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Title: The Confession of a Child of the Century — Complete
Author: Musset, Alfred de, 1810-1857
Language: English
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CONFESSION OF A CHILD OF THE CENTURY

(Confession d'un Enfant du Siecle)

By ALFRED DE MUSSET

With a Preface by HENRI DE BORNIER, of the French Academy



ALFRED DE MUSSET

A poet has no right to play fast and loose with his genius. It does not
belong to him, it belongs to the Almighty; it belongs to the world and to
a coming generation. At thirty De Musset was already an old man, seeking
in artificial stimuli the youth that would not spring again. Coming from
a literary family the zeal of his house had eaten him up; his passion had
burned itself out and his heart with it. He had done his work; it
mattered little to him or to literature whether the curtain fell on his
life's drama in 1841 or in 1857.

Alfred de Musset, by virtue of his genial, ironical temperament,
eminently clear brain, and undying achievements, belongs to the great
poets of the ages. We to-day do not approve the timbre of his epoch: that
impertinent, somewhat irritant mask, that redundant rhetoric, that
occasional disdain for the metre. Yet he remains the greatest poete de
l'amour, the most spontaneous, the most sincere, the most emotional
singer of the tender passion that modern times has produced.

Born of noble parentage on December 11, 1810--his full name being Louis
Charles Alfred de Musset--the son of De Musset-Pathai, he received his
education at the College Henri IV, where, among others, the Duke of
Orleans was his schoolmate. When only eighteen he was introduced into the
Romantic 'cenacle' at Nodier's. His first work, 'Les Contes d'Espagne et
d'Italie' (1829), shows reckless daring in the choice of subjects quite
in the spirit of Le Sage, with a dash of the dandified impertinence that
mocked the foibles of the old Romanticists. However, he presently
abandoned this style for the more subjective strain of 'Les Voeux
Steyiles, Octave, Les Secretes Pensees de Rafael, Namouna, and Rolla',
the last two being very eloquent at times, though immature. Rolla (1833)
is one of the strongest and most depressing of his works; the sceptic
regrets the faith he has lost the power to regain, and realizes in lurid
flashes the desolate emptiness of his own heart. At this period the
crisis of his life was reached. He accompanied George Sand to Italy, a
rupture between them occurred, and De Musset returned to Paris alone in
1834.

More subdued sadness is found in 'Les Nuits' (1832-1837), and in 'Espoir
en Dieu' (1838), etc., and his 'Lettre a Lamartine' belongs to the most
beautiful pages of French literature. But henceforth his production grows
more sparing and in form less romantic, although 'Le Rhin Allemand', for
example, shows that at times he can still gather up all his powers. The
poet becomes lazy and morose, his will is sapped by a wild and reckless
life, and one is more than once tempted to wish that his lyre had ceased
to sing.

De Musset's prose is more abundant than his lyrics or his dramas. It is
of immense value, and owes its chief significance to the clearness with
which it exhibits the progress of his ethical disintegration. In
'Emmeline (1837) we have a rather dangerous juggling with the psychology
of love. Then follows a study of simultaneous love, 'Les Deux Mattresses'
(1838), quite in the spirit of Jean Paul. He then wrote three sympathetic
depictions of Parisian Bohemia: 'Frederic et Bernadette, Mimi Pinson, and
Le Secret de Javotte', all in 1838. 'Le Fils de Titien (1838) and
Croiselles' (1839) are carefully elaborated historical novelettes; the
latter is considered one of his best works, overflowing with romantic
spirit, and contrasting in this respect strangely with 'La Mouche'
(1853), one of the last flickerings of his imagination. 'Maggot' (1838)
bears marks of the influence of George Sand; 'Le Merle Blanc' (1842) is a
sort of allegory dealing with their quarrel. 'Pierre et Camille' is a
pretty but slight tale of a deaf-mute's love. His greatest work,
'Confession d'un Enfant du Siecle', crowned with acclaim by the French
Academy, and classic for all time, was written in 1836, when the poet,
somewhat recovered from the shock, relates his unhappy Italian
experience. It is an ambitious and deeply interesting work, and shows
whither his dread of all moral compulsion and self-control was leading
him.

De Musset also wrote some critical essays, witty and satirical in tone,
in which his genius appears in another light. It is not generally known
that he was the translator into French of De Quincey's 'Confessions of an
Opium Eater' (1828). He was also a prominent contributor to the 'Revue
des Deux Mondes.' In 1852 he was elected to the French Academy, but
hardly ever appeared at the sessions. A confrere once made the remark:
"De Musset frequently absents himself," whereupon it is said another
Immortal answered, "And frequently absinthe's himself!"

While Brunetiere, Lemattre, and others consider De Musset a great
dramatist, Sainte-Beuve, singularly enough, does not appreciate him as a
playwright. Theophile Gautier says about 'Un Caprice' (1847): "Since the
days of Marivaux nothing has been produced in 'La Comedie Francaise' so
fine, so delicate, so dainty, than this tender piece, this chef-d'oeuvre,
long buried within the pages of a review; and we are greatly indebted to
the Russians of St. Petersburg, that snow-covered Athens, for having dug
up and revived it." Nevertheless, his bluette, 'La Nuit Venetienne', was
outrageously treated at the Odeon. The opposition was exasperated by the
recent success of Hugo's 'Hernani.' Musset was then in complete accord
with the fundamental romantic conception that tragedy must mingle with
comedy on the stage as well as in life, but he had too delicate a taste
to yield to the extravagance of Dumas and the lesser romanticists. All
his plays, by the way, were written for the 'Revue des Deux Mondes'
between 1833 and 1850, and they did not win a definite place on the stage
till the later years of the Second Empire. In some comedies the dialogue
is unequalled by any writer since the days of Beaumarchais. Taine says
that De Musset has more real originality in some respects than Hugo, and
possesses truer dramatic genius. Two or three of his comedies will
probably hold the stage longer than any dramatic work of the romantic
school. They contain the quintessence of romantic imaginative art; they
show in full flow that unchecked freedom of fancy which, joined to the
spirit of realistic comedy, produces the modern French drama. Yet De
Musset's prose has in greater measure the qualities that endure.

The Duke of Orleans created De Musset Librarian in the Department of the
Interior. It was sometimes stated that there was no library at all. It
is certain that it was a sinecure, though the pay, 3,000 francs, was
small. In 1848 the Duke had the bad taste to ask for his resignation,
but the Empire repaired the injury. Alfred de Musset died in Paris,
May 2, 1857.

                  HENRI DE BORNIER
               de l'Academie Francaise.



THE CONFESSIONS OF A CHILD OF THE CENTURY



BOOK 1.



PART I



CHAPTER I

TO THE READER

Before the history of any life can be written, that life must be lived;
so that it is not my life that I am now writing. Attacked in early youth
by an abominable moral malady, I here narrate what happened to me during
the space of three years. Were I the only victim of that disease, I would
say nothing, but as many others suffer from the same evil, I write for
them, although I am not sure that they will give heed to me. Should my
warning be unheeded, I shall still have reaped the fruit of my agonizing
in having cured myself, and, like the fox caught in a trap, shall have
gnawed off my captive foot.



CHAPTER II

REFLECTIONS

During the wars of the Empire, while husbands and brothers were in
Germany, anxious mothers gave birth to an ardent, pale, and neurotic
generation. Conceived between battles, reared amid the noises of war,
thousands of children looked about them with dull eyes while testing
their limp muscles. From time to time their blood-stained fathers would
appear, raise them to their gold-laced bosoms, then place them on the
ground and remount their horses.

The life of Europe centred in one man; men tried to fill their lungs with
the air which he had breathed. Yearly France presented that man with
three hundred thousand of her youth; it was the tax to Caesar; without
that troop behind him, he could not follow his fortune. It was the escort
he needed that he might scour the world, and then fall in a little valley
on a deserted island, under weeping willows.

Never had there been so many sleepless nights as in the time of that man;
never had there been seen, hanging over the ramparts of the cities, such
a nation of desolate mothers; never was there such a silence about those
who spoke of death. And yet there was never such joy, such life, such
fanfares of war, in all hearts. Never was there such pure sunlight as
that which dried all this blood. God made the sun for this man, men said;
and they called it the Sun of Austerlitz. But he made this sunlight
himself with his ever-booming guns that left no clouds but those which
succeed the day of battle.

It was this air of the spotless sky, where shone so much glory, where
glistened so many swords, that the youth of the time breathed. They well
knew that they were destined to the slaughter; but they believed that
Murat was invulnerable, and the Emperor had been seen to cross a bridge
where so many bullets whistled that they wondered if he were mortal. And
even if one must die, what did it matter? Death itself was so beautiful,
so noble, so illustrious, in its battle-scarred purple! It borrowed the
color of hope, it reaped so many immature harvests that it became young,
and there was no more old age. All the cradles of France, as indeed all
its tombs, were armed with bucklers; there were no more graybeards, there
were only corpses or demi-gods.

Nevertheless the immortal Emperor stood one day on a hill watching seven
nations engaged in mutual slaughter, not knowing whether he would be
master of all the world or only half. Azrael passed, touched the warrior
with the tip of his wing, and hurled him into the ocean. At the noise of
his fall, the dying Powers sat up in their beds of pain; and stealthily
advancing with furtive tread, the royal spiders made partition of Europe,
and the purple of Caesar became the motley of Harlequin.

Just as the traveller, certain of his way, hastes night and day through
rain and sunlight, careless of vigils or of dangers, but, safe at home
and seated before the fire, is seized by extreme lassitude and can hardly
drag himself to bed, so France, the widow of Caesar, suddenly felt her
wound. She fell through sheer exhaustion, and lapsed into a coma so
profound that her old kings, believing her dead, wrapped about her a
burial shroud. The veterans, their hair whitened in service, returned
exhausted, and the hearths of deserted castles sadly flickered into life.

Then the men of the Empire, who had been through so much, who had lived
in such carnage, kissed their emaciated wives and spoke of their first
love. They looked into the fountains of their native fields and found
themselves so old, so mutilated, that they bethought themselves of their
sons, in order that these might close the paternal eyes in peace. They
asked where they were; the children came from the schools, and, seeing
neither sabres, nor cuirasses, neither infantry nor cavalry, asked in
turn where were their fathers. They were told that the war was ended,
that Caesar was dead, and that the portraits of Wellington and of Blucher
were suspended in the ante-chambers of the consulates and the embassies,
with this legend beneath: 'Salvatoribus mundi'.

Then came upon a world in ruins an anxious youth. The children were drops
of burning blood which had inundated the earth; they were born in the
bosom of war, for war. For fifteen years they had dreamed of the snows of
Moscow and of the sun of the Pyramids.

They had not gone beyond their native towns; but had been told that
through each gateway of these towns lay the road to a capital of Europe.
They had in their heads a world; they saw the earth, the sky, the streets
and the highways; but these were empty, and the bells of parish churches
resounded faintly in the distance.

Pale phantoms, shrouded in black robes, slowly traversed the countryside;
some knocked at the doors of houses, and, when admitted, drew from their
pockets large, well-worn documents with which they evicted the tenants.
From every direction came men still trembling with the fear that had
seized them when they had fled twenty years before. All began to urge
their claims, disputing loudly and crying for help; strange that a single
death should attract so many buzzards.

The King of France was on his throne, looking here and there to see if he
could perchance find a bee [symbol of Napoleon D.W.] in the royal
tapestry. Some men held out their hats, and he gave them money; others
extended a crucifix and he kissed it; others contented themselves with
pronouncing in his ear great names of powerful families, and he replied
to these by inviting them into his grand salle, where the echoes were
more sonorous; still others showed him their old cloaks, when they had
carefully effaced the bees, and to these he gave new robes.

The children saw all this, thinking that the spirit of Caesar would soon
land at Cannes and breathe upon this larva; but the silence was unbroken,
and they saw floating in the sky only the paleness of the lily. When
these children spoke of glory, they met the answer:

"Become priests;" when they spoke of hope, of love, of power, of life:
"Become priests."

And yet upon the rostrum came a man who held in his hand a contract
between king and people. He began by saying that glory was a beautiful
thing, and ambition and war as well; but there was something still more
beautiful, and it was called liberty.

The children raised their heads and remembered that thus their
grandfathers had spoken. They remembered having seen in certain obscure
corners of the paternal home mysterious busts with long marble hair and a
Latin inscription; they remembered how their grandsires shook their heads
and spoke of streams of blood more terrible than those of the Empire.
Something in that word liberty made their hearts beat with the memory of
a terrible past and the hope of a glorious future.

They trembled at the word; but returning to their homes they encountered
in the street three coffins which were being borne to Clamart; within
were three young men who had pronounced that word liberty too distinctly.

A strange smile hovered on their lips at that sad sight; but other
speakers, mounted on the rostrum, began publicly to estimate what
ambition had cost and how very dear was glory; they pointed out the
horror of war and called the battle-losses butcheries. They spoke so
often and so long that all human illusions, like the trees in autumn,
fell leaf by leaf about them, and those who listened passed their hands
over their foreheads as if awakening from a feverish dream.

Some said: "The Emperor has fallen because the people wished no more of
him;" others added: "The people wished the king; no, liberty; no, reason;
no, religion; no, the English constitution; no, absolutism;" and the last
one said: "No, none of these things, but simply peace."

Three elements entered into the life which offered itself to these
children: behind them a past forever destroyed, still quivering on its
ruins with all the fossils of centuries of absolutism; before them the
aurora of an immense horizon, the first gleams of the future; and between
these two worlds--like the ocean which separates the Old World from the
New--something vague and floating, a troubled sea filled with wreckage,
traversed from time to time by some distant sail or some ship trailing
thick clouds of smoke; the present, in a word, which separates the past
from the future, which is neither the one nor the other, which resembles
both, and where one can not know whether, at each step, one treads on
living matter or on dead refuse.

It was in such chaos that choice had to be made; this was the aspect
presented to children full of spirit and of audacity, sons of the Empire
and grandsons of the Revolution.

As for the past, they would none of it, they had no faith in it; the
future, they loved it, but how? As Pygmalion before Galatea, it was for
them a lover in marble, and they waited for the breath of life to animate
that breast, for blood to color those veins.

There remained then the present, the spirit of the time, angel of the
dawn which is neither night nor day; they found him seated on a lime-sack
filled with bones, clad in the mantle of egoism, and shivering in
terrible cold. The anguish of death entered into the soul at the sight of
that spectre, half mummy and half foetus; they approached it as does the
traveller who is shown at Strasburg the daughter of an old count of
Sarvenden, embalmed in her bride's dress: that childish skeleton makes
one shudder, for her slender and livid hand wears the wedding-ring and
her head decays enwreathed in orange-blossoms.

As on the approach of a tempest there passes through the forests a
terrible gust of wind which makes the trees shudder, to which profound
silence succeeds, so had Napoleon, in passing, shaken the world; kings
felt their crowns oscillate in the storm, and, raising hands to steady
them, found only their hair, bristling with terror. The Pope had
travelled three hundred leagues to bless him in the name of God and to
crown him with the diadem; but Napoleon had taken it from his hands. Thus
everything trembled in that dismal forest of old Europe; then silence
succeeded.

It is said that when you meet a mad dog, if you keep quietly on your way
without turning, the dog will merely follow you a short distance growling
and showing his teeth; but if you allow yourself to be frightened into a
movement of terror, if you but make a sudden step, he will leap at your
throat and devour you; that when the first bite has been taken there is
no escaping him.

In European history it has often happened that a sovereign has made such
a movement of terror and his people have devoured him; but if one had
done it, all had not done it at the same time--that is to say, one king
had disappeared, but not all royal majesty. Before the sword of Napoleon
majesty made this movement, this gesture which ruins everything, not only
majesty but religion, nobility, all power both human and divine.

Napoleon dead, human and divine power were reestablished, but belief in
them no longer existed. A terrible danger lurks in the knowledge of what
is possible, for the mind always goes farther. It is one thing to say:
"That may be" and another thing to say: "That has been;" it is the first
bite of the dog.

The fall of Napoleon was the last flicker of the lamp of despotism; it
destroyed and it parodied kings as Voltaire the Holy Scripture. And after
him was heard a great noise: it was the stone of St. Helena which had
just fallen on the ancient world. Immediately there appeared in the
heavens the cold star of reason, and its rays, like those of the goddess
of the night, shedding light without heat, enveloped the world in a livid
shroud.

There had been those who hated the nobles, who cried out against priests,
who conspired against kings; abuses and prejudices had been attacked; but
all that was not so great a novelty as to see a smiling people. If a
noble or a priest or a sovereign passed, the peasants who had made war
possible began to shake their heads and say: "Ah! when we saw this man in
such a time and place he wore a different face." And when the throne and
altar were mentioned, they replied: "They are made of four planks of
wood; we have nailed them together and torn them apart." And when some
one said: "People, you have recovered from the errors which led you
astray; you have recalled your kings and your priests," they replied: "We
have nothing to do with those prattlers." And when some one said "People,
forget the past, work and obey," they arose from their seats and a dull
jangling could be heard. It was the rusty and notched sabre in the corner
of the cottage chimney. Then they hastened to add: "Then keep quiet, at
least; if no one harms you, do not seek to harm." Alas! they were content
with that.

But youth was not content. It is certain that there are in man two occult
powers engaged in a death-struggle: the one, clear-sighted and cold, is
concerned with reality, calculation, weight, and judges the past; the
other is athirst for the future and eager for the unknown. When passion
sways man, reason follows him weeping and warning, him of his danger; but
when man listens to the voice of reason, when he stops at her request and
says: "What a fool I am; where am I going?" passion calls to him: "Ah,
must I die?"

A feeling of extreme uneasiness began to ferment in all young hearts.
Condemned to inaction by the powers which governed the world, delivered
to vulgar pedants of every kind, to idleness and to ennui, the youth saw
the foaming billows which they had prepared to meet, subside. All these
gladiators glistening with oil felt in the bottom of their souls an
insupportable wretchedness. The richest became libertines; those of
moderate fortune followed some profession and resigned themselves to the
sword or to the church. The poorest gave themselves up with cold
enthusiasm to great thoughts, plunged into the frightful sea of aimless
effort. As human weakness seeks association and as men are gregarious by
nature, politics became mingled with it. There were struggles with the
'garde du corps' on the steps of the legislative assembly; at the theatre
Talma wore a wig which made him resemble Caesar; every one flocked to the
burial of a Liberal deputy.

But of the members of the two parties there was not one who, upon
returning home, did not bitterly realize the emptiness of his life and
the feebleness of his hands.

While life outside was so colorless and so mean, the inner life of
society assumed a sombre aspect of silence; hypocrisy ruled in all
departments of conduct; English ideas, combining gayety with devotion,
had disappeared. Perhaps Providence was already preparing new ways,
perhaps the herald angel of future society was already sowing in the
hearts of women the seeds of human independence. But it is certain that a
strange thing suddenly happened: in all the salons of Paris the men
passed on one side and the women on the other; and thus, the one clad in
white like brides, and the other in black like orphans, began to take
measure of one another with the eye.

Let us not be deceived: that vestment of black which the men of our time
wear is a terrible symbol; before coming to this, the armor must have
fallen piece by piece and the embroidery flower by flower. Human reason
has overthrown all illusions; but it bears in itself sorrow, in order
that it may be consoled.

The customs of students and artists, those customs so free, so beautiful,
so full of youth, began to experience the universal change. Men in taking
leave of women whispered the word which wounds to the death: contempt.
They plunged into the dissipation of wine and courtesans. Students and
artists did the same; love was treated as were glory and religion: it was
an old illusion. The grisette, that woman so dreamy, so romantic, so
tender, and so sweet in love, abandoned herself to the counting-house and
to the shop. She was poor and no one loved her; she needed gowns and hats
and she sold herself. Oh! misery! the young man who ought to love her,
whom she loved, who used to take her to the woods of Verrieres and
Romainville, to the dances on the lawn, to the suppers under the trees;
he who used to talk with her as she sat near the lamp in the rear of the
shop on the long winter evenings; he who shared her crust of bread
moistened with the sweat of her brow, and her love at once sublime and
poor; he, that same man, after abandoning her, finds her after a night of
orgy, pale and leaden, forever lost, with hunger on her lips and
prostitution in her heart.

About this time two poets, whose genius was second only to that of
Napoleon, consecrated their lives to the work of collecting the elements
of anguish and of grief scattered over the universe. Goethe, the
patriarch of a new literature, after painting in his Weyther the passion
which leads to suicide, traced in his Faust the most sombre human
character which has ever represented evil and unhappiness. His writings
began to pass from Germany into France. From his studio, surrounded by
pictures and statues, rich, happy, and at ease, he watched with a
paternal smile his gloomy creations marching in dismal procession across
the frontiers of France. Byron replied to him in a cry of grief which
made Greece tremble, and hung Manfred over the abyss, as if oblivion were
the solution of the hideous enigma with which he enveloped him.

Pardon, great poets! who are now but ashes and who sleep in peace!
Pardon, ye demigods, for I am only a child who suffers. But while I write
all this I can not but curse you. Why did you not sing of the perfume of
flowers, of the voices of nature, of hope and of love, of the vine and
the sun, of the azure heavens and of beauty? You must have understood
life, you must have suffered; the world was crumbling to pieces about
you; you wept on its ruins and you despaired; your mistresses were false;
your friends calumniated, your compatriots misunderstood; your heart was
empty; death was in your eyes, and you were the Colossi of grief. But
tell me, noble Goethe, was there no more consoling voice in the religious
murmur of your old German forests? You, for whom beautiful poesy was the
sister of science, could not they find in immortal nature a healing plant
for the heart of their favorite? You, who were a pantheist, and antique
poet of Greece, a lover of sacred forms, could you not put a little honey
in the beautiful vases you made; you who had only to smile and allow the
bees to come to your lips? And thou, Byron, hadst thou not near Ravenna,
under the orange-trees of Italy, under thy beautiful Venetian sky, near
thy Adriatic, hadst thou not thy well-beloved? Oh, God! I who speak to
you, who am only a feeble child, have perhaps known sorrows that you have
never suffered, and yet I believe and hope, and still bless God.

When English and German ideas had passed thus over our heads there ensued
disgust and mournful silence, followed by a terrible convulsion. For to
formulate general ideas is to change saltpetre into powder, and the
Homeric brain of the great Goethe had sucked up, as an alembic, all the
juice of the forbidden fruit. Those who did not read him, did not believe
it, knew nothing of it. Poor creatures! The explosion carried them away
like grains of dust into the abyss of universal doubt.

It was a denial of all heavenly and earthly facts that might be termed
disenchantment, or if you will, despair; as if humanity in lethargy had
been pronounced dead by those who felt its pulse. Like a soldier who is
asked: "In what do you believe?" and who replies: "In myself," so the
youth of France, hearing that question, replied: "In nothing."

