, but so vivid and expressive, in the same breath childish and
profound; for they wished to show each other the inmost recesses of
their souls and they had nothing to do it with but two or three
elementary words. How pretty they were, the fair one dressed in red and
the other, who was dark, all in white, with camellias in the dusk of her
hair. They were not at all afraid of being frivolous and would linger
now and then to examine the filmy muslins and laces in which they were
arrayed.

The elder had already chosen her path, the younger was still seeking
hers; but the characters of both were alike matured and their minds
completely formed. Both of them in love and happy in their love, they
tried above all to express their tastes and ideas.

To understand each other, they employed a thousand ingenious means.
Their mobile faces eagerly questioned each other with the unconscious
boldness of children who meet for the first time. They took each other's
hands, looked at each other, read each other's features. At times, they
would make use of things around them: a light here, a shadow there,
people, objects. Once I saw the fair-haired one take up a Gallé cup that
stood near. For a minute, she held her white arm up to the light; and
through her fingers the lovely thing seemed like a flash of crystallised
mist in which precious stones were shedding their last lustre.

I forget the various images, childish and subtle, by which she was able
to show her friend all her sensitive soul in that fragile cup. A little
later, there was some music; and the dark one sang while the fair one
accompanied her on the piano. Through the sounds and harmonies I heard
the perfect concord of those two lives, which had known nothing of each
other an hour or two before....

It was an exquisite lesson for me, a wonderful proof that women's souls
are able to love and unite more easily than men's, if they wish. And I
once again regretted the unhappy distrust that severs and disunites us,
whereas all our weaknesses interwoven might be garlands of strength and
love crowning the life of men.


3

By a natural trend of thought, Rose appeared to me contrasted with those
two rare creatures....

Rose is not sensitive and is not artistic. No doubt, when she left
school, she could play the piano correctly and likewise draw those
still-life studies and little landscapes by means of which the
principles of art and beauty are carefully instilled into the young
mind. But she did not suspect that there could be anything else. She saw
nothing beyond the ruined mill which she drew religiously in charcoal;
twenty times over, she set an orange, a ball of worsted and a pair of
scissors together on the window-sill without seeing any of the wonders
which the garden offered her.

Later, when every Sunday she played _The Young Savoyard's Prayer_ on the
organ, her placid soul conceived no other harmonies. She never felt,
within the convent-walls, that divine curiosity, that blessed
insubordination of the artist-child which obtains its first
understanding of beauty from its hatred of the ugliness around it and
which turns towards pretty things as flowers and plants turn towards the
light.

Ah, my poor Rose, how I should like to see you more eager and alive! In
the close attention which you give me, in the absolute faith which you
place in me, my least words are invested with a precision of meaning
that invites me to go on speaking; but how weary I am at heart! Oh, let
us pass on to other things: it is high time! Let us not sink into
slumber and call it prudence: up to now I have been content to see you
sitting patiently at my feet; but I no longer want you there. Enough of
this! I dream of roaming with you at random in the open fields, I dream
of making you laugh and cry, of feeling your young soul fresh and
sensitive as your cheeks. I dream of stirring your heart and rousing
your imagination. We will go far across the countryside; together we
shall see the light wane and the darkness begin; and, since you love me,
you must needs admire with me the rare beauty of all these things!...



CHAPTER XIII


1

Rose was to have a holiday the next day. We arranged that she should
come with the trap from the farm, the first thing in the morning, to
fetch me.

We start at six o'clock. The harness-bells tinkle gaily to the heavy
trot of the big horse; and we laugh as we are jolted violently one
against the other. We drive through the villages, those happy Normandy
villages where everything seems eloquent of the richness of the soil.
They are still asleep, the white curtains are drawn and the geraniums on
the window-ledges alone are awake in all their glowing bloom. A faint
haze veils the fields and imparts to things a soft warmth of tone that
makes them more soothing to the eyes. The sun rises and we see the
breath of earth shimmer in its first rays.

We have never yet been for a whole day's outing together; everything is
new in my new pleasure. I look at Rose beside me. I had wanted her to
put on her peasant clothes; and I find her beautiful in her scanty garb
in the cool morning air.

We follow the long hog's-back that commands a view of the whole country
round. Here and there, tiny villages float like islands of green amid
the wide plains. A row of poplars lines the way on either side. Their
yellow leaves quiver and rustle in the breeze. The rooks stand out
harshly against the white road. And the mist, which is beginning to lift
in places, reveals a deep-blue sky.

The keen air that enters my throat and makes my mouth cold as ice tells
me of the smile that flickers over my face; and my pleasure is
heightened by the sight of my happiness. A woman sees herself anew in
everything that she beholds; life is her perpetual looking-glass. In our
memory, the flowers in a hat often mingle with those along the road; and
sometimes the muslin of a dress enfolds the recollection of our gravest
emotions.

O femininity, sublime and ridiculous, wise and foolish! Never shall I
weary of surprising its movements and variations deep down in my being!
How it fascinates me in all its shades and forms! I let it play with my
destiny as much from reason as from love, for we know that nothing can
subdue it. I worship it in myself, I worship it in all of us! It may
exhaust us in the performance of superhuman tasks, it may let us merely
dally with the delight of being beautiful, it may chain us to our bodies
or deliver us from their tyranny, it may adorn life or give it, enrich
it or kill it: always and everywhere it arouses my eager interest. Ever
unexpected and changeful, it floats in front of our woman's souls like a
gracious veil that draws, unites and yet separates....

The even motion of the trap lulls my dreams and we drive on, in the
midst of the plains, the fields and the woods. We pass through a dense
flock of sheep. The warm round backs, the gentle, anxious faces push and
hustle, while the thousand slender legs mingle and raise clouds of dust
along the roadside. The timid voices bleat through space; and a pungent
scent fills our nostrils. We are now going down into the valley. The
village appears, among the trees: a cluster of red and grey roofs;
little narrow gardens; white clothes hung out and fluttering in the
sunlight. Beyond are broad meadows dotted with peaceful cows and
streaked with running brooks. There, just in the middle, a factory
displays its grimy buildings. It is an eye-sore, but it leaves the mind
unscathed. Does it not represent definite and deliberate activity amid
the unconsciousness of nature?...

At this moment, Rose turns towards me; and I seem to read a sadness in
her eyes:

"What are you thinking of?" I ask.

"I am thinking that I should like to go away altogether and that we have
to be back tonight."

I kissed her and laughed.

"My darling, you must live and be happy in the present: there is plenty
of room there."

We arrived at the country-house to which I was taking her. Pretty women
in delicate morning-wraps were eagerly awaiting us on the steps, while
some of the men, attracted by the sound of our wheels, leant out from a
window to see my pretty Rose. There was a general cry of admiration:

"Why, she's magnificent!"

We stepped out of the trap and I pushed Rose towards the party, with
whispered words of encouragement; but, suddenly bending forward, with
her feet wide apart, her arms-swinging and her cheeks on fire, she dips
here and there in a series of awkward bows....

They were kind enough not to laugh; and I led the girl through the
great, cool echoing rooms, multiplied by the mirrors and filled with
marvels....


2

The sun streams through the immense, wide-open windows; and the harmony
of the ancient park mingles with that of the silk hangings and the old
furniture. The fallen leaves sprinkle tears of gold upon the deep green
of the lawns. The soft-flowing river welcomes with a quiver the perfect
beauty of the skies; rare shrubs and delicate flowers set here and there
sheaves and garlands of joy; and the golden sand of the paths
accentuates the variety of the colours. On the hill opposite, a wood
gilded by the autumn seems to be lying down like some huge animal; in
the distance, the tree-tops are so close together that one could imagine
a giant hand stroking its tawny fur. On either side of the tall
bow-windows, the scarlet satin of the curtains falls in long, straight
folds.

Let us be in a palace or a hovel, in a museum or an hotel: is not our
attention always first claimed by the window? However little it reveals,
that little still means light and life, amid our admiration of the rare
or our indifference to the ordinary. The windows represent all the
independence, hope and strength of the little souls behind them; and I
believe that I love them chiefly because they were the confidants and
friends of my early years, when, as an idle, questioning little girl, I
would stand with my hands clasped in front of me and my forehead glued
to the panes. My childhood spent at those windows was a picture of
patient waiting.

Often they come back to me, the windows of that big house in a
provincial town, on one side lighted up and beautiful with the beauty of
the gay garden on which their lace-veiled casements opened, on the other
a little dark and lone, as though listening to the voice and the dreary
illusion of the church which they enframe....


3

The current of my life, diverted for a moment, returned to the present
and, as always, it swelled with the gladness that rises to our hearts
whenever chance conjures up a past whose chains we have shattered.

Happier and lighter at heart, I continued with Rose my visit to the
galleries, the gardens and the hot-houses. The luncheon passed off well.
Rose was quite at ease and suggested in that elegant setting a stage
shepherdess, whose beauty transfigured the simplest clothes. A silk
kerchief with a bright pattern of flowers is folded loosely round her
neck; her chemisette and skirt are freshly washed and ironed, her hands
well tended and her hair gracefully knotted. She introduces a striking
and very charming note into the Empire dining-room. More than once,
during lunch, I congratulated myself on not having yielded to the
temptation to adorn her with the thousand absurd and cunning trifles
that constitute our modern dress, for her little blunders of speech and
movement found an excuse in her peasant's costume. Nevertheless, she
answered intelligently the questions put to her on the treatment of
cattle and the cultivation of the soil; and I had every reason to be
proud of her. Her grave and reserved air charmed everybody. If she often
grieves and disappoints me, is this not due more particularly to the
absence of certain qualities which her beauty had wrongly led me to
expect?


4

Before taking our seats in the trap, we go for a stroll through the
village. As we pass in front of the baker's, a splendid young fellow,
naked to the waist, comes out of the house and stands in the doorway.
The flour with which his arms and his bronzed chest are sprinkled
softens their modelling very prettily. His sturdy neck, on which his
head, the head of a young Roman, looks almost small, his straight nose,
long eyes and narrow temples form a combination rarely seen in our
district. I was pointing him out to Rose, when he called to her
familiarly and congratulated her on visiting at the great house. I saw
no movement of foolish vanity in her; on the contrary, there was great
simplicity in her story of the drive and the lunch. I was pleased at
this and told her so, later, when we were back in the trap.

"The poor fellow is afraid of anything that might take me from him," she
said. "He must be very unhappy just now, for he has been imploring me
for the last two years to marry him."

I gave her a questioning look; and she went on:

"I did not want to. I would rather end my days in poverty than languish
for ever behind a counter. Still, his love would perhaps have overcome
my resistance, if I had not met you."

She leant over to kiss me. I returned her caress, though I felt a little
troubled, as I always do when I receive a positive proof of the way in
which I have changed the course of her life. At the same time, I
realised that her nature contained a sense of pride, in which till then
I had believed her entirely deficient. I remained thoughtful, but not
astonished. We end by having opinions, on both men and things, which are
so delicately jointed that they can constantly twist and turn without
ever breaking.

Meanwhile, the horse was jogging peacefully along; we were going towards
the sea, for I wanted to finish our holiday there. The willow-edged
river followed our road; and we already saw the white sheen of the
cliffs at the far end of the valley.

Soon we are passing through the little old town, where a few visitors
are still staying for the bathing, though it is late in the season. At
the inn, where we leave our horse and trap, they seem to think us a
rather odd couple. I laugh at their amused faces, but Rose is
embarrassed and hurries me away. All the dark and winding little streets
lead to the sea. We divine its vastness and immensity beyond the dusky
lanes that give glimpses of it. In front of one of those luminous
chinks, under a rounded archway, an old woman stands motionless; she is
clad like the women of the Pays de Caux: a black dress gathered in thick
pleats around the waist, a brown apron and a smooth, white cap flattened
down over her forehead. Poor shrivelled life, whose features seem to
have been harshly carved out of wood! She is like an interlude in the
perfect harmony of things. I utter my admiration aloud, so that my
Roseline's eyes may share it; and we pass under the archway.

We are now on the beach; the wind lashes our skirts and batters my large
hat, which flaps around my face. For a more intimate enjoyment of the
sea, we run to it through the glorious, exhilarating air which takes
away our breath. Over yonder, a few people are gathered round a hideous
building all decked out with bunting. It is the casino. We hasten in the
opposite direction. On the patch of sand which the sea uncovers at low
tide, some boys disturb the solitude; but they are attractive in their
fresh and nervous grace, with their slender legs, their energetic
gestures and their as it were beardless voices. Their frolics stand out
against the pale horizon like positive words in a blissful silence.

As we sat down on the shingle, the sun facing us was still blinding; and
I reflected that, when my eyes could endure its brilliancy, it would be
like our human happiness, very near its end....

The excitement of the lunch at the big house has not yet passed off; and
Rose laughs and is amused at everything. Has she to-day at last, by the
contact of those happy, care-free lives, foreseen an approaching
deliverance from hers? Of all the things that we have seen together, how
much has she really observed? Has the test to which I tried to submit
her to-day proved vain? As a guide to her impressions, I traced the
outline of my own before her eyes. I questioned her. Then it seemed to
me that, in bending my thoughts upon Rose, I saw her as we see our image
in the water, with vaguer hues and less decided lines. The girl merely,
from time to time, added a word expressing her contentment, a thought of
her own; and to me it was as though a little sunbeam had played straight
on the water and the image through the leafy branches....

Does this mean that we see here a mere reflection, an utterly hollow
soul, into which the leavings of other souls enter naturally? If it
seems to me, at this moment, to borrow light and blood from me, is that
a reason for thinking that it possesses neither sap nor sunshine? No, a
thousand times no! True, I am the mother of her real life and she must,
so to speak, pass through my soul before reaching hers. But, though we
are of one mind, we are two distinct natures, two very different
characters. It is a question not only of one creature attaching herself
to another, but of an awakening and self-enquiring spirit, of a late and
sudden development. Rose does not wish to copy me. Honestly and
diligently, she spells and lisps to me something like a new language,
with the aid of which she will soon be able in her turn to express
herself and to feel. There are moments when she seems to understand me
perfectly, even to my inmost thoughts; and I sometimes say to her:

"Where was she in the old days, the girl who understands me so well now?
What did she do? Where did she live?..."

But where are all of us before the hour that reveals us to ourselves?
And what manner of being would he be who had never undergone any
influence or contact, who had never seen anything, felt anything? All
impressions, whether of persons or things, come to us from without, but
little by little and so imperceptibly that there is never a day in our
lives that may be called the day of awakening. And yet it exists for all
of us, shredded into decisive and fugitive minutes throughout our lives.
Imagine for an instant that we could gather them, put them together and
place them all in the hands of one being who, with one movement, would
scatter them all around us. Would not the change in our character, in
our thoughts, in our feelings be very remarkable? Would we not appear
actually "possessed" by that person, who, after all, would have been but
the instrument of a natural reaction of all our inert forces?

Filled with these thoughts, I said to Roseline:

"Dearest, once your life is kindled into feeling and expression, I can
no longer distinguish it, for it is absorbed in mine.... I shall soon be
going away; and all that I shall know of you will be your beauty, your
unhappiness and the tenderness of your heart."

Her great, innocent eyes, lifted to mine, asked:

"Is not that enough?"

And, almost ashamed of my doubts, I at once added:

"You shall come where I am; whatever happens, be sure that I will not
desert you."

With an abrupt gesture, she flung her arms around me; and, as we looked
into each other's eyes, the same mist rose before them. Was she at last
about to accompany me into the depths of my soul?

My heart burns with the fire of this new and longed-for emotion; and I
feel two crystal tears, two tears of sheer delight, slowly follow the
curve of my cheeks. Rose's own sensibilities have been blunted for a
time by her rough life; she does not yet know how to weep for happiness;
and, almost frightened, she convulsively presses her clasped hands
against her breast, as though she feared lest it should burst with the
throbbing of her joy.

I placed my lips to the long golden lashes, I gathered the dear,
timorous tears that seemed still uncertain which path to take; and,
behind the veil of my kisses, they gushed forth without fear or shame.


5

The setting sun was no more than a thin crimson streak on the dividing
line of sky and sea; and the peaceful billows whispered mysteriously in
the dusk that rose from every side.

It was time to go. When we were both standing, so frail and
insignificant on the great empty beach, a wave of passionate gratitude
overwhelmed both our hearts; and I at last believed that all nature--the
sea, the meadows and the fields--had wrought its work of love and beauty
in my Rose.



CHAPTER XIV


1

Immense black clouds scudded past in the darkness; a furious wind
stripped the groaning branches of their leaves; and, when the moon
suddenly pierced the night, gaunt figures appeared of almost bare trees
twisted and shaken by the wind. Behind the orchards, a few
cottage-windows showed a glimmer of light; and the watch-dogs howled as
I passed, to the accompaniment of their dragging chains.

I walked quickly, full of misgivings and yet undaunted. I asked myself
at intervals what was taking me to the farm, to probable suffering. Was
it Rose's silence: I had heard nothing of her for a week? Was it the
hope of saying good-bye to her, of letting her know at least that I was
to go away the next day? Or was it not rather the curiosity that makes
us wish to see, without being seen ourselves, the man or woman who
interests us?

We always influence in some way or other the looks or the words that are
addressed to us. The eye that rests on us becomes unconsciously filled
with our own rest; and the longing that awakens at the sight of us is
often born of the unspoken call of our soul or our blood. From the first
moment when our hands meet, an exchange takes place, and we are no
longer entirely ourselves, we exist in relation to the persons and the
things around us. Two honest lives cannot join in falsehood; but either
of them, if united to a vulgar nature, is perhaps capable of
deterioration.

While thus arguing, I seek to reassure myself. True, Rose could never be
at the farm, among those coarse people, what she is with me. Still, what
will she be like?

I remember something she said to me at the beginning of our
acquaintance:

"For the sake of peace with those about me, by degrees I made myself the
same as they were. After a time, I never said what I really thought and
soon I ceased to notice the difference between the two. As I thought
that it was impossible for me ever to go away, it seemed to me a wise
policy to adapt myself to the life I had to live. It was a lie at first;
later it became second nature...."

But now? Now that all that existence is no more than a temporary
unpleasantness, what is her attitude?