Then formed two camps: on one side the exalted spirits, sufferers, all
the expansive souls who yearned toward the infinite, bowed their heads
and wept; they wrapped themselves in unhealthful dreams and nothing could
be seen but broken reeds in an ocean of bitterness. On the other side the
materialists remained erect, inflexible, in the midst of positive joys,
and cared for nothing except to count the money they had acquired. It was
but a sob and a burst of laughter, the one coming from the soul, the
other from the body.

This is what the soul said:

"Alas! Alas! religion has departed; the clouds of heaven fall in rain; we
have no longer either hope or expectation, not even two little pieces of
black wood in the shape of a cross before which to clasp our hands. The
star of the future is loath to appear; it can not rise above the horizon;
it is enveloped in clouds, and like the sun in winter its disc is the
color of blood, as in '93. There is no more love, no more glory. What
heavy darkness over all the earth! And death will come ere the day
breaks."

This is what the body said:

"Man is here below to satisfy his senses; he has more or less of white or
yellow metal, by which he merits more or less esteem. To eat, to drink,
and to sleep, that is life. As for the bonds which exist between men,
friendship consists in loaning money; but one rarely has a friend whom he
loves enough for that. Kinship determines inheritance; love is an
exercise of the body; the only intellectual joy is vanity."

Like the Asiatic plague exhaled from the vapors of the Ganges, frightful
despair stalked over the earth. Already Chateaubriand, prince of poesy,
wrapping the horrible idol in his pilgrim's mantle, had placed it on a
marble altar in the midst of perfumes and holy incense. Already the
children were clenching idle hands and drinking in a bitter cup the
poisoned brewage of doubt. Already things were drifting toward the abyss,
when the jackals suddenly emerged from the earth. A deathly and infected
literature, which had no form but that of ugliness, began to sprinkle
with fetid blood all the monsters of nature.

Who will dare to recount what was passing in the colleges? Men doubted
everything: the young men denied everything. The poets sang of despair;
the youth came from the schools with serene brow, their faces glowing
with health, and blasphemy in their mouths. Moreover, the French
character, being by nature gay and open, readily assimilated English and
German ideas; but hearts too light to struggle and to suffer withered
like crushed flowers. Thus the seed of death descended slowly and without
shock from the head to the bowels. Instead of having the enthusiasm of
evil we had only the negation of the good; instead of despair,
insensibility. Children of fifteen, seated listlessly under flowering
shrubs, conversed for pastime on subjects which would have made shudder
with terror the still thickets of Versailles. The Communion of Christ,
the Host, those wafers that stand as the eternal symbol of divine love,
were used to seal letters; the children spit upon the Bread of God.

Happy they who escaped those times! Happy they who passed over the abyss
while looking up to Heaven. There are such, doubtless, and they will pity
us.

It is unfortunately true that there is in blasphemy a certain outlet
which solaces the burdened heart. When an atheist, drawing his watch,
gave God a quarter of an hour in which to strike him dead, it is certain
that it was a quarter of an hour of wrath and of atrocious joy. It was
the paroxysm of despair, a nameless appeal to all celestial powers; it
was a poor, wretched creature squirming under the foot that was crushing
him; it was a loud cry of pain. Who knows? In the eyes of Him who sees
all things, it was perhaps a prayer.

Thus these youth found employment for their idle powers in a fondness for
despair. To scoff at glory, at religion, at love, at all the world, is a
great consolation for those who do not know what to do; they mock at
themselves, and in doing so prove the correctness of their view. And then
it is pleasant to believe one's self unhappy when one is only idle and
tired. Debauchery, moreover, the first result of the principles of death,
is a terrible millstone for grinding the energies.

The rich said: "There is nothing real but riches, all else is a dream;
let us enjoy and then let us die." Those of moderate fortune said: "There
is nothing real but oblivion, all else is a dream; let us forget and let
us die." And the poor said: "There is nothing real but unhappiness, all
else is a dream; let us blaspheme and die."

Is this too black? Is it exaggerated? What do you think of it? Am I a
misanthrope? Allow me to make a reflection.

In reading the history of the fall of the Roman Empire, it is impossible
to overlook the evil that the Christians, so admirable when in the
desert, did to the State when they were in power. "When I think," said
Montesquieu, "of the profound ignorance into which the Greek clergy
plunged the laity, I am obliged to compare them to the Scythians of whom
Herodotus speaks, who put out the eyes of their slaves in order that
nothing might distract their attention from their work . . . . No affair
of State, no peace, no truce, no negotiations, no marriage could be
transacted by any one but the clergy. The evils of this system were
beyond belief."

Montesquieu might have added: Christianity destroyed the emperors but it
saved the people. It opened to the barbarians the palaces of
Constantinople, but it opened the doors of cottages to the ministering
angels of Christ. It had much to do with the great ones of earth. And
what is more interesting than the death-rattle of an empire corrupt to
the very marrow of its bones, than the sombre galvanism under the
influence of which the skeleton of tyranny danced upon the tombs of
Heliogabalus and Caracalla? How beautiful that mummy of Rome, embalmed in
the perfumes of Nero and swathed in the shroud of Tiberius! It had to do,
my friends the politicians, with finding the poor and giving them life
and peace; it had to do with allowing the worms and tumors to destroy the
monuments of shame, while drawing from the ribs of this mummy a virgin as
beautiful as the mother of the Redeemer, Hope, the friend of the
oppressed.

That is what Christianity did; and now, after many years, what have they
done who destroyed it? They saw that the poor allowed themselves to be
oppressed by the rich, the feeble by the strong, because of that saying:
"The rich and the strong will oppress me on earth; but when they wish to
enter paradise, I shall be at the door and I will accuse them before the
tribunal of God." And so, alas! they were patient.

The antagonists of Christ therefore said to the poor: "You wait patiently
for the day of justice: there is no justice; you wait for the life
eternal to achieve your vengeance: there is no life eternal; you gather
up your tears and those of your family, the cries of children and the
sobs of women, to place them at the feet of God at the hour of death:
there is no God."

Then it is certain that the poor man dried his tears, that he told his
wife to check her sobs, his children to come with him, and that he stood
erect upon the soil with the power of a bull. He said to the rich: "Thou
who oppressest me, thou art only man," and to the priest: "Thou who hast
consoled me, thou hast lied." That was just what the antagonists of
Christ desired. Perhaps they thought this was the way to achieve man's
happiness, sending him out to the conquest of liberty.

But, if the poor man, once satisfied that the priests deceive him, that
the rich rob him, that all men have rights, that all good is of this
world, and that misery is impiety; if the poor man, believing in himself
and in his two arms, says to himself some fine day: "War on the rich! For
me, happiness here in this life, since there is no other! for me, the
earth, since heaven is empty! for me and for all, since all are equal."
Oh! reasoners sublime, who have led him to this, what will you say to him
if he is conquered?

Doubtless you are philanthropists, doubtless you are right about the
future, and the day will come when you will be blessed; but thus far, we
have not blessed you. When the oppressor said: "This world for me!" the
oppressed replied: "Heaven for me!" Now what can he say?

All the evils of the present come from two causes: the people who have
passed through 1793 and 1814 nurse wounds in their hearts. That which was
is no more; what will be, is not yet. Do not seek elsewhere the cause of
our malady.

Here is a man whose house falls in ruins; he has torn it down in order to
build another. The rubbish encumbers the spot, and he waits for new
materials for his new home. At the moment he has prepared to cut the
stone and mix the cement, while standing pick in hand with sleeves rolled
up, he is informed that there is no more stone, and is advised to whiten
the old material and make the best possible use of that. What can you
expect this man to do who is unwilling to build his nest out of ruins?
The quarry is deep, the tools too weak to hew out the stones. "Wait!"
they say to him, "we will draw out the stones one by one; hope, work,
advance, withdraw." What do they not tell him? And in the mean time he
has lost his old house, and has not yet built the new; he does not know
where to protect himself from the rain, or how to prepare his evening
meal, nor where to work, nor where to sleep, nor where to die; and his
children are newly born.

I am much deceived if we do not resemble that man. Oh! people of the
future! when on a warm summer day you bend over your plows in the green
fields of your native land; when you see in the pure sunlight, under a
spotless sky, the earth, your fruitful mother, smiling in her matutinal
robe on the workman, her well-beloved child; when drying on your brow the
holy baptism of sweat, you cast your eye over the vast horizon, where
there will not be one blade higher than another in the human harvest, but
only violets and marguerites in the midst of ripening ears; oh! free men!
when you thank God that you were born for that harvest, think of those
who are no more, tell yourself that we have dearly purchased the repose
which you enjoy; pity us more than all your fathers, for we have suffered
the evil which entitled them to pity and we have lost that which consoled
them.



CHAPTER III

THE BEGINNING OF THE CONFESSIONS

I have to explain how I was first taken with the malady of the age.

I was at table, at a great supper, after a masquerade. About me were my
friends, richly costumed, on all sides young men and women, all sparkling
with beauty and joy; on the right and on the left exquisite dishes,
flagons, splendor, flowers; above my head was an obstreperous orchestra,
and before me my loved one, whom I idolized.

I was then nineteen; I had passed through no great misfortune, I had
suffered from no disease; my character was at once haughty and frank, my
heart full of the hopes of youth. The fumes of wine fermented in my head;
it was one of those moments of intoxication when all that one sees and
hears speaks to one of the well-beloved. All nature appeared a beautiful
stone with a thousand facets, on which was engraven the mysterious name.
One would willingly embrace all who smile, and feel that he is brother of
all who live. My mistress had granted me a rendezvous, and I was gently
raising my glass to my lips while my eyes were fixed on her.

As I turned to take a napkin, my fork fell. I stooped to pick it up, and
not finding it at first I raised the table cloth to see where it had
rolled. I then saw under the table my mistress's foot; it touched that of
a young man seated beside her; from time to time they exchanged a gentle
pressure.

Perfectly calm, I asked for another fork and continued my supper. My
mistress and her neighbor, on their side, were very quiet, talking but
little and never looking at each other. The young man had his elbows on
the table and was chatting with another woman, who was showing him her
necklace and bracelets. My mistress sat motionless, her eyes fixed and
swimming with languor. I watched both of them during the entire supper,
and I saw nothing either in their gestures or in their faces that could
betray them. Finally, at dessert, I dropped my napkin, and stooping down
saw that they were still in the same position.

I had promised to escort my mistress to her home that night. She was a
widow and therefore free, living alone with an old relative who served as
chaperon. As I was crossing the hall she called to me:

"Come, Octave!" she said, "let us go; here I am."

I laughed, and passed out without replying. After walking a short
distance I sat down on a stone projecting from a wall. I do not know what
my thoughts were; I sat as if stupefied by the unfaithfulness of one of
whom I had never been jealous, whom I had never had cause to suspect.
What I had seen left no room for doubt; I was felled as if by a stroke
from a club. The only thing I remember doing as I sat there, was looking
mechanically up at the sky, and, seeing a star shoot across the heavens,
I saluted that fugitive gleam, in which poets see a worn-out world, and
gravely took off my hat to it.

I returned to my home very quietly, experiencing nothing, as if deprived
of all sensation and reflection. I undressed and retired; hardly had my
head touched the pillow when the spirit of vengeance seized me with such
force that I suddenly sat bolt upright against the wall as if all my
muscles were made of wood. I then jumped from my bed with a cry of pain;
I could walk only on my heels, the nerves in my toes were so irritated. I
passed an hour in this way, completely beside myself, and stiff as a
skeleton. It was the first burst of passion I had ever experienced.

The man I had surprised with my mistress was one of my most intimate
friends. I went to his house the next day, in company with a young lawyer
named Desgenais; we took pistols, another witness, and repaired to the
woods of Vincennes. On the way I avoided speaking to my adversary or even
approaching him; thus I resisted the temptation to insult or strike him,
a useless form of violence at a time when the law recognized the code.
But I could not remove my eyes from him. He was the companion of my
childhood, and we had lived in the closest intimacy for many years. He
understood perfectly my love for my mistress, and had several times
intimated that bonds of this kind were sacred to a friend, and that he
would be incapable of an attempt to supplant me, even if he loved the
same woman. In short, I had perfect confidence in him and I had perhaps
never pressed the hand of any human creature more cordially than his.

Eagerly and curiously I scrutinized this man whom I had heard speak of
love like an antique hero and whom yet I had caught caressing my
mistress. It was the first time in my life I had seen a monster; I
measured him with a haggard eye to see what manner of man was this. He
whom I had known since he was ten years old, with whom I had lived in the
most perfect friendship, it seemed to me I had never seen him. Allow me a
comparison.

There is a Spanish play, familiar to all the world, in which a stone
statue comes to sup with a profligate, sent thither by divine justice.
The profligate puts a good face on the matter and forces himself to
affect indifference; but the statue asks for his hand, and when he has
extended it he feels himself seized by a mortal chill and falls in
convulsions.

Whenever I have loved and confided in any one, either friend or mistress,
and suddenly discover that I have been deceived, I can only describe the
effect produced on me by comparing it to the clasp of that marble hand.
It is the actual impression of marble, it is as if a man of stone had
embraced me. Alas! this horrible apparition has knocked more than once at
my door; more than once we have supped together.

When the arrangements were all made we placed ourselves in line, facing
each other and slowly advancing. My adversary fired the first shot,
wounding me in the right arm. I immediately seized my pistol in the other
hand; but my strength failed, I could not raise it; I fell on one knee.

Then I saw my enemy running up to me with an expression of great anxiety
on his face, and very pale. Seeing that I was wounded, my seconds
hastened to my side, but he pushed them aside and seized my wounded arm.
His teeth were set, and I could see that he was suffering intense
anguish. His agony was as frightful as man can experience.

"Go!" he cried; "go, stanch your wound at the house of-----"

He choked, and so did I.

I was placed in a cab, where I found a physician. My wound was not
dangerous, the bone being untouched, but I was in such a state of
excitation that it was impossible properly to dress my wound. As they
were about to drive from the field I saw a trembling hand at the door of
my cab; it was that of my adversary. I shook my head in reply; I was in
such a rage that I could not pardon him, although I felt that his
repentance was sincere.

By the time I reached home I had lost much blood and felt relieved, for
feebleness saved me from the anger which was doing me more harm than my
wound. I willingly retired to my bed and called for a glass of water,
which I gulped down with relish.

But I was soon attacked by fever. It was then I began to shed tears. I
could understand that my mistress had ceased to love me, but not that she
could deceive me. I could not comprehend why a woman, who was forced to
it by neither duty nor interest, could lie to one man when she loved
another. Twenty times a day I asked my friend Desgenais how that could be
possible.

"If I were her husband," I said, "or if I supported her, I could easily
understand how she might be tempted to deceive me; but if she no longer
loves me, why deceive me?"

I did not understand how any one could lie for love; I was but a child,
then, but I confess that I do not understand it yet. Every time I have
loved a woman I have told her of it, and when I ceased to love her I have
confessed it with the same sincerity, having always thought that in
matters of this kind the will was not concerned and that there was no
crime but falsehood.

To all this Desgenais replied:

"She is unworthy; promise me that you will never see her again."

I solemnly promised. He advised me, moreover, not to write to her, not
even to reproach her, and if she wrote to me not to reply. I promised
all, with some surprise that he should consider it necessary to exact
such a pledge.

Nevertheless, the first thing I did when I was able to leave my room was
to visit my mistress. I found her alone, seated in the corner of her
room, with an expression of sorrow on her face and an appearance of
general disorder in her surroundings. I overwhelmed her with violent
reproaches; I was intoxicated with despair. In a paroxysm of grief I fell
on the bed and gave free course to my tears.

"Ah! faithless one! wretch!" I cried between my sobs, "you knew that it
would kill me. Did the prospect please you? What have I done to you?"

She threw her arms around my neck, saying that she had been tempted, that
my rival had intoxicated her at that fatal supper, but that she had never
been his; that she had abandoned herself in a moment of forgetfulness;
that she had committed a fault but not a crime; but that if I would not
pardon her, she, too, would die. All that sincere repentance has of
tears, all that sorrow has of eloquence, she exhausted in order to
console me; pale and distraught, her dress deranged, her hair falling
over her shoulders, she kneeled in the middle of her chamber; never have
I seen anything so beautiful, and I shuddered with horror as my senses
revolted at the sight.

I went away crushed, scarcely able to direct my tottering steps. I wished
never to see her again; but in a quarter of an hour I returned. I do not
know what desperate resolve I had formed; I experienced a full desire to
know her mine once more, to drain the cup of tears and bitterness to the
dregs, and then to die with her. In short I abhorred her, yet I idolized
her; I felt that her love was ruin, but that to live without her was
impossible. I mounted the stairs like a flash; I spoke to none of the
servants, but, familiar with the house, opened the door of her chamber.

I found her seated calmly before her toilette-table, covered with jewels;
she held in her hand a piece of red crepe which she passed gently over
her cheeks. I thought I was dreaming; it did not seem possible that this
was the woman I had left, just fifteen minutes before, overwhelmed with
grief, abased to the floor; I was as motionless as a statue. She, hearing
the door open, turned her head and smiled:

"Is it you?" she said.

She was going to a ball and was expecting my rival. As she recognized me,
she compressed her lips and frowned.

I started to leave the room. I looked at her bare neck, lithe and
perfumed, on which rested her knotted hair confined by a jewelled comb;
that neck, the seat of vital force, was blacker than hell; two shining
tresses had fallen there and some light silvern hairs balanced above it.
Her shoulders and neck, whiter than milk, displayed a heavy growth of
down. There was in that knotted mass of hair something maddeningly
lovely, which seemed to mock me when I thought of the sorrowful abandon
in which I had seen her a moment before. I suddenly stepped up to her and
struck that neck with the back of my hand. My mistress gave vent to a cry
of terror, and fell on her hands, while I hastened from the room.

When I reached my room I was again attacked by fever and was obliged to
take to my bed. My wound had reopened and I suffered great pain.
Desgenais came to see me and I told him what had happened. He listened in
silence, then paced up and down the room as if undecided as to his next
course. Finally he stopped before my bed and burst out laughing.

"Is she your first love?" he asked.

"No!" I replied, "she is my last."

Toward midnight, while sleeping restlessly, I seemed to hear in my dreams
a profound sigh. I opened my eyes and saw my mistress standing near my
bed with arms crossed, looking like a spectre. I could not restrain a cry
of fright, believing it to be an apparition conjured up by my diseased
brain. I leaped from my bed and fled to the farther end of the room; but
she followed me.

"It is I!" said she; putting her arms around me, she drew me to her.

"What do you want of me?" I cried. "Leave, me! I fear I shall kill you!"

"Very well, kill me!" she said. "I have deceived you, I have lied to you,
I am an infamous wretch and I am miserable; but I love you, and I can not
live without you."

I looked at her; how beautiful she was! Her body was quivering; her eyes
were languid with love and moist with voluptuousness; her bosom was bare,
her lips were burning. I raised her in my arms.

"Very well," I said, "but before God who sees us, by the soul of my
father, I swear that I will kill you and that I will die with you."

I took a knife from the table and placed it under the pillow.

"Come, Octave," she said, smiling and kissing me, "do not be foolish.
Come, my dear, all these horrors have unsettled your mind; you are
feverish. Give me that knife."

I saw that she wished to take it.

"Listen to me," I then said; "I do not know what comedy you are playing,
but as for me I am in earnest. I have loved you as only man can love, and
to my sorrow I love you still. You have just told me that you love me,
and I hope it is true; but, by all that is sacred, if I am your lover
to-night, no one shall take my place tomorrow. Before God, before God," I
repeated, "I would not take you back as my mistress, for I hate you as
much as I love you. Before God, if you wish to stay here to-night I will
kill you in the morning."

When I had spoken these words I fell into a delirium. She threw her cloak
over her shoulders and fled from the room.

When I told Desgenais about it he said:

"Why did you do that? You must be very much disgusted, for she is a
beautiful woman."

"Are you joking?" I asked. "Do you think such a woman could be my
mistress? Do you think I would ever consent to share her with another? Do
you know that she confesses that another attracts her, and do you expect
me, loving her as I do, to share my love? If that is the way you love, I
pity you."

Desgenais replied that he was not so particular.

"My dear Octave," he added, "you are very young. You want many things,
beautiful things, which do not exist. You believe in a singular sort of
love; perhaps you are capable of it; I believe you are, but I do not envy
you. You will have other mistresses, my friend, and you will live to
regret what happened last night. If that woman came to you it is certain
that she loved you; perhaps she does not love you at this moment--indeed,
she may be in the arms of another; but she loved you last night in that
room; and what should you care for the rest? You will regret it, believe
me, for she will not come again. A woman pardons everything except such a
slight. Her love for you must have been something terrible when she came
to you knowing and confessing herself guilty, risking rebuff and contempt
at your hands. Believe me, you will regret it, for I am satisfied that
you will soon be cured."

There was such an air of simple conviction about my friend's words, such
a despairing certainty based on experience, that I shuddered as I
listened. While he was speaking I felt a strong desire to go to my
mistress, or to write to her to come to me. I was so weak that I could
not leave my bed, and that saved me from the shame of finding her waiting
for my rival or perhaps in his company. But I could write to her; in
spite of myself I doubted whether she would come if I should write.

When Desgenais left me I became so desperate that I resolved to put an
end to my trouble. After a terrible struggle, horror got the better of
love. I wrote my mistress that I would never see her again, and begged
her not to try to see me unless she wished to be exposed to the shame of
being refused admittance. I called a servant and ordered him to deliver
the letter at once. He had hardly closed the door when I called him back.
He did not hear me; I did not dare call again; covering my face with my
hands, I yielded to an overwhelming sense of despair.



CHAPTER IV

THE PATH OF DESPAIR

The next morning the first question that occurred to my mind was: "What
shall I do?"

I had no occupation. I had studied medicine and law without being able to
decide on either of the two careers; I had worked for a banker for six
months, and my services were so unsatisfactory that I was obliged to
resign to avoid being discharged. My studies had been varied but
superficial; my memory was active but not retentive.

My only treasure, after love, was reserve. In my childhood I had devoted
myself to a solitary way of life, and had, so to speak, consecrated my
heart to it. One day my father, solicitous about my future, spoke to me
of several careers among which he allowed me to choose. I was leaning on
the window-sill, looking at a solitary poplar-tree that was swaying in
the breeze down in the garden. I thought over all the various occupations
and wondered which one I should choose. I turned them all over, one after
another, in my mind, and then, not feeling inclined to any of them, I
allowed my thoughts to wander. Suddenly it seemed to me that I felt the
earth move, and that a secret, invisible force was slowly dragging me
into space and becoming tangible to my senses. I saw it mount into the
sky; I seemed to be on a ship; the poplar near my window resembled a
mast; I arose, stretched out my arms, and cried:

"It is little enough to be a passenger for one day on this ship floating
through space; it is little enough to be a man, a black point on that
ship; I will be a man, but not any particular kind of man."

Such was the first vow that, at the age of fourteen, I pronounced in the
face of nature, and since then I have done nothing, except in obedience
to my father, never being able to overcome my repugnance.