2

It was striking eight when I came up to the farm. As a rule, everybody
is in bed by then. But to-day was the feast of the patron-saint of the
village; and there must have been dancing and drinking till nightfall.
At that moment, the darkness was so thick that I could hardly see
anything in front of me. I found the gate locked. Clinging to the trees
and pulling myself through the thorns and brambles, I climbed across the
bank and dropped into the orchard. I at once called softly to the dog,
so that he should recognise a friend's voice, and, as soon as I was
certain of his silence, I walked quietly to the house, where there was a
light in two of the windows at the back of the farm-yard. Not daring to
take the path that led to the door, I made my way as best I could
through the long grass. I was shivering in my dress; and my feet were
frozen. Whenever the moon peeped through two clouds, I quickly flung
myself against a tree and waited without moving for the darkness to
return. Cows were lying here and there on the grass: at each lull in
the storm, I heard the heavy breathing of the sleeping animals; and
their peacefulness soothed my troubled mind.

Some thirty yards from the house, I stopped, uncertain what to do. It
can be approached only by going a little higher, for it is built on a
mound in the centre of the yard. The whole length of the one-storeyed,
thatched buildings was without a tree or any dark corner where I could
shelter.

I was still hesitating, when suddenly a shadow passed across one of the
windows. I seemed to recognise Rose, and my rising curiosity made me
cover in a moment the distance that separated me from her. Once there,
against the window-pane, I thought of nothing else.

No, it was not fear but sorrow that oppressed me from the first glance
within: Rose was laughing at the top of her voice, her mouth opened in a
paroxysm of mirth. She was laughing a silly, brutish laugh, lying back
in her chair, with her knees wide apart and her hands on her hips. A
lamp stood near her on the long table around which the men were eating
and drinking; under its torn shade the light flared unevenly, lighting
up some things with ruthless clearness and leaving others in complete
darkness. Of the men, I could see nothing distinctly except their heavy
jaws and coarse hands and the lighter patches of their white shirts and
blue smocks. I could make out very little of the large, low-ceilinged
room. A rickety chair here; an old dresser there, with a few battered
dishes on it. At regular intervals, a brass pendulum sends forth gleams
as it catches the light; and the smouldering fire in the tall
chimney-place flickers for a moment and illumines the strings of beans
and onions drying round the hearth. On the floor, in the middle of the
room, two little cowherds are quarrelling for the possession of a goose,
no doubt won as a prize in the village. The poor thing, lying half-dead,
with its wings and legs tied up, utters piteous sounds, which are the
signal for a burst of laughter and coarse jokes.

But suddenly all is silence. A door opens at the far end of the room and
on the threshold stands the mistress, with a candle in her hand and some
bottles under her arm. The fear inspired by the old madwoman is obvious
at once. The two urchins take refuge under the table with their prey,
Rose's laughter ceases abruptly and, through the window-panes, I hear
the steady ticking of the clock and the clatter of the spoons in the
bowls.

The old woman has sat down in the full light. She is eating, with bent
back, lowered head and jerky, nervous movements, while her wicked little
sunken eyes peer from under her heavy, matted brows. She speaks some
curt words in _patois_, too fast for me to catch their sense; but her
strident voice hurts my ears. The conversation becomes livelier by
degrees and soon everybody is speaking at once....

I wait in vain for an absent look, a gesture of annoyance, an expression
of pain on Rose's part. No, she seems at her ease among these people, as
she was at the great house, as she is and as she will be everywhere. She
follows the remarks of one and all and shows the same attention which
she vouchsafes to me when I speak to her. From time to time, she says a
word or two; and I recognise the shrill voice and the vulgar gestures
that used to hurt me so much during our early talks.

I remained there for a long time, always waiting, always hoping. Excited
by liquor, the men began to quarrel; and I heard the old woman hurl a
torrent of vile insults at them. Rose took the part of one of the men
and interfered, using language as coarse as theirs.


3

It was late when I went away. The clouds had dispersed, the wind had
dropped; the moonbeams were making pools of silver on the ground through
the trees; and, when I reached the open fields, they appeared to me
cold, immense, infinite under a molten sky.

The picture which I carry away with me seems to lose its colour before
my eyes: it is harder and sadder, made up of harsh lights and darker
shadows, like an etching. I see the rough hands on the white deal table,
the bony faces brutally outlined by a crude light. I hear the cracked
voice of the old madwoman, now raised in yells of abuse, now breaking
into song ... and Rose ... my beautiful Rose....

But I have stolen this sight of a life which I was never meant to see.
The dishonesty of my invisible presence makes a gulf between my actual
vision and my perception; and it seems to me that, in this case, I must
withhold my judgment even as we hold our breath before a flickering
flame.



PART THE SECOND

CHAPTER I


1

There is in love, in friendship or in the curiosity that drives us
towards a fellow-creature a period of ascendency when nothing can quench
our enthusiasm. The fire that consumes us must burn itself out; until
then, all that we see, all that we discover feeds it and increases it.

We are aware of a blemish, but we do not see it. We know the weakness
that to-morrow perhaps will blight our joy, but we do not feel it. We
hear the word that ought to deal our hopes a mortal blow; and it does
not even touch them!... And our reason, which knows, sees, hears and
foresees, remains dumb, as though it delighted in these games which
bring into play our heart and our capacity for feeling. Besides, to us
women this exercise of the emotions is something so delightful and so
salutary that our will has neither the power nor the inclination to
check it either in its soberest or its most extravagant manifestations.
The influence of the will would always be commonplace and sordid by the
side of that generous force which is created by each impulse of the
heart or mind.

Upon every person or every idea that arouses our enthusiasm we have just
so much to bestow, a definite sum of energy to expend, which seems, like
that of our body, to have its own time and season. I have known Rose for
hardly three months; her picture is still vernal in my heart; nothing
can prevent its colours from being radiant with freshness, radiant with
vigour, radiant with sunshine. I shall therefore go away without regret.
I see the childishness of all the experiments to which I am subjecting
the girl so as to know her a little better. My interest throws such a
light upon her that she cannot, do what she will, shrink back into the
shade.

She is to me the incarnation of one of my most cherished ideas. Until I
know all, I shall suspend my judgment and my intentions will not change.
I believe that every seed in the rich soil of a noble heart has to
fulfil its tender, gracious work of love and kindness.

I cannot, therefore, lay upon Rose the burden of my disappointment last
night; and my affection suggests a thousand good reasons for absolving
her. Is this wrong? And are we to consider, with the sapient ones of
the earth, that our vision is never clear until the day when we no
longer have the strength to love, believe and admire? I do not think so.
Setting aside the careful judgment which we exercise in the case of our
companion for life, it is certain that our opinions on the others, on
our chance acquaintances, are but an illusion and owe far more to our
souls than to theirs. In our brief and crowded lives, we have barely
time to catch a note of beauty here, to perceive a sign of truth there.
If, therefore, we have to pass days and years without understanding
everything and loving everything, if we have to remain under a
misapprehension, why not choose that which is on the side of love and
gladdens our hearts?

We should take care of the images that adorn our soul. Our women's minds
would possess more graciousness if we bestowed upon them a little of the
attention which we lavish on our bodies.

My beautiful Rose is kind and loving; I will deck her with my hopes as
long as I can. When enthusiasm is shared, it is easy to keep it up. It
weighs lightly in spite of its infinite preciousness. If I ever find it
a strain, the reason will be that Rose did not really bear her share of
it. It will become a burden and I shall relinquish it. All that she
will have of me will be the careless charity bestowed upon the poor.


2

"Paris, ... 19--

"If you knew, Rose, how I miss the lovely autumn landscapes! The weather
was so bright on the day of my departure that, to enjoy it to the full,
I bicycled to the railway-town. After leaving the village, I took the
road through the wood and it was delightful to skim along through the
dead leaves, the softly-streaming tears of autumn. Sometimes, when a
gust of wind blew, I went faster; and little yellow waves seemed to rise
and fall and chase one another all around me. Some of the trees, not yet
bare, but only thinned, traced an exquisite russet lacework against the
blue sky; and the birds warbled, cooed and whistled as in spring. I saw
the noisy, crowded streets of Paris waiting for me at the end of my day;
and this gave a flavour of sadness to the calm of the high roads, the
pureness of the air, the dear beauty of the lanes....

"It was quite early in the morning and the fields were still bathed in
a dewy radiance. I sat down for a little while on a roadside bank; an
immense plain began at the level of my face and ended by rising slowly
towards the sky. It was a very young field of corn, which the splendour
of the day turned into pearly down. I could have looked at it for ever,
at one moment letting the full glory of it burst on my dazzled eyes and
then gradually lowering my lids down to the tiny threads that trembled
and glittered in my breath. Then my mouth formed itself into a kiss; and
I amused myself by slowly and lovingly making the cool pearls of the
morning die on my warm lips...."


3

"Paris, ... 19--

"I see you, my Rose, laying supper in the wretched kitchen, while the
farm-hands gather round the hearth. I like to picture you going
cautiously through the old woman's room at night, so as to write to me
by the rays of the moon, without disturbing the household with an
unwonted light. You come and sit on the ledge of the open window, to
receive the full benefit of the moonbeams, and then you write on your
knee those trembling lines which convey your emotion to me.

"I see you in the wonderful setting of the silver-flooded orchard. The
golden silk of your long tresses embroiders your white night-dress. Your
eyes are filled with peace; you are beautiful like that; and there is
nothing so sweet as an orchard in the moonlight. The apple-trees seem to
lay their even shadows softly upon the pallor of the grass; and their
ordered quiet spreads a serene and simple joy over nature's sleep....

"Rose, at the moving period that brought us together, how I would that
your sweet composure had been sometimes a little ruffled! It would have
appeared to me of a finer quality had I found it more variable. A
woman's reason should be less rigid; and I should loathe mine if it were
not a leaven of indulgence and forgiveness in my life....

"Oh, Rose, Rose, tell me that the coldness of your soul springs from its
wonderful purity! Tell me that your heart is so deep that the sound of
the joys which fall into it cannot be heard outside! Tell me that it is
the storm of your life that has crushed the flowers of your sensibility
for the time....

"I well know that our interest cannot always be active, that it must be
suppressed; I know that indifference is essential to the happy
equilibrium of our faculties and that, beside the exaltation of our
soul, it is the untroubled lake fertilising and refreshing the earth.
And you will find, Rose, how necessary it is to be on our guard against
it in our judgments and how it can take possession of some natures and
slowly destroy them under a hateful appearance of wisdom! I would rather
discover ugly and active defects in you than that beautiful
impassiveness. Besides, as I have told you many a time, the excellence
that seems to me ideal has its weaknesses. It is rather a way of
perfection for our poor humanity, a way that is all the better because
it is adapted for our feeble and wavering steps!...

"Once, at harvest-time, I met you in the little road near the church. It
was the end of the day; and you were coming back from the fields. You
were standing high on a swaying mountain of hay, you were driving a
great farm-horse, which disappeared under its load. Your tall figure
stood out against the sky ablaze with the last rays of the sun; and I
still see your look of absolute unconcern. You wore a long blue apron
that came all round you and a bodice of the same colour. In that blue
faded by the sun, with your hair a pale cloud in the gold of the
sunset, you looked like an archangel taken from some Italian fresco.

"As you passed me, you timidly returned my smile; and I followed you for
a long time with my eyes. Do you still remember the trouble you had in
passing under the dark vault of the old oaks? Every now and again, a
branch, longer and lower than the others, threatened your face: you
caught it with a quick movement and lifted it over your head. At one
time, there were so many of those branches and they were so heavy that
you were obliged to lie back on the hay, holding both arms over your
face to save it from being struck. Then, when the lumbering wagon
stopped in front of the farm, my archangel stepped down humbly into the
mud, took the horse by the bridle and disappeared from sight....

"The reason why this memory now comes back to me is that I find in it
some affinity with what I would ask of your reason: those simple
movements by which you will be able to thrust aside the bad habits that
disfigure you! May your reason be the beautiful archangel to guide and
sway your humble life, but may it sometimes know how to descend and
stoop in obedience to the necessities of chance. Even as, on the day
when I saw you, you could not alter the road which you had to follow, so
you cannot alter your real nature; but you must 'know the way,' you must
guide and control."


4

"Paris,... 19--

"I am longing to have you here so that I may watch carefully over the
slightest details of your life and put your temperament incessantly to
the test. They say that enthusiasm cannot be acquired. But how can they
tell that it is not merely sleeping, unless they try to awaken it? Those
around us have sometimes, quite unconsciously, an unhappy way of
subduing and oppressing us.

"Even the most emotional have often to struggle lest their souls should
shrink in the presence of certain people, like the flowers whose petals
exposed to the light timidly hide their hearts as soon as day declines.
You, whom a placid humour reserves for gentle emotions, must try not to
let that very beautiful nature exceed its rights, or cast an unnecessary
shadow over your feelings, or ever check your finest bursts of
admiration with doubt and misgiving. Circumstances have failed to form
your taste; and at first you will pass marvels by and prefer to marvel
at some hideous thing. Never mind! I like to think that, after all, the
best part of a noble work is the enthusiasm which it arouses and that
the greatest dignity of art lies in the flame which it kindles.

"Time was when I wept in front of things that now leave me unmoved; but,
in captivating my childish heart, did they not accomplish their task
even as those do now which quicken the beating of my woman's heart?...

"Learn to appreciate life and to look upon all that does not enhance it
as vain and wearisome. As there is nothing in this world which has not
its relation to life, in loving it, my Roseline, you will understand
everything and accept everything.

"I want your eyes, when presenting to your mind whatever is best in a
great work, to learn the luxury of lingering on it; I want your ears to
perceive the wonderful, voluptuous charm of sounds, your hands to
rejoice in things soft to the touch; I want you to learn how to breathe
with delight and how to eat with pleasure. Don't smile. None of all this
is childish; it is made up of tiny joyous movements which the simplest
existence can command when it knows how to recognise them. And yet ...
and yet I feel a selfish wish to leave you still in your prison, so that
your desire to escape from it may keep on growing! I love that desire, I
love your actual distress, I love the wretchedness of your past, the
wretchedness of your present, I love you to see difficulties in the way
of your deliverance....

"Oh, if those obstacles could give you, as they do me, that sort of
intoxication for which I cherish them! When at last I see the goal
beyond them, my heart leaps for joy. But hardly is the goal attained
when I rejoice in it only because it brings me to another, higher and
more distant; and my imagination resumes its course, never looking back
except to measure the road already traversed.... In this way, never
satisfied and yet happy in the mere fact that I am advancing and in the
knowledge that no more can be asked of a poor human will, I have the
feeling that my life never stops."


5


"Paris,... 19--

"Dearest, it is evening; it is cold and wet out of doors; but peace and
gaiety shed their radiance in the great drawing-room which you will
soon know, white and bare as a convent-parlour, living and bright as joy
itself. Chance gave me to-day a long day of solitude, like those at
Sainte-Colombe. And yet the hours passed before me and I could not make
them fruitful. When such favours come to me in the midst of excitement,
I am too glad of them to be able to profit by them; I can but feel them;
and they control me without leaving me time to control them in my turn.
I listen to my life, I contemplate it. It has too many opposing voices,
too many absolutely different shapes; my consciousness is lost in it as
a precious stone is swallowed up by the sea. I blush at such chaos. My
soul appears to me only fit to compare with one of those wretched
table-cloths which country dressmakers patch together, at the end of the
year, out of the thousand scraps of the thousand different materials
which they have cut during the season. But is not this the natural
result of the diversity of our feminine souls?

"Antagonistic elements have long been at war in me; and the violence of
their blows has sometimes torn my life asunder. I no longer have cause
to complain of it now, because time and love have helped me to reconcile
them. Our powers are injurious to us so long as we do not know how to
use them. I have suffered, I still suffer from my creeping knowledge. I
would like to increase the pace of yours. Is it impossible?

"And so I dreamed all day and, of course, I dreamed of you, the Rose
whom I am always picturing. I imagined that we had arranged to see each
other this evening. You walked into the drawing-room, drenched with the
rain, pink-cheeked with the cold. You looked very pretty, in a frock
that suited your face and your figure. You knew how to hold yourself!
You knew how to walk! Your movements were graceful! After talking for a
little while by the fire, we both sat down at the table, under the
lamp-light, and there began our usual work. What work it was I cannot
tell; but it will be easy for us to choose: we have everything to learn;
and I feel that both our minds must follow the same path for some time
to come. By placing the same objects before them, we shall succeed in
discovering what you really feel and what you really wish. That is the
only way of delivering your mind from my involuntary dominion and of
distinguishing your image from mine. I have no other ideal than to feel
myself actually moving, even though the movement be an inconsistent
one. How could I invite you to a similarity which is nothing but a
perpetual dissimilarity?

"You must cease to be an echo. I shall map out no course for you; and we
do not know what will become of you. Let us first walk at random. The
goal is not always visible; but very often the road travelled tells us
which road to take next. It matters little what work we do, provided
that it gives a sort of tone to our meetings and that it regulates our
hours. The freaks of chance and the youthfulness of our minds will
always furnish colour and fancy in plenty....

"Understand me, Roseline: it is not a friend that I am seeking, not one
of those uncertain, light-hearted, capricious relations which encumber
life without adding to it. I am dreaming like a child, of a woman who
should realise the greatest possible amount of beauty in her mind and
person and who should add her strength to mine in the service of the
same ideals. Rose, are you that woman? Will you help me to deliver other
women still who are oppressed by circumstances or people, to deliver
those who are shackled by prejudice or fear, to deliver the beauty that
is unable to show itself and the will that dares not act? To deliver!
What a magic word! Rose, does it ring in your heart as it rings in
mine?...

"But, as you see, my dreams are carrying me too far; and I blush at my
audacity. When I look at you and judge myself, it often seems to me that
what I have done for you is only a form of vanity, that all my generous
aspirations are but vanity!... Is it true?

"And, if it were! Is it not still greater and more foolish vanity to
require that all our actions should spring from pure and sublime
motives? If, in contributing to your development, I am conscious that I
am assisting my own, will yours be any the less complete for that? If I
no longer know which is dearer, you, who represent my dreams, or my
dreams, which have become embodied in yourself, will you on that account
be less fondly and less nobly loved?

"And, if it be true that vanity there is, is the vanity vain that sheds
happiness and joy?"



CHAPTER II


1

A long month has passed since my return to Paris. Twice Rose has written
to announce her arrival: I waited for her at the station and she did not
come. Poor child! We all know how difficult it is to break one's bonds,
even the most detested. A thousand invisible ties keep us in the place
where chance has set us; and, when we are about to rend them, they
become so many unsuspected pangs. Instinct blindly resists all change,
as though it were unable to distinguish what reason dimly descries
beyond the trials and dangers of the moment. Rose is leaving nothing but
wretchedness; in front of her is a fair and pleasant prospect.
Nevertheless, she hesitates and she is unhappy.

In my present restless state, I no longer know what I wish. If she came
to-morrow, should I be glad or not? I cannot tell. I can no longer tell.
Those who do not suffer from this absurd mania for action escape those
painful moments when we are at the mercy of a distracted will that no
longer knows exactly what it ought to want. In absence, our feelings
pass through so many contradictory phases! When the hour of return
comes, finding it impossible to collect so many conflicting sentiments
or to bring back to one point so many different desires, we surrender
ourselves to the impression of the moment; and this impression often has
nothing in common with what we had previously felt and hoped.

I have done my utmost to make her come. Lately, I have been sending her
urgent and encouraging letters daily. Now, the hour is approaching; and
my only feeling is one of anguish.

I have told her twenty times that the talk about responsibility which I
hear all around me brings a smile to my lips. I have told her how, by
making my conduct depend on hers, I relieved myself of all personal
anxiety. And to-day my task appears to me so heavy that I can only laugh
at my presumption.


2

It was foolish of me to write to her:

"What are your faults? Teach me to know you. Tell me what you are."

In reality, our faults arise from our circumstances. Events alone set us
the questions to which our actions give a definite answer. Up to the
present, Rose has not lived; she has been accumulating forces that are
now about to come into being. What will they be? Whither will they tend?
We can assume nothing in a life that is but beginning; and is it not
just this that encourages us to seek and to help? Each of us has only to
look back in order to know that, in the shifting soil of characters, we
can fix or establish nothing. I found her acquiescing in a shameful
servitude; and yet I have faith in the nobility of her soul. She was
untruthful; there was no relation between her wishes and her actions,
her thoughts and her words. Nevertheless, I do not doubt her essential
honesty.

The atmosphere that surrounds us is so often treacherous to our pliant
natures! We women are obliged to lie. So long as we have not found our
"love," we look in vain for a little confidence. No one believes us, no
one receives the best part of our soul. One would think that, for those
who listen to us, our sincerest words are poisoned as they pass through
our fairest smiles. And, when nature has made us beautiful and gifted,
people take pleasure in judging us severely, as they might look at the
summer days through dark-tinted window-panes.

We are always refused recognition. The first feeling which any work that
we perform arouses is one of doubt. Its merit is disputed. And yet we
have devoted a part of our youth to it; we have left with it a little of
our freshness and our bloom. Very often, it is the ransom of our sorrow.
Our love is written upon it; and it bears the imprint alike of our
smiles and of our tears. Do we not know that woman, for all her culture,
remains closer than man to her instinct and her "soil?" She is less
purely intellectual but more sensitive than man; and, while he can
create everything in the silence of his imagination, she has to live and
suffer everything that she brings into the world. She conceives and
realises with her flesh and with her blood.

A woman said to me, one day:

"If I had to begin life over again, I should not have the courage to
avoid a single danger, pain or disappointment. In surmounting them, I
have gained a power of resistance which forms the framework of my
present and my future. I can see the sparkle of my happiness better when
I keep in the shadow of my sad memories; and all that I accomplish, all
that I write seems to me to flow from my past tears."

To refuse recognition to a woman's work is to refuse to recognise her
soul, her existence and every throb of her heart!...

Man does not know that torture which every true woman suffers when she
feels that those who are listening to her do not hear her real words,
that those who are looking at her do not see what she is making every
effort to show. Even when she is obeying the simplest impulses of her
nature, people distrust what she says and what she does; and in some
women, good and kind and beautiful, we see repeated the artless miracle
of the flowers that exhaust themselves in giving too much fragrance and
too much blossom. How fearful and timid this moral isolation makes us!
And how thrice courageous we must be in the hour of realisation! If
effort sometimes seems useless to men, what about women, who see
themselves ever confronted by a blank wall of scepticism?

A man is valued by the weight of the forces which he stirs up for and
against himself. The forces which woman encounters are nearly all
hostile.


3

I was close upon sixteen. One day, I heard some one say, speaking of
some trifling thing of which I was wrongly suspected:

"She is no longer a child. She's a woman now and she's lying."

That was a cruel speech, the sort of speech that influences a whole
life. My eyes were gradually opened to the dreary injustice that casts
its shadow over the fairest destinies of women. Nothing around them
seems clear and natural. Doubt lies in wait for them, calumny rends
them. Now my hour was coming: my skirts, touching the ground for the
first time, had suggested the suspicion of deceit and hypocrisy.

It was perhaps this wound, inflicted on the soul of the growing girl,
that left the most serious mark on my soul as a woman. Thanks to a
strange prick of conscience, to a singular need to give to others what I
did not obtain, I wanted to trust and I did trust! I gave my confidence
passionately, utterly, rapturously! And this made wells of such deep and
impetuous joy spring up in me that I felt no bitterness when I saw my
confidence marred as it passed through others, even as a clear stream
is muddied in following its course.

Still, I wanted more; I sought to concentrate in one person, herself
generous and confiding, the happiness which I lacked and whose infinite
value I suspected. Ah, what a blessed relief when I found her! I was as
one who has never seen his face save in distorting mirrors and who
suddenly sees himself as he hoped to be. It seems to me that my
happiness dates from that day. Before then, I suffered, I was all
astray, an ill wind hovered round me; and, on the sands of other lives,
there was never a trace of my footsteps where I believed that I had
passed. Henceforth, another soul would read mine! Another's eyes would
own the candour of my eyes!

It was little more than a child that introduced me to love and kindness.
She was treated with iron severity, she was unhappy; I was alone: she
became my daily companion. Alas! too early ripe, too intelligent, she
was of those who cannot stay. Is it a presentiment that makes them hurry
so, or is it rather their eagerness to live, their over-sharpened senses
that wear out their strength?


4

She was not fifteen; but, already matured in body and mind, she
attracted immediate attention. Her walk was so superb that I cannot
think of her without seeing her come swiftly to me, with that dear smile
of hers and with her lovely arms outstretched in greeting. Her limpid
eyes obeyed the light, the light of her heart and the light of the sky,
whereas her dark hair, always tangled and rebellious, bore witness to
the protest of her dauntless spirit. In her company I tasted for the
first time the delight of souls that join and blend and unite in mutual
trust. In an ecstasy of sincerity, for hours I imagined myself baptising
her whole life with my faith. I said to her, over and over again:

"I believe in you.... I believe in you.... Do you understand what that
means? It is something greater and better than 'I love you:' it means
that one can never be alone again!"

She died a few months later; and for years I was to seek in vain in
others' hearts and eyes the pure and limpid faith which reflects
everything that bends over it.

One can love people without knowing them fully; one cannot believe in
them without mingling one's soul with theirs; and the moral luxury of it
is so great that, when we have once known it, if only for a moment, we
demand it from all with whom we come in contact.

Roseline, all that I then wished for, that charming bond of tenderness
and confidence which should link women together, that difficult and
precious happiness which I knew for one hour through that child-soul:
that is what I am trying to offer you.

And perhaps you will have something better still, because the assistance
which you receive is deliberate and has stood the test. In the place of
that artless faith rushing to meet life, you find a soul that has been
steeped in it. Rose, may my faith and my soul be your two mirrors. In
one, you will see your forces rise even as we catch the first swell of a
cornfield at dawn. In the other, they will appear to you enlarged,
multiplied, transformed according to nature's laws, ripened by the
dazzling suns of noon, utilised by the intellect, ready at last to
nourish you and nourish others.


5

Then I met men, I met other women, without ever attaining the wish of my
heart. They came and went. But, at each soul that I lost, I found my own
a little more and I remember most gratefully those who were the most
cruel. This man was ill and unconscious of his actions; that woman was
wicked; that man too frivolous; and another was a liar....

A liar! Even to-day, among those withered attachments which it pleases
me to evoke, this last arrests my thoughts. For it was he--O singular
contrast!--who, by his lying and duplicity, finished the work begun by
the frank confidence of the child.

He was a liar.--Lying came to him so easily and naturally that he
himself did not discriminate between what he had done and what he had
said, between what he had actually experienced and the life which he
pretended to have lived. His was a strange nature, which, in its
eagerness to seem, forgot to be, a nature which, no longer
distinguishing its frontiers from another's, lost in the end its own
domain! A strange example of a strayed consciousness which, knowing no
dividing line, attributed the acts of others to itself, spoke from their
hearts and led their existences! He walked through life as one walks
through a gallery whose walls are panelled with mirrors. He could not
take a step without thinking that he was taking a thousand; and his
vanity enhanced his least actions to such a degree that he actually
believed himself the lover of a woman if he merely kissed her hand. It
was thus that he boasted of making innumerable conquests at every hour
of the day; and, to hear him talk, always tired and exhausted with love,
he was a wreck at twenty, as the price of his inordinate exploits.
Enamoured of his appearance, he saw nothing beyond the blankness of his
little soul, or rather he made it the origin and the end of everything.
Poor empty head! Wretched puppet, whose spring was the vanity which
every passer-by could set in motion at will!

At a time when I myself did not know it, he had cleverly discovered what
he must appear to be in order to arouse my enthusiasm, thus offering me
the illusion of that faith which I aspire to awaken in you, my Roseline.
Certainly, I owe him much! If an exact copy of a masterpiece can stir us
as deeply as the original, the perfect impersonation of a fine intellect
and a noble character can influence us very happily. How grateful I am
to him for the trouble which he took to give me a representation of
virtues which he did not possess! They were painted on his soul in such
relief, a relief which no reality gives, as I was afterwards to learn!
The artificial lilies that decorate the chapel of the church hard by
have an assurance that is absent from those which will soon fade over
there, on the table. The false boasts an unvarying brilliance, an
imposing emphasis which we never find in the true. And, no doubt, the
qualities of which he vouchsafed me the sight would never have had such
value in my eyes, if his fatuousness had not displayed them to my
youthful admiration as one shows an object behind a magnifying-glass.

And what does it matter to me now that they were false, those gifts with
which that soul seemed laden, if for a moment I pictured them as real!
After the error was dispelled, the image which I once thought true
remained in me. It had determined my tastes, fixed my opinions, set my
mind at rest. Subsequently, I was to try and refashion the perfection of
which I had beheld the mirage and, with still greater ardour, I was to
pursue in others and conquer at last the reality of the once-known
happiness which I thought that I had found in him.

We are none the poorer when a sad truth takes the place of a beautiful
dream. Knowledge has already filled the void which the lost illusion
leaves behind it....


6

Let us seek then, Rose, let us seek even after we have found! Whether we
be denied or heard, let us go on seeking! When we have lovingly
performed the little things necessary that a flower may peradventure
blossom, if it does not give us what we hoped for, does that prevent us
from loving another exactly like it and from tending it with all the
greater skill and care?

Our ignorance must be renewed in the presence of each life that touches
ours. May the quest suffice to keep our faith eternally young, that
wonderful, childlike faith which alone encourages, finds and sets free.



CHAPTER III


1

It was eleven o'clock when I went to meet Rose this morning; but the day
was so dark and the fog so dense that the street-lamps were still lit.

It was gloomy and depressing. Wrapped in a long cloak and huddled in a
corner of the cab, I shivered with cold and nervousness. I reread her
telegram, dispatched from a railway-station before daybreak; and the
pathos of those few words went to my heart:

    "Am starting. Ran away yesterday.

                            "YOUR BABY."

Yesterday? Then she had spent the night at an inn? Why?

Alas, in such circumstances, do not we women usually behave like that,
blindly and illogically? We prepare everything, we look out the trains
and choose the most favourable time for flight; we announce the minute
of our arrival to those expecting us; everything is ready, everything is
decided.... Then the appointed day arrives. The hour strikes, the hour
passes and we do not stir. We have been kept by some meaningless trifle
which is magnified in our excitement and acquires an importance which it
never had before: a word, a look from those whom we are going to desert.
We forgive them when we are on the point of leaving them for ever. We
invest them with a little of our own gentleness and kindness. Even as
the colour of things blurs and fades when our eyes are dim with tears,
so the hardest people do not appear so to the anxious heart of a woman.
And pity gains the upper hand, time slips by and we put off to the
morrow and, on the morrow, we put off again....

Then, one day, we depart all at once, for no definite reason, depart
empty-handed, with an impassive face and without looking round. We
perform the most energetic action almost without knowing it, for even
our will shirks the too-heavy task. It dreads the preparations, it would
like to be able to tell us feebly that nothing is done, that nothing is
decided, that we can still go back to the past; and this is enough to
hurry our steps towards the future. We go, we walk on and on, we walk
till we are tired. Then does it not seem as if each minute shifted the
problem of our destiny a little more? And in a few hours would it not
need more courage to return than to continue our road?

But it is nearly always so, by little unforeseen acts, by fear as much
as by weakness, that we perform the inaugural act of our
enfranchisement. We flee bewildered, like poor beasts that have broken
loose; and the first movements of our liberty echo in our hearts with a
melancholy sound of dangling chains.


2

My dear Rose!... As I go through the damp, dark station, I am already
picturing her fright....

The train arrives, full of passengers, who hurry towards the exit in
surging black masses. How shall I recognise her in this crowd, in the
fog? I do not know what she will look like. A lady? A servant? A
servant, I expect, because she will have had nothing ready. I hope so;
and I look out eagerly for a black knitted hood on a head of golden
hair. I am afraid lest she should not see me in her excitement and
nervousness. The flood of passengers separates on either side of the
ticket-collector; and I keep close to him, standing desperately on
tip-toe....

The crowd has passed and I have not caught sight of her. There are still
a few people coming from the far end of the train; it is so dark that I
can hardly see.... There is a tall figure all over feathers in the
distance, but it cannot be ... And yet ... yes, yes, it is she! Gracious
goodness, what a sight!... I feel that it would be better to laugh, but
I can't; and I am furious with myself for keeping a grave face. It is
Rose! Rose dressed like a Sainte-Colombe lady!

She comes along, calmly, smiling and self-possessed; and I am now able
to distinguish the painful hues of that appalling garb: the little
red-velvet hat, studded with glass stones of every imaginable colour and
trimmed with green feathers of the most aggressive shade and style; the
serge skirt, too short in front; the black jacket, quite simple, it is
true, but so badly cut that it murders the figure of the lovely girl!
She has a large basket, carefully corded, on her arm. I really suffer
tortures while she kisses me effusively and says, gaily:

"You are looking very well, dearest; but you're upset: what's the
matter?" And, before I have time to answer, she adds in a triumphant
tone, "I have a great surprise for you. Look in the basket, look!"

I need not trouble: at that moment there comes from the basket a
pandemonium of terrified quacks and flapping wings.

"Yes," Rose continues, laughing merrily, "I stole the old woman's best
two ducks and that's why I'm here.... But first I must tell you, I have
been looking after them for a month, fattening them for your benefit; I
would not go before they were just right. And what do you think? All of
a sudden, she said, at dinner, that she was going to market to-day to
sell them! It gave me an awful turn. As soon as I could leave the
kitchen, I flew to the poultry-yard and I took the train to ---- and
slept there. Luckily, I had already sent my trunk to an hotel."

I looked at Rose in stupefaction:

"Your trunk?"

She went on, with her eyes full of cunning:

"Oh, your baby was rather clever!... As the old woman never paid me
during the whole of the four years, I worked out what a farm-servant
gets a year and I decided that I was justified in opening an account in
her name with one of our customers who keeps a big drapery-store. And so
I now have a trunk and a complete outfit, as well as these pretty things
which I have on. It was only fair, wasn't it?"

I turned away my head without a word. It was certainly quite fair; but I
felt my cheeks flushing scarlet.

Rose gave a yawn which ended in a groan:

"I'm starving. Suppose we had some lunch; we could come back for the
trunk afterwards."

I eagerly agreed and hurried her to the exit. From the top of the
stairs, I saw that the fog had lifted at last; the gas-lamps had been
put out and the street lay before us in a melancholy, wan light. The
pavements were covered with mud and the houses showed yellow and
smoke-grimed. Then I looked at Rose and my torture suddenly became more
than I could bear. I placed her in front of me and feverishly unbuttoned
the clumsy jacket, which was too tight at the neck, too narrow across
the shoulders and gave her no waist at all. It fell away on either side;
her bust showed full and uncompressed in a light-coloured blouse; and I
breathed more freely.

"Now, take off your hat."

She slowly obeyed; and the gloomy station and the wretched, grimy day
were suddenly illuminated. Oh, those lovely fair curls, which had been
crushed and pushed away under the hideous hat with its too narrow brim,
what bliss it was to see them again full of life and laughter! There
they were in their graceful, natural clusters, some drooping over her
forehead, some brushing her cheeks, others kissing her neck and ears!
How pretty she was! I recognised my Rose at last in her soft, golden,
shimmering, impalpable, incredible tresses. I passed my fingers lightly
over that silk for love's loom, while my eyes feasted on its delicate
colour. No, indeed, nothing was lost. Rose was beautiful, more beautiful
than ever; and the glad words came crowding to my lips. I forgave her
and was angry with myself for my coldness.

Poor child, she did not know! She had thought, no doubt, that, to go to
Paris, she must absolutely have a hat; and how was she to choose one in
a village-shop? And I told her over and over again how fond I was of
her.

Rose, a little uncomfortable, with crimson cheeks and downcast eyes,
stood awkwardly turning the unfortunate object in her hands. I looked
round: a few people, intent on their business, were hurrying this way
and that; there was no one on the staircase. Then, bursting with
laughter, I dashed the hat to the floor and, with the tip of my shoe,
precipitated it into space....

"Come over to the other side," I said to Rose. "Quick!... Suppose they
brought it back!"

Good-natured as always and pleased at my amusement, she laughed because
I laughed; and, while we ran to the other exit, the masterpiece of
Sainte-Colombe millinery rolled and rolled and hopped from stair to
stair.


3

The bustle of the restaurant and the noise of the street outside
affected me tremendously. I was nervous and excited, with a wild desire
to laugh at everything and nothing. I asked Rose all sorts of questions;
and, whenever any one passed:

"Look!" I said. "Do look!... You're not looking!... There, that's a
pretty dress, a regular Parisienne!... And, over there, by the door:
don't you see that queer woman?"

The girl looked and then turned to me and, before I could prevent her,
bent down and kissed my hand. I wanted to say:

"You mustn't do that, Rose!"

But it was the first charming impulse she had shown: how could I scold
her? Oh, what a miserable thing our education is; and how often should I
not find myself in some ridiculous dilemma!