I was therefore free, not through indolence but by choice; loving,
moreover, all that God had made and very little that man had made. Of
life I knew nothing but love, of the world only my mistress, and I did
not care to know anything more. So, falling in love upon leaving college,
I sincerely believed that it was for life, and every other thought
disappeared.

My life was indolent. I was accustomed to pass the day with my mistress;
my greatest pleasure was to take her through the fields on beautiful
summer days, the sight of nature in her splendor having ever been for me
the most powerful incentive to love. In winter, as she enjoyed society,
we attended numerous balls and masquerades, and because I thought of no
one but her I fondly imagined her equally true to me.

To give you an idea of my state of mind I can not do better than compare
it to one of those rooms we see nowadays in which are collected and
mingled the furniture of all times and countries. Our age has no impress
of its own. We have impressed the seal of our time neither on our houses
nor our gardens, nor on anything that is ours. On the street may be seen
men who have their beards trimmed as in the time of Henry III, others who
are clean-shaven, others who have their hair arranged as in the time of
Raphael, others as in the time of Christ. So the homes of the rich are
cabinets of curiosities: the antique, the gothic, the style of the
Renaissance, that of Louis XIII, all pell-mell. In short, we have every
century except our own--a thing which has never been seen at any other
epoch: eclecticism is our taste; we take everything we find, this for
beauty, that for utility, another for antiquity, still another for its
ugliness even, so that we live surrounded by debris, as if the end of the
world were at hand.

Such was the state of my mind; I had read much; moreover I had learned to
paint. I knew by heart a great many things, but nothing in order, so that
my head was like a sponge, swollen but empty. I fell in love with all the
poets one after another; but being of an impressionable nature the last
acquaintance disgusted me with the rest. I had made of myself a great
warehouse of odds and ends, so that having no more thirst after drinking
of the novel and the unknown, I became an oddity myself.

Nevertheless, about me there was still something of youth: it was the
hope of my heart, which was still childlike.

That hope, which nothing had withered or corrupted and which love had
exalted to excess, had now received a mortal wound. The perfidy of my
mistress had struck deep, and when I thought of it, I felt in my soul a
swooning away, the convulsive flutter of a wounded bird in agony.

Society, which works so much evil, is like that serpent of the Indies
whose habitat is under a shrub, the leaves of which afford the antidote
to its venom; in nearly every case it brings the remedy with the wound it
causes. For example, the man whose life is one of routine, who has his
business cares to claim his attention upon rising, visits at one hour,
loves at another, can lose his mistress and suffer no evil effects. His
occupations and his thoughts are like impassive soldiers ranged in line
of battle; a single shot strikes one down, his neighbors close the gap
and the line is intact.

I had not that resource, since I was alone: nature, the kind mother,
seemed, on the contrary, vaster and more empty than before. Had I been
able to forget my mistress, I should have been saved. How many there are
who can be cured with even less than that. Such men are incapable of
loving a faithless woman, and their conduct, under the circumstances, is
admirable in its firmness. But is it thus one loves at nineteen when,
knowing nothing of the world, desiring everything, one feels, within, the
germ of all the passions? Everywhere some voice appeals to him. All is
desire, all is revery. There is no reality which holds him when the heart
is young; there is no oak so gnarled that it may not give birth to a
dryad; and if one had a hundred arms one need not fear to open them; one
has but to clasp his mistress and all is well.

As for me, I did not understand what else there was to do but love, and
when any one spoke to me of other occupations I did not reply. My passion
for my mistress had something fierce about it, for all my life had been
severely monachal. Let me cite a single instance. She gave me her
miniature in a medallion. I wore it over my heart, a practice much
affected by men; but one day, while idly rummaging about a shop filled
with curiosities, I found an iron "discipline whip" such as was used by
the mediaeval flagellants. At the end of this whip was a metal plate
bristling with sharp iron points; I had the medallion riveted to this
plate and then returned it to its place over my heart. The sharp points
pierced my bosom with every movement and caused such strange, voluptuous
anguish that I sometimes pressed it down with my hand in order to
intensify the sensation. I knew very well that I was committing a folly;
love is responsible for many such idiocies.

But since this woman deceived me I loathed the cruel medallion. I can not
tell with what sadness I removed that iron circlet, and what a sigh
escaped me when it was gone.

"Ah! poor wounds!" I said, "you will soon heal, but what balm is there
for that other deeper wound?"

I had reason to hate this woman; she was, so to speak, mingled with the
blood of my veins; I cursed her, but I dreamed of her. What could I do
with a dream? By what effort of the will could I drown a memory of flesh
and blood? Lady Macbeth, having killed Duncan, saw that the ocean would
not wash her hands clean again; it would not have washed away my wounds.
I said to Desgenais: "When I sleep, her head is on my pillow."

My life had been wrapped up in this woman; to doubt her was to doubt all;
to deny her, to curse all; to lose her, to renounce all. I no longer went
out; the world seemed peopled with monsters, with horned deer and
crocodiles. To all that was said to distract my mind, I replied:

"Yes, that is all very well, but you may rest assured I shall do nothing
of the kind."

I sat in my window and said:

"She will come, I am sure of it; she is coming, she is turning the corner
at this moment, I can feel her approach. She can no more live without me
than I without her. What shall I say? How shall I receive her?"

Then the thought of her perfidy occurred to me.

"Ah! let her come! I will kill her!"

Since my last letter I had heard nothing of her.

"What is she doing?" I asked myself. "She loves another? Then I will love
another also. Whom shall I love?"

While thinking, I heard a far distant voice crying:

"Thou, love another? Two beings who love, who embrace, and who are not
thou and I! Is such a thing possible? Are you a fool?"

"Coward!" said Desgenais, "when will you forget that woman? Is she such a
great loss? Take the first comer and console yourself."

"No," I replied, "it is not such a great loss. Have I not done what I
ought? Have I not driven her away from here? What have you to say to
that? The rest concerns me; the bull wounded in the arena can lie down in
a corner with the sword of the matador 'twixt his shoulders, and die in
peace. What can I do, tell me? What do you mean by first comer? You will
show me a cloudless sky, trees and houses, men who talk, drink, sing,
women who dance and horses that gallop. All that is not life, it is the
noise of life. Go, go, leave me in peace."



CHAPTER V

A PHILOSOPHER'S ADVICE

Desgenais saw that my despair was incurable, that I would neither listen
to any advice nor leave my room, he took the thing seriously. I saw him
enter one evening with an expression of gravity on his face; he spoke of
my mistress and continued in his tone of persiflage, saying all manner of
evil of women. While he was speaking I was leaning on my elbow, and,
rising in my bed, I listened attentively.

It was one of those sombre evenings when the sighing of the wind recalls
the moaning of a dying man. A fitful storm was brewing, and between the
plashes of rain on the windows there was the silence of death. All nature
suffers in such moments, the trees writhe in pain and hide their heads;
the birds of the fields cower under the bushes; the streets of cities are
deserted. I was suffering from my wound. But a short time before I had a
mistress and a friend. The mistress had deceived me and the friend had
stretched me on a bed of pain. I could not clearly distinguish what was
passing in my head; it seemed to me that I was under the influence of a
horrible dream and that I had but to awake to find myself cured; at times
it seemed that my entire life had been a dream, ridiculous and puerile,
the falseness of which had just been disclosed. Desgenais was seated near
the lamp at my side; he was firm and serious, although a smile hovered
about his lips. He was a man of heart, but as dry as a pumice-stone. An
early experience had made him bald before his time; he knew life and had
suffered; but his grief was a cuirass; he was a materialist and he waited
for death.

"Octave," he said, "after what has happened to you, I see that you
believe in love such as the poets and romancers have represented; in a
word, you believe in what is said here below and not in what is done.
That is because you do not reason soundly, and it may lead you into great
misfortune.

"Poets represent love as sculptors design beauty, as musicians create
melody; that is to say, endowed with an exquisite nervous organization,
they gather up with discerning ardor the purest elements of life, the
most beautiful lines of matter, and the most harmonious voices of nature.
There lived, it is said, at Athens a great number of beautiful girls;
Praxiteles drew them all one after another; then from these diverse types
of beauty, each one of which had its defects, he formed a single
faultless beauty and created Venus. The man who first created a musical
instrument, and who gave to harmony its rules and its laws, had for a
long time listened to the murmuring of reeds and the singing of birds.
Thus the poets, who understand life, after knowing much of love, more or
less transitory, after feeling that sublime exaltation which real passion
can for the moment inspire, eliminating from human nature all that
degrades it, created the mysterious names which through the ages fly from
lip to lip: Daphnis and Chloe, Hero and Leander, Pyramus and Thisbe.

"To try to find in real life such love as this, eternal and absolute, is
but to seek on public squares a woman such as Venus, or to expect
nightingales to sing the symphonies of Beethoven.

"Perfection does not exist; to comprehend it is the triumph of human
intelligence; to desire to possess it, the most dangerous of follies.
Open your window, Octave; do you not see the infinite? You try to form
some idea of a thing that has no limits, you who were born yesterday and
who will die to-morrow! This spectacle of immensity in every country in
the world produces the wildest illusions. Religions are born of it; it
was to possess the infinite that Cato cut his throat, that the Christians
delivered themselves to lions, the Huguenots to the Catholics; all the
people of the earth have stretched out their hands to that immensity and
have longed to plunge into it. The fool wishes to possess heaven; the
sage admires it, kneels before it, but does not desire it.

"Perfection, my friend, is no more made for us than immensity. We must
seek for nothing in it, demand nothing of it, neither love nor beauty,
happiness nor virtue; but we must love it if we would be virtuous, if we
would attain the greatest happiness of which man is capable.

"Let us suppose you have in your study a picture by Raphael that you
consider perfect. Let us say that upon a close examination you discover
in one of the figures a gross defect of design, a limb distorted, or a
muscle that belies nature, such as has been discovered, they say, in one
of the arms of an antique gladiator. You would experience a feeling of
displeasure, but you would not throw that picture in the fire; you would
merely say that it is not perfect, but that it has qualities that are
worthy of admiration.

"There are women whose natural singleness of heart and sincerity are such
that they could not have two lovers at the same time. You believed your
mistress such an one; that is best, I admit. You have discovered that she
has deceived you; does that oblige you to depose and to abuse her, to
believe her deserving of your hatred?

"Even if your mistress had never deceived you, even if at this moment she
loved none other than you, think, Octave, how far her love would still be
from perfection, how human it would be, how small, how restrained by the
hypocrisies and conventions of the world; remember that another man
possessed her before you, that many others will possess her after you.

"Reflect: what drives you at this moment to despair is the idea of
perfection in your mistress, the idea that has been shattered. But when
you understand that the primal idea itself was human, small and
restricted, you will see that it is little more than a rung in the rotten
ladder of human imperfection.

"I think you will readily admit that your mistress has had other
admirers, and that she will have still others in the future; you will
doubtless reply that it matters little, so long as she loved you. But I
ask you, since she has had others, what difference does it make whether
it was yesterday or two years since? Since she loves but one at a time,
what does it matter whether it is during an interval of two years or in
the course of a single night? Are you a man, Octave? Do you see the
leaves falling from the trees, the sun rising and setting? Do you hear
the ticking of the horologe of time with each pulsation of your heart? Is
there, then, such a difference between the love of a year and the love of
an hour? I challenge you to answer that, you fool, as you sit there
looking out at the infinite through a window not larger than your hand.

"You consider that woman faithful who loves you two years; you must have
an almanac that will indicate just how long it takes for an honest man's
kisses to dry on a woman's lips. You make a distinction between the woman
who sells herself for money and the one who gives herself for pleasure;
between the one who gives herself through pride and the one who gives
herself through devotion. Among women who are for sale, some cost more
than others; among those who are sought for pleasure some inspire more
confidence than others; and among those who are worthy of devotion there
are some who receive a third of a man's heart, others a quarter, others a
half, depending upon her education, her manner, her name, her birth, her
beauty, her temperament, according to the occasion, according to what is
said, according to the time, according to what you have drunk at dinner.

"You love women, Octave, because you are young, ardent, because your
features are regular, and your hair dark and glossy, but you do not, for
all that, understand woman.

"Nature, having all, desires the reproduction of beings; everywhere, from
the summit of the mountain to the bottom of the sea, life is opposed to
death. God, to conserve the work of His hands, has established this
law-that the greatest pleasure of all sentient beings shall be to
procreate.

"Oh! my friend, when you feel bursting on your lips the vow of eternal
love, do not be afraid to yield, but do not confound wine with
intoxication; do not think of the cup divine because the draught is of
celestial flavor; do not be astonished to find it broken and empty in the
evening. It is but woman, but a fragile vase, made of earth by a potter.

"Thank God for giving you a glimpse of heaven, but do not imagine
yourself a bird because you can flap your wings. The birds themselves can
not escape the clouds; there is a region where air fails them and the
lark, rising with its song into the morning fog, sometimes falls back
dead in the field.

"Take love as a sober man takes wine; do not become a drunkard. If your
mistress is sincere and faithful, love her for that; but if she is not,
if she is merely young and beautiful, love her for that; if she is
agreeable and spirituelle, love her for that; if she is none of these
things but merely loves you, love her for that. Love does not come to us
every day.

"Do not tear your hair and stab yourself because you have a rival. You
say that your mistress deceives you for another; it is your pride that
suffers; but change the words, say that it is for you that she deceives
him, and behold, you are happy!

"Do not make a rule of conduct, and do not say that you wish to be loved
exclusively, for in saying that, as you are a man and inconstant
yourself, you are forced to add tacitly: 'As far as possible.'

"Take time as it comes, the wind as it blows, woman as she is. The
Spaniards, first among women, love faithfully; their hearts are sincere
and violent, but they wear a dagger just above them. Italian women are
lascivious. The English are exalted and melancholy, cold and unnatural.
The German women are tender and sweet, but colorless and monotonous. The
French are spirituelle, elegant, and voluptuous, but are false at heart.

"Above all, do not accuse women of being what they are; we have made them
thus, undoing the work of nature.

"Nature, who thinks of everything, made the virgin for love; but with the
first child her bosom loses form, her beauty its freshness. Woman is made
for motherhood. Man would perhaps abandon her, disgusted by the loss of
beauty; but his child clings to him and weeps. Behold the family, the
human law; everything that departs from this law is monstrous.

"Civilization thwarts the ends of nature. In our cities, according to our
customs, the virgin destined by nature for the open air, made to run in
the sunlight; to admire the nude wrestlers, as in Lacedemonia, to choose
and to love, is shut up in close confinement and bolted in. Meanwhile she
hides romance under her cross; pale and idle, she fades away and loses,
in the silence of the nights, that beauty which oppresses her and needs
the open air. Then she is suddenly snatched from this solitude, knowing
nothing, loving nothing, desiring everything; an old woman instructs her,
a mysterious word is whispered in her ear, and she is thrown into the
arms of a stranger. There you have marriage, that is to say, the
civilized family.

"A child is born. This poor creature has lost her beauty and she has
never loved. The child is brought to her with the words: 'You are a
mother.' She replies: 'I am not a mother; take that child to some woman
who can nurse it. I can not.' Her husband tells her that she is right,
that her child would be disgusted with her. She receives careful
attention and is soon cured of the disease of maternity. A month later
she may be seen at the Tuileries, at the ball, at the opera; her child is
at Chaillot, at Auxerre; her husband with another woman. Then young men
speak to her of love, of devotion, of sympathy, of all that is in the
heart. She takes one, draws him to her bosom; he dishonors her and
returns to the Bourse. She cries all night, but discovers that tears make
her eyes red. She takes a consoler, for the loss of whom another consoles
her; thus up to the age of thirty or more. Then, blase and corrupted,
with no human sentiment, not even disgust, she meets a fine youth with
raven locks, ardent eye and hopeful heart; she recalls her own youth, she
remembers what she has suffered, and telling him the story of her life,
she teaches him to eschew love.

"That is woman as we have made her; such are your mistresses. But you say
they are women and that there is something good in them!

"But if your character is formed, if you are truly a man, sure of
yourself and confident of your strength, you may taste of life without
fear and without reserve; you may be sad or joyous, deceived or
respected; but be sure you are loved, for what matters the rest?

"If you are mediocre and ordinary, I advise you to consider your course
very carefully before deciding, but do not expect too much of your
mistress.

"If you are weak, dependent upon others, inclined to allow yourself to be
dominated by opinion, to take root wherever you see a little soil, make
for yourself a shield that will resist everything, for if you yield to
your weaker nature you will not grow, you will dry up like a dead plant,
and you will bear neither fruit nor flowers. The sap of your life will
dissipate into the formation of useless bark; all your actions will be as
colorless as the leaves of the willow; you will have no tears to water
you, but those from your own eyes; to nourish you, no heart but your own.

"But if you are of an exalted nature, believing in dreams and wishing to
realize them, I say to you plainly: Love does not exist.

"For to love is to give body and soul, or better, it is to make a single
being of two; it is to walk in the sunlight, in the open air through the
boundless prairies with a body having four arms, two heads, and two
hearts. Love is faith, it is the religion of terrestrial happiness, it is
a luminous triangle suspended in the temple of the world. To love is to
walk freely through that temple, at your side a being capable of
understanding why a thought, a word, a flower makes you pause and raise
your eyes to that celestial triangle. To exercise the noble faculties of
man is a great good--that is why genius is glorious; but to double those
faculties, to place a heart and an intelligence upon a heart and an
intelligence--that is supreme happiness. God has nothing better for man;
that is why love is better than genius.

"But tell me, is that the love of our women? No, no, it must be admitted.
Love, for them, is another thing; it is to go out veiled, to write in
secret, to make trembling advances, to heave chaste sighs under starched
and unnatural robes, then to draw bolts and throw them aside, to
humiliate a rival, to deceive a husband, to render a lover desolate. To
love, for our women, is to play at lying, as children play at hide and
seek, a hideous orgy of the heart, worse than the lubricity of the
Romans, or the Saturnalia of Priapus; a bastard parody of vice itself, as
well as of virtue; a loathsome comedy where all is whispering and
sidelong glances, where all is small, elegant, and deformed, like those
porcelain monsters brought from China; a lamentable satire on all that is
beautiful and ugly, divine and infernal; a shadow without a body, a
skeleton of all that God has made."

Thus spoke Desgenais; and the shadows of night began to fall.



CHAPTER VI

MADAME LEVASSEUR

The following morning I rode through the Bois de Boulogne; the weather
was dark and threatening. At the Porte Maillot I dropped the reins on my
horse's back and abandoned myself to revery, revolving in my mind the
words spoken by Desgenais the evening before.

Suddenly I heard my name called. Turning my head I spied one of my
inamorata's most intimate friends in an open carriage. She bade me stop,
and, holding out her hand with a friendly air, invited me to dine with
her if I had no other engagement.

This woman, Madame Levasseur by name, was small, stout, and decidedly
blonde; I had never liked her, and my attitude toward her had always been
one of studied politeness. But I could not resist a desire to accept her
invitation; I pressed her hand and thanked her; I was sure that we should
talk of my mistress.

She sent a servant to lead my horse and I entered her carriage; she was
alone, and we at once took the road to Paris. Rain began to fall, and the
carriage curtains were drawn; thus shut up together we rode on in
silence. I looked at her with inexpressible sadness; she was not only the
friend of my faithless one but her confidante. She had often formed one
of our party when I called on my mistress in the evening. With what
impatience had I endured her presence! How often I counted the minutes
that must elapse before she would leave! That was probably the cause of
my aversion to her. I knew that she approved of our love; she even went
so far as to defend me in our quarrels. In spite of the services she had
rendered me, I considered her ugly and tiresome. Alas! now I found her
beautiful! I looked at her hands, her clothes; every gesture went
straight to my heart; all the past was associated with her. She noticed
the change in manner and understood that I was oppressed by sad memories
of the past. Thus we sped on our way, I looking at her, she smiling at
me. When we reached Paris she took my hand:

"Well?" she said.

"Well?" I replied, sobbing, "tell her if you wish." Tears rushed from my
eyes.

After dinner we sat before the fire.

"But tell me," she said, "is it irrevocable? Can nothing be done?"

"Alas! Madame," I replied, "there is nothing irrevocable except the grief
that is killing me. My condition can be expressed in a few words: I can
not love her, I can not love another, and I can not cease loving."

At these words she moved uneasily in her chair, and I could see an
expression of compassion on her face.

For some time she appeared to be reflecting, as if pondering over my fate
and seeking some remedy for my sorrow. Her eyes were closed and she
appeared lost in revery. She extended her hand and I took it in mine.

"And I, too," she murmured, "that is just my experience." She stopped,
overcome by emotion.

Of all the sisters of love, the most beautiful is pity. I held Madame
Levasseur's hand as she began to speak of my mistress, saying all she
could think of in her favor. My sadness increased. What could I reply?
Finally she came to speak of herself.

Not long since, she said, a man who loved her abandoned her. She had made
great sacrifices for him; her fortune was compromised, as well as her
honor and her name. Her husband, whom she knew to be vindictive, had made
threats. Her tears flowed as she continued, and I began to forget my own
sorrow in my sympathy for her. She had been married against her will; she
struggled a long time; but she regretted nothing except that she had not
been able to inspire a more sincere affection. I believe she even accused
herself because she had not been able to hold her lover's heart, and
because she had been guilty of apparent indifference.

When she had unburdened her heart she became silent.

"Madame," I said, "it was not chance that brought about our meeting in
the Bois de Boulogne. I believe that human sorrows are but wandering
sisters and that some good angel unites the trembling hands that are
stretched out for aid. Do not repent having told me your sorrow. The
secret you have confided to me is only a tear which has fallen from your
eye, but has rested on my heart. Permit me to come again and let us
suffer together."

Such lively sympathy took possession of me that without reflection I
kissed her; it did not occur to my mind that it could offend her, and she
did not appear even to notice it.

Our conversation continued in this tone of expansive friendship. She told
me her sorrows, I told her mine, and between these two experiences which
touched each other, I felt arise a sweetness, a celestial accord born of
two voices in anguish. All this time I had seen nothing but her face.
Suddenly I noticed that her dress was in disorder. It appeared singular
to me that, seeing my embarrassment, she did not rearrange it, and I
turned my head to give her an opportunity. She did nothing. Finally,
meeting her eyes and seeing that she was perfectly aware of the state she
was in, I felt as if I had been struck by a thunderbolt, for I now
clearly understood that I was the plaything of her monstrous effrontery,
that grief itself was for her but a means of seducing the senses. I took
my hat without a word, bowed profoundly, and left the room.



CHAPTER VII

THE WISDOM OF SIRACH

Upon returning to my apartments I found a large box in the centre of the
room. One of my aunts had died, and I was one of the heirs to her
fortune, which was not large.

The box contained, among other things, a number of musty old books. Not
knowing what to do, and being afflicted with ennui, I began to read one
of them. They were for the most part romances of the time of Louis XV; my
pious aunt had probably inherited them herself and never read them, for
they were, so to speak, catechisms of vice.

I was singularly disposed to reflect on everything that came to my
notice, to give everything a mental and moral significance; I treated
events as pearls in a necklace which I tried to string together.