Besides, I wished this first day of hers to be all happiness and
expectation! And, while we gaily discussed plans for the future, I tried
to guess what she must be feeling, I scrutinised her movements, I
interpreted her words. But it appeared too soon yet; and it was I, alas,
I who had the best part of her happiness! My eyes fell on her chapped
and swollen hands. She noticed it and murmured, sadly:

"It's the beetroots. You understand, it's the hard season now."

"But the beetroot-days are past, my Roseline! The bad seasons are over,
over for good, over for good and all!"

And I laid stress on every syllable; and, though I was whispering in her
ear, I heard the words "for good and all" bursting from my lips like a
triumphant shout.

She smiled and went on eating, doing her best to eat nicely, with her
elbows close to her sides and her hands by her plate. Heaven above, did
she understand what I said?


4

There are some people who seem detached from themselves. They do
something; and the whole flood of their life does not surge into the
action! They draw near to the object of their love; and their whole soul
does not fill their eyes! Their soul is not on their lips, to breathe
love; it is not at their finger-tips, to seize upon happiness; it is not
there to watch life, to attract all that passes, eagerly, greedily and
rapturously! Then where is it and what is it doing outside this dear,
delightful earth?...

And yet woman, the creature who learns through love the admirable gift
of life, knows better than man how to throw the whole of herself into
fleeting moments. She lives nearer to the edge of her actions. Her mind,
which rarely attaches itself to abstract things, seems to float around
her in search of every sensation. Woman passes and has seen everything;
she remembers and she quivers as though the caressing touch were still
upon her. Her light and charming soul drinks eternity straight out of
the present; and through a man's kisses she has known the art of
absolute oblivion.

I am afraid that Rose is not much of a woman. Ah, were I in her place, I
should be wild with excitement, out of my mind with joy, as though I
were hearing my own name spoken for the first time!


5

After lunch, our shopping was a difficult matter. Rose, with her
uncommon figure, could hardly find anything ready-made to suit her. I
had to hunt about and to contrive with thought, for I would not wait a
single day. I was careful to select the quietest and most usual things
for her, so as to conceal her rusticity as far as possible. The neat
dark-velvet toque could have its position altered on her head without
much harm. The black veil would tone down the vividness of a complexion
too long exposed to the open air; and its fine plain net would set off
the admirable regularity of her features. Lastly, the deep leather belt
to her tailor-made frock and the well-starched collar and cuffs would
more or less hide the effort which it cost her to hold herself upright.


6

Two hours later, I introduced Rose to her new home. We climbed a dark,
interminable staircase. I held a flickering candle in my hand; and, all
out of breath, I explained to her the advantages of this boarding-house,
a quiet place where her privacy would not be invaded and where she could
make useful acquaintances if she wished....

At last, we reached the fifth floor. The daylight had faded. A sea of
roofs was beneath us; and, through the panes above our heads, a great
red sky cast lurid gleams over our faces and hands. The girl gave a
start of pleasure as she entered her room. It was peaceful and white;
but the flaming fire and sky at that moment turned it quite rosy,
smiling and aglow. From the rather high window we could see nothing but
space. I had placed a writing-table underneath it, with some books and a
few flowers in a dainty crystal bowl. On the walls, several photographs
of Italian masterpieces disguised the ugliness of the typical
boarding-house paper. The chimney-mantel was bare and the furniture very
simple.

We were both happy, both talking at once, Rose exclaiming:

"It's really too lovely, too beautiful!"

And I was saying:

"I should have liked to have a room for you arranged after my own taste,
but I had to keep within bounds. So I brought a few little things, as
you see, and bundled the ugly pictures, the tin clock and the plush
flowers into the cupboards. But come and see the best part of it."

I threw open the window; and, leaning out, we beheld a great expanse
beyond the enormous gutter that edged the roof. Unfortunately, the last
glow of the sunset was swiftly dying away in the mist rising from the
Seine. Opposite us, on the other bank, the Louvre became a heavy,
shapeless mass; on the right, Notre-Dame was nothing but a shadowy
spectre; here and there, in a chance, lingering gleam, we could just
distinguish a steeple, a turret, a house standing out above the rest.

"We came in too late, Rose; we can see nothing; but how wonderful it all
is! The sound of the quays and bridges hardly reaches us, the city might
be veiled; at this height, its activity is like a dream and I seem to
be living over again those quiet moments which we used to spend side by
side at Sainte-Colombe. Are you happy?"

Smiling and with her eyes still fixed on the sky, she says:

"Yes."

"Perfectly?"

"Yes."

"You are not afraid of the future?"

"Not for my sake, but I am for yours."

I question her with my eyes; and she adds:

"I am afraid that I shall never be what you want."

I put my hand on her shoulder and said:

"You will be what you are to be; and that is the main thing. It seems to
me at this moment that the greatest ideas are nothing, that the fairest
dreams are childish compared with the simple reality of a human being's
first taste of happiness. You were hidden; and I bring you to the light.
You were a prisoner; and I set you free. I see nothing to fetter you;
and that is all I ask. The life of a beautiful woman should be like a
star whose every beam is the source of a possible joy.... I am glad, for
this is the day of your first deliverance."

Rose murmured:

"What will the second be, then?"

I hesitated for a moment. Then I replied:

"It is difficult to say, dear; you will come to know gradually. I might
answer, that of your mental or moral life; but I do not wish to lay down
any rule. You are about to start on life's journey; I do not wish to
trace your road with words. How much more precious your smallest actions
are to me!"

I closed the window and went and sat in a chair by the fire-place. Rose,
standing with uplifted arms in front of the glass, took off her hat and
veil, then undid her mantle and her scarf and put everything carefully
away in the wardrobe. My eyes followed her quiet movements and my heart
rested on each of them. I spoke her name and she came and sat at my
feet, against my knees, with her soft, fair head waiting for my caress.

It was now night; the fire lit our faces, but the room was dark wherever
the flames did not cast their gleams. A chrysanthemum on a longer stalk
than the others bent its petals into the light. Opposite the fire-place,
within the shade of the bed-curtains, stood a white figure from the
Venice Accademia, an allegory representing _Truth_. We could not see
the mirror which she holds nor the details that surround her. The
pedestal that raises her above mankind was also invisible; only the nude
body of the woman invited and retained the light.

I called Rose's attention to her:

"Look, she is more interesting like that. In the doubt which the shadow
casts around her, I see in her a more human and a truer truth."

After a moment's contemplation, Rose said, gravely:

"I will never hide one of my thoughts from you."

Her statement makes me smile; but why disappoint her? She did not yet
know that those who are most sincere find it more difficult than the
others to say what they think. Words, in their souls, are like climbing
plants which, sown by chance in the middle of a roadway, waver and
grope, send out tendrils here and there in despair and end by entangling
themselves with one another. Whereas most people, just as we provide
supports for flowers, bestow certainties and truths upon their words to
which they cling, the sincere refuse to yield to any such illusions.
They hesitate, stammer and contradict themselves without ceasing....


7

I drew her head down on my knees; and, softly, in little sentences
interrupted by long pauses, we spoke of the new life that was opening
before her. Soon she said nothing more. The fire went out, the room
became dark and a clock outside struck six. I whispered:

"I am going, darling...."

She did not move and I saw that she was asleep. Then I gently released
myself, put a pillow under her head and a wrap over her shoulders and
was almost at the door, when suddenly I pictured her awakening. It would
not do for her to open her eyes in the dark, to feel lost and alone in
an unknown house. I lit the lamp, drew the blinds and made up the fire.

Roseline was sleeping soundly. Her breathing was hardly perceptible. At
times, a deep sigh sent a quiver through her placid beauty, even as a
keener breath of air ripples the surface of a pool.

What would she do if she should soon awake?... I looked around.
Everything was peaceful and smiling; the flowers looked fresh and
radiant in the light; the books on the table seemed to be waiting.... I
searched among them for some page to charm her imagination and guide her
first dreams along pleasant paths....



CHAPTER IV


1

Rose is sitting by the fire with her bare feet in slippers and a
dressing-wrap flung loosely round her.

"Are you ill?"

"No," she says, smiling.

And her cool hands, pressing mine, and her gay kisses on my cheeks are
no less reassuring than the actual reply.

"But why are you not dressed?"

"I don't know; time passed and I let them bring my lunch up to me."

I look round the darkened bedroom. Through the blind which I lowered
yesterday, the light enters timidly, in a thousand broken little shafts;
on the table, the books still lie as I placed them; on the
chimney-shelf, the flowers, withered by the heat of the fire, are fading
and drooping.

All these things which had been left untouched were evidence of a
lethargy that hurt me. All the emotions which I had been picturing Rose
as experiencing since the day before had not so much as brushed against
her. One by one, they dropped back sadly upon my heart.

I rose, moved the flowers, opened the window; and the bright sunshine
restored my confidence.

"Come, darling, dress and let's go out."

A thousand questions come crowding to my lips while I help her do her
hair:

"Do they look after you well? Do you feel very lonely? What are the
other boarders like? Are any of them interesting?"

Her answers, sensible and placid as usual, did not tell me much, except
that the food was good, that she had slept well and that she was very
comfortable.

I resolved to wait a few days before asking her any more.


2

Roseline throws off her wrap and begins dressing. The water trickles
from the sponge which she squeezes over her shoulders, runs down,
lingers here and there and disappears along the flowing lines of her
body, which, in the broad daylight, looks as though it were flooded with
diamonds. A cool fragrance mingles with the scent of the roses. The room
is filled with beauty.



CHAPTER V


1

It snowed last night for the first time; then it froze; and the trees in
the Tuileries are now showing the white lines of their branches against
a dreary sky. The daylight seems all the duller by comparison with the
glitter of the snow-covered ground.... I slowly follow the little black
path made by the sweepers; I receive an impression of solitude; the
streets are very still; it is as though sick people lay behind the
closed windows; and the voices of the children playing as I pass seem to
come to me through invisible curtains.

Rose is walking beside me. A keen wind plasters our dresses against us
and raises them behind into dark, waving banners. The icy air whitens
the fine pattern of our veils against our mouth.

"Where are we going?" asks Rose.

I hesitate a little before replying:

"We are going to the Louvre."

And to put her at her ease and also to guard against a probable
disappointment, I hasten to add:

"It is a picture-book which we will look at together. You will turn
first to what is bright and attractive to the eye; later on, you will
perceive the shades in the colour, the lines in the form and the
expression in the subject. And, if at first our admiration is given to
what is poor and unworthy, what does it matter, so long as it is aroused
at all?"


2

We had reached the foot of the stairs that lead to the _Victory of
Samothrace_. After staring at it for a minute, Rose remarked, in a voice
heavy with indifference:

"It's beautiful, very beautiful."

I felt that she had no other object than that of pleasing me; but her
natural honesty soon prevailed when I asked her what she admired; and
she answered, simply:

"I don't know."

It is in this way, by never utterly and altogether disappointing me,
that she keeps her hold on me. She sees and feels nothing of what we
call beautiful; on the other hand, she is cheerfully oblivious to the
necessity of assuming what she does not feel; she has no idea of posing
either to herself or to others; and the strange coldness of her soul
makes my affection all the warmer. By not trying to appear what she is
not, she constantly keeps alive in me the illusion of what she may be or
of what she will become.

We walked quickly through a number of rooms and sat down in a quiet
corner. I was already under the spell of that deep, reposeful life which
emanates from some of the Primitives; but Roseline, who had stopped on
the way in order to have a better view of various ugly things, was
talking and laughing loudly.

This annoyed me; and I was on the point of telling her so. However, I
restrained myself: I should have felt ashamed to be angry with her. Was
she not gay and lively, as I had wished to see her? What right have we
to let ourselves be swayed by the vagaries of our instinct and expect
our companion to feel the same obligation of silence or speech at any
given moment? Our emotion should strike chords so strong and true that
no minor dissonances of varying temperaments can make them ring false.

Rose chattered away for a long time, speaking all in the same breath of
her convent days, of her terrible godmother, of the scandal which her
sudden disappearance must be creating in the village. Then she stopped;
and I felt her eyes resting vacantly by turns upon myself and upon the
square in the ceiling which at that moment framed a patch of grey sky
studded with whirling snow-flakes. At last, she raised her veil with an
indolent movement, put her hand on my shoulder and, with a long yawn
that revealed all the pearly freshness of her mouth, asked:

"But what _do_ you see in it?"

I slipped my arm under hers and led her away through the deserted rooms.
I ought to have spoken. But how empty are our most pregnant words, when
we try to express one iota of our admiration!

"Why should you mind what I see, my Roseline? It is you and you alone
who can discover what you like and what interests you."

We were passing in front of Titian's _Laura de' Dianti_. I was struck
with the relationship that existed between her and my companion.
Although Rose was different in colouring, fairer, with lighter eyes, she
had the same purity of feature, the thin, straight nose, the very small
mouth and, above all, the same vague look that lends itself to the most
diverse interpretations. She squeezed my arm:

"Speak to me, speak to me!"

I glanced at her. Must it always be so, would she never feel anything
except when my own emotion found utterance? Impressions reached her soul
only after filtering through mine. Love, I thought to myself, love alone
would perhaps one day set free all the raptures now jealously hidden in
those too-chaste nerves. And, in spite of myself, I exclaimed:

"Don't you think that admiration in a woman is only another form of
love?"

"But when she is no longer young?" Rose retorted, with a laugh.

"When she is no longer young, nature doubtless suggests other means of
enthusiasm. Her heart is no longer a bond of union between her and
things. Then her calmer eyes are perhaps able to look at beauty itself,
without having all the joys of a woman's love-filled life to kindle
their fires."

The Rubens pictures were around us, in all their brilliancy and in all
their glory, uttering cries of passion and luxury with voices of flesh
and blood and youth. They were another proof of what I had just said;
and I confessed to my companion:

"It is not so long ago, Rose, that I used to pass unmoved through this
dazzling room where the Rubens flourish in their luscious beauty. I used
to look at them: now, I see them; I used to brush by them: now, I grasp
them. I enter into all this riot of happiness around us, which is a
thousand miles away from you, Rose; and it adds to my own joy in
life...."

"But then what has come to you?" exclaimed the girl.

I could not help smiling, for, when I tried to explain myself, it seemed
to me that, in the depths of my heart, I was playing with words:

"All that hurt me yesterday has become a source of admiration to me
to-day. Excess appears riches and plenty, tumult becomes orderly; and I
seem to see in these works the glorification of all that we are bound to
hold supreme in life: health, beauty, strength, love. Is not the
exaggerated splendour of these pictures a triumphant challenge, the
expression of a magnificent principle?"

We stood silent for a moment; then I added:

"We never actually realise all that we have in our minds; but one would
think that this man's life and work reached the farthest bounds of his
visions. Or else we are unable even to catch a glimpse of what he saw."

And, musing upon that mystery, our frail feminine imagination seemed to
us like a landscape fading into the mist: when the day is clear, we can
distinguish the chain of blue mountains whose summits touch the sky, but
our imagination, if it would not be lost in the haze, must keep to the
foreground, in the avenues laid out by man.

I resumed:

"We are very far, Rose, from the parsimony of the Primitives, each of
whose works contains almost a human life. In their room and in this, you
will find all the contradictory and complementary instruction which one
would like to give you. Over there, sobriety, patience, assiduous
effort, absolute conscientiousness in the smallest detail; life bowed in
all humility, but yet steadfast and fervent; imagination and beauty that
do not strive to shine: if you want a proof, look at the great number
that remained anonymous! Here, on the contrary, prodigality, exultant
love, blood coursing triumphantly through conquered veins. Rubens is the
apostle of wholehearted happiness. The biggest things seem easy when you
are in his presence. If ever you feel tired and ready to be
discouraged, you should come and look at him. Oh, I wonder, yes, I
wonder to what, to whom I owe this new enthusiasm? What have I seen,
what have I learnt? Through what chance acquaintance, what casual word,
what gesture or action, doubtless far removed from Rubens and his works,
did I suddenly enter into that wonderful kingdom?"

And, in fact, that is how it had happened. An unknown treasure falls
into the cup of emotion; and the level is raised. Oh, to feel the
long-slumbering sensation rise within one's self; to see that which was
obscure to us yesterday become crystal-clear to-day; to love more
passionately, to understand a little better, to know a little more: that
is, to us women, the real progress, the only progress which we must
desire and seek after! But how can I hope that Rose will progress if she
never feels?


3

In vain I roamed about with her for an hour, not among the pictures,
whose value she could not yet appreciate, but among the dreams that were
born of them, among the most moving and delectable visions; vain my
emotion, vain my rapture: no answering spark lit her indifferent eyes.
True, there was no question of failure or success; I was putting nothing
to the test: that would have been insanity. But why this weight of
oppression on my spirits? I could not get rid of disturbing memories:
memories of childish raptures finding utterance by chance; memories of
those first loves which fasten upon anything in their haste to live;
memories of virgin hearts nurtured on dreams!

O enthusiasm, admiration, love, if you were not at first wanderers,
neither seeking nor choosing, if you did not blaze fiercely and
foolishly like a flame burning in the noon-day sun, will you ever be
able to light the darkness with all the splendours that are awaiting
your spark in order to burst into life?

O sweet eyes of my Roseline, sweet eyes that shine under your soft, fair
lashes like two opals set in pure gold, will you close for all time
without having gazed for a moment upon the wonders of the earth, upon
the real sky of our human life? Is it true that your beams extinguish
life and beauty wherever they rest?



CHAPTER VI


1

It is six o'clock in the evening; I am taking Rose along the boulevards,
which are so interesting at this time of the year. As usual, I am
astonished at everything that does not astonish her. I look at her as
she walks, beautiful and impassive; I keep step with her stride; and my
thoughts hover to and fro between this life of hers which refuses to
take form and my ideals which are gradually fading out of existence.

Alas, the days pass over her without arousing either desire or
weariness! From time to time, I suggest some simple, trifling work for
her. But, whether the task be mental or material, whether the duty be
light or complex, she acquiesces in the suggestion only to make it
easier for her to put it aside later, gently and as a matter of course,
like tired arms laying down a burden too heavy for them.

This evening, I am merciful to her indolence. Going through the hall of
her boarding-house just now, I saw the long table laid, at which the
boarders meet. And I think of those destinies which have been linked
with Rose's during the past fortnight, while I am still unable to obtain
a clear idea of any one of them from her involved and incoherent
accounts.

The house, which is in the old-fashioned style, has at the back a sort
of glass-covered balcony overhanging the garden of the house next door.
Here the boarders take their coffee after meals, while the proprietress,
a gentle, amiable creature, strives to establish some sort of intimacy
among them, to create an imaginary family out of these strangers who
have come from all parts of the world with varying objects and for
diverse reasons.

I know from experience the surprises latent in people like these. To
look at them, one would set them down as belonging to stereotyped
models: invalids, travellers, globe-trotters, runaways or students, as
the case may be. I call up figures from my own recollection and describe
them to Rose to encourage her to tell me her impressions. Stray
reminiscences marshal themselves, images rise before my eyes,
obliterating the things and people around me, and a vision appears over
which my memory plays like a reflection in a sheet of water. I see a
long house and its white-and-green front mirrored in a clear lake. A man
and a woman arrive there at the same time; and I tell Rose the story of
the two old wanderers:

"It was very curious. Imagine those two people unknown to each other,
leaving the same country at about the same age and making the same
journeys in opposite directions. When I met them, they were two
grey-haired, wizened figures, with the same short-sighted eyes blinking
behind the same kind of spectacles. It amused me from the first to look
at them as one and united beforehand, at a time when they were still
unacquainted. I watched them at the meals which brought them closer
together daily, as it were perusing each other with the pleasure of
finding themselves to be alike, as though they were two copies of the
same guide-book. In their equally commonplace minds, recollections took
the place of ideas. To them, life was a sort of long classification;
they recognised no other duty but that of taking notes and cataloguing.
I don't know if they saw some advantage one day in uniting for good, or
if they began at last to think that there are other roads to follow in
the world beside those which lead to lakes, cities, waterfalls and
mountains. At any rate, after a few weeks, they were sharing the same
room; and we learnt that in future they meant to live side by side."

"Had they got married?"

"No. And, though they performed a very natural action with the utmost
simplicity, this was certainly not due to loftiness of soul or breadth
of mind. But one felt that their knowledge of the manners and morals of
other civilizations had simplified their moral outlook, just as their
actual physical outlook had been dimmed through seeing nature under so
many aspects."

Rose began to laugh:

"There is nothing of that kind at the boarding-house," she said. "For
the moment, we have no old people: nothing but students, two American
women, a Spanish lady...."

Then she hesitated a little and added:

"There's an artist, too, an artist who has begun to paint my portrait."

"Your portrait! And you never told me?"

I am interrupted by a violent movement from Rose. She has turned round
and, in the gathering dusk, her whirling umbrella comes down furiously
on a man's hat, smashing it in and knocking it off his head. A
gentleman is standing before us, very well-dressed and looking very
uncomfortable. He stammers out a vague excuse and tries to escape, but
the indignant girl addresses him noisily. An altercation follows; the
loafers stop to listen; a crowd gathers round us; and a policeman
hurries towards us from the other side of the road. Fortunately, an
empty cab passes; and I just have time to jump in, followed by Rose, who
continues to brandish a threatening umbrella through the window.

Then at last I obtain an explanation of the disturbance. It appears
that, without my noticing it, the man had been following us for an hour;
and his silent homage had ended by incensing the girl.

I kiss her at the door of the boarding-house and walk back thoughtfully
through the streets, reflecting on the surprises which that uncivilised
character holds in store for me.


2

Rose had perhaps insulted a man who was simply taking pleasure in
admiring her, I thought to myself. What did she know of his intentions?
In any case, is not a silent look enough to keep importunity at a
distance?

Generally speaking, those who go after us in this way because of the
swing of our hips, or the mass of hair gleaming on our neck, or a
shapely shoe under a lifted skirt, are uninteresting; and among all the
coarse, silly or timid admirers whom a woman can encounter in the street
there are perhaps one or two at most who will leave an ineffaceable mark
on her memory. But why not always admit the most charitable
construction?


3

I had been wandering a long time at random. Feeling a little tired, I
turned into the Parc Monceau, at the time when it was too late for the
mothers and babies and too early for the lovers' invasion. I sat down by
the transparent lake which so prettily reflects its diadem of arbours. A
young willow drooped in gentle sadness over the face of the water; and
white ducks glided past me in the evening mist. The waning blue light
mingled with the pale vapour that rises over Paris at nightfall; and all
this made a mauve sky behind the dark trees. It was soft and
melancholy, but not grave; and I lingered on, amid the beauty of the
scene, rapt in some woman's reverie. Then a lamp was lighted behind the
bench on which I sat; and on the ground before me I saw a shadow beside
my own. I understood and did not turn my head.

A man had followed me. I felt his eyes resting heavily on my profile, on
my cheek and on my ungloved hands. He was evidently going to speak.
Annoyed at this, I took a little volume from my pocket and, to protect
my solitude, began to read.

But soon I guessed that he was reading with me; and my mind thus
mingling with a stranger's passed over the words without quite following
them. His persistency angered me; and I closed the book.

Then he said to me:

"Yes, you are very beautiful."

The words fell into my soul with a disquieting resonance. I rose with a
flushed face and then hesitated. It was certainly one of those gross and
lying pieces of flattery which we all of us hear at times. Nevertheless,
I resisted the instinctive impulse that would have made me move away. Is
not modesty in such a case merely another stratagem of our coquetry? We
flee, the man pursues and the wrong impression is confirmed.

Standing in front of him, I frankly turned my eyes on his. Then he
softly repeated the same words.

Was it the exquisite modulation of his voice? Or again were the gentle,
friendly words the sudden revelation of a troubled life, a sensitive
soul ready to pour itself out in a single phrase and longing to
crystallise itself in one unparalleled second? They surprised me, those
words of his, they seemed to me new words, grave words, because I had
not believed that it was possible to speak them in that way to a
stranger, to speak them in a voice that asked for nothing.

My whole attitude must have betrayed my twofold astonishment. My eyes
questioned his. Their expression underwent no change. He was really
asking for nothing. Then I smiled and answered, simply:

"I thank you. A woman is always glad to be told that."

Taking off his hat, he rose and bowed. I moved away with a slight
feeling of discomfort: would he commit the stupidity of following me?
Had I made a mistake? No, he resumed his seat. He had not blundered
either.


4

When two people do not know each other and will not meet again, the
words exchanged between them, if they are not mere commonplaces, become
fraught with a strange significance and leave behind them a trail of
melancholy like a mourning-veil; it is the surprise of those voices
which speak to each other and will never be heard again, the fleeting
encounter between glance and glance, the smile which knows not where to
rest and yet would fain enrich the remembrance with a ray of kindness.

The essential image of a human life is contained in a moment like that.
It awakens, hesitates, seeks, thinks that it has found, speaks a word
and relapses into nothingness.



CHAPTER VII


1

Rose's profile stands out in relief against the dark velvet of the box.
Her soft, fair hair parts into two waves that are like two streams of
honey following the curve of her cheek. Her long neck is very white in
the black gown that frames it; and her gloved hands rest near the fan
that lies opened on her knees like a swan's wing. She is sitting
straight up, with her eyes fixed in front of her. Her attitude is as
dignified and cold as a circlet of brilliants on a beautiful forehead.

I am alone, at the back of the box. I prefer to listen like that, in the
shadow, unseen. Is not the attention of a woman who is anything of a
coquette, that slight, fitful attention, always affected a little by the
thought, however unconscious, of the effect which she is producing?


2

I am struck by the general attitude of reverence. In the great silence
through which the music swells, the lives of all those present seem
penetrated with harmony.

I look at them as at so many open temples, which their thoughts have
deserted in order to join one another in an invisible communion. There
is a kind of homage in the bent heads and lowered eyes of the men. The
women are silent. The fans cease fluttering. The souls of the audience
are uplifted like the silent instruments of a human symphony that
mysteriously rises and rises till it mingles with the other and is
absorbed in it. If some part of us exists beyond words and forms, if our
thought sometimes floats in regions of pure mentality, is it not this
principle deprived of consciousness which bathes in the tremulous waves
of sound?


3

And Rose is also listening. But Rose listens without hearing. She, whom
the most beautiful things leave unmoved, here preserves an appearance of
absolute attention better than any one else in the audience. She
listens in that passive manner which is characteristic of her nature.
She lives a waking sleep. There is no consciousness, no effort, but
neither any desire.

When the orchestra fills the house with a song of gladness, I forget my
anxiety and let my imagination soar into its heights and weave romances
around that strange, cold beauty; but, if the music stops, if Rose moves
or speaks, then it comes to earth again with some simple little plan,
quite practical and quite ordinary.


4

She leant forward and I saw glittering under the electric lamp the
little silver chain which she wore round her neck on the day when I saw
her first, in the Normandy cornfields, standing amid the tall golden
sheaves; and, as I recalled that first impression, the difference
between then and now came like a blinding flash. In the cool morning
breeze, the sickles advance with the sound and the surge of waves; and
the golden expanse bows before the oncoming death. The sky is blue, the
village steeple shimmers in the sunlight, a great calm reigns ... and a
woman stands there, bending over the ground. What have I done? What have
I done? Was not everything better so?



CHAPTER VIII


1

"It looks like snowing," says Rose.

The words falling upon an absolute silence distract me from my work.

It is a dull, drab winter's day. There is no colour, no light in the sky
that shows through the muslin blinds. On the branches of the bare trees,
a few dead leaves, which the wind has left behind, shiver miserably at
some passing gust. There is just enough noise for us to enjoy the peace
that enfolds the house. From time to time, carriage-wheels roll by and
the crack of a whip cuts into our silence; then the dog wakes, sits up,
looks questioningly at me and quietly puts his nose back between his
paws and begins to snore again. Rose is sitting opposite him, on the
other side of the fire-place. She is holding a book in her hands without
reading it. Her beautiful eyes are staring dreamily at the fitful
flames.

I rose and went upstairs to fetch a volume which I wanted. Both of
them, the dog and she, accompanied me, yawning and stretching themselves
as they went. They stood beside the book-case, like two witnesses,
equally useless and equally indispensable, and watched me searching. I
shivered in the cold room. Rose gave a little cough; and the dog tried
to curl himself up in the folds of my skirt.

Then we all three went down again; and, when I had gone back to my
place, they docilely resumed theirs on either side of the chimney.

The dog, before settling down, turned several times on his cushion,
arching his back, with his tail between his legs and his critical nose
quivering with satisfaction. Rose also has seen that her armchair is as
comfortable as it can be made. Now, lying back luxuriously, with her
elbows on the rests and her head on a soft cushion, she is evidently not
much troubled at the thought of a long day indoors.


2

In the two months since Rose left Sainte-Colombe, I have drilled her
into an intermittent attempt at style which is the utmost that she will
ever achieve, I fear; for her will, unhappily, is incapable of
sustained effort. When she has to hold herself upright for several hours
at a time, I see her gradually stooping as though invisible forces were
dragging her down.

Certainly, it is no longer the Rose of Sainte-Colombe who is here beside
me. How much of her remains? Her general appearance is transformed by
her clothes and the way in which she wears her hair; her voice and
gestures are softer; but all this minute and complex change is but the
subtle effect of events, the disconcerting effect of an influence that
has laid itself upon her nature without altering it in any way. And this
is what really causes my uneasiness. She is changed, but she has not
changed.

I take her with me wherever I have to go. She accompanies me on my walks
and drives, in my shopping, to the play. Men consider her beautiful, but
her indifference keeps love at a distance: love, the passion in which I
placed, in which I still place the hopes that remain to me.


3

As for Rose herself, she is always pleased, without being enthusiastic,
and never expresses a wish or a desire.

I sometimes laugh and say:

"You have a weatherproof soul; and your common sense is as starched as
your Sunday cap used to be!"

But at heart she saddens me. To keep my interest in her alive, I find
myself wishing that she had some glaring fault. And at the same time I
am angry with myself for not appreciating the exclusiveness of her
affection better. I am actually beginning to think that this extravagant
sentiment is fatal to her. I look upon it in her heart as I look upon
the great tree in my garden, which interferes with the growth of
everything around it: fond as I am of that tree, I consider it something
of an enemy.



CHAPTER IX


1

This afternoon, the whole atmosphere of the house is changed. There is
no silence, no work. The maid fusses about, spreading out my dresses
before Rose and me. We cannot settle upon anything.

"We shall have to try them on you," I say.

But at the very first our choice is made.

A cry of admiration escapes me at the sight of Rose sheathed from head
to foot in a long green-velvet tunic that falls heavily around her,
without ornament or jewellery. From the high velvet collar, her head
rises like a flower from its calyx; and I have never beheld a richer
harmony than that of her golden hair streaming over the emerald green.

While I finish dressing her, we talk:

"You are having all your friends," she says.

"Some of them, those who live in Paris at this season. I have done for
you to-day what I seldom care to do: I have asked them all together. But
I have made a point of insisting that the strictest isolation shall be
maintained."

Rose laughed as she asked me what I meant.

"It's quite simple," I answered. "We shall throw open all the doors; and
there will be no crowding permitted! No general conversation, no loud
talking ..."

"In short," she exclaimed, "the exact opposite to the convent, where we
were forbidden to talk in twos."

"That is to say, where you were forbidden to talk at all; for there is
no real conversation with more than one. As long as you have not spoken
to a person alone, can you say that you have ever seen her?"

She did not appear convinced; and I continued:

"But just think! Conversation in pairs, when two people are in
sympathy--and they are nearly always in sympathy when they are face to
face--can be as sincere as lonely meditations."

I felt that she shared my sentiment; but her reasonable nature makes her
always steer a middle course, never leaning to either side.


2

The pale winter sun is beginning to wane, but there is still plenty of
daylight in the white drawing-room. And I look at my friends, who have
formed little groups in harmony with my wishes and their own. When an
increased intimacy brings us all closer together, the party will gain by
that earlier informality. Each life will have been given its normal
pitch and will try at least to keep it. For our souls are such sensitive
instruments that they can rarely strike as much as a true third.

Blanche, with the agate eyes and the cloud of chestnut hair, is a
picture of autumn in the brown and red of her frock, with its bands of
sable. She is listening attentively to Marcienne. The fair Marcienne
herself, whom I love for her passionate pride, is sitting near the
fire-place; and her wonderful profile stands out against the flames. Her
mouth is a fierce red; but the figure which shows through the
pale-coloured tailor-made dress is full of tender childish curves. The
swansdown toque makes her black hair seem blacker still. She is talking
seriously and holding out to the flames her fingers covered with rings.

The wide-open door reveals the darker bedroom, in which the lights are
already turned on. A young married woman is sitting with her elbows on
the table. She is reading a poem in a low voice; and from time to time a
few words, spoken more loudly, mingle with the semi-silence of the other
rooms. Bending under the lamp-shade, her brown hair is bathed in the
light, while her profile is veiled by her hand and the lines of her body
are lost in the dark dress which melts into the shadow. Near her,
leaning against the white wall, two white figures listen and dream.

I see Rose. She is standing, all emerald and gold, in the middle of the
next room. Behind her, a mirror reflects the copper candelabra whose
lighted branches surround her with stars. A placidly-smiling Madonna,
chaste and cold, dazzling and glorious, she talks to the inseparables,
Aurélie and Renée.

Renée, clad in deep mourning, is a delicious little princess of jet,
with lint-white hair and flax-blue irises. Her companion, crowned with
glowing tresses, knows the splendour of her green eyes and, with a
cunning fan-like play of her long eyelids, amuses herself by making them
appear and disappear.

My attention is recalled to the visitor by my side, a young Dutchwoman
not yet quite at home in France. She is shy in speaking and she does not
know my friends. I look at her. Her fair round face is quaintly framed
in the smooth coils of her golden hair. Her eyes are a cloudless blue.
Her nose, which is a little heavy and serious, belies the smiling mouth,
with its corners that turn up so readily. The very long and very lovely
neck makes one follow in thought the hollow of the nape and the slope of
the shoulders vanishing in a snowy cloud of Mechlin lace. On the
deliberately antiquated black-silk dress, a gold chain and a miniature
set in brilliants give the finishing touch to a style classic in its
chastity. Seated in a grandfather's chair in the embrasure of the
window, she reminds one of Mme. de Mortsauf in Balzac's _Lys dans la
vallée_.

But she is also the very embodiment of Zealand. You can picture her head
covered with a lace cap and her temples adorned with gold corkscrews.
Behind her you conjure up flat horizons, slow-turning wind-mills, little
red-and-green houses in which the inmates seem to play at living. How
charming she looks in the last rays of light, at once childish and
dignified, passive and romantic ... and so different from the rest!

But has not each her particular interest, her special grace? When my
eyes go from one to another, they tell a rosary of precious beads, each
with its own peculiar beauty, neither greater nor less than its fellows!
What a glad and wondrous thing it is to be women, to be delicate, pretty
things, infinitely sensitive and infinitely varied, living works of art,
matter for kisses, the realised stuff of dreams! When you look at them
like that, solely in the decorative sense, you are ready to condemn
those who work, who think and who concentrate upon an aim of some sort,
for these superfine creatures carry the reason for their existence
within themselves, so great is the perfection which they achieve with a
gesture, an attitude, a glance. And then you reflect upon what they too
often are in the privacy of their lives: narrow and domineering,
attached to petty, useless duties, their minds lacking dignity, their
souls lacking horizon; and you are sorry that they have not grown,
through the sheer consciousness of their beauty, into ways that are
kindly and generous.

I let my hand rest lightly on Cecilia's hands; and in the sweetness of
the gathering dusk we both dream. Like the scent of flowers, the
different natures seem to find a more precise expression as their
shapes fade. I explain them to Cecilia, who does not know them.

Aurélie and Renée draw my eyes with their laughter; and I begin with
them. They are the careless lovers, idle for the exquisite pleasure of
idleness. They live a dream-life, the life of a child that sleeps,
dresses itself, goes for a walk, eats sweets and plays with its dolls.
They are good-natured as well as frivolous, lissom of mind as well as of
body, indulgent to others and charming in themselves. Love, resting on
their young and tender lives, makes them more tender yet, like the light
that lingers long and fondly upon a soft-tinted pastel.

Next comes the turn of Marcienne, who, greatly daring, has broken with
her family and given up worldly luxury, to work and live freely with the
man of her choice.

Beside her is Blanche, still restless and undecided, attracted by love
and irritated by her sister Hermione, who pursues a vision of charity
and redemption.

Here my friend's fine profile turns to the other groups; and I continue:

"The one whom we call Sister Hermione you can see in the dark bedroom,
reading under the light of the lamp, with her face hidden in her
hands."

"Is she good-looking?"

"Very, but tries not to seem so. That is why she is always so simply
dressed."

Cecilia interrupts me:

"But her dress isn't simple!"