It struck me that there was something significant about the arrival of
these books at this time. I devoured them with a bitterness and a sadness
born of despair. "Yes, you are right," I said to myself, "you alone
possess the secret of life, you alone dare to say that nothing is true
and real but debauchery, hypocrisy, and corruption. Be my friends, throw
on the wound in my soul your corrosive poisons, teach me to believe in
you."

While buried in these shadows, I allowed my favorite poets and text-books
to accumulate dust. I even ground them under my feet in excess of wrath.
"You wretched dreamers!" I said to them; "you who teach me only
suffering, miserable shufflers of words, charlatans, if you know the
truth, fools, if you speak in good faith, liars in either case, who make
fairy-tales of the woes of the human heart. I will burn the last one of
you!"

Then tears came to my aid and I perceived that there was nothing real but
my grief. "Very well," I cried, in my delirium, "tell me, good and bad
genii, counselors for good or evil, tell me what to do! Choose an arbiter
and let him speak."

I seized an old Bible which lay on my table, and read the first passage
that caught my eye.

"Reply to me, thou book of God!" I said, "what word hast thou for me?" My
eye fell on this passage in Ecclesiastes, Chapter IX:

   For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this,
   that the righteous and the wise, and their works, are in the hand
   of God; no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before
   them.

   All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous,
   and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean;
   to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the
   good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an
   oath.

   This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that
   there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men
   is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and
   after that they go to the dead.

When I read these words I was astounded; I did not know that there was
such a sentiment in the Bible. "And thou, too, as all others, thou book
of hope!"

What do the astronomers think when they predict, at a given hour and
place, the passage of a comet, that most eccentric of celestial
travellers? What do the naturalists think when they reveal the myriad
forms of life concealed in a drop of water? Do they think they have
invented what they see and that their lenses and microscopes make the law
of nature? What did the first law-giver think when, seeking for the
corner-stone in the social edifice, angered doubtless by some idle
importunity, he struck the tables of brass and felt in his bowels the
yearning for a law of retaliation? Did he, then, invent justice? And the
first who plucked the fruit planted by his neighbor and who fled cowering
under his mantle, did he invent shame? And he who, having overtaken that
same thief who had robbed him of the product of his toil, forgave him his
sin, and, instead of raising his hand to smite him, said, "Sit thou down
and eat thy fill;" when, after thus returning good for evil, he raised
his eyes toward Heaven and felt his heart quivering, tears welling from
his eyes, and his knees bending to the earth, did he invent virtue? Oh,
Heaven! here is a woman who speaks of love and who deceives me; here is a
man who speaks of friendship and counsels me to seek consolation in
debauchery; here is another woman who weeps and would console me with the
flesh; here is a Bible that speaks of God and says: "Perhaps; but nothing
is of any real importance."

I ran to the open window: "Is it true that you are empty?" I cried,
looking up at the pale expanse of sky which spread above me. "Reply,
reply! Before I die, grant that I may clasp in these arms of mine
something more than a dream!"

Profound silence reigned. As I stood with arms outstretched, eyes lost in
space, a swallow uttered a plaintive cry; in spite of myself I followed
it with my eyes; while the swallow disappeared from sight like a flash, a
little girl passed singing.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SEARCH FOR HEALING

Yet I was unwilling to yield.

Before taking life on its pleasant side--a side which to me seemed rather
sinister--I resolved to test everything. I remained thus for some time, a
prey to countless sorrows, tormented by terrible dreams.

The great obstacle to my cure was my youth. Wherever I happened to be,
whatever my occupation, I could think of nothing but women; the sight of
a woman made me tremble.

It had been my fate--a fate as rare as happy--to give to love my
unsullied youth. But the result of this was that all my senses united in
idealizing love; there was the cause of my unhappiness. For not being
able to think of anything but women, I could not help turning over in my
head, day and night, all the ideas of debauchery, of false love and of
feminine treason, with which my mind was filled. For me to possess a
woman was to love her; I thought of nothing but women, but I believed no
more in the possibility of true love.

All this suffering inspired me with a sort of rage. At times I was
tempted to imitate the monks and starve my body in order to conquer my
senses; at times I felt like rushing out into the street to throw myself
at the feet of the first woman I met and vow to her eternal love.

God is my witness that I did all in my power to cure myself. Preoccupied
from the first with the idea that the society of men was the haunt of
vice and hypocrisy, where all were like my mistress, I resolved to
separate myself from them and live in complete isolation. I resumed my
neglected studies, and plunged into history, poetry, and anatomy. There
happened to be on the fourth floor of the same house an old and learned
German. I determined to learn his language; the German was poor and
friendless, and willingly accepted the task of instructing me. My
perpetual state of distraction worried him. How many times he waited in
patient astonishment while I, seated near him with a smoking lamp between
us, sat with my arms crossed on my book, lost in revery, oblivious of his
presence and of his pity.

"My dear sir," said I to him one day, "all this is useless, but you are
the best of men. What a task you have undertaken! You must leave me to my
fate; we can do nothing, neither you nor I."

I do not know that he understood my meaning, but he grasped my hand and
there was no more talk of German.

I soon realized that solitude, instead of curing me, was doing me harm,
and so I completely changed my system. I went into the country, and
galloped through the woods with the huntsmen; I would ride until I was
out of breath, trying to cure myself with fatigue, and when, after a day
of sweat in the fields, I reached my bed in the evening smelling of
powder and the stable, I would bury my head in the pillow, roll about
under the covers and cry: "Phantom, phantom! are you not satiated? Will
you not leave me for one single night?"

But why these vain efforts? Solitude sent me to nature, and nature to
love. Standing in the street of Mental Observation, I saw myself pale and
wan, surrounded by corpses, and, drying my hands on my bloody apron,
stifled by the odor of putrefaction, I turned my head in spite of myself,
and saw floating before my eyes green harvests, balmy fields, and the
pensive harmony of the evening. "No," said I, "science can not console
me; rather will I plunge into this sea of irresponsive nature and die
there myself by drowning. I will not war against my youth; I will live
where there is life, or at least die in the sunlight." I began to mingle
with the throngs at Sevres and Chaville, and stretch myself on flowery
swards in secluded groves. Alas! all the forests and fields cried to me:

"What do you seek here? We are young, poor child! We wear the colors of
hope."

Then I returned to the city; I lost myself in its obscure streets; I
looked up at the lights in its windows, into those mysterious family
nests; I watched the passing carriages; I saw man jostling against man.
Oh, what solitude! How sad the smoke on those roofs! What sorrow in those
tortuous streets where all are hurrying hither and thither, working and
sweating, where thousands of strangers rub against your elbows; a sewer
where society is of bodies only, while souls are solitary and alone,
where all who hold out a hand to you are prostitutes! "Become corrupt,
corrupt, and you will cease to suffer!" This has been the cry of all
cities unto man; it is written with charcoal on the walls, on the streets
with mud, on men's faces with extravasated blood.

At times, when seated in the corner of some salon I watched the women as
they danced, some rosy, some blue, and others white, their arms bare and
their hair gathered gracefully about their shapely heads, looking like
cherubim drunk with light, floating in spheres of harmony and beauty, I
would think: "Ah, what a garden, what flowers to gather, to breathe! Ah!
Marguerites, Marguerites! What will your last petal say to him who plucks
it? A little, a little, but not all. That is the moral of the world, that
is the end of your smiles. It is over this terrible abyss that you are
walking in your spangled gauze; it is on this hideous reality you run
like gazelles on the tips of your little toes!"

"But why take things so seriously?" said Desgenais. "That is something
that is never seen. You complain because bottles become empty? There are
many casks in the vaults, and many vaults in the hills. Give me a dainty
fish-hook gilded with sweet words, a drop of honey for bait, and quick!
catch in the stream of oblivion a pretty consoler, as fresh and slippery
as an eel; you will still have the hook when the fish shall have glided
from your hands. Youth must pass away, and if I were you I would carry
off the queen of Portugal rather than study anatomy."

Such was the advice of Desgenais. I made my way home with swollen heart,
my face concealed under my cloak. I kneeled at the side of my bed and my
poor heart dissolved in tears. What vows! what prayers! Galileo struck
the earth, crying: "Nevertheless it moves!" Thus I struck my heart.



CHAPTER IX

BACCHUS, THE CONSOLER

Suddenly, in the midst of black despair, youth and chance led me to
commit an act that decided my fate.

I had written my mistress that I wished never to see her again; I kept my
word, but I passed the nights under her window, seated on a bench before
her door. I could see the lights in her room, I could hear the sound of
her piano, at times I saw something that looked like a shadow through the
partially drawn curtains.

One night as I was seated on the bench, plunged in frightful melancholy,
I saw a belated workman staggering along the street. He muttered a few
words in a dazed manner and then began to sing. So much was he under the
influence of liquor that he walked at times on one side of the gutter and
then on the other. Finally he fell upon a bench facing another house
opposite me. There he lay still, supported on his elbows, and slept
profoundly.

The street was deserted, a dry wind stirred the dust here and there; the
moon shone through a rift in the clouds and lighted the spot where the
man slept. So I found myself tete-a-tete with this boor, who, not
suspecting my presence, was sleeping on that stone bench as peacefully as
if in his own bed.

The man served to divert my grief; I arose to leave him in full
possession, but returned and resumed my seat. I could not leave that
fateful door, at which I would not have knocked for an empire. Finally,
after walking up and down a few times, I stopped before the sleeper.

"What sleep!" I said. "Surely this man does not dream. His clothes are in
tatters, his cheeks are wrinkled, his hands hardened with toil; he is
some unfortunate who does not have a meal every day. A thousand gnawing
cares, a thousand mortal sorrows await his return to consciousness;
nevertheless, this evening he had money in his pocket, and entered a
tavern where he purchased oblivion. He has earned enough in a week to
enjoy a night of slumber, and perhaps has purchased it at the expense of
his children's supper. Now his mistress can betray him, his friend can
glide like a thief into his hut; I could shake him by the shoulder and
tell him that he is being murdered, that his house is on fire; he would
turn over and continue to sleep."

"And I--I do not sleep," I continued, pacing up and down the street, "I
do not sleep, I who have enough in my pocket at this moment to purchase
sleep for a year. I am so proud and so foolish that I dare not enter a
tavern, and it seems I do not understand that if unfortunates enter
there, it is to come out happy. O God! grapes crushed beneath the foot
suffice to dissipate the deepest sorrow and to break the invisible
threads that the fates weave about our pathway. We weep like women, we
suffer like martyrs; in our despair it seems that the world is crumbling
under our feet, and we sit down in tears as did Adam at Eden's gate. And
to cure our griefs we have but to make a movement of the hand and moisten
our throats. How contemptible our sorrow since it can be thus assuaged!
We are surprised that Providence does not send angels to grant our
prayers; it need not take the trouble, for it has seen our woes, it knows
our desires, our pride and bitterness, the ocean of evil that surrounds
us, and is content to hang a small black fruit along our paths. Since
that man sleeps so soundly on his bench, why do not I sleep on mine? My
rival is doubtless passing the night with my mistress; he will leave her
at daybreak; she will accompany him to the door and they will see me
asleep on my bench. Their kisses will not awaken me, and they will shake
me by the shoulder; I will turn over on the other side and sleep on."

Thus, inspired by fierce joy, I set out in quest of a tavern. As it was
past midnight some were closed; this put me in a fury. "What!" I cried,
"even that consolation is refused me!" I ran hither and thither knocking
at the doors of taverns, crying: "Wine! Wine!"

At last I found one open; I called for a bottle, and without caring
whether it was good or bad, I gulped it down; a second followed, and then
a third. I dosed myself as with medicine, and forced the wine down as if
it had been prescribed by some physician to save my life.

The heavy fumes of the liquor, doubtless adulterated, mounted to my head.
As I had gulped it down at a breath, drunkenness seized me promptly; I
felt that I was becoming muddled, then I experienced a lucid moment, then
confusion followed. Then consciousness left me, I leaned my elbows on the
table and said adieu to myself.

But I had a confused idea that I was not alone in the tavern. At the
other end of the room stood a hideous group with haggard faces and harsh
voices. Their dress indicated that they belonged to the poorer class, but
were not bourgeois; in short, they belonged to that ambiguous class, the
vilest of all, which has neither fortune nor occupation, which never
works except at some criminal plot, a class which, neither poor nor rich,
combines the vices of one with the misery of the other.

They were quarrelling over a dirty pack of cards. Among them was a girl
who appeared to be very young and very pretty, was decently clad, and
resembled her companions in no way, except in the harshness of her voice,
which was as rough and broken as if it had performed the office of public
crier. She looked at me closely, as if astonished to see me in such a bad
place, for I was elegantly attired. Little by little she approached my
table and seeing that all the bottles were empty, smiled. I saw that she
had fine teeth of brilliant whiteness; I took her hand and begged her to
be seated; she consented with good grace and asked what we should have
for supper.

I looked at her without saying a word, while my eyes began to fill with
tears; she observed my emotion and inquired the cause. I could not reply.
She understood that I had some secret sorrow and forebore any attempt to
learn the cause; with her handkerchief she dried my tears from time to
time as we dined.

There was something about this girl at once repulsive and sweet, a
singular boldness mingled with pity, that I could not understand. If she
had taken my hand in the street she would have inspired a feeling of
horror in me; but it seemed so strange that a creature I had never seen
should come to me, and, without a word, proceed to order supper and dry
my tears with her handkerchief, that I was rendered speechless; it
revolted, yet charmed me. What I had done had been done so quickly that I
seemed to have obeyed some impulse of despair. Perhaps I was a fool, or
the victim of some supernatural caprice.

"Who are you?" I suddenly cried out; "what do you want of me? How do you
know who I am? Who told you to dry my tears? Is this your vocation and do
you think I desire you? I would not touch you with the tip of my finger.
What are you doing here? Reply at once. Is it money you want? What price
do you put on your pity?"

I arose and tried to go out, but my feet refused to support me. At the
same time my eyes failed me, a mortal weakness took possession of me and
I fell over a stool.

"You are not well," she said, taking me by the arm, "you have drunk, like
the child that you are, without knowing what you were doing. Sit down in
this chair and wait until a cab passes. You will tell me where you live
and I will order the driver to take you home to your mother, since," she
added, "you really find me ugly."

As she spoke I raised my eyes. Perhaps my drunkenness deceived me, or
perhaps I had not seen her face clearly before, but suddenly I detected
in that unfortunate girl a fatal resemblance to my mistress. I shuddered
at the sight. There is a certain shudder that affects the hair; some say
it is death passing over the head, but it was not death that passed over
mine.

It was the malady of the age, or rather was it that girl herself; and it
was she who, with her pale, halfmocking features and rasping voice, came
and sat with me at the end of the tavern room.

The moment I perceived her resemblance to my mistress a frightful idea
occurred to me; it took irresistible possession of my muddled mind, and I
put it into execution at once.

I escorted that girl to my home; and I arranged my room just as I had
been wont to do when my mistress was with me, for I was dominated by a
certain recollection of past joys.

Having arranged my room to my satisfaction, I gave myself up to the
intoxication of despair. I probed my heart to the bottom in order to
sound its depths. A Tyrolean song that my loved one used to sing began to
run through my head:

          Altra volta gieri biele,
          Blanch' a rossa com' un flore,
          Ma ora no. Non son piu biele
          Consumatis dal' amore.

   [Once I was beautiful, white and rosy as a flower; but now I am not.
   I am no longer beautiful, consumed by the fire of love.]

I listened to the echo of that song as it reverberated through the desert
of my heart. I said: "Behold the happiness of man; behold my little
Paradise; behold my queen Mab, a girl from the streets. My mistress is no
better. Behold what is found at the bottom of the glass when the nectar
of the gods has been drained; behold the corpse of love."

The unfortunate creature heard me singing and began to sing herself. I
turned pale; for that harsh and rasping voice, coming from the lips of
one who resembled my mistress, seemed a symbol of my experience. It
sounded like a gurgle in the throat of debauchery. It seemed to me that
my mistress, having been unfaithful, must have such a voice. I was
reminded of Faust who, dancing at the Brocken with a young sorceress, saw
a red mouse emerge from her throat.

"Stop!" I cried. I arose and approached her.

Let me ask you, O men of the time, bent upon pleasure, who attend the
balls and the opera and who, upon retiring this night, will seek slumber
with the aid of some threadbare blasphemy of old Voltaire, some sensible
satire by Paul Louis Courier, or some essay on economics, you who dally
with the cold substance of that monstrous water-lily that Reason has
planted in the hearts of our cities-let me ask, if by some chance this
obscure book falls into your hands, not to smile with noble disdain or
shrug your shoulders. Be not too sure that I complain of an imaginary
evil; be not too sure that human reason is the most beautiful of
faculties, that there is nothing real here below but quotations on the
Bourse, gambling in the salon, wine on the table, the glow of health,
indifference toward others, and the pleasures of the night.

For some day, across your stagnant life, a gust of wind will blow. Those
beautiful trees, that you water with the stream of oblivion, Providence
will destroy; despair will overtake you, heedless ones, and tears will
dim your eyes. I will not say that your mistresses will deceive you--that
would not grieve you so much as the loss of a horse--but you can lose on
the Bourse. For the first plunge is not the last, and even if you do not
gamble, bethink you that your moneyed tranquillity, your golden
happiness, are in the care of a banker who may fail. In short, I tell
you, frozen as you are, you are capable of loving something; some fibre
of your being can be torn and you can give vent to cries that will
resemble a moan of pain. Some day, wandering about the muddy streets,
when daily material joys shall have failed, you will find yourself seated
disconsolately on a deserted bench at midnight.

O men of marble! sublime egoists, inimitable reasoners, who have never
given way to despair or made a mistake in arithmetic, if this ever
happens to you, at the hour of your ruin you will remember Abelard when
he lost Heloise. For he loved her more than you love your horses, your
money, or your mistresses; and in losing her he lost more than your
monarch Satan would lose in falling again from the battlements of Heaven.
He loved her with a love of which the gazettes do not speak, the shadow
of which your wives and your daughters do not perceive in our theatres
and in our books. He passed half of his life kissing her white forehead,
teaching her to sing the psalms of David and the canticles of Saul; he
had but her on earth alone; and God consoled him.

Believe me, when in your distress you think of Abelard you will not look
with the same eye upon the rich blasphemy of Voltaire and the badinage of
Courier; you will feel that human reason can cure illusions but can not
heal sorrows; that God has use for Reason but that He has not made her a
sister of Charity. You will find that when the heart of man said: "I
believe in nothing, for I see nothing," it did not speak the last word on
the subject. You will look about you for something like hope, you will
shake the doors of churches to see if they still swing, but you will find
them walled up; you will think of becoming Trappists, and destiny will
mock at you, and for reply will give you a bottle of wine and a
courtesan.

And if you drink the wine, and take the courtesan, you will learn how
such things come to pass.



PART II



CHAPTER I

AT THE CROSSWAYS

Upon awaking the following morning I experienced a feeling of such deep
disgust with myself, and felt so degraded in my own eyes that a horrible
temptation assailed me. Then I sat down and looked gloomily about the
room, my eyes resting mechanically on a brace of pistols that decorated
the walls.

When the suffering mind stretches its hands, so to speak, toward
annihilation, when the soul forms some violent resolution, there seems to
be an independent physical horror in the act of touching the cold steel
of some deadly weapon; the fingers stiffen in anguish, the arm grows cold
and hard. Nature recoils as the condemned walks to death. I can not
express what I experienced, unless it was as if my pistol had said to me:
"Think what you are about to do."

Since then I have often wondered what would have happened to me if the
girl had departed immediately. Doubtless the first flush of shame would
have subsided; sadness is not despair, and God has joined them in order
that the one should not leave us alone with the other. Once relieved of
the presence of that woman, my heart would have become calm. There would
remain only repentance, for the angel of pardon has forbidden man to
kill. But I was doubtless cured for life; debauchery was once for all
driven from my door, and I would never again know the feeling of disgust
with which its first visit had inspired me.

But it happened otherwise. The struggle which was going on within, the
poignant reflections which overwhelmed me, the disgust, the fear, the
wrath, even (for I experienced all these emotions at the same time), all
these fatal powers nailed me to my chair; and, while I was thus a prey to
dangerous delirium, the creature, standing before my mirror, thought of
nothing but how best to arrange her dress and fix her hair, smiling the
while. This lasted more than a quarter of an hour, during which I had
almost forgotten her. Finally some slight noise attracted my attention to
her, and turning about with impatience I ordered her to leave the room in
such a tone that she at once opened the door and threw me a kiss before
going out.

At the same moment some one rang the bell of the outer door. I arose
precipitately, and had only time to open the closet door and motion the
creature into it, when Desgenais entered the room with two friends.

The great currents that are found in the middle of the ocean resemble
certain events in life. Fatality, Chance, Providence, what matters the
name? Those who quarrel over the word admit the fact. Such are not those
who, speaking of Napoleon or Caesar, say:

"He was a man of Providence." They apparently believe that heroes merit
the attention which Heaven shows them, and that the color of purple
attracts gods as well as bulls.

As to what rules the course of these little events, or what objects and
circumstances, in appearance the least important, lead to changes in
fortune, there is not, to my mind, a deeper cause and opportunity for
thought. For something in our ordinary actions resembles the little
blunted arrows we shoot at targets; little by little we make of our
successive deeds an abstract and regular entity that we call our prudence
or our will. Then comes a gust of wind, and lo! the smallest of these
arrows, the very lightest and most ineffective, is wafted beyond our
vision, beyond the very horizon to the dwelling-place of God himself.

What a strange feeling of unrest seizes us then! What becomes of those
phantoms of tranquil pride, the will and prudence? Force itself, that
mistress of the world, that sword of man in the combat of life, in vain
do we brandish it over our heads in wrath, in vain do we seek to ward off
with it a blow which threatens us; an invisible power turns aside the
point, and all the impetus of effort, deflected into space, serves only
to precipitate our fall.

Thus, at the moment I was hoping to cleanse myself from the sin I had
committed, perhaps to inflict the penalty, at the very instant when a
great horror had taken possession of me, I learned that I had to sustain
a dangerous test.

Desgenais was in good humor; stretching himself out on my sofa he began
to chaff me about my appearance, which indicated, he said, that I had not
slept well. As I was little disposed to indulge in pleasantry I begged
him to spare me.

He appeared to pay no attention to me, but, warned by my tone, soon
broached the subject that had brought him to me. He informed me that my
mistress had not only two lovers at a time, but three; that is to say,
she had treated my rival as badly as she had treated me; the poor boy,
having discovered her inconstancy, made a great ado and all Paris knew
it. At first I did not catch the meaning of Desgenais's words, as I was
not listening attentively; but when he had repeated his story three times
in detail I was so stupefied that I could not reply. My first impulse was
to laugh, for I saw that I had loved the most unworthy of women; but it
was no less true that I loved her still. "Is it possible?" was all I
could say.

Desgenais's friends confirmed all he had said. My mistress had been
surprised in her own house between two lovers, and a scene ensued that
all Paris knew by heart. She was disgraced, obliged to leave Paris or
remain exposed to the most bitter taunts.

It was easy for me to see that in all this ridicule a great part was
directed at me, not only on account of my duel in connection with this
woman, but from my whole conduct in regard to her. To say that she
deserved severest censure, that she had perhaps committed far worse sins
than those she was charged with, was but to make me feel that I had been
one of her dupes.

All this did not please me; but Desgenais had undertaken the task of
curing me of my love, and was prepared to treat my disease heroically. A
long friendship, founded on mutual services, gave him certain rights, and
as his motive appeared praiseworthy I allowed him to have his way.

Not only did he not spare me, but when he saw my trouble and my shame
increase, he pressed me the harder. My impatience was so obvious that he
could not continue, so he stopped and remained silent--a course that
irritated me still more.

In my turn I began to ask questions; I paced to and fro in my room.
Although the recital of the story was well-nigh insupportable, I wished
to hear it again. I tried to assume a smiling face and tranquil air, but
in vain. Desgenais suddenly became silent after having shown himself to
be a most virulent gossip. While I was pacing up and down my room he
looked at me calmly, as if I were a caged fox.

I can not express my state of mind. That a woman who had so long been the
idol of my heart, and who, since I had lost her, had caused me such deep
affliction, the only one I had ever loved, for whom indeed I might sorrow
till death, should become suddenly a shameless wretch, the subject of
coarse jests, of universal censure and scandal! It seemed to me that I
felt on my shoulder the brand of a glowing iron and that I was marked
with a burning stigma.

The more I reflected, the more the darkness thickened about me. From time
to time I turned my head and saw a cold smile or a curious glance.
Desgenais did not leave me; he knew very well what he was doing, and saw
that I might go to any lengths in my present desperate condition.

When he found that he had brought me to the desired point, he did not
hesitate to deal the finishing stroke.

"Does that story displease you?" he asked. "The best is yet to come. My
dear Octave, the scene I have described took place on a certain night
when the moon was shining brightly. While the two lovers were quarrelling
over their fair one, and talking of cutting her throat as she sat before
the fire, down in the street a certain shadow was seen to pass up and
down before the house, a shadow that resembled you so closely that it was
decided it must be you."

"Who says so?" I asked, "who saw me in the street?"

"Your mistress herself; she told it to every one who cared to listen,
just as cheerfully as we tell you her story. She claims that you love her
still, that you keep guard at her door, in short--everything you can
think of; but you ought to know that she talks about you publicly."

I have never been able to lie, for whenever I have tried to disguise the
truth my face has betrayed me. 'Amour propre', the shame of confessing my
weakness before witnesses induced me, however, to make the effort. "It is
very true that I was in the street," I thought, "but had I known that my
mistress was as bad as she is, I should not have been there."

Finally I persuaded myself that I had not been seen distinctly; I
attempted to deny it. A deep flush suffused my face and I felt the
futility of my feint. Desgenais smiled.

"Take care," said he, "take care, do not go too far."

"But," I protested, "how did I know it, how could I know--"

Desgenais compressed his lips as if to say:

"You knew enough."

I stopped short, mumbling the remnant of my sentence. My blood became so
hot that I could not continue.

"I in the street bathed in tears, in despair, and during that time that
encounter within! What! that very night! Mocked by her! Surely,
Desgenais, you are dreaming. Is it true? Can it be possible? What can you
know about it?"

Thus talking at haphazard, I lost my head and an irresistible feeling of
wrath began to rise within me. Finally I sat down exhausted.

"My friend," said Desgenais, "do not take the thing so seriously. The
solitary life you have been leading for the last two months has made you
ill; I see you have need of distraction. Come to supper with me this
evening, and tomorrow morning we will go to the country."

The tone in which he said this hurt me more than anything else; in vain I
tried to control myself. "Yes," I thought, "deceived by that woman,
poisoned by horrible suggestions, having no refuge either in work or in
fatigue, having for my only safeguard against despair and ruin a sacred
but frightful grief. O God! it is that grief, that sacred relic of my
sorrow, that has just crumbled in my hands! It is no longer, my love, it
is my despair that is insulted. Mockery! She mocks at me as I weep!" That
appeared incredible to me. All the memories of the past crowded about my
heart when I thought of it. I seemed to see the spectres of our nights of
love; they hung over a bottomless, eternal abyss, black as chaos, and
from the bottom of that abyss arose a shriek of laughter, sweet but
mocking, that said: "Behold your reward!"

Had I been told that the world mocked at me I would have replied: "So
much the worse for it," and I should not have been angry; but at the same
time I was told that my mistress was a shameless wretch. Thus, on one
side, the ridicule was public, vouched for, stated by two witnesses who,
before telling what they knew, must have felt that the world was against
me; and, on the other hand, what reply could I make? How could I escape?
What could I do when the centre of my life, my heart itself, was ruined,
killed, annihilated. What could I say when the woman for whom I had
braved all, ridicule as well as blame, for whom I had borne a load of
misery, whom I loved, and who loved another, of whom I demanded no love,
of whom I desired nothing but permission to weep at her door, no favor
but that of vowing my youth to her memory and of writing her name, her
name alone, on the tomb of my hopes!--Ah! when I thought of it, I felt
the hand of death heavy upon me. That woman mocked me, it was she who
first pointed her finger at me, singling me out to the idle crowd which
surrounded her; it was she, it was those lips erstwhile so many times
pressed to mine, it was that body, that soul of my life, my flesh and my
blood, it was from that source the injury came; yea, the last pang of
all, the most cowardly and the most bitter, the pitiless laugh that
sneers in the face of grief.

The more I thought of it the more enraged I became. Did I say enraged? I
do not know what passion possessed me. What I do know is that an
inordinate desire for vengeance entered into my soul. How could I revenge
myself on a woman? I would have paid any price for a weapon that could be
used against her. But I had none, not even the one she had employed; I
could not pay her in her own coin.

Suddenly I noticed a shadow moving behind the curtain before the closet.
I had forgotten my prisoner.

"Listen to me!" I cried, rising, "I have loved, I have loved like a fool.
I deserve all the ridicule you have subjected me to. But, by Heaven! I
will show you something that will prove to you that I am not such a fool
as you think."

With these words I pulled aside the curtain and exposed the interior of
the closet. The girl was trying to conceal herself in a corner.

"Go in, if you choose," I said to Desgenais; "you who call me a fool for
loving a woman, see how your teaching has affected me. Do you think I
passed last night under the windows of--? But that is not all," I added,
"that is not all I have to say. You give a supper to-night and to-morrow
go to the country; I am with you, and shall not leave you from now on. We
will not separate, but will pass the entire day together. Are you with
me? Agreed! I have tried to make of my heart the mausoleum of my love,
but I will bury my love in another tomb."

With these words I sat down, marvelling how indignation can solace grief
and restore happiness. Whoever is astonished to learn that, from that
day, I completely changed my course of life does not know the heart of
man, and does not understand that a young man of twenty may hesitate
before taking a step, but does not retreat when he has once taken it.



CHAPTER II

THE CHOSEN WAY

The first steps in debauchery resemble vertigo, for one feels a sort of
terror mingled with sensuous delight, as if peering downward from some
giddy--height. While shameful, secret dissipation ruins the noblest of
men, in the frank and open defiance of conventionality there is something
that compels respect even in the most depraved. He who goes at nightfall,
muffled in his cloak, to sully his life in secret, and clandestinely to
shake off the hypocrisy of the day, resembles an Italian who strikes his
enemy from behind, not daring to provoke him to open quarrel. There are
assassinations in the dark corners of the city under shelter of the
night. He who goes his way without concealment says: "Every one does it
and conceals it; I do it and do not conceal it." Thus speaks pride, and
once that cuirass has been buckled on, it glitters with the refulgent
light of day.

It is said that Damocles saw a sword suspended over his head. Thus
libertines seem to have something over their heads which says: "Go on,
but remember, I hang not by a thread." Those masked carriages that are
seen during Carnival are the faithful images of their life. A dilapidated
open wagon, flaming torches lighting up painted faces; some laugh, some
sing. Among them you see what appear to be women; they are in fact what
once were women, with human semblance. They are caressed and insulted; no
one knows who they are or what their names. They float and stagger under
the flaming torches in an intoxication that thinks of nothing, and over
which, it is said, a pitying God watches.

But if the first impression be astonishment, the second is horror, and
the third pity. There is evident so much force, or rather such an abuse
of force, that often the noblest characters and the strongest
constitutions are ruined. The life appears hardy and dangerous to these;
they would make prodigies of themselves; bound to debauchery as Mazeppa
to his horse, they gallop, making Centaurs of themselves and seeing
neither the bloody trail that the shreds of their flesh leave, nor the
eyes of the wolves that gleam in hungry pursuit, nor the desert, nor the
vultures.

Launched into that life by the circumstances that I have recounted, I
must now describe what I saw there.

Before I had a close view of one of those famous gatherings called
theatrical masked balls, I had heard the debauchery of the Regency spoken
of, and a reference to the time when a queen of France appeared disguised
as a violet-seller. I found there flower-merchants disguised as
vivandieres. I expected to find libertinism there, but in fact I found
none at all. One sees only the scum of libertinism, some blows, and
drunken women lying in deathlike stupor on broken bottles.

Ere I saw debauchery at table I had heard of the suppers of Heliogabolus
and of the philosophy of Greece, which made the pleasures of the senses a
kind of natural religion. I expected to find oblivion or something like
joy; I found there the worst thing in the world: ennui trying to live,
and some Englishmen who said: "I do this or that, and so I amuse myself.
I have spent so many sovereigns, and have procured so much pleasure." And
thus they wear out their life on that grindstone.

I had known nothing of courtesans when I heard of Aspasia, who sat on the
knees of Alcibiades while discussing philosophy with Socrates. I expected
to find something bold and insolent, but gay, free, and vivacious,
something with the sparkle of champagne; I found a yawning mouth, a fixed
eye, and light fingers.

Before I saw titled courtesans I had read Boccaccio and Bandello; above
all, I had read Shakespeare. I had dreamed of those beautiful triflers;
of those cherubim of hell. A thousand times I had drawn those heads so
poetically foolish, so enterprising in audacity, heads of harebrained
mistresses who wreck a romance with a glance, and who pass through life
by waves and by pulsations, like the sirens of the tides. I thought of
the fairies of the modern tales, who are always drunk with love if not
with wine. I found, instead, writers of letters, exact arrangers of
assignations, who practised lying as an art and cloaked their baseness
under hypocrisy, whose only thought was to give themselves for profit and
to forget.

Ere first I looked on the gaming-table I had heard of floods of gold, of
fortunes made in a quarter of an hour, and of a lord of the court of
Henry IV, who won on one card a hundred thousand louis. I found a narrow
room where workmen who had but one shirt rented a suit for the evening
for twenty sous, police stationed at the door, and starving wretches
staking a crust of bread against a pistol-shot.

Unknown to me were those dance-halls, public or other, open to any of
those thirty thousand women who are permitted to sell themselves in
Paris; I had heard of the saturnalia of all ages, of every imaginable
orgy, from Babylon to Rome, from the temple of Priapus to the
Parc-aux-Cerfs, and I have always seen written on the sill of that door
the word, "Pleasure." I found nothing suggestive of pleasure, but in its
place another word; and it has always seemed ineffaceable, not graven in
that glorious metal that takes the sun's light, but in the palest of all,
the cold colors of which seem tinted by the moonlight silver.

The first time I saw a mob, it was a depressing morning--Ash Wednesday,
near Courtille. A cold, fine rain had been falling since the evening
before; the streets were covered with pools of water. Carriages with
blinds down were strung out hither and thither, crowding between hedges
of hideous men and women standing on the sidewalks. That sinister wall of
spectators had tigerish eyes, red with wine, gleaming with hatred. The
carriage-wheels splashed mud over them, but they did not move. I was
standing on the front seat of an open carriage; from time to time a man
in rags would step out from the wall, hurl a torrent of abuse at us, then
cover us with a cloud of flour. Mud would soon follow; yet we kept on our
way toward the Isle of Love and the pretty wood of Romainville,
consecrated by so many sweet kisses. One of my friends fell from his seat
into the mud, narrowly escaping death on the paving. The people threw
themselves on him to overpower him, and we were obliged to hasten to his
assistance. One of the trumpeters who preceded us on horseback was struck
on the shoulder by a paving-stone; the flour had given out. I had never
heard of anything like that.

I began to understand the time and comprehend the spirit of the age.



CHAPTER III

AFRICAN HOSPITALITY

Desgenais had planned a reunion of young people at his country house. The
best wines, a splendid table, gaming, dancing, hunting, nothing was
lacking. Desgenais was rich and generous. He combined an antique
hospitality with modern ways. Moreover one could always find in his house
the best books; his conversation was that of a man of learning and
culture. He was a problem.

I took with me a taciturn humor that nothing could overcome; he respected
it scrupulously. I did not reply to his questions and he dropped the
subject; he was satisfied that I had forgotten my mistress. I went to the
chase and appeared at the table, and was as convivial as the best; he
asked no more.

One of the most unfortunate tendencies of inexperienced youth is to judge
of the world from first impressions; but it must be confessed that there
is a race of men who are also very unhappy; a race which says to youth:
"You are right in believing in evil, for we know what it is." I have
heard, for example, a curious thing spoken of, a medium between good and
evil, a certain arrangement between heartless women and men worthy of
them--apparently love, but in reality a passing sentiment. They speak of
love as of an engine constructed by a wagon-builder or a
building-contractor. They said to me: "This and that are agreed upon,
such and such phrases are spoken, and certain others are repeated in
reply; letters are written in a prescribed manner, you kneel in a certain
attitude." All is regulated as in a parade.

This made me laugh. Unfortunately for me, I can not tell a woman whom I
despise that I love her, even when I know that it is only a convention
and that she will not be deceived by it. I have never bent my knee to the
ground when my heart did not go with it. So that class of women known as
facile is unknown to me, or if I allow myself to be taken with them, it
is without knowing it, and through innate simplicity.

I can understand that one's soul can be put aside, but not that it should
be handled. That there is some pride in this, I confess, but I do not
intend either to boast or abase myself. Above all things I hate those
women who laugh at love, and I permit them to reciprocate the sentiment;
there will never be any dispute between us.

Such women are beneath courtesans, for courtesans may lie as well as
they; but courtesans are capable of love, and these women are not. I
remember a woman who loved me, and who said to a man many times richer
than I, with whom she was living: "I am weary of you, I am going to my
lover." That woman is worth more than many others who are not despised by
society.

I passed the entire season with Desgenais, and learned that my mistress
had left France; that news left in my heart a feeling of languor which I
could not overcome.

At the sight of that world which surrounded and was so new to me, I
experienced at first a kind of bizarre curiosity, at once sad and
profound, which made me look timorously at things as does a restless
horse. Then an incident occurred which made a deep impression on me.

Desgenais had with him a very beautiful woman who loved him much. One
evening as I was walking with him I told him that I considered her
admirable, as much on account of her attachment for him as because of her
beauty. In short, I praised her highly and with warmth, giving him to
understand that he ought to be happy.

He made no reply. It was his manner, for he was the dryest of men. That
night when all had retired, and I had been in bed some fifteen minutes I
heard a knock at my door. I supposed it was some one of my friends who
could not sleep, and invited him to enter.

There appeared before my astonished eyes a woman, very pale, carrying a
bouquet in her hands, to which was attached a piece of paper bearing
these words "To Octave, from his friend Desgenais."

I had no sooner read these words than a flash of light came to me. I
understood the meaning of this action of Desgenais in making me this
African gift. It made me think. The poor woman was weeping and did not
dare dry her tears for fear I would see them. I said to her: "You may
return and fear nothing."

She replied that if she should return Desgenais would send her back to
Paris. "Yes," I replied, "you are beautiful and I am susceptible to
temptation, but you weep, and your tears not being shed for me, I care
nothing for the rest. Go, therefore, and I will see to it that you are
not sent back to Paris."

One of my peculiarities is that meditation, which with many is a firm and
constant quality of the mind, is in my case an instinct independent of
the will, and seizes me like a fit of passion. It comes to me at
intervals in its own good time, regardless of my will and in almost any
place. But when it comes I can do nothing against it. It takes me whither
it pleases by whatever route seems good to it.

When the woman had left, I sat up.

"My friend," I said to myself, "behold what has been sent you. If
Desgenais had not seen fit to send you his mistress he would not have
been mistaken, perhaps, in supposing that you might fall in love with
her.

"Have you well considered it? A sublime and divine mystery is
accomplished. Such a being costs nature the most vigilant maternal care;
yet man, who would cure you, can think of nothing better than to offer
you lips which belong to him in order to teach you how to cease to love.

"How was it accomplished? Others than you have doubtless admired her, but
they ran no risk. She might employ all the seduction she pleased; you
alone were in danger.

"It must be that Desgenais has a heart, since he lives. In what respect
does he differ from you. He is a man who believes in nothing, fears
nothing, who knows no care or ennui, perhaps, and yet it is clear that a
scratch on the finger would fill him with terror, for if his body
abandons him, what becomes of him? He lives only in the body. What sort
of creature is he who treats his soul as the flagellants treat their
bodies? Can one live without a head?

"Think of it. Here is a man who possesses one of the most beautiful women
in the world; he is young and ardent; he finds her beautiful and tells
her so; she replies that she loves him. Some one touches him on the
shoulder and says to him: 'She is unfaithful.' Nothing more, he is sure
of himself. If some one had said: 'She is a poisoner,' he would, perhaps
have continued to love her, he would not have given her a kiss less; but
she is unfaithful, and it is no more a question of love with him than of
the star of Saturn.

"What is there in that word? A word that is merited, positive, withering,
at will. But why? It is still but a word. Can you kill a body with a
word?

"And if you love that body? Some one pours a glass of wine and says to
you: 'Do not love that, for you can get four for six francs.' And it may
intoxicate you!

"But Desgenais loves his mistress, since he keeps her; he must,
therefore, have a peculiar fashion of loving? No, he has not; his fashion
of loving is not love, and he cares no more for the woman who merits
affection than for her who is unworthy. He loves no one, simply and
truly.

"What has led him to this? Was he born thus? To love is as natural as to
eat and to drink. He is not a man. Is he a dwarf or a giant? Is he always
so impassive? Upon what does he feed, what beverage does he drink? Behold
him at thirty like old Mithridates; poisons are his familiar friends.

"There is the great secret, my child, the key you must grasp. By whatever
process of reasoning debauchery may be defended, it will be proven that
it is natural at a given day, hour, or night, but not to-morrow nor every
day. There is not a nation on earth which has not considered woman either
the companion and consolation of man or the sacred instrument of life,
and has not under either of these two forms honored her. And yet here is
an armed warrior who leaps into the abyss that God has dug with His own
hands between man and brute; as well might he deny that fact. What mute
Titan is this who dares repress under the kisses of the body the love of
the soul, and place on human lips the stigma of the brute, the seal of
eternal silence?

"There is a word that should be studied. In it you hear the faint moan of
those dismal labyrinths we know as secret societies, mysteries that the
angels of destruction whisper in the ear of night as it descends upon the
earth. That man is better or worse than God has made him. He is like a
sterile woman, in whom nature has not completed her work, or there is
distilled in the shadow of his life some venomous poison.

"Ah! yes, neither occupation nor study has been able to cure you, my
friend. To forget and to learn, that is your device. You turn the leaves
of dead books; you are too young for antiquities. Look about you, the
pale throng of men surrounds you. The eyes of life's sphynx glitter in
the midst of divine hieroglyphics; decipher the book of life! Courage,
scholar, launch out on the Styx, the deathless flood, and let the waves
of sorrow waft you to oblivion or to God."



CHAPTER IV

MARCO

"All the good there was in it, supposing there was some good in it, was
that false pleasures were the seeds of sorrow and of bitterness which
fatigued me to the point of exhaustion." Such are the simple words spoken
with reference to his youth by a man who was the most manly of any who
have lived--St. Augustine. Of those who have done as I, few would say
those words; all have them in their hearts; I have found no others in
mine.

Returning to Paris in the month of December, I passed the winter
attending pleasure parties, masquerades, suppers, rarely leaving
Desgenais, who was delighted with me: not so was I with him. The more I
went about, the more unhappy I became. It seemed to me after a short time
that the world which had at first appeared so strange would hamper me, so
to speak, at every step; yet where I had expected to see a spectre, I
discovered, upon closer inspection, a shadow.

Desgenais asked what ailed me.

"And you?" I asked. "What is the matter with you? Have you lost some
relative? Or do you suffer from some wound?"

At times he seemed to understand and did not question me. Occasionally we
sat down at a cafe table and drank until our heads swam; or in the middle
of the night took horses and rode ten or twelve leagues into the country;
returning to the bath, then to table, then to gambling, then to bed; and
on reaching mine, I fell on my knees and wept. That was my evening
prayer.

Strange to say, I took pride in passing for what I was not, I boasted of
being worse than I really was, and experienced a sort of melancholy
pleasure in doing so. When I had actually done what I claimed, I felt
nothing but ennui, but when I invented an account of some folly, some
story of debauchery, or a recital of an orgy with which I had nothing to
do, it seemed to me that my heart was better satisfied, although I know
not why.

Whenever I joined a party of pleasure-seekers and visited some spot made
sacred by tender associations I became stupid, went off by myself, looked
gloomily at the trees and bushes as if I would like to trample them under
my feet. Upon my return I would remain silent for hours.

The baleful idea that truth is nudity beset me on every occasion.

"The world," I said to myself, "is accustomed to call its disguise
virtue, its chaplet religion, its flowing mantle convenience. Honor and
Morality are man's chambermaids; he drinks in his wine the tears of the
poor in spirit who believe in him; while the sun is high in the heavens
he walks about with downcast eye; he goes to church, to the ball, to the
assembly, and when evening has come he removes his mantle and there
appears a naked bacchante with the hoofs of a goat."

But such thoughts aroused a feeling of horror, for I felt that if the
body was under the clothing, the skeleton was under the body. "Is it
possible that that is all?" I asked in spite of myself. Then I returned
to the city, I saw a little girl take her mother's arm, and I became like
a child.

Although I had followed my friends into all manner of dissipation, I had
no desire to resume my place in the world of society. The sight of women
caused me intolerable pain; I could not touch a woman's hand without
trembling. I had decided never to love again.

Nevertheless I returned from the ball one evening so sick at heart that I
feared that it was love. I happened to have had beside me at supper the
most charming and the most distinguished woman whom it had ever been my
good fortune to meet. When I closed my eyes to sleep I saw her image
before me. I thought I was lost, and I at once resolved that I would
avoid meeting her again. A sort of fever seized me, and I lay on my bed
for fifteen days, repeating over and over the lightest words I had
exchanged with her.