"You are quite right. It is made complex by a thousand superfluous
fripperies. Hermione has not been slow to understand that, to counteract
perfect beauty, you must read simplicity to mean commonplace
triviality."

A flutter of silk, a gleam of a silver-white skirt in the waning light,
a whiff of orris-root; and Marcienne glides down to our feet with a
lithe, cat-like movement. In a curt, passionate tone, she says:

"You are speaking of Hermione. Oh, do try and persuade her sister not to
go the same way: is not one enough? Must more loveliness be wasted?"

Sitting on a cushion on the floor, she raises her glowing face, her eyes
dark as night, her scarlet mouth, her dazzling pallor.

"I shall do nothing of the sort," I answer with a laugh, "for I rather
like Hermione's folly; besides, her reason will soon conquer it! The
dangers we run depend on chance; the first roads we take depend on
influences. The way in which we bear those dangers and return from those
roads: that is where the interest begins!"

"But, tell me," murmurs Cecilia, "what does your Hermione want?"

"Here is her story, in a couple of words," says Marcienne. "She is rich,
beautiful and talented; and she belongs to an aristocratic English
family. At twenty, she yielded to an impulse and went on the stage; in a
few months, she was a really successful actress; then she made the
acquaintance of a Hindu high-priest. He came and went; and she followed
him. During the last two years, she has been his faithful disciple."

"But what does she preach?"

Marcienne made a vague gesture:

"Buddhist doctrines! She believes that she possesses the true faith and
tries to hand it on to others. In the few days which she has spent in
Paris, she has already made two converts, those two innocents who are
hanging on her words. It would all be charming, you know, if her creed
did not enjoin chastity and if, by holding those views, she did not risk
the awful fate of never knowing love!"

Marcienne continued, still addressing herself to my new friend:

"Do you see those pretty creatures in white, standing close to Hermione?
They are two orphans, two girls who fell in love with the same man. I
don't know the details of the romance, nor can I say whether it was
fancy or passion that guided the man's choice. All I know is that he
loved one of them and had a child by her. A little while after, he
deserted her. Thereupon their unhappy love reunited those two hearts
which happy love, as always, had divided. The same devotion and kindness
made them both bend over the one cradle. Oh, the adorable pity that
prompted Anne's heart on the day when, hearing her baby call her mamma
for the first time, she sent for her sister Marie and, holding towards
her those little outstretched arms, those eyes in which consciousness
was dawning, that little fluttering life seeking a resting-place, she
offered the maid, in the exquisite mystery of that first smile, the
first name of love! From that time onward, the baby grew up between its
two mammas as one treads a sunny path between two flowering banks."

Marcienne had a gift for pretty phrases of this kind, which she would
let fall not without a certain affectation. She liked talking and I
liked listening to her. I asked her what she thought of Rose. She
praised her beauty highly and even said the occasional awkwardness of
her movements made it more uncommon:

"For that matter," she added, "if it were not so, I should try to be
blind to it. A woman must understand that she lowers herself by
belittling her sisters. How immensely we increase man's ascendancy by
never praising one another!"

I began to laugh:

"Alas, I would not dare to say that the wisest among us, in extolling
our own sex, are not once more seeking the admiration of some man!"

And Marcienne, who has been to such pains to release herself from the
worldly surroundings amid which she suffered, goes on speaking long and
passionately. There is a note of pain in her voice as she says:

"Everything separates us and removes us one from the other, education
even more than instinct. If woman only knew how she lessens her power by
blindly respecting the petty social laws of which she is nevertheless
the sole judge and dictator! Whereas she hands them down meekly, from
mother to daughter, with all their wearisome restrictions, and grows
indignant if some one bolder ventures to transgress them. And yet it is
in this domain, which is hers, that she might extend her power by
gradually overthrowing the old idols."

And she also says:

"Almost always, in defending a woman, we have occasion to strike a
mortal blow at some ancient prejudice. For my part, I must confess that
I take a mischievous delight in bestowing special indulgence on things
which often are too severe a test for that indulgence in others; for,
rather than be suspected of impugning ever so lightly some worn-out
principle, they will wound and wound again the most innocent of their
sisters."


3

It is almost dark. I leave my companions in order to call for the lamps
and I stop near Rose as I pass through the next room. Here, all the
girls are clustered round Hermione, who is telling them a story of her
travels.

Anne and Marie are listening respectfully, while the two inseparables,
only half-attentive, are sharing a box of sweets.

Roseline throws her arms round me and, shrugging her shoulders, says:

"All this strikes me as such utter nonsense!"

She is certainly right, with her Normandy common sense; but does she not
need just a touch of this same nonsense to bring her faculties into
play, her powers into action?


4

When I return to the drawing-room, Blanche calls me with a laugh of
delight:

"Oh, look!" she cries. "I've found a book with a portrait of my beloved
Elizabeth Browning. Look at that sweet, gentle face, surrounded with
ringlets: it's just as I imagined her. I love her all the better now."

They had opened other books written by women and, leaning over the
table, were comparing the frontispiece portraits of the authors,
interesting or handsome, grave or smiling, young or old. Even so do
certain little volumes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries open
nearly always with an engraving faded by time and representing charming
faces all of the same class and often with similar expressions and
features: a delicate nose, a bow-shaped, smiling mouth, intelligent eyes
with no mysterious depths, dimpled cheeks, a string of pearls round the
neck, a loosely-tied kerchief just revealing a swelling bosom, wanton
curls dancing against a dark background in a frame of roses upheld by
Cupids. And the quiver and the arrows and the flying ribbons and the
turtle-doves: all this, joined to the letters, the maxims or the verses,
often grave or even sad, sometimes calm and reasonable, sometimes
passionate, brings before us in a few strokes the harmonious picture of
woman's life.

"It is no longer the fashion in these days," murmured Blanche. "And yet
is there not an intimate relation between a woman's work and her
appearance?"

"That is the reason, no doubt," replied Marcienne, "why it seems, unlike
man's, to grow smaller as it passes out of the present. We see the
immortal pages disappear like the fallen petals of a flower. It's sad,
don't you think?"

Struck with the beauty of her closing words, we listened to her in
silence. She continued to turn the leaves at random and resumed:

"But, oh, the exquisite art which a woman's work can show when she is
not only beautiful, but truly wise, when a lovely hand indites stately
verse, when a life holds or breathes nothing but high romance ... and
love! For it is love and love alone that makes a woman's brain
conceive."

Cecilia, who was gradually losing her shyness, made a gesture to silence
us and said, slowly:

"I'll tell you something!"

A general peal of laughter greeted this phrase with which the young
Dutchwoman, according to the custom of her country, always ushers in her
least words. To make yourself better understood by slow and absent
minds, is it not well to give a warning? It is a sort of little spring
that goes off first and arouses people's attention. Then the thought is
there, ready for utterance. And sometimes, amid the silence, an
announcement is made that it will be fine to-morrow, or that it is hot
and that a storm is threatening.

But Cecilia is much too clever to cast aside those little mannerisms of
her native race which so charmingly accentuate her special type of
beauty. So she joined in our laughter with a good grace and, after
repeating her warning, observed, in her hesitating language, that, by
thus admitting ourselves to be the mere creatures of love, we were
justifying the opinion of the men who treat us as "looking-glasses."

"Looking-glasses? Men's looking-glasses? And why not?" I exclaimed. "It
is not for us women to decry that looking-glass side of us. It is
serious, more serious than you think, for on the beauty of our
reflection often depend our ardour, our courage, our very character and
all the energies that create or affect our actions. Besides, whether men
or women, we can only reflect one another and we ourselves do not become
conscious of our powers until the day of the supreme love, as if, till
then, we had only seen ourselves in pocket-mirrors which never reflect
more than a morsel of our lives, a movement, a gesture ... and which
always distort it!"

Every mouth quivered with laughter. I insisted:

"If women often have so much difficulty in learning to know their own
characters, it is because most men are scornful mirrors, occupied with
nothing smaller than the universe and never dreaming of reflecting women
except in a grudging and imperfect fashion."

"It is true," said Marcienne, thinking of her lover, a man whose
domineering temper often made him unjust to her. "Men's lives would be
less serenely confident if our amiable and accommodating souls did not
afford them a vision incessantly embellished by love ... and always
having infinity for a background!"

And, with a satirical smile, she added:

"Let us accept the part of looking-glasses, but let us place our gods in
a still higher light! They will not complain; and we shall at least have
the advantage of seeing beyond them a little space and brightness."

The conversation then assumed a more personal character, each of us
thinking of the well-beloved: Marcienne, ever mournful and passionate;
the gentle Blanche, anxious, secretly plighted to an absent lover; and
Cecilia, all absorbed in her young happiness with the husband of her
choice.


5

Hermione and her cluster of girls had gradually come nearer. She dresses
badly, she does her hair with uncompromising severity, but, in spite of
it all, Hermione is very beautiful; and her loveliness triumphs over her
commonplace clothes, even as her generous heart and the noble
restlessness of her mind keep her on a plane which is loftier than the
narrow dogmas of her creed.

During a moment's silence, I hear her answer a question put by Rose:

"Oh, what does it matter if I am wrong, as long as I make others happy!"

And all my friends, like a sheaf of glowing flowers, seemed to be bound
together by that word of loving-kindness. Were they not all, these
bestowers of joy, living in a world into which neither sin nor error
entered, their lives obeying the same eternal principles of love,
following the sacred law of nature which fills our hearts with
tenderness and our bodies with longing?


6

They were now able to talk together. Their remarks would not be vain,
ordinary or frivolous. During the first moments of isolation, each of
them had pursued her own thoughts and continued her own life. Each had
reached that perfect diapason at which the most antagonistic spirits are
in supreme unison. Heedless of different objects or of diverse aims, the
same yearning for generosity, the same thirst after graciousness and
beauty united their hearts; and their minds, leaping all barriers, came
to an understanding of one another in a region beyond opinions. All
these young and beautiful creatures, all these forms fashioned for
delight exhaled an atmosphere of love. Were they not all alike its
votaries?

One alone, in a fiercer glow of enthusiasm and with a doubtless finer
sensualism, one alone attempts to offer up her life to a God! The
glorious folly of her! How I love to see her, vainly tormenting her
beauty, seeking infinity, aspiring to bear peace across the world. I see
her soul like a walled garden in which all the flowers lift themselves
higher and higher, struggling to offer themselves to a moment of light.
But, in a day of greater discontent and in an hour of maturity, the
illusory fence will fall and the fair life will stand in open space.
Then, drunk with boundless earth and boundless sky, the woman, restored
to nature, will doubtless find herself more attuned to pleasure than
were the others and more responsive to joy.

I looked at all those bowed heads, dark or fair, dusky or golden, those
lovely forms revealed by their clinging robes, those delicate profiles
bent over the portraits and writings of their sisters, far-off friends,
vanished, unknown or absent, whose power of love still lives for all men
and for all time ... immortal tears, petals dropped from the flower.

Then my glistening eyes turned towards my Roseline. She was there,
indifferent, unmoved, perhaps secretly bored.

And my thoughts wept in my heart.

The most beautiful things cannot be given.



CHAPTER X


1

I had been out of town for a time. Returning to Paris a day sooner than
I intended, I wished to give Rose the pleasure of an unexpected arrival
and I went to see her that same evening. Though it was not more than ten
o'clock, the lights were already out in the strictly-managed
boarding-house. There was a row of brass candlesticks on the hall-table.
The man-servant wanted to give me one; but I was impatient, thanked him
hurriedly and ran upstairs in the dark.

I could not have told why I was so happy; for, though I should not have
been willing to confess it, I had long lost all my illusions about the
girl. But she was so beautiful; and her passive temperament left so much
room for my fancy! I never made any headway; but at the moment it always
seemed to me as if I were heard and understood. I used to write on that
unresisting life as one writes on the sand; and, the easier I found it
to make the impress of my will, the faster was it obliterated.

When I reached the floor on which Rose's bedroom was, I stopped in the
dark passage. A narrow streak of light showed me that her door was not
quite shut. Then, gathering up my skirts to deaden their sound, I felt
along the wall and crept softly, on tip-toe, so as to take her by
surprise. With infinite precautions, I slowly pushed the door open. I
first caught sight of a corner of the empty bed, with its white curtains
still closed; then of a candle-end burning on the table and of flowers
and a broken vase lying on the ground. What could she be doing?

I was so far from imagining the truth that I do not know how I beheld it
without betraying my presence by a movement or a sound. There was a
young man in the room.

I saw his face, straight opposite me, near the guttering candle. A man
in Rose's bedroom! A friend, no doubt; a lover, perhaps! But why had she
never mentioned him to me? I had been away a month; and in not one of
her letters had she ever spoken of him. A friend? A lover? Could she
have a whole existence of which I knew nothing? Could her quiet life be
feigned? But why?

At the risk of revealing my presence, I opened the door still farther;
and then I saw her profile bending forward. Thus posed, it stood out
against the black marble of the mantel-piece like a cameo. Rose had let
down her hair, as she did every evening. Her bodice was unfastened; and
the two golden tresses brought forward over her breast meekly followed
the curve of her half-exposed bosom. She was not astonished, she was not
even excited. She seemed to acquiesce in the man's presence in her room;
it was no doubt customary.

And suddenly, amid the thousand details that engaged my attention, a
light flashed across me: was not Rose's companion one of the boarders in
the house, perhaps that painter of whom she had told me, the one who
made a sketch of her head which she brought to me a few days after her
arrival in Paris?

His eyes never left her. He watched and followed her every movement,
whereas she, in her perfect composure, did not seem even to heed his
presence. And that was what struck me: Rose's impassiveness in the face
of that anxious and silent prayer. Did she not see? Could she not
understand? I almost longed to rush at her and cry:

"But look, open your eyes; that man is entreating you!... If you do not
share his emotions, at least be touched by his suffering; if not your
lips, give him a glance or a smile!"

Oh, how like her it all is! And how the anxious pleading of the wooer
resembles the vain waiting of the friend! But, alas, what in my case is
but a disappointment of the heart, a tiresome obstacle to the evolution
of an idea, is perhaps in his case a cruel and lasting ordeal!

Suddenly, he falls on his knees before the girl. With his shaking hands,
he touches her breast; then he kisses it gently. She does not repel him,
but her bored and absent expression discourages any amorous action and
withers the kisses at the very moment when they alight upon her flesh.
Then he half-raises himself to gaze at her from head to foot; and with
all his ardour he silently asks for the consenting smile and the word
that gives permission.

I shall never forget his look, the superb animal look, brilliant,
glowing and empty as a ball-room deserted by the dancers, the superb,
outspoken look that accompanies the gift of life and seems to flee its
mystery at the moment when it approaches.

He stammered a few tender words. His voice thrilled me. It was grave and
clear as a bronze and silver bell. It rang true, for the most ephemeral
desire is not false. I knew, by the sense of his words, that Rose had
not yet given herself.

Sullenly and as though annoyed by the soft words, she brought the dark
stuff of her bodice over her white bosom. To the young man it was like a
cloud passing over the sky; and, whether or not because the girl's
resistance exasperated him, he suddenly pressed her to him, sought her
lips and made her bend for a moment under the violence of his embrace.
But, with an abrupt movement, with a sort of vindictive rage, she
succeeded in releasing herself.

Then I fled from the house.


2

I did not recover myself until I was on the quay outside and felt the
cold night-air against my face. My skirt was trailing on the ground; my
hands made no movement to hold it up.

With my disgust and resentment there was mingled a vague feeling of
remorse. Was it not I who had taught the girl the shamelessness that
admits desire and the prudence that refuses to submit to it? Had I not
wished for her, above all other treasures, the power of judging,
appreciating, choosing?

Yes, but when I had talked of choosing, I had never imagined that the
choice could be made in cold blood! So far from that, it had seemed to
me that no more dangerous or painful experience could visit a woman's
heart. The victory of mind over instinct and of will over desire is the
price of a hideous, abnormal struggle opposed to the very law of our
nature. A sad victory baptised with tears, a sacred preparation for the
noble defeat that is to crown a woman's life!

Besides, it was not her refusal that revolted me, for we cannot judge an
action of which we do not know the reasons; it was her demeanour, her
horrible indifference. The ugliness of the scene would not have offended
me, I reflected, if the woman had been in any way troubled by it; if I
had seen her resist her own desire or at least deplore that which she
was unable to share; if I had seen her struggle for a sentiment or
suffer for an idea, however absurd or wild! But Rose had had neither
tears nor compassion; and the blind instinct that always prompts us to
give our lives had not tempted her.

I continued to see that face of marble. I heard those impassive words. I
pictured that body which felt no thrill, that mouth which abandoned
itself without giving itself. No, I had never taught her anything of
that kind; for, however light the pain which we cause and whatever its
nature, we are forgiven only if our own heart feels a deeper wound. I
did not understand her conduct. What had prompted it? To what chains of
weakness had her soul stealthily attached itself, that soul which I had
jealously protected against all principles and prejudices? What secret
limits had she assigned herself despite my watchful care to give her
none?

I felt grieved and disappointed; and yet ... and yet I walked along with
a certain gladness in my step. The tears trembling on my lashes were not
tears of helplessness, but of a too-insistent energy, for they came
above all from my overwrought nerves. My mind saw clear and rent my
remorse like a superfluous veil.

No, I was not responsible! Our thought, once expressed, no longer
belongs to us. Whether it leave us when scarce ripe, because an accident
has gathered it, or whether it fall in its season, like the leaf
falling from the tree, we know nothing of what it will become; and it is
at once the wretchedness and the greatness of human thought to be
subjected to the infinite forms of every mind and of every existence.

I walked for a long time without heeding the hour. The sky was clear and
the stars glowed in its depths like live things; in the distance, the
Trocadéro decked the night with brilliants.

And, little by little, hope returned to me. I was persuaded that over
there, in the little room which my care had provided for Rose, love
would yet be the conqueror. She would awaken under those kisses. My
Roseline should yet know passion and rapture. Love would triumph. It
would do what I had been unable to do, it would breathe life into
beauty! And, in the dead stillness, I kept hearing the kisses falling,
falling heavily, like the first drops of a storm.



CHAPTER XI


1

We are talking like old friends, he and I, in the little white bedroom.
Through the two curtains of the window high up in the wall a great ray
of sunshine falls, a column of dancing light that dies on the table
between us. I sit drumming absent-mindedly with my fingers in the
shimmering motes. He looks at me and I feel no need to speak or to turn
my head. The novelty of his presence makes no impression on me beyond a
feeling of surprise that I do not find it strange. When by chance we do
not hold the same view, the difference of opinion lasts only long enough
to shift the thought which we are considering, even as one shifts an
object to see its different aspects one after the other.