As there is no spot on earth where one can be so well-known by his
neighbors as in Paris, it was not long before the people of my
acquaintance who had seen me with Desgenais began to accuse me of being a
great libertine. In that I admired the discernment of the world: in
proportion as I had passed for inexperienced and sensitive at the time of
my rupture with my mistress, I was now considered corrupt and hardened.
Some one had just told me that it was clear I had never loved that woman,
that I had doubtless merely played at love, thereby paying me a
compliment which I really did not deserve; but the truth of it was that I
was so swollen with vanity I was charmed with it.

My desire was to pass as blase, even while I was filled with desires and
my exalted imagination was carrying me beyond all limits. I began to say
that I could not make any headway with the women; my head was filled with
chimeras which I preferred to realities. In short, my unique pleasure
consisted in altering the nature of facts. If a thought were but
extraordinary, if it shocked common sense, I became its ardent champion
at the risk of advocating the most dangerous sentiments.

My greatest fault was imitation of everything that struck me, not by its
beauty but by its strangeness, and not wishing to confess myself an
imitator I resorted to exaggeration in order to appear original.
According to my idea, nothing was good or even tolerable; nothing was
worth the trouble of turning the head, and yet when I had become warmed
up in a discussion it seemed as if there was no expression in the French
language strong enough to sustain my cause; but my warmth would subside
as soon as my opponents ranged themselves on my side.

It was a natural consequence of my conduct. Although disgusted with the
life I was leading I was unwilling to change it:

        Simigliante a quells 'nferma
        Che non puo trovar posa in su le piume,
        Ma con dar volta suo dolore scherma.--DANTE.

Thus I tortured my mind to give it change, and I fell into all these
vagaries in order to get away from myself.

But while my vanity was thus occupied, my heart was suffering, so that
ever within me were a man who laughed and a man who wept. It was a
perpetual struggle between my head and my heart. My own mockeries
frequently caused me great pain and my deepest sorrows aroused a desire
to burst into laughter.

One day a man boasted of being proof against superstitious fears, in
fact, fear of every kind. His friends put a human skeleton in his bed and
then concealed themselves in an adjoining room to wait for his return.
They did not hear any noise, but in the morning they found him dressed
and sitting on the bed playing with the bones; he had lost his reason.

I might be that man but for the fact that my favorite bones are those of
a well-beloved skeleton; they are the debris of my first love, all that
remains of the past.

But it must not be supposed that there were no joyous moments in all this
maddened whirl. Among Desgenais's companions were several young men of
distinction and a number of artists. We sometimes passed together
delightful evenings imagining ourselves libertines. One of them was
infatuated with a beautiful singer, who charmed us with her fresh and
expressive voice. How many times we sat listening to her while supper was
waiting! How many times, when the flagons had been emptied, one of us
held a volume of Lamartine and read aloud in a voice choked by emotion!
Every other thought disappeared. The hours passed by unheeded. What
strange "libertines" we were! We did not speak a word and there were
tears in our eyes.

Desgenais especially, habitually the coldest and dryest of men, was
inexplicable on such occasions; he delivered himself of such
extraordinary sentiments that he might have been a poet in delirium. But
after these effusions he would be seized with furious joy. When warmed by
wine he would break everything within reach; the genius of destruction
stalked forth in him armed to the teeth. I have seen him pickup a chair
and hurl it through a closed window.

I could not help making a study of this singular man. He appeared to me
the exact type of a class which ought to exist somewhere but which was
unknown to me. One could never tell whether his outbursts were the
despair of a man sick of life, or the whim of a spoiled child.

During the fete, in particular, he was in such a state of nervous
excitement that he acted like a schoolboy. Once he persuaded me to go out
on foot with him, muffled in grotesque costumes, with masks and
instruments of music. We promenaded all night, in the midst of the most
frightful din of horrible sounds. We found a driver asleep on his box and
unhitched his horses; then, pretending we had just come from the ball,
set up a great cry. The coachman started up, cracked his whip, and his
horses started off on a trot, leaving him seated on the box. That same
evening we had passed through the Champs Elysees; Desgenais, seeing
another carriage passing, stopped it after the manner of a highwayman; he
intimidated the coachman by threats and forced him to climb down and lie
flat on his stomach. He opened the carriage door and found within a young
man and a lady motionless with fright. He whispered to me to imitate him,
and we began to enter one door and go out by the other, so that in the
obscurity the poor young people thought they saw a procession of bandits
going through their carriage.

As I understand it, the men who say that the world gives experience ought
to be astonished if they are believed. The world is merely a number of
whirlpools, each one independent of the others; they circle in groups
like flocks of birds. There is no resemblance between the different
quarters of the same city, and the denizen of the Chaussee d'Antin has as
much to learn at Marais as at Lisbon. It is true that these various
whirlpools are traversed, and have been since the beginning of the world,
by seven personages who are always the same: the first is called hope;
the second, conscience; the third, opinion; the fourth, desire; the
fifth, sorrow; the sixth, pride; and the seventh, man.

"But," the reader objects, "where are the women in all this?"

Oh! creatures who bear the name of women and who have passed like dreams
through a life that was itself a dream, what shall I say of you? Where
there is no shadow of hope can there be memory? Where shall I seek for
it? What is there more dumb in human memory? What is there more
completely forgotten than you?

If I must speak of women I will mention two; here is one of them:

I ask what would be expected of a poor sewing-girl, young and pretty,
about eighteen, with a romantic affair on her hands that is purely a
question of love; with little knowledge of life and no idea of morals;
eternally sewing near a window before which processions were not allowed
to pass by order of the police, but near which a dozen young women
prowled who were licensed and recognized by these same police; what could
you expect of her, when after wearying her hands and eyes all day long on
a dress or a hat, she leans out of that window as night falls? That dress
she has sewed, that hat she has trimmed with her poor and honest hands in
order to earn a supper for the household, she sees passing along the
street on the head or on the body of a notorious woman. Thirty times a
day a hired carriage stops before the door, and there steps out a
dissolute character, numbered as is the hack in which she rides, who
stands before a glass and primps, taking off and putting on the results
of many days' work on the part of the poor girl who watches her. She sees
that woman draw from her pocket gold in plenty, she who has but one louis
a week; she looks at her feet and her head, she examines her dress and
eyes her as she steps into her carriage; and then, what can you expect?
When night has fallen, after a day when work has been scarce, when her
mother is sick, she opens her door, stretches out her hand and stops a
passerby.

Such is the story of a girl I once knew. She could play the piano, knew
something of accounts, a little designing, even a little history and
grammar, and thus a little of everything. How many times have I regarded
with poignant compassion that sad work of nature, mutilated by society!
How many times have I followed in the darkness the pale and vacillating
gleams of a spark flickering in abortive life! How many times have I
tried to revive the fire that smouldered under those ashes! Alas! her
long hair was the color of ashes, and we called her Cendrillon.

I was not rich enough to help her; Desgenais, at my request, interested
himself in the poor creature; he made her learn over again all of which
she had a slight knowledge. But she could make no appreciable progress.
When her teacher left her she would fold her arms and for hours look
silently across the public square. What days! What misery! One day I
threatened that if she did not work she should have no money; she
silently resumed her task, and I learned that she stole out of the house
a few minutes later. Where did she go? God knows. Before she left I asked
her to embroider a purse for me. I still have that sad relic, it hangs in
my room, a monument of the ruin that is wrought here below.

But here is another case:

It was about ten in the evening when, after a riotous day, we repaired to
Desgenais's, who had left us some hours before to make his preparations.
The orchestra was ready and the room filled when we arrived.

Most of the dancers were girls from the theatres.

As soon as we entered I plunged into the giddy whirl of the waltz. That
delightful exercise has always been dear to me; I know of nothing more
beautiful, more worthy of a beautiful woman and a young man; all dances
compared with the waltz are but insipid conventions or pretexts for
insignificant converse. It is truly to possess a woman, in a certain
sense, to hold her for a half hour in your arms, and to draw her on in
the dance, palpitating in spite of herself, in such a way that it can not
be positively asserted whether she is being protected or seduced. Some
deliver themselves up to the pleasure with such modest voluptuousness,
with such sweet and pure abandon, that one does not know whether he
experiences desire or fear, and whether, if pressed to the heart, they
would faint or break in pieces like the rose. Germany, where that dance
was invented, is surely the land of love.

I held in my arms a superb danseuse from an Italian theatre who had come
to Paris for the carnival; she wore the costume of a Bacchante with a
robe of panther's skin. Never have I seen anything so languishing as that
creature. She was tall and slender, and while dancing with extreme
rapidity, had the appearance of allowing herself to be led; to see her
one would think that she would tire her partner, but such was not the
case, for she moved as if by enchantment.

On her bosom rested an enormous bouquet, the perfume of which intoxicated
me. She yielded to my encircling arms as would an Indian vine, with a
gentleness so sweet and so sympathetic that I seemed enveloped with a
perfumed veil of silk. At each turn there could be heard a light tinkling
from her metal girdle; she moved so gracefully that I thought I beheld a
beautiful star, and her smile was that of a fairy about to vanish from
human sight. The tender and voluptuous music of the dance seemed to come
from her lips, while her head, covered with a wilderness of black
tresses, bent backward as if her neck was too slender to support its
weight.

When the waltz was over I threw myself on a chair; my heart beat wildly:
"Oh, heaven!" I murmured, "how can it be possible? Oh, superb monster!
Oh! beautiful reptile! How you writhe, how you coil in and out, sweet
adder, with supple and spotted skin! Thy cousin the serpent has taught
thee to coil about the tree of life holding between thy lips the apple of
temptation. Oh! Melusina! Melusina! The hearts of men are thine. You know
it well, enchantress, with your soft languor that seems to suspect
nothing! You know very well that you ruin, that you destroy; you know
that he who touches you will suffer; you know that he dies who basks in
your smile, who breathes the perfume of your flowers and comes under the
magic influence of your charms; that is why you abandon yourself so
freely, that is why your smile is so sweet, your flowers so fresh; that
is why you place your arms so gently on our shoulders. Oh, heaven! what
is your will with us?"

Professor Halle has said a terrible thing: "Woman is the nervous part of
humanity, man the muscular." Humboldt himself, that serious thinker, has
said that an invisible atmosphere surrounds the human nerves.

I do not quote the dreamers who watch the wheeling flight of
Spallanzani's bat, and who think they have found a sixth sense in nature.
Such as nature is, her mysteries are terrible enough, her powers mighty
enough--that nature which creates us, mocks at us, and kills us--without
our seeking to deepen the shadows that surround us. But where is the man
who thinks he has lived that will deny woman's power over us? Has he ever
taken leave of a beautiful dancer with trembling hands? Has he ever felt
that indefinable enervating magnetism which, in the midst of the dance,
under the influence of music, and the warmth, making all else seem cold,
that comes from a young woman, electrifying her and leaping from her to
him as the perfume of aloes from the swinging censer?

I was struck with stupor. I was familiar with that sensation similar to
drunkenness which characterizes love; I knew that it was the aureole
which crowned my well-beloved. But that she should excite such
heart-throbs, that she should evoke such phantoms with nothing but her
beauty, her flowers, her motley costume, and a certain trick of dancing
she had learned from some merry-andrew; and that without a word, without
a thought, without even appearing to know it! What was chaos, if it
required seven days to make such a being?

It was not love, however, that I felt, and I do not know how to describe
it unless I call it thirst. For the first time I felt vibrating in my
body a cord that was not attuned to my heart. The sight of that beautiful
animal had aroused a responsive roar from another animal in my nature. I
felt sure I could never tell that woman that I loved her, or that she
pleased me, or even that she was beautiful; there was nothing on my lips
but a desire to kiss her, and say to her: "Make a girdle of those
listless arms and lean that head on my breast; place that sweet smile on
my lips." My body loved hers; I was under the influence of beauty as of
wine.

Desgenais passed and asked what I was doing there.

"Who is that woman?" I asked.

"What woman? Of whom do you speak?"

I took his arm and led him into the hall. The Italian saw us coming and
smiled. I stopped and stepped back.

"Ah!" said Desgenais, "you have danced with Marco?"

"Who is Marco?" I asked.

"Why, that idle creature who is laughing over there. Does she please
you?"

"No," I replied, "I have waltzed with her and wanted to know her name; I
have no further interest in her."

Shame led me to speak thus, but when Desgenais turned away I followed
him.

"You are very prompt," he said, "Marco is no ordinary woman. She was
almost the wife of M. de------, ambassador to Milan. One of his friends
brought her here. Yet," he added, "you may rest assured I shall speak to
her. We shall not allow you to die so long as there is any hope for you
or any resource left untried. It is possible that she will remain to
supper."

He left me, and I was alarmed to see him approach her. But they were soon
lost in the crowd.

"Is it possible," I murmured; "have I come to this? Oh! heavens! is this
what I am going to love? But after all," I thought, "my senses have
spoken, but not my heart."

Thus I tried to calm myself. A few minutes later Desgenais tapped me on
the shoulder.

"We shall go to supper at once," said he. "You will give your arm to
Marco."

"Listen," I said; "I hardly know what I am experiencing. It seems to me I
see limping Vulcan covering Venus with kisses while his beard smokes with
the fumes of the forge. He fixes his staring eyes on the dazzling skin of
his prey. His happiness in the possession of his prize makes him laugh
for joy, and at the same time shudder with happiness, and then he
remembers his father, Jupiter, seated on high among the gods."

Desgenais looked at me but made no reply; taking me by the arm he led me
away.

"I am tired," he said, "and I am sad; this noise wearies me. Let us go to
supper, that will refresh us."

The supper was splendid, but I could not touch it.

"What is the matter with you?" asked Marco.

I sat like a statue, making no reply and looking at her from head to foot
with amazement.

She began to laugh, and Desgenais, who could see us from his table,
joined her. Before her was a large crystal glass cut in the shape of a
chalice, which reflected the glittering lights on its thousand sparkling
facets, shining like the prism and revealing the seven colors of the
rainbow. She listlessly extended her arm and filled it to the brim with
Cyprian and a sweetened Oriental wine which I afterward found so bitter
on the deserted Lido.

"Here," she said, presenting it to me, "per voi, bambino mio."

"For you and for me," I said, presenting her my glass in turn.

She moistened her lips while I emptied my glass, unable to conceal the
sadness she seemed to read in my eyes.

"Is it not good?" she asked.

"No," I replied.

"Perhaps your head aches?"

"No."

"Or you are tired?"

"No."

"Ah! then it is the ennui of love?"

With these words she became serious, for in spite of herself, in speaking
of love, her Italian heart beat the faster.

A scene of folly ensued. Heads were becoming heated, cheeks were assuming
that purple hue with which wine suffuses the face as if to prevent shame
appearing there. A confused murmur, like to that of a rising sea, could
be heard all over the room; here and there eyes would become inflamed,
then fixed and empty; I know not what wind stirred above this
drunkenness. A woman rises, as in a tranquil sea the first wave that
feels the tempest's breath foams up to announce it; she makes a sign with
her hand to command silence, empties her glass at a gulp and with the
same movement undoes her hair, which falls in shining tresses over her
shoulders; she opens her mouth as if to start a drinking-song; her eyes
are half closed. She breathes with an effort; twice a harsh sound comes
from her throat; a mortal pallor overspreads her features and she drops
into her chair.

Then came an uproar which lasted an hour. It was impossible to
distinguish anything, either laughter, songs, or cries.

"What do you think of it?" asked Desgenais.

"Nothing," I replied. "I have stopped my ears and am looking at it."

In the midst of this Bacchanalian orgy the beautiful Marco remained mute,
drinking nothing and leaning quietly on her bare arm. She seemed neither
astonished nor affected by it.

"Do you not wish to do as they?" I asked. "You have just offered me
Cyprian wine; why do you not drink some yourself?"

With these words I poured out a large glass full to the brim. She raised
it to her lips and then placed it on the table, and resumed her listless
attitude.

The more I studied that Marco, the more singular she appeared; she took
pleasure in nothing and did not seem to be annoyed by anything. It
appeared as difficult to anger her as to please her; she did what was
asked of her, but no more. I thought of the genius of eternal repose, and
I imagined that if that pale statue should become somnambulant it would
resemble Marco.

"Are you good or bad?" I asked. "Are you sad or gay? Are you loved? Do
you wish to beloved? Are you fond of money, of pleasure, of what? Horses,
the country, balls? What pleases you? Of what are you dreaming?"

To all these questions the same smile on her part, a smile that expressed
neither joy nor sorrow, but which seemed to say, "What does it matter?"
and nothing more.

I held my lips to hers; she gave me a listless kiss and then passed her
handkerchief over her mouth.

"Marco," I said, "woe to him who loves you."

She turned her dark eyes on me, then turned them upward, and raising her
finger with that Italian gesture which can not be imitated, she
pronounced that characteristic feminine word of her country:

"Forse!"

And then dessert was served. Some of the party had departed, some were
smoking, others gambling, and a few still at table; some of the women
danced, others slept. The orchestra returned; the candles paled and
others were lighted. I recalled a supper of Petronius, where the lights
went out around the drunken masters, and the slaves entered and stole the
silver. All the while songs were being sung in various parts of the room,
and three Englishmen, three of those gloomy figures for whom the
Continent is a hospital, kept up a most sinister ballad that must have
been born of the fogs of their marshes.

"Come," said I to Marco, "let us go."

She arose and took my arm.

"To-morrow!" cried Desgenais to me, as we left the hall.

When approaching Marco's house, my heart beat violently and I could not
speak. I could not understand such a woman; she seemed to experience
neither desire nor disgust, and I could think of nothing but the fact
that my hand was trembling and hers motionless.

Her room was, like her, sombre and voluptuous; it was dimly lighted by an
alabaster lamp. The chairs and sofa were as soft as beds, and there was
everywhere suggestion of down and silk. Upon entering I was struck with
the strong odor of Turkish pastilles, not such as are sold here on the
streets, but those of Constantinople, which are more powerful and more
dangerous. She rang, and a maid appeared. She entered an alcove without a
word, and a few minutes later I saw her leaning on her elbow in her
habitual attitude of nonchalance.

I stood looking at her. Strange to say, the more I admired her, the more
beautiful I found her, the more rapidly I felt my desires subside. I do
not know whether it was some magnetic influence or her silence and
listlessness. I lay down on a sofa opposite the alcove, and the coldness
of death settled on my soul.

The pulsation of the blood in the arteries is a sort of clock, the
ticking of which can be heard only at night. Man, free from exterior
attractions, falls back upon himself; he hears himself live. In spite of
my fatigue I could not close my eyes; those of Marco were fixed on me; we
looked at each other in silence, gently, so to speak.

"What are you doing there?" she asked.

She heaved a gentle sigh that was almost a plaint.

I turned my head and saw that the first gleams of morning light were
shining through the window.

I arose and opened the window; a bright light penetrated every corner of
the room. The sky was clear.

I motioned to her to wait. Considerations of prudence had led her to
choose an apartment some distance from the centre of the city; perhaps
she had other quarters, for she sometimes received a number of visitors.
Her lover's friends sometimes visited her, and this room was doubtless
only a petite maison; it overlooked the Luxembourg, the gardens of which
extended as far as my eye could reach.

As a cork held under water seems restless under the hand which holds it,
and slips through the fingers to rise to the surface, thus there stirred
in me a sentiment that I could neither overcome nor escape. The gardens
of the Luxembourg made my heart leap and banished every other thought.
How many times had I stretched myself out on one of those little mounds,
a sort of sylvan school, while I read in the cool shade some book filled
with foolish poetry! For such, alas, were the extravagances of my
childhood. I saw many souvenirs of the past among those leafless trees
and faded lawns. There, when ten years of age, I had walked with my
brother and my tutor, throwing bits of bread to some of the poor
half-starved birds; there, seated under a tree, I had watched a group of
little girls as they danced, and felt my heart beat in unison with the
refrain of their childish song. There, returning from school, I had
followed a thousand times the same path, lost in meditation upon some
verse of Virgil and kicking the pebbles at my feet.

"Oh, my childhood! You are there!" I cried. "Oh, heaven! now I am here."

I turned around. Marco was asleep, the lamp had gone out, the light of
day had changed the aspect of the room; the hangings which had at first
appeared blue were now a faded yellow, and Marco, the beautiful statue,
was livid as death.

I shuddered in spite of myself; I looked at the alcove, then at the
garden; my head became drowsy and fell on my breast. I sat down before an
open secretary near one of the windows. A piece of paper caught my eye;
it was an open letter and I looked at it mechanically. I read it several
times before I thought what I was doing. Suddenly a gleam of intelligence
came to me, although I could not understand everything. I picked up the
paper and read what follows, written in an unskilled hand and filled with
errors in spelling:

"She died yesterday. She began to fail at twelve the night before. She
called me and said: 'Louison, I am going to join my companion; go to the
closet and take down the cloth that hangs on a nail; it is the mate of
the other.' I fell on my knees and wept, but she took my hand and said:
'Do not weep, do not weep!' And she heaved such a sigh--"

The rest was torn, I can not describe the impression that sad letter made
on me; I turned it over and saw on the other side Marco's address and the
date that of the evening previous.

"Is she dead? Who is dead?" I cried going to the alcove. "Dead! Who?"

Marco opened her eyes. She saw me with the letter in my hand.

"It is my mother," she said, "who is dead. You are not coming?"

As she spoke she extended her hand.

"Silence!" I said, "sleep, and leave me to myself."

She turned over and went to sleep. I looked at her for some time to
assure myself that she would not hear me, and then quietly left the
house.



CHAPTER V

SATIETY

One evening I was seated before the fire with Desgenais. The window was
open; it was one of the early days in March, a harbinger of spring.

It had been raining, and a light odor came from the garden.

"What shall we do this spring?" I asked. "I do not care to travel."

"I shall do what I did last year," replied Desgenais. "I shall go to the
country when the time comes."

"What!" I replied. "Do you do the same thing every year? Are you going to
begin life over again this year?"

"What would you expect me to do?"

"What would I expect you to do?" I cried, jumping to my feet. "That is
just like you. Ah! Desgenais, how all this wearies me! Do you never tire
of this sort of life?"

"No," he replied.

I was standing before an engraving of the Magdalen in the desert.
Involuntarily I joined my hands.

"What are you doing?" asked Desgenais.

"If I were an artist," I replied, "and wished to represent melancholy, I
would not paint a dreamy girl with a book in her hands."

"What is the matter with you this evening?" he asked, smiling.

"No, in truth," I continued, "that Magdalen in tears has a spark of hope
in her bosom; that pale and sickly hand on which she supports her head,
is still sweet with the perfume with which she anointed the feet of her
Lord. You do not understand that in that desert there are thinking people
who pray. This is not melancholy."

"It is a woman who reads," he replied dryly.

"And a happy woman," I continued, "with a happy book."

Desgenais understood me; he saw that a profound sadness had taken
possession of me. He asked if I had some secret cause of sorrow. I
hesitated, but did not reply.

"My dear Octave," he said, "if you have any trouble, do not hesitate to
confide in me. Speak freely and you will find that I am your friend!"

"I know it," I replied, "I know I have a friend; that is not my trouble."

He urged me to explain.

"But what will it avail," I asked, "since neither of us can help matters?
Do you want the fulness of my heart or merely a word and an excuse?"

"Be frank!" he said.

"Very well," I replied, "you have seen fit to give me advice in the past
and now I ask you to listen to me as I have listened to you. You ask what
is in my heart, and I am about to tell you.

"Take the first comer and say to, him: 'Here are people who pass their
lives drinking, riding, laughing, gambling, enjoying all kinds of
pleasures; no barrier restrains them, their law is their pleasure, women
are their playthings; they are rich. They have no cares, not one. All
their days are days of feasting.' What do you think of it? Unless that
man happened to be a severe bigot, he would probably reply that it was
the greatest happiness that could be imagined.

"'Then take that man into the centre of the whirl, place him at a table
with a woman on either side, a glass in his hand, a handful of gold every
morning and say to him: 'This is your life. While you sleep near your
mistress, your horses neigh in the stables; while you drive your horses
along the boulevards, your wines are ripening in your vaults; while you
pass away the night drinking, the bankers are increasing your wealth. You
have but to express a wish and your desires are gratified. You are the
happiest of men. But take care lest some night of carousal you drink too
much and destroy the capacity of your body for enjoyment. That would be a
serious misfortune, for all the ills that afflict human flesh can be
cured, except that. You ride some night through the woods with joyous
companions; your horse falls and you are thrown into a ditch filled with
mud, and it may be that your companions, in the midst of their happy
shoutings will not hear your cry of anguish; it may be that the sound of
their trumpets will die away in the distance while you drag your broken
limbs through the deserted forest.

"'Some night you will lose at the gaming-table; fortune has its bad days.
When you return home and are seated before the fire, do not strike your
forehead with your hands, and allow sorrow to moisten your cheeks with
tears; do not anxiously cast your eyes about here and there as if
searching for a friend; do not, under any circumstances, think of those
who, under some thatched roof, enjoy a tranquil life and who sleep
holding each other by the hand; for before you on your luxurious bed
reclines a pale creature who loves--your money. From her you will seek
consolation for your grief, and she will remark that you are very sad and
ask if your loss was considerable; the tears from your eyes will concern
her deeply, for they may be the cause of allowing her dress to grow old
or the rings to drop from her fingers. Do not name him who won your money
that night, for she may meet him on the morrow, and may make sweet eyes
at him that would destroy your remaining happiness.

"'That is what is to be expected of human frailty; have you the strength
to endure it? Are you a man? Beware of disgust, it is an incurable evil;
death is more to be desired than a living distaste for life. Have you a
heart? Beware of love, for it is worse than disease for a debauchee, and
it is ridiculous. Debauchees pay their mistresses, and the woman who
sells herself has no right but that of contempt for the purchaser. Are
you passionate? Take care of your face. It is shameful for a soldier to
throw down his arms and for a debauchee to appear to hold to anything;
his glory consists in touching nothing except with hands of marble that
have been bathed in oil in order that nothing may stick to them.

"'Are you hot-headed? If you desire to live, learn how to kill, for wine
is a wrangler. Have you a conscience? Take care of your slumber, for a
debauchee who repents too late is like a ship that leaks: it can neither
return to land nor continue on its course; the winds can with difficulty
move it, the ocean yawns for it, it careens and disappears. If you have a
body, look out for suffering; if you have a soul, despair awaits you.

"'O unhappy one! beware of men; while they walk along the same path with
you, you will see a vast plain strewn with garlands where a happy throng
of dancers trip the gladsome farandole standing in a circle, each a link
in an endless chain. It is but a mirage; those who look down know that
they are dancing on a silken thread stretched over an abyss that swallows
up all who fall and shows not even a ripple on its surface. What foot is
sure? Nature herself seems to deny you her divine consolation; trees and
flowers are yours no more; you have broken your mother's laws, you are no
longer one of her foster children; the birds of the field become silent
when you appear.

"'You are alone! Beware of God! You are face to face with Him, standing
like a cold statue upon the pedestal of will. The rain from heaven no
longer refreshes you, it undermines and weakens you. The passing wind no
longer gives you the kiss of life, its benediction on all that lives and
breathes; it buffets you and makes you stagger. Every woman who kisses
you takes from you a spark of life and gives you none in return; you
exhaust yourself on phantoms; wherever falls a drop of your sweat there
springs up one of those sinister weeds that grow in graveyards. Die! You
are the enemy of all who love; blot yourself from the face of the earth,
do not wait for old age; do not leave a child behind you, do not
perpetuate a drop of your corrupted blood; vanish as does the smoke, do
not deprive a single blade of living grass of a ray of sunlight.'"

When I had spoken these words I fell back in my chair, and a flood of
tears streamed from my eyes.

"Ah! Desgenais," I cried, sobbing, "this is not what you told me. Did you
not know it? And if you did, why did you not tell me of it?"

But Desgenais sat still with folded hands; he was as pale as a shroud,
and a tear trickled slowly down his cheek.

A moment of silence ensued. The clock struck; I suddenly remembered that
it was on this hour and this day one year ago that my mistress deceived
me.

"Do you hear that clock?" I cried, "do you hear it? I do not know what it
means at this moment, but it is a terrible hour, and one that will count
in my life."

I was beside myself, and scarcely knew what I was saying. But at that
instant a servant rushed into the room; he took my hand and led me aside,
whispering in my ear:

"Sir, I have come to inform you that your father is dying; he has just
been seized with an attack of apoplexy and the physicians despair of his
life."

     ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

     A terrible danger lurks in the knowledge of what is possible
     Accustomed to call its disguise virtue
     All that is not life, it is the noise of life
     Become corrupt, and you will cease to suffer
     Began to forget my own sorrow in my sympathy for her
     Beware of disgust, it is an incurable evil
     Death is more to be desired than a living distaste for life
     Despair of a man sick of life, or the whim of a spoiled child
     Do they think they have invented what they see
     Force itself, that mistress of the world
     Galileo struck the earth, crying: "Nevertheless it moves!"
     Grief itself was for her but a means of seducing
     He lives only in the body
     Human weakness seeks association
     I boasted of being worse than I really was
     I can not love her, I can not love another
     I do not intend either to boast or abase myself
     Ignorance into which the Greek clergy plunged the laity
     In what do you believe?
     Indignation can solace grief and restore happiness
     Is he a dwarf or a giant
     Men doubted everything: the young men denied everything
     Of all the sisters of love, the most beautiful is pity
     Perfection does not exist
     Resorted to exaggeration in order to appear original
     Sceptic regrets the faith he has lost the power to regain
     Seven who are always the same: the first is called hope
     St. Augustine
     Ticking of which (our arteries) can be heard only at night
     When passion sways man, reason follows him weeping and warning
     Wine suffuses the face as if to prevent shame appearing there
     You believe in what is said here below and not in what is done
     You turn the leaves of dead books
     Youth is to judge of the world from first impressions



CONFESSION OF A CHILD OF THE CENTURY

(Confession d'un Enfant du Siecle)

By ALFRED DE MUSSET



BOOK 2.



PART III



CHAPTER I

DEATH, THE INEVITABLE

My father lived in the country some distance from Paris. When I arrived I
found a physician in the house, who said to me:

"You are too late; your father expressed a desire to see you before he
died."

I entered, and saw my father dead. "Sir," I said to the physician,
"please have everyone retire that I may be alone here; my father had
something to say to me, and he will say it."

In obedience to my order the servants left the room. I approached the bed
and raised the shroud which covered the face. But when my eyes fell on
that countenance, I stooped to kiss it and lost consciousness.

When I recovered, I heard some one say:

"If he requests it, you must refuse him on some pretext or other."

I understood that they wanted to get me away from the bed of death, and
so I feigned that I had heard nothing. When they saw that I was resting
quietly, they left me. I waited until the house was quiet, and then took
a candle and made my way to my father's room. I found there a young
priest seated near the bed.

"Sir," I said, "to dispute with an orphan the last vigil at a father's
side is a bold enterprise. I do not know what your orders may be. You may
remain in the adjoining room; if anything happens, I alone am
responsible."

He retired. A single candle on the table shone on the bed. I sat down in
the chair the priest had just left, and again uncovered those features I
was to see for the last time.

"What do you wish to say to me, father?" I asked. "What was your last
thought concerning your child?"

My father had a book in which he was accustomed to write from day to day
the record of his life. That book lay on the table, and I saw that it was
open; I kneeled before it; on the page were these words and no more:

"Adieu, my son, I love you and I die."

I did not shed a tear, not a sob came from my lips; my throat was swollen
and my mouth sealed; I looked at my father without moving.

He knew my life, and my irregularities had caused him much sorrow and
anxiety. He did not refer to my future, to my youth and my follies. His
advice had often saved me from some evil course, and had influenced my
entire life, for his life had been one of singular virtue and kindness. I
supposed that before dying he wished to see me to try once more to turn
me from the path of error; but death had come too swiftly; he felt that
he could express all he had to say in one word, and he wrote in his book
that he loved me.



CHAPTER II

THE BALM OF SOLITUDE

A little wooden railing surrounded my father's grave. According to his
expressed wish, he was buried in the village cemetery. Every day I
visited his tomb and passed part of the day on a little bench in the
interior of the vault. The rest of the time I lived alone in the house in
which he died, and kept with me only one servant.

Whatever sorrows the passions may cause, the woes of life are not to be
compared with those of death. My first thought as I sat beside my
father's bedside was that I was a helpless child, knowing nothing,
understanding nothing; I can not say that my heart felt physical pain,
but I sometimes bent over and wrung my hands, as one who wakens from a
long sleep.

During the first months of my life in the country I had no thought either
of the past or of the future. It did not seem to be I who had lived up to
that time; what I felt was not despair, and in no way resembled the
terrible griefs I had experienced in the past; there was a sort of
languor in every action, a sense of disgust with life, a poignant
bitterness that was eating out my heart. I held a book in my hand all day
long, but I did not read; I did not even know what I dreamed about. I had
no thoughts; within, all was silence; I had received such a violent blow,
and yet one that was so prolonged in its effects, that I remained a
purely passive being and there seemed to be no reaction.

My servant, Larive by name, had been much attached to my father; he was,
after my father himself, probably the best man I had ever known. He was
of the same height, and wore the clothes my father had left him, having
no livery.

He was of about the same age--that is, his hair was turning gray, and
during the twenty years he had lived with my father, he had learned some
of his ways. While I was pacing up and down the room after dinner, I
heard him doing the same in the hall; although the door was open he did
not enter, and not a word was spoken; but from time to time we would look
at each other and weep. The entire evening would pass thus, and it would
be late in the night before I would ask for a light, or get one myself.

Everything about the house was left unchanged, not a piece of paper was
moved. The great leather armchair in which my father used to sit stood
near the fire; his table and his books were just as he left them; I
respected even the dust on these articles, which in life he never liked
to see disturbed. The walls of that solitary house, accustomed to silence
and a most tranquil life, seemed to look down on me in pity as I sat in
my father's chair, enveloped in his dressing-gown. A feeble voice seemed
to whisper: "Where is the father? It is plain to see that this is an
orphan."

I received several letters from Paris, and replied to each that I desired
to pass the summer alone in the country, as my father was accustomed to
do. I began to realize that in all evil there is some good, and that
sorrow, whatever else may be said of it, is a means of repose. Whatever
the message brought by those who are sent by God, they always accomplish
the happy result of awakening us from the sleep of the world, and when
they speak, all are silent. Passing sorrows blaspheme and accuse heaven;
great sorrows neither accuse nor blaspheme--they listen.

In the morning I passed entire hours in the contemplation of nature. My
windows overlooked a valley, in the midst of which arose a village
steeple; all was plain and calm. Spring, with its budding leaves and
flowers, did not produce on me the sinister effect of which the poets
speak, who find in the contrasts of life the mockery of death. I looked
upon the frivolous idea, if it was serious and not a simple antithesis
made in pleasantry, as the conceit of a heart that has known no real
experience. The gambler who leaves the table at break of day, his eyes
burning and hands empty, may feel that he is at war with nature, like the
torch at some hideous vigil; but what can the budding leaves say to a
child who mourns a lost father? The tears of his eyes are sisters of the
rose; the leaves of the willow are themselves tears. It is when I look at
the sky, the woods and the prairies, that I understand men who seek
consolation.

Larive had no more desire to console me than to console himself. At the
time of my father's death he feared I would sell the property and take
him to Paris. I did not know what he had learned of my past life, but I
had noticed his anxiety, and, when he saw me settle down in the old home,
he gave me a glance that went to my heart. One day I had a large portrait
of my father sent from Paris, and placed it in the dining-room. When
Larive entered the room to serve me, he saw it; he hesitated, looked at
the portrait and then at me; in his eyes there shone a melancholy joy
that I could not fail to understand. It seemed to say: "What happiness!
We are to suffer here in peace!"

I gave him my hand, which he covered with tears and kisses.

He looked upon my grief as the mistress of his own. When I visited my
father's tomb in the morning I found him there watering the flowers; when
he saw me he went away and returned home. He followed me in my rambles;
when I was on my horse I did not expect him to follow me, but when I saw
him trudging down the valley, wiping the sweat from his brow, I bought a
small horse from a peasant and gave it to him; thus we rode through the
woods together.

In the village were some people of our acquaintance who frequently
visited us. My door was closed to them, although I regretted it; but I
could not see any one with patience. Some time, when sure to be free from
interruption, I hoped to examine my father's papers. Finally Larive
brought them to me, and untying the package with trembling hand, spread
them before me.

Upon reading the first pages I felt in my heart that vivifying freshness
that characterizes the air near a lake of cool water; the sweet serenity
of my father's soul exhaled as a perfume from the dusty leaves I was
unfolding. The journal of his life lay open before me; I could count the
diurnal throbbings of that noble heart. I began to yield to the influence
of a dream that was both sweet and profound, and in spite of the serious
firmness of his character, I discovered an ineffable grace, the flower of
kindness. While I read, the recollection of his death mingled with the
narrative of his life, I can not tell with what sadness I followed that
limpid stream until its waters mingled with those of the ocean.

"Oh! just man," I cried, "fearless and stainless! what candor in thy
experience! Thy devotion to thy friends, thy admiration for nature, thy
sublime love of God, this is thy life, there is no place in thy heart for
anything else. The spotless snow on the mountain's summit is not more
pure than thy saintly old age; thy white hair resembles it. Oh! father,
father! Give thy snowy locks to me, they are younger than my blond head.
Let me live and die as thou hast lived and died. I wish to plant in the
soil over your grave the green branch of my young life; I will water it
with my tears, and the God of orphans will protect that sacred twig
nourished by the grief of youth and the memory of age."

After examining these precious papers, I classified them and arranged
them in order. I formed a resolution to write a journal myself. I had one
made just like that of my father's, and, carefully searching out the
minor details of his life, I tried to conform my life to his. Thus,
whenever I heard the clock strike the hour, tears came to my eyes:
"This," said I, "is what my father did at this hour," and whether it was
reading, walking, or eating, I never failed to follow his example. Thus I
accustomed myself to a calm and regular life; there was an indefinable
charm about this orderly conduct that did me good. I went to bed with a
sense of comfort and happiness such as I had not known for a long time.
My father spent much of his time about the garden; the rest of the day
was devoted to walking and study, a nice adjustment of bodily and mental
exercise.

At the same time I followed his example in doing little acts of
benevolence among the unfortunate. I began to search for those who were
in need of my assistance, and there were many of them in the valley. I
soon became known among the poor; my message to them was: "When the heart
is good, sorrow is sacred!" For the first time in my life I was happy;
God blessed my tears and sorrow taught me virtue.



CHAPTER III

BRIGITTE

One evening, as I was walking under a row of lindens at the entrance to
the village, I saw a young woman come from a house some distance from the
road. She was dressed simply and veiled so that I could not see her face;
but her form and her carriage seemed so charming that I followed her with
my eyes for some time. As she was crossing a field, a white goat,
straying at liberty through the grass, ran to her side; she caressed it
softly, and looked about as if searching for some favorite plants to feed
to it. I saw near me some wild mulberry; I plucked a branch and stepped
up to her holding it in my hand. The goat watched my approach with
apprehension; he was afraid to take the branch from my hand. His mistress
made him a sign as if to encourage him, but he looked at her with an air
of anxiety; she then took the branch from my hand, and the goat promptly
accepted it from hers. I bowed, and she passed on her way.

On my return home I asked Larive if he knew who lived in the house I
described to him; it was a small house, modest in appearance, with a
garden. He recognized it; there were but two people in the house, an old
woman who was very religious, and a young woman whose name was Madame
Pierson. It was she I had seen. I asked him who she was, and if she ever
came to see my father. He replied that she was a widow, that she led a
retired life, and that she had visited my father, but rarely. When I had
learned all he knew, I returned to the lindens and sat down on a bench.

I do not know what feeling of sadness came over me as I saw the goat
approaching me. I arose from my seat, and, for distraction, I followed
the path I had seen Madame Pierson take, a path that led to the
mountains.

It was nearly eleven in the evening before I thought of returning; as I
had walked some distance, I directed my steps toward a farmhouse,
intending to ask for some milk and bread. Drops of rain began to splash
at my feet, announcing a thunder-shower which I was anxious to escape.
Although there was a light in the place, and I could hear the sound of
feet going and coming through the house, no one responded to my knock,
and I walked around to one of the windows to ascertain if there was any
one within.

I saw a bright fire burning in the lower hall; the farmer, whom I knew,
was sitting near his bed; I knocked on the window-pane and called to him.
Just then the door opened, and I was surprised to see Madame Pierson, who
inquired who was there.

I waited a moment in order to conceal my astonishment. I then entered the
house, and asked permission to remain until the storm should pass. I
could not imagine what she was doing at such an hour in this deserted
spot; suddenly I heard a plaintive voice from the bed, and turning my
head I saw the farmer's wife lying there with the seal of death on her
face.

Madame Pierson, who had followed me, sat down before the old man who was
bowed with sorrow; she made me a sign to make no noise as the sick woman
was sleeping. I took a chair and sat in a corner until the storm passed.

While I sat there I saw her rise from time to time and whisper something
to the farmer. One of the children, whom I took upon my knee, said that
she had been coming every night since the mother's illness. She performed
the duties of a sister of charity; there was no one else in the country
who could do it; there was but one physician, and he was densely
ignorant.

"That is Brigitte la Rose," said the child; "don't you know her?"

"No," I replied in a low voice. "Why do you call her by such a name?"

He replied that he did not know, unless it was because she had been rosy
and the name had clung to her.

As Madame Pierson had laid aside her veil I could see her face; when the
child left me I raised my head. She was standing near the bed, holding in
her hand a cup, which she was offering the sick woman who had awakened.
She appeared to be pale and thin; her hair was ashen blond. Her beauty
was not of the regular type. How shall I express it? Her large dark eyes
were fixed on those of her patient, and those eyes that shone with
approaching death returned her gaze. There was in that simple exchange of
kindness and gratitude a beauty that can not be described.

The rain was falling in torrents; a heavy darkness settled over the
lonely mountain-side, pierced by occasional flashes of lightning. The
noise of the storm, the roaring of the wind, the wrath of the unchained
elements made a deep contrast with the religious calm which prevailed in
the little cottage. I looked at the wretched bed, at the broken windows,
the puffs of smoke forced from the fire by the tempest; I observed the
helpless despair of the farmer, the superstitious terror of the children,
the fury of the elements besieging the bed of death; and in the midst of
all, seeing that gentle, pale-faced woman going and coming, bravely
meeting the duties of the moment, regardless of the tempest and of our
presence, it seemed to me there was in that calm performance something
more serene than the most cloudless sky, something, indeed, superhuman
about this woman who, surrounded by such horrors, did not for an instant
lose her faith in God.

What kind of woman is this, I wondered; whence comes she, and how long
has she been here? A long time, since they remember when her cheeks were
rosy. How is it I have never heard of her? She comes to this spot alone
and at this hour? Yes. She has traversed these mountains and valleys
through storm and fair weather, she goes hither and thither bearing life
and hope wherever they fail, holding in her hand that fragile cup,
caressing her goat as she passes. And this is what has been going on in
this valley while I have been dining and gambling; she was probably born
here, and will be buried in a corner of the cemetery, by the side of her
father. Thus will that obscure woman die, a woman of whom no one speaks
and of whom the children say: "Don't you know her?"

I can not express what I experienced; I sat quietly in my corner scarcely
breathing, and it seemed to me that if I had tried to assist her, if I
had reached out my hand to spare her a single step, I should have been
guilty of sacrilege, I should have touched sacred vessels.

The storm lasted two hours. When it subsided the sick woman sat up in her
bed and said that she felt better, that the medicine she had taken had
done her good. The children ran to the bedside, looking up into their
mother's face with great eyes that expressed both surprise and joy.

"I am very sure you are better," said the husband, who had not stirred
from his seat, "for we have had a mass celebrated, and it cost us a large
sum."

At that coarse and stupid expression I glanced at Madame Pierson; her
swollen eyes, her pallor, her attitude, all clearly expressed fatigue and
the exhaustion of long vigils.

"Ah! my poor man!" said the farmer's wife, "may God reward you!"

I could hardly contain myself, I was so angered by the stupidity of these
brutes who were capable of crediting the work of charity to the avarice
of a cure.

I was about to reproach them for their ingratitude and treat them as they
deserved, when Madame Pierson took one of the children in her arms and
said, with a smile:

"You may kiss your mother, for she is saved."

I stopped when I heard these words.

Never was the simple contentment of a happy and benevolent heart painted
in such beauty on so sweet a face. Fatigue and pallor seemed to vanish,
she became radiant with joy.

A few minutes later Madame Pierson told the children to call the farmer's
boy to conduct her home. I advanced to offer my services; I told her that
it was useless to awaken the boy as I was going in the same direction,
and that she would do me an honor by accepting my offer. She asked me if
I was not Octave de T--------.

I replied that I was, and that she doubtless remembered my father. It
struck me as strange that she should smile at that question; she
cheerfully accepted my arm and we set out on our return.

We walked along in silence; the wind was going down; the trees quivered
gently, shaking the rain from the boughs. Some distant flashes of
lightning could still be seen; the perfume of humid verdure filled the
warm air. The sky soon cleared and the moon illumined the mountain.

I could not help thinking of the whimsicalness of chance, which had seen
fit to make me the solitary companion of a woman of whose existence I
knew nothing a few hours before. She had accepted me as her escort on
account of the name I bore, and leaned on my arm with quiet confidence.
In spite of her distraught air it seemed to me that this confidence was
either very bold or very simple; and she must needs be either the one or
the other, for at each step I felt my heart becoming at once proud and
innocent.

We spoke of the sick woman she had just quitted, of the scenes along the
route; it did not occur to us to ask the questions incident to a new
acquaintance. She spoke to me of my father, and always in the same tone I
had noted when I first revealed my name--that is, cheerfully, almost
gayly. By degrees I thought I understood why she did this, observing that
she spoke thus of all, both living and dead, of life and of suffering and
death. It was because human sorrows had taught her nothing that could
accuse God, and I felt the piety of her smile.