I came to the boarding-house this morning to see Rose. Her room was
empty. I was on the point of going, when the young man passed. He
recognised me, doubtless from the portraits which Rose had shown him;
and he came up to me of his own accord. His greeting was frank and
natural. There were breadth and spaciousness in his eyes and his smile
as well as in his manner. To justify my friendly interest, I pretended
to have heard about him from Rose as he himself had heard about me: that
is to say, with the most circumstantial details regarding position,
occupations and all the externals of life. He did not therefore enter
into explanations about things of which I was ignorant and we at once
began to talk without any formality.

What a strange and delightful sensation it was! I remembered all that I
had noticed about him the night before; I knew his character from
admiring its gentleness and patience under the supreme test of
unrequited love, of desire that awakened no response. And he was now
talking to me from the very depths of his soul, while I knew nothing of
who or what he was, nor of what he was doing here. I was really seeing
him from the inside, as we see ourselves behind the scenes of our own
existence, without ever knowing exactly the spectacle which we present
to others. I was observing the inner working of his life before I had
seen the outward presentment.

Speaking to me of his profession, he told me, with a smile, how little
importance he attached to his painting:

"It is only a favourable pretext for the life I have chosen. As you
know, my greatest passion is nature; and I cannot but like the work
which trained my eyes to a clearer vision and my nerves to a finer
response."

He told me of the years which he had wasted in seeking in the customary
amusements the joys which are ordinarily found there. He told me of the
life of luxury and idleness which he had led until the day came when
adverse fate reduced him to living on the income from a small estate
which he owned in the country: a thrice-fortunate day, he added, for
from that moment he had understood that he was made for solitude,
meditation and all the quiet pleasures of nature. Then he
enthusiastically described to me the peaceful charm of his little house
and he employed the words of a lover to extol the charm of his
willow-swept river and the wonders of his flowers and bees.


2

Then I wanted to know what he thought of Rose. He judged her not
inaccurately; but, with a lover's partiality, he applied the words
balance, gentleness, equanimity to qualities which one day, when the
scales had fallen from his eyes, he would call lack of heart and
feeling. Deep-seated differences, perhaps, but yet not of a nature to
affect the very sound principles that ensured his tranquillity.

He had no illusions as to the quality of her mind. But to him, as to
most men, a woman's intellectual value was but a relative factor; and he
did not pause to estimate it with any attempt at accuracy, preferring to
repeat:

"She will not disturb the silence of my life; and her beauty will adorn
it marvellously."

He had a way of speaking which I liked. He knew how to refine his words
by means of his expression. If they were very positive, his voice would
hesitate; if too grave, a faint smile would lighten their sombreness. If
he spoke ironically, his boyish eyes softened any touch of bitterness in
the wisdom of the satirist.

I did not like to think that the success of his wooing would mean the
end of his labours. Rose would never become the independent, perfect
woman of my dreams, capable of preserving her personal life in the midst
of love and in all circumstances. Alas, my ambition had soared too
high! Henceforth, I must wish nothing better for her than this purely
ornamental fate.

"Do you love her?" I asked.

"I was taken captive at once by her beauty," he answered. "She objected
that this sudden love must be an illusion; and I tried for a time to
think the same. But, before long, suffering taught me the sincerity of
my love. I dare not say whether it is senseless or right or usual; but,
as long as a feeling gives us nothing but joy, we are unable to
recognise it, we doubt it, we smile at it as a light and fleeting thing.
Let anguish come, however, with tears and dread; and it is as though the
seal of reality were placed on our heart. Then we believe in our love."

I repeated, pensively and happily:

"Do you really love her?"

"Yes, I can say so honestly."

He hesitated a little and, speaking very slowly, as though picking his
words from amid his memories, said:

"When we are sincere, we are bound to confess that the love which
encircles all the movements of our body follows the movements of its
strength or its weakness equally. It has its hours of exasperation, it
is sometimes a tide that rises and floods everything: the past, the
present, the future, the will, the spirit, the flesh. Then all becomes
peaceful; the waves subside and we think that we love no more. We do
love, however, but with a more detached joy. We have stepped outside
love, as it were, and we contemplate its extent."

My breath came quickly and my hands, clasped on the table, were pressed
close together. My heart was bursting with gladness for my Roseline. He
saw my emotion and questioned me with deeper interest.

I replied without hesitation:

"I am happy in this love which comes to Rose so simply and candidly."

He pressed my hand as he said:

"Sometimes, on reading certain passages in your letters, I used to fear
that you might be opposed to my intentions...."

I began to laugh:

"Yes, you will have read fine views concerning independence; and a
tirade against the women who surrender too easily; and any number of
things more or less contrary to your hopes. But do you not agree with me
that our principles are at their soundest when they are least rigid and
that our noblest convictions are those of which we see both sides at
once? Woman even more than man must not be afraid of handling her
morality a little roughly when occasion demands it, just as she
sometimes ruffles her laces for the pleasure of the eyes, easily and
naturally and without attaching too much importance to the matter."


3

He listens to my words as I listen to his, with surprised delight. We
feel as if we were playing with the same thought, for it flashes from
one life to the other without undergoing any alteration.

In point of fact, the human beings whom we see for the first time are
not always new to us. True, we have never seen each other before, but
our sympathies, our enthusiasms, inasmuch as they are common to both of
us, have met more than once; and, now that we are talking, the form of
our thoughts also corresponds, for, without intending it, we often look
at the most abstract things objectively, because he is a painter and I a
woman.

Oh, I know no more exquisite surprises than those chance meetings which
suddenly bring you a friend at a turning in life's road! It is like a
charming landscape which one has seen in a dream and which one now finds
in reality, without even having hoped for it. You speak, laugh,
recognise each other and above all you are astonished and go on being
astonished, adorably and shamelessly, like children.

What we had to say was all interwoven, as though we were both drawing on
the same memories. We were speaking of those friends of a day whom
accident sometimes gives us and whom the very briefness of the emotion
impresses deeply on our heart. They are there for ever, in a few clear,
sharp strokes, like sketches:

"For instance, you go on a matter of business to see somebody whom you
don't know. You chafe with annoyance as you cross the threshold. In
spite of the material duty which you are performing, you consider that
it is so much time wasted. Then, for some unknown reason, the atmosphere
seems kindly. You find familiar things in the room where you are
waiting: a picture which you might have chosen yourself, books which you
know and like, things which look as if your own hand had arranged them.
And you forget everything. With your forehead against the pane, you look
at the roofs of the houses, at the streets, at all that little scene
which is the constant companion of an existence which you do not know
and with which you are about to come into touch; and your heart beats
very fast, for a sort of foresight tells you that a friend is going to
enter the room."

"That's quite true; and sometimes even we have already met him at some
house or other; but then his mind displayed itself in a special
attitude, inaccessible, motionless, lifeless, like a thing in a glass
case. Now, we see him before us, in his own surroundings; and everything
is changed. He has a smile which is made of just the same quality of
affection as our own, a look instinct with the same sort of experience,
a laugh that cheerfully faces like dangers, a mind responding to the
same springs. And we talk and are contented and happy; and, when the sun
enters at the window or when the fire flickers merrily in the hearth, we
can easily picture spending the rest of our life there, in gladness and
comfort. Anything that the one says is received by the other with an
exclamation of delight. Yes, we have felt and seen things in the same
way; and this little fact, natural though it may seem, is so rare that
it appears extraordinary!"

With an abrupt movement that must be customary with him, my companion
shook his head to fling back his thick hair, which darkened his forehead
whenever he leant forward:

"And very often," he said, "you don't see each other again, or at least
you don't see each other like that, because time is too swift and
because everybody has to go his own road."

The bright shaft of sunlight was still between us. It came now from a
higher point of the little window. In the shimmering dust, I conjured up
the faces of scarce-seen friends. There were some whose features had
become almost obliterated; but beyond them, as one sees an image in a
crystal, I clearly perceived the ideas, the life, the soul that had for
a moment throbbed on exactly the same level as my own.

I replied, in a very low voice:

"We remain infinitely grateful to people who have given us such minutes
as those!"

And then, certain of hearing myself echoed, I cried, delightedly:

"Egoists should always be grateful and responsive, for gratitude is
nothing but happiness prolonged by thought...."

"Yes, that is the whole secret of the responsive soul: to have
sufficient impetus not to stop the sensation at the place where the joy
itself stops."

"To have simply, like the runner, an impetus that carries us beyond the
goal...."


4

Thus were our remarks unrolled like the links of one and the same chain;
and yet how different were our two existences! His was devoid of all
restlessness and agitation; and mine was still in need of it. His
intelligence was active, but not at all anxious to appear so. For him,
meditation was the great object; and, when I expressed my admiration of
a modesty impossible to my own undisciplined pride, he replied, in all
simplicity:

"Do not look upon this as modesty. The over-modest are often those whose
pride is too great to find room on the surface."

"If I were a man or an older woman than I am," I said, laughingly, "I
would choose your destiny; but, for the time being, I feel a genuine
need to satisfy my youth and to give it a few of the little pleasures
that suit it."

He tried to jest, like most men who disapprove of the trouble which we
take to please them by making ourselves prettier or more brilliant; but
at heart he was as fond as myself of feminine cajolery and frivolity.

"You are full of pride," I exclaimed, "when you have accomplished some
noble action or produced some rare work of art; then why should not
women be happy at realising in their persons consummate beauty and
grace? It is very probable that, if Plato or Socrates had suddenly been
turned into beautiful young creatures, their destiny would have been
different from what it was; it is even exceedingly probable that wisdom
would have prompted them very often to lay aside their writings and come
and contemplate their charms in the admiration of men!"

I quoted the words uttered by a woman who had known and loved admiration
in her day:

"If life were longer, I would devote as many hours to my body as I now
do to my mind; and I should be right. Unfortunately, I have to make a
choice; and my very love of beauty makes me turn to that which does not
fade...."


5

We should certainly have gone on talking for hours and without tiring;
but suddenly we both together remembered that Rose must be waiting for
me at my house and I rose to go.

As I did so, I said:

"I happen not to know your Christian name. What is it?"

"Floris."

Floris! That name, so little known in France but very frequent in
Holland, surprised me; and I had some difficulty in not saying:

"Then you are not a Frenchman?"

But all that I said was:

"Floris, you shall have your Rose!"



CHAPTER XII


1

Going down the stairs, I laughed to myself and said:

"It is really one of love's miracles, that that man should be interested
in Rose. And yet, to a philosopher, does not that beautiful girl offer a
very unusual sense of security? From the point of view of the life which
I had planned for her, she is a failure; but will she not be perfect in
the eyes of a lover, of a man who expects nothing from her but an
occasion for dreams and pleasure?"

Filled with gladness, I hastened my steps. Although it was the end of
winter, it was still freezing; and it was pleasant to hear the sound of
my feet on the hard ground. I also noticed the noises of the street:
they were sharp and distinct; and in the crisp air things were all black
and white, as though etched in dry-point.

For a moment, my dream vanished; then suddenly I became aware of it and
I rifled a shop of its flowers and jumped into a cab in order to be
with my Roseline the sooner.


2

Rose and Floris! The delicious combination filled my heart to
bursting-point. Is it not always some insignificant little accident that
sets our impressions overflowing? Like a child, at the last minute, I
had felt a wish to know what he was called; and I was delighted to find
that it was a name full of grace and colour. Now all my thoughts
clustered around those harmonious syllables. Those remarkable eyes, that
dark hair with its faint wave, that sensitive heart, that profound
intellect, powerful and yet a little tired, like a tree bowed down with
fruit: all this went through life under the name of Floris!

Then I saw once more his face, his gentleness, his profound charm; and I
never doubted the girl's secret assent. In my fond hope, I went to the
length of imagining that she had wished to choose her life for herself,
independent of my influence; that she had at last understood that, in
order to please me, she must first assert her liberty, without fear of
hurting or vexing me. It was an illusion, certainly; but there are
times when joy thrusts aside reason in order to burst into full blossom,
even as in moments of sorrow our despair often goes beyond reality to
drain itself to the last drop in one passionate outpouring.


3

Rose was sitting in the drawing-room, waiting for me. I rushed in like a
mad thing, without knowing what I was doing. My laughter, my flowers, my
words all came together and fell upon her like a shower of joy. In one
breath I told her of my indiscretion of the night before, of those
stolen sensations, of my anguish, of my life at a standstill, waiting on
theirs, of my delightful talk with Floris, of the sympathy between us
and lastly of my conviction that happiness was being offered to her here
and now.

Then I noticed that she said nothing; and, begging her pardon for my
incoherence, I tried to express in serious words the future that awaited
her. But all those glad impressions had dazzled me; I was like some one
who comes suddenly from the bright sunshine into a room. Shadows fell
and rose before my brain as before eyes that have looked too long at
the light; and I could do nothing but kiss her and repeat:

"Believe me, happiness lies there! Seize it, seize it!"

At last she murmured, wearily:

"No, I can't do it."

I questioned her, anxiously:

"Perhaps there is some obstacle that separates you? Do you dislike him?"

"No, I know his whole life and I have nothing against him."

"Well, then ...?"

I tried in vain to obtain a definite reply. Her soul was shut, walled
in, almost hostile. Was she refusing herself, as she had once given
herself, without knowing why? Or else was my vague intuition correct and
was a latent energy escaping from that little low, square forehead,
white and pure as a camellia, a force of which she herself was unaware
and which no doubt would one day reveal to me the final choice of her
life?

I made her sit down and, kneeling beside her, questioned her patiently
and gently as one asks a sick child to describe the pain which one is
anxious to relieve. Silently, gazing vaguely into space, she let
herself rest on my shoulder. The flowers fell from her listless hands.
Some still hung to her dress, with tangled stalks. Red carnations,
mimosa, tuberose, narcissus, hyacinths drunk with perfume, guelder-roses
and white lilac wept at her feet.

I rose slowly and looked at her, my heart aching for the heedless one
who dropped the joys which chance laid in her arms!



PART THE THIRD

CHAPTER I


1

The reason why we judge people better after a lapse of time is that,
when we look at them from a distance, there is no confusion of detail.
The main lines of their character stand out, relieved of the thousand
little alterations and erasures which the scrupulous hand of truth is
constantly making as it passes hither and thither, now rubbing out, now
redrawing, until at last the impression is no longer a very clear one.

From the day when I separated my life completely from the life of Rose,
her character appeared to me distinctly; and at the same time, now that
it was free to come down to its own level, it asserted itself in its
turn. Until that moment, while I had been careful to put no pressure
upon her, I had nevertheless been asking her to choose her tastes and
occupations on a plane that was unsuitable for her.

Her moral outlook was good, true and not at all silly, but it was
limited; and, in trying to make her see life swiftly and from above, as
though in a bird's-eye view, I had made it impossible for her to
distinguish anything.

Her fault was that she had not been able to change, mine was that I had
had too much faith in her possibilities. My optimism had wound itself
around her immobility and fastened to it, even as ivy coils around a
stone statue, without communicating to it the smallest portion of its
sturdy and luxuriant little life.


2

And now it is six months since we parted; and I am going to-day to see
her for the first time in her new existence.

I look out of the window of the railway-carriage; and my mind calls up
memories which glide past with the autumn fields. First comes the
departure of Floris, wearied by the incomprehensible attitude of the
girl. He went away shortly after our meeting, still philosophical and
cheerful, in spite of his disappointment. And the part which he played
in my experiment taught me something that guided my efforts into a fresh
direction: if Rose's beauty was to him sufficient compensation for her
commonplace character, could not I also accept the girl as something out
of which to weave romance and beauty? Does not everything lie in the
mere fact of consent? Passive and silent, would she not become a rare
object in my life, a precious stone?

"Woman blossoms into fullest flower by doing nothing," some one has
said. "Women who do not work form the beauty of the world."

I took Rose to live with me and for weeks devoted myself exclusively to
her appearance and her manners. I sought if possible to perfect the
exterior. It was all in vain. This beautiful creature was so totally
ignorant of what beauty meant that she was constantly deforming herself;
and I at last gave up the struggle.

Sadly I remember the last pulsation of my will. It happened in the
silence of my heart; and life went on for a little while longer. Would
it not have been hateful to send Rose away, as one dismisses a servant?
And what act, what fault had she committed to deserve such treatment?
When it would have been so sweet to me to give her everything, for no
reason at all, how could I find a solid reason for taking everything
from her?

So I said nothing to her; we had none of those horrible explanations
which set bristling spikes on the barriers--inevitable barriers,
alas!--which dissimilarities in taste or character raise between people.
There are certain persons who cannot bear to make any change without a
preliminary explanation. They seem to carry a sort of map in their
heads: on the far side of the frontier that borders the friendly
territory lies the enemy; and it needs but a word, a gesture, a
difference of opinion for you to find yourself in exile. Alas, have we
not enough with all the limits, demarcations, laws and judgments that
are perhaps necessary to the world at large? And must we lay upon
ourselves still others in the intimate relations of life?

I had no right to set myself up as a judge and I could not have
pronounced sentence. I waited. And, my will being no longer in the way,
circumstances gradually led my companion to her true destiny better than
I could have done.

She was bored. She was not really made to be a purely decorative object.
In spite of her trailing silk or velvet dresses, twenty times a day I
would find her in the larder, with a loaf under her arm and a knife in
her hand, contentedly buttering thick slices of bread, which she would
eat slowly in huge mouthfuls, looking straight before her as she did so.

She was bored; and I was powerless to cure this unfamiliar ill. I looked
out some work for her in my busy life. She wrote letters, kept my
accounts, hemmed the maids' aprons. Soon she was running the errands.
One day she answered the front-door.

I still remember that moment when she came and told me, in her pretty,
gentle way, that there was some one to see me in the drawing-room. I do
not know why, but that insignificant incident suddenly revealed the
truth to me. I was ashamed of myself and turned away my head so that she
should not see me blush. Poor child, she was unconsciously lowering
herself more and more daily. She was becoming my property. I was making
use of her.

Without saying anything, I at once began to search for something for
her. I hesitated between first one thing and then another; but at last
chance came to my aid. Country-bred as she was, the girl was losing her
colour in the Paris air; she was ordered to leave town. She knew a
family at Neufchâtel, in Normandy, who were willing to take her as a
boarder for a few weeks. She went and did not come back.


3

What did she do there, how did she spend her time? She wrote to me
before long that she was quite happy, that she was earning her
livelihood without difficulty. There was a little linen-draper's shop,
it seemed, kept by an old maid, who, having no relations of her own, had
taken Rose to assist her at first and perhaps to succeed her in time.

I was not at all surprised. For that matter, when we follow the natural
evolution of things, their conclusion comes so softly that we hardly
notice it. It is the descent which we are approaching: it becomes less
steep at every step and, when we reach it, it is only a faint depression
in the ground.


4

Strange temperament! The more I think of it, the more it appears to me
as an instance of the dangers of virtue, or at least of what we
understand by the word. Does it not look as though, in the charts of our
characters, the virtues are the ultimate goals which can be reached only
by the way of our faults? Each virtue stands like a golden statue in the
centre of a cross-roads. We can hardly know every side of it unless we
have beheld it from the various paths that lead to it. It shines in a
different manner at the end of each road.

Rose never became conscious of her good qualities, because she possessed
them too naturally; and she remained poor in the midst of all the riches
which she was unable to discern.

Oh, if only she had been less wise and had had that ardour, that flame
which feeds on all that is thrown upon it to extinguish it; if she had
had that inordinate prodigality which teaches us by making us commit a
thousand acts of folly; if, in short, she had had faults, vices,
impulses of curiosity, how different her fate would have been! The
equilibrium of a person's character may be compared with that of a pair
of scales; and it is safe to say that, by weighing more heavily upon one
of these, our defects raise our good qualities to their highest level.


5

But every minute is now bringing me nearer to this life which I am at
last to know; and I gaze absent-mindedly at the Bray country, that
lovely country red with the gold of autumn. By force of habit, my
nerves spell out a few sensations which my thoughts do not put into
words. My heart is beating. Now, with no idea or purpose in my mind, I
am speeding with a full heart towards the girl who was at least the
inspiration of a splendid hope and above all an incentive to action.



CHAPTER II


1

I arrived at Neufchâtel at the gracious hour when the sun is paling; and
I was at once charmed with the kindly aspect of this little Norman town.

The house-fronts gleaming with fresh paint, the pigeons picking their
way across the streets, the grass growing between the cobble-stones, the
flowers outside the windows and doors, a cleanliness that adorns the
smallest details: all this is so calm and so empty that our life at once
settles there as in a frame that takes with equal ease the happy or the
sad picture which we propose to fit into it.

It reminds me of Bruges, whose infinite, patient calm is a clean page on
which the visitor's life is printed, happy or distressful at will, since
there is nothing to define its character. It also has the silence of the
little Flemish towns, with their streets without carriages or wayfarers.
The gardens look as though they were artificial; and in the frame of
the open windows we see interiors which are as sharp as pictures.

Leading out of the main street is a mysterious little alley, dark and
badly paved. It runs upwards and ends in a clump of trees arching
against the blue of the sky. There is no visible gate or doorway. I turn
up it. All along a high wall hang old fire-backs, bas-reliefs of
cracked, rusty-red iron, once licked by the flames, now washed by the
rain.

I loiter to examine the subjects: coats of arms, trophies of weapons, or
allegories and half-obliterated love-scenes. It is curious to see these
homely relics thus exposed in the street, conjuring up the peaceful soul
of families gathered round the hearth. From over the wall, the air
reaches me laden with hallowed fragrance. I picture the box-bordered
walks on the other side.

Then I climb higher; and, when I come to the trees, I find a charming
surprise. The public gardens lie in front of me. In the shade of the
public gardens we seem to find the very spirit of a town; it is to the
gardens or to the church that our curiosity always turns in the first
place. Here is the walk edged with stone benches on which old men and
old women sit coughing and gossiping; here mothers bring their work,
while their children run about; and in the centre, at the junction of
the paths, is the platform where the regimental band plays on Sundays.

The Neufchâtel gardens are in no way elaborate: a number of avenues have
been cut out of an ancient wood; and that is all. There are no shrubs;
just a patch of dahlias, with a ridiculous little iron railing round
them. But its whole charm lies in its picturesque situation up above the
town. In between the tall trees with their interlacing boughs, one can
see the slopes of the hills, the plains, the meadows, the gleaming roofs
and the church with its twin spires piercing the blue of the sky. Then,
in the foreground, I see, behind the houses, the little gardens whose
breath reached me just now. They are there, divided into small plots of
equal size, simple or pretentious, sometimes humble kitchen-gardens, but
sometimes also a patchwork adorned with grottoes, arbours and glass
bells.

Rose mentioned a garden which brightens her little home. Suppose it were
one of these!... A woman appears over there: she is tall and
fair-haired. She stoops over a well; I cannot make out her features. She
draws herself up again. Oh, no, her figure is clumsy, her hair looks
dull and colourless and her clothes vulgar. Rose would never dress like
that, in two colours that clash! Rose would never ...

I wander into a delicious reverie. How infinitely superior Rose is to
all these people whose lives I can picture around me. Two women sit
cackling beside me on the bench: they are at once guileless and bad,
with their mania for eternally wagging tongues that know no rest. A
little farther on, a good housewife is shaking her troublesome child; a
stout, overdressed woman of the shop-keeping class is flaunting her
finery down one of the walks; a priest passes and, while his lips mumble
prayers, his eyes, held in leash by fear, prowl around me; one of his
flock curtseys to the ground as she meets him.

A protest rises in my heart at each of the little incidents: is not Rose
rid of all that? Rose long ago gave up going to mass and confession. She
has lost the hypocritical sense of shame, knows neither envy nor malice
and is a stranger to all ostentation.

I often used to reproach her with her extreme humility. How wrong I was!
I now think that this humility can achieve the same result as pride
itself. One looks too high, the other too low; but both pass by the
petty vanities of life and either of them can keep us equally
indifferent to those vanities.


2

I rose from my seat with a happy heart. The time had come for me to go
in search of her. I would kiss her in all gratitude. Had she not
enlarged my will to the extent of making it admit her little existence?

I went through the silent streets, in search of the charming, old-world
name that was to tell me where the aged spinster lived. Rose had said
that I should see it written over the door in blue letters and that it
was opposite a place where they sold sportsmen's and anglers'
requisites, a shop with a sign that would be certain to attract my
attention.

I therefore walked along with a sure step and suddenly, at a
street-corner, saw a great silver fish flashing to and fro in the breeze
at the end of a long line. Soon I was in a quiet backwater of the town.
There it was! Opposite me, the last gleams of the setting sun shed their
radiance on a very bright little house covered with a luxuriant vine. On
one side, in the same golden light, the name of Isaline Coquet smiled
in sky-blue letters.

The shop was white, with pearl-grey shutters; and on the ledges were
bunchy plants gay with pink, starry flowers. In the window, a few
starched caps looked as if they were talking scandal on their respective
stands.

I walked in. The opening of the door roused the tongue of a little rusty
bell, but nobody came. On a big grandfather's chair, near the counter,
were a pair of spectacles and a book. Perhaps Mlle. Coquet had run away
when she caught sight of me through the panes; Rose said that she was
shy and a little frightened at the thought of my coming visit. And I had
the pleasure of looking for my Rose as I followed the mysterious turns
of a primitive passage.

The walls were spotless and the red-tiled floor shone in the half-light.
I crossed a neat little kitchen, just as a cuckoo-clock was chiming
five, and found myself on the threshold of a small room opening on a
garden. Rose was sitting in the wide, low window.

The noise of the clock no doubt deadened the sound of my steps, for the
girl did not turn her head. The room exhaled a faint perfume as of
incense and musk; and I seemed to hold all her peaceful little life in
my breath and in that swift glance. All that I could see of her face was
one cheek and the tips of her long eyelashes. Placed as she was in front
of the light, a golden haze shaded the colours of her beautiful hair;
and I lingered in contemplation of the long and graceful curve of her
figure bending over her work. She was sewing in the midst of floods of
stiff white muslin, which formed a chain of snow-clad peaks with blue
reflections around her. I looked at the low-ceilinged room with its
whitewashed wall and its rows of bodices, petticoats and shiny caps
hanging on lines stretched from one side to the other. A grey tom-cat
lay purring on a corner of the table; and, near it, in a well-scrubbed
pot, a pink geranium displayed its sombre leaves and its bright flowers.

Rose was sewing. At regular intervals, her right arm rose, drew out the
thread and returned to the spot whence it started: an even and captive
movement symbolical of the amount of activity permitted to women! But
was she not to choose that movement among all others?


3

We dine in her bedroom. What a surprise her room held in store for me!
Rose had arranged it herself, in harmony with the simplicity which I
loved.

Brightly-painted wooden shelves make patches of colour on the white
walls; the furniture is rustic; and the curtains of white muslin with
mauve spots complete the frank and artless harmony of the room. How
little this was to be expected from Mlle. Coquet's shop!

Then, on Rose's table, the books I gave her fill the place of honour. I
dare say that she never reads them; and yet I am glad to see them here.

Rose goes to and fro between our little table and the kitchen. She looks
pretty, she smiles. The slowness of her movements is no longer
lethargic; it simply exhales an air of repose, a perfume of peace that
suits her beauty. Her eyes have fastened on me at once and, as in the
old days, never leave me.

Is it the tyranny of habit that used to prevent me from reading anything
in them? Now, those eyes that ingenuously drink in my life as the
flowers do the light, those eyes not veiled by any shadow, constantly
bring the tears to mine. She sees this and fondly lays her head on my
shoulder, whispering:

"I did nothing but expect you, darling, only I had given up hoping...."

This term of endearment, which she addresses to me for the first time,
as if, being no longer subject to any effort, she were at last yielding
to the sweets of friendship, this expression and my Christian name,
which she utters lovingly, complete the pleasantness of the evening.

I feel happy amid it all. We who were brought up in the country never
lose our appreciation of its peaceful charm. It bows down our lives as
we bow our forehead in our hands to think beyond our immediate
surroundings; and from its narrow circle we are better able to judge the
expanse which has become necessary to us.


4

The night rises, things fade away. The sky is a deep blue in the frame
of the open window. Rose brings the lamp:

"It was the first companion of my solitude," she says, reminiscently;
then, laughing, "the companion of my boredom, the companion of those
long, long evenings...."

"But now, dearest?..."

"Ah, now, the days are too short: I have a thousand duties to perform,
my dear little old woman to look after, my customers, my flowers, my
animals; then, in the evening, we often have a caller: the priest, the
notary, the neighbours...."

Then, suddenly fearing that she has hurt me, she adds, in a caressing
tone:

"When I am with them, I am always talking about you, so as to comfort
myself for the loss of you; for that is my only sorrow."


5

An hour or two later, sitting in the garden, we watched the stars
appearing one by one. Our arms were round each other; our fair tresses
were intermingled. We were at the far end of the town. We heard the
sounds of the country ringing in the transparent air; and the crystal
voice of the frogs, that small, clear note falling steadily and marking
time to our thoughts. We were quiet, like everything around us,
unstirred by a breath of wind.

Rose spoke of her happiness; and I never wearied of inhaling that
delicious tranquillity. I had been thinking of settling her future for
her. And what an inestimable lesson I was learning from her! Rose was
one of those whose road must be marked from hour to hour by a little
duty of some kind or another. It is thus, by limiting themselves, that
these characters arrive at knowing and asserting themselves. She said,
blithely, "my room," "my garden," "my house;" and I smiled as I
reflected that I had once struggled to rid that mind of all useless
bonds.


6

What a mistake I had made! In order to find her life, she had had to
earn it and to recognise it in the very things that now belonged to it,
to mark every hour of it with humdrum tasks, to create for herself
little troubles on her own level, difficulties which her good sense
could easily overcome. There was nothing unexpected, nothing
far-reaching in her life, never an event beyond the tinkle of the
shop-bell announcing a customer, a little bell with a short, sharp,
cracked ring, stopping on a single note without vibration, as though it
were the very voice of the little souls which it excited.

In contrast with this humble destiny, I considered my own full of
difficulty and agitation, so crowded and yet doubtless equally empty; I
followed in my mind's eye the lives of my friends; and I reflected that
the nature of us women, alike of the most wayward and the most direct,
is too delicate and too complex for us easily to keep our balance in a
state of complete liberty.

"When we achieve it," I said to Rose, "it is thanks to a close and
constant observation of ourselves; for woman never has any real moral
strength. Self-sacrifice and kindness alone lend us some, because our
capacity for loving knows no limit: our strength is then a loan which we
make to ourselves at difficult moments by a miracle of love. Once the
crisis is over, we have to pay ... with interest!"

"In Paris," said Rose, "even from the very first, I had a feeling that I
should never dare to move in the absolute liberty that was offered me.
You are not angry with me?"

"How could I be? We were both wanderers, you and I, where circumstances
led us, both of us with a passion for sincerity, both of us with the
best of intentions. A cleverer mind than mine would doubtless have
saved you from going out of your way. It had many unnecessary turnings.
But perhaps they had their uses...."

"Yes," replied my friend, wisely, "for without them, I should not have
been so certain that my choice was right...."


7

Around us the mysterious life of the night was gradually awaking. All
the animals that shun the daylight were beginning to stir. A hedgehog
brushed against my skirt. In the grass, two glowworms summoned love with
all their fires. The smell of the garden became overpowering. Our
movements and our words throbbed in a scented air. Rose leant towards
me:

"There is one thought that troubles me," she said. "Have I discouraged
you? Will others better equipped than I still find you ready to lend
them a helping hand?"

"Why not, Roseline?" And I would have liked to put my very soul into the
kiss which I gave her. "No, you have not discouraged me. The only thing
that matters is to have the power to choose what suits us. Then alone
is it possible for us to develop ourselves without restraint. With your
limited horizon, you are freer, darling, than when you were living with
me, at the mercy of all the fancies which you did not know how to use.
Everything is relative; and instinct makes no mistakes. Yours, by
placing you here among the lives which I can imagine, gives you the
opportunity of excelling. You felt that you needed to live under
conditions in which the effort and the merit would lie in not changing,
in which action would be immobility. You know, Rose, there is always
some common ground in human beings; to reach it, if you do not stoop,
the others will raise themselves. With your beauty which is the wonder
of every one you meet, with that gentleness which wins all hearts and
with your soul which no longer knows either malice or prayer, you will
be a new example of life to all around you."

Rose was sitting on a higher chair than mine; and this allowed me to let
my head sink into her lap. I no longer dreamt of looking at the
splendour of the night, for was it not throbbing in my heart, where a
star woke every moment? And I thought out loud:

"You were always asking me the object of my efforts. Do you now
understand that I could not explain what I myself did not understand
perfectly until you revealed it to me?"

I reflected for a moment and continued:

"We can wish nothing for others nor force anything on them: we can only
help them to clear the field before and within themselves...."

She murmured:

"I understand."

And I cried:

"Ah, my dearest, how grateful I am to you! In looking for you, I have
found myself a little more; and it is always so; and that, you see, is
why we must love action. However tiny, however humble, it may be, it
brings us at the same time the knowledge of others and of ourselves. We
appear to fling ourselves stout-heartedly into the stream whose currents
we cannot foresee; we are hurt, we are wounded, we struggle; but, when
we return to the bank, we feel invigorated and refreshed."

Roseline stroked my forehead lightly with her hands and softly
whispered:

"There was nothing lacking to my peace of mind but your approval. Now I
am happy and I can begin my life without anxiety."



CHAPTER III


1

Rose was still asleep when I entered the drowsy bedroom to bid her
good-bye. A small, heart-shaped opening in the middle of the shutters
allowed the first ray of daylight to penetrate. Sleeping happily and
trustfully, with streaming hair and hands out-flung, she lay strewn like
the petals of a flower. I laid my lips on hers and softly went away.

As I climb the slope that leads out of Neufchâtel, I turn and look down
once more on the little town that slumbers everlastingly in its rich
peace. Just there, by the church, I picture the house with its grey
shutters, its white front and its starched caps behind the flower-pots.
Beyond, the green horizons and the blue hill-sides stand clearly marked
in the dawning sun; and I gaze and gaze as far as my eyes can see,
through my lashes sparkling with tears.

For all her lethargy, her slumber as of a beautiful plant, the soul of
my Rose is wholesome, wholesome as those meadows, those fields, all that
good Norman earth which gave her to me miserable only to take her back
happy and free. Certainly, Rose has not been able to achieve the
strength that makes use of liberty: in that life, still so young, the
will is a dead branch through which the sap no longer flows. At any
rate, what she does possess she will not lose; she is one of those who
instinctively hold in their breath so as not to tarnish the pane through
which a glimpse of infinity stands revealed to them. Her soul could not
take in unlimited happiness, it had to feel a touch of sorrow in order
to taste a little joy. There are many like her, people who perceive that
the light is good when they come out of the darkness, but who are not
able to recognise the light in the radiant beauty of the noon-day
fields.

The sun rises as I slowly make my way up-hill; the wood along the road
is still wet with the dawn. It offers me its autumnal fragrance; I
breathe it in, I gaze at its golden tints, I think of Rose, of her past
and her future. But, beyond my dreams, an unformed idea seems to spread
like a clear sky, without outline, without colour, without beginning or
end; and I have a secret feeling that I shall try again.


2

I shall go towards other strangers. I shall seek at random among hearts
and souls! Fearlessly, in spite of censure and derision, I shall lavish
my confidence in order to win that of others. I shall not linger over
the vain pleasure of discovering the traces of my power. We can pour out
our influence boldly: it is a wine that excites no two souls in a like
manner; and we are always ignorant what the nature of the intoxication
will be, whether fruitful or barren, blithe or cheerless.

I shall go towards other strangers; I understand now that my sole
ambition is to bring life within their reach. What matter what their
thoughts, their loves, their wishes, if at least they have acquired the
taste and the means of thinking, loving and wishing?

Shall I ever succeed in evolving from this passion of mine a method, a
system that will make my action less blind and uncertain? I think not.

In a life that never offers us anything logical or foreseen, our moral
nature must needs resemble a drapery that is folded backwards and
forwards over events, souls or circumstances. Let us ask no more than
that it be beautiful and soft, strong and light, submissive to the
least breath and ready to be transformed at its command. Nothing but an
essential principle of humanity and loving-kindness can serve as a
foundation for our actions, without ever confining them.


3

On the one hand, we have effort, nearly always vain; on the other,
knowledge, which is the second look that makes us discern the ordinary,
the commonplace, where at first we beheld beauty and charm.
Nevertheless, let us worship effort and knowledge above all things.

Let us act as simply as the little wave that lifts itself and breaks
against the rock. Others come after it; and it is their light kisses
which, all unseen, end by biting into the granite.





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