I told her of the solitary life I was leading. Her aunt, she said, had
seen more of my father than she, as they had sometimes played cards
together after dinner. She urged me to visit them, assuring me a welcome.

When about half way home she complained of fatigue and sat down to rest
on a bench that the heavy foliage had protected from the rain. I stood
before her and watched the pale light of the moon playing on her face.
After a moment's silence she arose and, in a constrained manner,
observed:

"Of what are you thinking? It is time for us to think of returning."

"I was wondering," I replied, "why God created you, and I was saying to
myself that it was for the sake of those who suffer."

"That is an expression that, coming from you, I can not look upon except
as a compliment."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you appear to be very young."

"It sometimes happens," I said, "that one is older than the face would
seem to indicate."

"Yes," she replied, smiling, "and it sometimes happens that one is
younger than his words would seem to indicate."

"Have you no faith in experience?"

"I know that it is the name most young men give to their follies and
their disappointments; what can one know at your age?"

"Madame, a man of twenty may know more than a woman of thirty. The
liberty which men enjoy enables them to see more of life and its
experiences than women; they go wherever they please, and no barrier
restrains them; they test life in all its phases. When inspired by hope,
they press forward to achievement; what they will they accomplish. When
they have reached the end, they return; hope has been lost on the route,
and happiness has broken its word."

As I was speaking we reached the summit of a little hill which sloped
down to the valley; Madame Pierson, yielding to the downward tendency,
began to trip lightly down the incline. Without knowing why, I did the
same, and we ran down the hill, arm in arm, the long grass under our feet
retarded our progress. Finally, like two birds, spent with flight, we
reached the foot of the mountain.

"Behold!" cried Madame Pierson, "just a short time ago I was tired, but
now I am rested. And, believe me," she added, with a charming smile, "you
should treat your experience as I have treated my fatigue. We have made
good time, and shall enjoy supper the more on that account."



CHAPTER IV

RIPENING ACQUAINTANCE

I went to see her in the morning. I found her at the piano, her old aunt
at the window sewing, the little room filled with flowers, the sunlight
streaming through the blinds, a large bird-cage at her side.

I expected to find her something of a religieuse, at least one of those
women of the provinces who know nothing of what happens two leagues away,
and who live in a certain narrow circle from which they never escape. I
confess that such isolated life, which is found here and there in small
towns, under a thousand unknown roofs, had always had on me the effect of
stagnant pools of water; the air does not seem respirable: in everything
on earth that is forgotten, there is something of death.

On Madame Pierson's table were some papers and new books; they appeared
as if they had not been more than touched. In spite of the simplicity of
everything around her, of furniture and dress, it was easy to recognize
mode, that is to say, life; she did not live for this alone, but that
goes without saying. What struck me in her taste was that there was
nothing bizarre, everything breathed of youth and pleasantness.

Her conversation indicated a finished education; there was no subject on
which she could not speak well and with ease. While admitting that she
was naive, it was evident that she was at the same time profound in
thought and fertile in resource; an intelligence at once broad and free
soared gently over a simple heart and over the habits of a retired life.
The sea-swallow, whirling through the azure heavens, soars thus over the
blade of grass that marks its nest.

We talked of literature, music, and even politics. She had visited Paris
during the winter; from time to time she dipped into the world; what she
saw there served as a basis for what she divined.

But her distinguishing trait was gayety, a cheerfulness that, while not
exactly joy itself, was constant and unalterable; it might be said that
she was born a flower, and that her perfume was gayety.

Her pallor, her large dark eyes, her manner at certain moments, all led
me to believe that she had suffered. I know not what it was that seemed
to say that the sweet serenity of her brow was not of this world but had
come from God, and that she would return it to Him spotless in spite of
man; and there were times when she reminded one of the careful housewife,
who, when the wind blows, holds her hand before the candle.

After I had been in the house half an hour I could not help saying what
was in my heart. I thought of my past life, of my disappointment and my
ennui; I walked to and fro, breathing the fragrance of the flowers and
looking at the sun. I asked her to sing, and she did so with good grace.
In the mean time I leaned on the window-sill and watched the birds
flitting about the garden. A saying of Montaigne's came into my head: "I
neither love nor esteem sadness, although the world has invested it, at a
given price, with the honor of its particular favor. They dress up in it
wisdom, virtue, conscience. Stupid and absurd adornment."

"What happiness!" I cried, in spite of myself. "What repose! What joy!
What forgetfulness of self!"

The good aunt raised her head and looked at me with an air of
astonishment; Madame Pierson stopped short. I became red as fire when
conscious of my folly, and sat down without a word.

We went out into the garden. The white goat I had seen the evening before
was lying in the grass; it came up to her and followed us about the
garden.

When we reached the end of the garden walk, a large young man with a pale
face, clad in a kind of black cassock, suddenly appeared at the railing.
He entered without knocking and bowed to Madame Pierson; it seemed to me
that his face, which I considered a bad omen, darkened a little when he
saw me. He was a priest I had often seen in the village, and his name was
Mercanson; he came from St. Sulpice and was related to the cure of the
parish.

He was large and at the same time pale, a thing which always displeases
me and which is, in fact, unpleasant; it impresses me as a sort of
diseased healthfulness. Moreover, he had the slow yet jerky way of
speaking that characterizes the pedant. Even his manner of walking, which
was not that of youth and health, repelled me; as for his glance, it
might be said that he had none. I do not know what to think of a man
whose eyes have nothing to say. These are the signs which led me to an
unfavorable opinion of Mercanson, an opinion which was unfortunately
correct.

He sat down on a bench and began to talk about Paris, which he called the
modern Babylon. He had been there, he knew every one; he knew Madame de
B------, who was an angel; he had preached sermons in her salon and was
listened to on bended knee. (The worst of this was that it was true.) One
of his friends, who had introduced him there, had been expelled from
school for having seduced a girl; a terrible thing to do, very sad. He
paid Madame Pierson a thousand compliments for her charitable deeds
throughout the country; he had heard of her benefactions, her care for
the sick, her vigils at the bed of suffering and of death. It was very
beautiful and noble; he would not fail to speak of it at St. Sulpice. Did
he not seem to say that he would not fail to speak of it to God?

Wearied by this harangue, in order to conceal my rising disgust, I sat
down on the grass and began to play with the goat. Mercanson turned on me
his dull and lifeless eye:

"The celebrated Vergniaud," said he, "was afflicted with the habit of
sitting on the ground and playing with animals."

"It is a habit that is innocent enough," I replied. "If there were none
worse the world would get along very well, without so much meddling on
the part of others."

My reply did not please him; he frowned and changed the subject. He was
charged with a commission; his uncle the cure had spoken to him of a poor
devil who was unable to earn his daily bread. He lived in such and such a
place; he had been there himself and was interested in him; he hoped that
Madame Pierson--

I was looking at her while he was speaking, wondering what reply she
would make and hoping she would say something in order to efface the
memory of the priest's voice with her gentle tones. She merely bowed and
he retired.

When he had gone our gayety returned. We entered a greenhouse in the rear
of the garden.

Madame Pierson treated her flowers as she did her birds and her peasants:
everything about her must be well cared for, each flower must have its
drop of water and ray of sunlight in order that it might be gay and happy
as an angel; so nothing could be in better condition than her little
greenhouse. When we had made the round of the building, she said:

"This is my little world; you have seen all I possess, and my domain ends
here."

"Madame," I said, "as my father's name has secured for me the favor of
admittance here, permit me to return, and I will believe that happiness
has not entirely forgotten me."

She extended her hand and I touched it with respect, not daring to raise
it to my lips.

I returned home, closed my door and retired. There danced before my eyes
a little white house; I saw myself walking through the village and
knocking at the garden gate. "Oh, my poor heart!" I cried. "God be
praised, you are still young, you are still capable of life and of love!"

One evening I was with Madame Pierson. More than three months had passed,
during which I had seen her almost every day; and what can I say of that
time except that I saw her? "To be with those we love," said Bruyere,
"suffices; to dream, to talk to them, not to talk to them, to think of
them, to think of the most indifferent things, but to be near them, that
is all."

I loved. During the three months we had taken many long walks; I was
initiated into the mysteries of her modest charities; we passed through
dark streets, she on her pony, I on foot, a small stick in my hand; thus
half conversing, half dreaming, we went from cottage to cottage. There
was a little bench near the edge of the wood where I was accustomed to
rest after dinner; we met here regularly, as though by chance. In the
morning, music, reading; in the evening, cards with the aunt as in the
days of my father; and she always there, smiling, her presence filling my
heart. By what road, O Providence! have you led me? What irrevocable
destiny am I to accomplish? What! a life so free, an intimacy so
charming, so much repose, such buoyant hope! O God! Of what do men
complain? What is there sweeter than love?

To live, yes, to feel intensely, profoundly, that one exists, that one is
a sentient man, created by God, that is the first, the greatest gift of
love. We can not deny, however, that love is a mystery, inexplicable,
profound. With all the chains, with all the pains, and I may even say,
with all the disgust with which the world has surrounded it, buried as it
is under a mountain of prejudices which distort and deprave it, in spite
of all the ordure through which it has been dragged, love, eternal and
fatal love, is none the less a celestial law as powerful and as
incomprehensible as that which suspends the sun in the heavens.

What is this mysterious bond, stronger and more durable than iron, that
can neither be seen nor touched? What is there in meeting a woman, in
looking at her, in speaking one word to her, and then never forgetting
her? Why this one rather than that one? Invoke the aid of reason, of
habit, of the senses, the head, the heart, and explain it if you can. You
will find nothing but two bodies, one here, the other there, and between
them, what? Air, space, immensity. O blind fools! who fondly imagine
yourselves men, and who reason of love! Have you talked with it? No, you
have felt it. You have exchanged a glance with a passing stranger, and
suddenly there flies out from you something that can not be defined, that
has no name known to man. You have taken root in the ground like the seed
concealed in the turf which feels the life within it, and which is on its
way to maturity.

We were alone, the window was open, the murmur of a little fountain came
to us from the garden. O God! would that I could count, drop by drop, all
the water that fell while we were sitting there, while she was talking
and I was answering. It was there that I became intoxicated with her to
the point of madness.

It is said that there is nothing so rapid as a feeling of antipathy, but
I believe that the road to love is more swiftly traversed. How priceless
the slightest words! What signifies the conversation, when you listen for
the heart to answer? What sweetness in the glance of a woman who begins
to attract you! At first it seems as though everything that passes
between you is timid and tentative, but soon there is born a strange joy,
an echo answers you; you know a dual life. What a touch! What a strange
attraction! And when love is sure of itself and knows response in the
object beloved, what serenity in the soul! Words die on the lips, for
each one knows what the other is about to say before utterance has shaped
the thought. Souls expand, lips are silent. Oh! what silence! What
forgetfulness of all!

Although my love began the first day and had since grown to ardor, the
respect I felt for Madame Pierson sealed my lips. If she had been less
frank in permitting me to become her friend, perhaps I should have been
more bold, for she had made such a strong impression on me, that I never
quitted her without transports of love. But there was something in the
frankness and the confidence she placed in me that checked me; moreover,
it was in my father's name that I had been treated as a friend. That
consideration rendered me still more respectful, and I resolved to prove
worthy of that name.

To talk of love, they say, is to make love. We rarely spoke of it. Every
time I happened to touch the subject Madame Pierson led the conversation
to some other topic. I did not discern her motive, but it was not
prudery; it seemed to me that at such times her face took on a stern
aspect, and a wave of feeling, even of suffering, passed over it. As I
had never questioned her about her past life and was unwilling to do so,
I respected her obvious wishes.

Sunday there was dancing in the village; she was almost always there. On
those occasions her toilet, although quite simple, was more elegant than
usual; there was a flower in her hair, a bright ribbon, or some such
bagatelle; but there was something youthful and fresh about her. The
dance, which she loved for itself as an amusing exercise, seemed to
inspire her with a frolicsome gayety. Once launched on the floor it
seemed to me she allowed herself more liberty than usual, that there was
an unusual familiarity. I did not dance, being still in mourning, but I
managed to keep near her, and seeing her in such good humor, I was often
tempted to confess my love.

But for some strange reason, whenever I thought of it, I was seized with
an irresistible feeling of fear; the idea of an avowal was enough to
render me serious in the midst of gayety. I conceived the idea of writing
to her, but burned the letters before they were half finished.

That evening I dined with her, and looked about me at the many evidences
of a tranquil life; I thought of the quiet life that I was leading, of my
happiness since I had known her, and said to myself: "Why ask for more?
Does not this suffice? Who knows, perhaps God has nothing more for you?
If I should tell her that I love her, what would happen? Perhaps she
would forbid me the pleasure of seeing her. Would I, in speaking the
words, make her happier than she is to-day? Would I be happier myself?"

I was leaning on the piano, and as I indulged in these reflections
sadness took possession of me. Night was coming on and she lighted a
candle; while returning to her seat she noticed a tear in my eye.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

I turned aside my head.

I sought an excuse, but could find none; I was afraid to meet her glance.
I arose and stepped to the window. The air was balmy, the moon was rising
beyond those lindens where I had first met her. I fell into a profound
revery; I even forgot that she was present and, extending my arms toward
heaven, a sob welled up from my heart.

She arose and stood behind me.

"What is it?" she again asked.

I replied that the sight of that valley stretching out beneath us had
recalled my father's death; I took leave of her and went out.

Why I decided to silence my love I can not say. Nevertheless, instead of
returning home, I began to wander about the woods like a fool. Whenever I
found a bench I sat down only to rise precipitately. Toward midnight I
approached Madame Pierson's house; she was at the window. Seeing her
there I began to tremble and tried to retrace my steps, but I was
fascinated; I advanced gently and sadly and sat down beneath her window.

I do not know whether she recognized me; I had been there some time when
I heard her sweet, fresh voice singing the refrain of a romance, and at
the same instant a flower fell on my shoulder. It was a rose she had worn
that evening on her bosom; I picked it up and pressed it to my lips.

"Who is there at this hour? Is it you?"

She called me by name. The gate leading into the garden was open; I arose
without replying and entered it, I stopped before a plot of grass in the
centre of the garden; I was walking like a somnambulist, without knowing
what I was doing.

Suddenly I saw her at the door opening into the garden; she seemed to be
undecided and looked attentively at the rays of the moon. She made a few
steps toward me and I advanced to meet her. I could not speak, I fell on
my knees before her and seized her hand.

"Listen to me," she said; "I know all; but if it has come to that,
Octave, you must go away. You come here every day and you are always
welcome, are you not? Is not that enough? What more can I do for you? My
friendship you have won; I wish you had been able to keep yours a little
longer."

When Madame Pierson had spoken these words she waited in silence as
though expecting a reply. As I remained overwhelmed with sadness, she
gently withdrew her hand, stepped back, waited a moment longer and then
reentered the house.

I remained kneeling on the grass. I had been expecting what she said; my
resolution was soon taken, and I decided to go away. I arose, my heart
bleeding but firm. I looked at the house, at her window; I opened the
garden-gate and placed my lips on the lock as I passed out.

When I reached home I told Larive to make what preparations were
necessary, as I would set out in the morning. The poor fellow was
astonished, but I made him a sign to obey and ask no questions. He
brought a large trunk and busied himself with preparations for departure.

It was five o'clock in the morning and day was beginning to break when I
asked myself where I was going. At that thought, which had not occurred
to me before, I experienced a profound feeling of discouragement. I cast
my eyes over the country, scanning the horizon. A sense of weakness took
possession of me; I was exhausted with fatigue. I sat down in a chair and
my ideas became confused; I bore my hand to my forehead and found it
bathed in sweat. A violent fever made my limbs tremble; I could hardly
reach my, bed with Larive's assistance. My thoughts were so confused that
I had no recollection of what had happened. The day passed; toward
evening I heard the sound of instruments. It was the Sunday dance, and I
asked Larive to go and see if Madame Pierson was there. He did not find
her; I sent him to her house. The blinds were closed, and a servant
informed him that Madame Pierson and her aunt had gone to spend some days
with a relative who lived at N------, a small town some distance north.
He handed me a letter that had been given him. It was couched in the
following terms:

   "I have known you three months, and for one month have noticed that
   you feel for me what at your age is called love. I thought I
   detected on your part a resolution to conceal this from me and
   conquer yourself. I already esteemed you, this enhanced my respect.
   I do not reproach you for the past, nor for the weakness of your
   will.

   "What you take for love is nothing more than desire. I am well
   aware that many women seek to arouse it; it would be better if they
   did not feel the necessity of pleasing those who approach them.
   Such a feeling is a dangerous thing, and I have done wrong in
   entertaining it with you.

   "I am some years older than you, and ask you not to try to see me
   again. It would be vain for you to try to forget the weakness of a
   moment; what has passed between us can neither be repeated nor
   forgotten.

   "I do not take leave of you without sorrow; I expect to be absent
   some time; if, when I return, I find that you have gone away, I
   shall appreciate your action as the final evidence of your
   friendship and esteem.

                    "BRIGITTE PIERSON."



CHAPTER V

AN INTERVIEW

The fever kept me in bed a week. When I was able to write I assured
Madame Pierson that she should be obeyed, and that I would go away. I
wrote in good faith, without any intention to deceive, but I was very far
from keeping my promise. Before I had gone ten leagues I ordered the
driver to stop, and stepped out of the carriage. I began to walk along
the road. I could not resist the temptation to look back at the village
which was still visible in the distance. Finally, after a period of
frightful irresolution, I felt that it was impossible for me to continue
on my route, and rather than get into the carriage again, I would have
died on the spot. I told the driver to turn around, and, instead of going
to Paris as I had intended, I made straight for N------, whither Madame
Pierson had gone.

I arrived at ten in the night. As soon as I reached the inn I had a boy
direct me to the house of her relatives, and, without reflecting what I
was doing, at once made my way to the spot. A servant opened the door. I
asked if Madame Pierson was there, and directed him to tell her that some
one wished to speak to her on the part of M. Desprez. That was the name
of our village cure.

While the servant was executing my order I remained alone in a sombre
little court; as it was raining, I entered the hall and stood at the foot
of the stairway, which was not lighted. Madame Pierson soon arrived,
preceding the servant; she descended rapidly, and did not see me in the
darkness; I stepped up to her and touched her arm. She recoiled with
terror and cried out:

"What do you wish of me?"

Her voice trembled so painfully and, when the servant appeared with a
light, her face was so pale, that I did not know what to think. Was it
possible that my unexpected appearance could disturb her in such a
manner? That reflection occurred to me, but I decided that it was merely
a feeling of fright natural to a woman who is suddenly touched.

Nevertheless, she repeated her question in a firmer tone.

"You must permit me to see you once more," I replied. "I will go away, I
will leave the country. You shall be obeyed, I swear it, and that beyond
your real desire, for I will sell my father's house and go abroad; but
that is only on condition that I am permitted to see you once more;
otherwise I remain; you need fear nothing from me, but I am resolved on
that."

She frowned and cast her eyes about her in a strange manner; then she
replied, almost graciously:

"Come to-morrow during the day and I will see you." Then she left me.

The next day at noon I presented myself. I was introduced into a room
with old hangings and antique furniture. I found her alone, seated on a
sofa. I sat down before her.

"Madame," I began, "I come neither to speak of what I suffer, nor to deny
that I love you. You have written me that what has passed between us can
not be forgotten, and that is true; but you say that on that account we
can not meet on the same footing as heretofore, and you are mistaken. I
love you, but I have not offended you; nothing is changed in our
relations since you do not love me. If I am permitted to see you,
responsibility rests with me, and as far as your responsibility is
concerned, my love for you should be sufficient guarantee."

She tried to interrupt me.

"Kindly allow me to finish what I have to say. No one knows better than I
that in spite of the respect I feel for you, and in spite of all the
protestations by which I might bind myself, love is the stronger. I
repeat I do not intend to deny what is in my heart; but you do not learn
of that love to-day for the first time, and I ask you what has prevented
me from declaring it up to the present time? The fear of losing you; I
was afraid I would not be permitted to see you, and that is what has
happened. Make a condition that the first word I shall speak, the first
thought or gesture that shall seem to be inconsistent with the most
profound respect, shall be the signal for the closing of your door; as I
have been silent in the past, I will be silent in the future, You think
that I have loved you for a month, when in fact I have loved you from the
first day I met you. When you discovered it, you did not refuse to see me
on that account. If you had at that time enough esteem for me to believe
me incapable of offending you, why have you lost that esteem?

"That is what I have come to ask you. What have I done? I have bent my
knee, but I have not said a word. What have I told you? What you already
knew. I have been weak because I have suffered. It is true, Madame, that
I am twenty years of age and what I have seen of life has only disgusted
me (I could use a stronger word); it is true that there is not at this
hour on earth, either in the society of men or in solitude, a place,
however small and insignificant, that I care to occupy.

"The space enclosed within the four walls of your garden is the only spot
in the world where I live; you are the only human being who has made me
love God. I had renounced everything before I knew you; why deprive me of
the only ray of light that Providence has spared me? If it is on account
of fear, what have I done to inspire it? If it is on account of dislike,
in what respect am I culpable? If it is on account of pity and because I
suffer, you are mistaken in supposing that I can cure myself; it might
have been done, perhaps, two months ago; but I preferred to see you and
to suffer, and I do not repent, whatever may come of it. The only
misfortune that can reach me is to lose you. Put me to the proof. If I
ever feel that there is too much suffering for me in our bargain I will
go away; and you may be sure of it, since you send me away to-day, and I
am ready to go. What risk do you run in giving me a month or two of the
only happiness I shall ever know?"

I waited her reply. She suddenly rose from her seat, and then sat down
again. Then a moment of silence ensued.

"Rest assured," she said, "it is not so."

I thought she was searching for words that would not appear too severe,
and that she was anxious to avoid hurting me.

"One word," I said, rising, "one word, nothing more. I know who you are
and if there is any compassion for me in your heart, I thank you; speak
but one word, this moment decides my life."

She shook her head; I saw that she was hesitating.

"You think I can be cured?" I cried. "May God grant you that solace if
you send me away--"

I looked out of the window at the horizon, and felt in my soul such a
frightful sensation of loneliness at the idea of going away that my blood
froze in my veins. She saw me standing before her, my eyes fixed on her,
awaiting her reply; all my life was hanging in suspense upon her lips.

"Very well," she said, "listen to me. This move of yours in coming to see
me was an act of great imprudence; however, it is not necessary to assume
that you have come here to see me; accept a commission that I will give
you for a friend of my family. If you find that it is a little far, let
it be the occasion of an absence which shall last as long as you choose,
but which must not be too short. Although you said a moment ago," she
added with a smile, "that a short trip would calm you. You will stop in
the Vosges and you will go as far as Strasburg. Then in a month, or,
better, in two months, you will return and report to me; I will see you
again and give you further instructions."



CHAPTER VI

THE RUGGED PATH OF LOVE

That evening I received from Madame Pierson a letter addressed to M. R.
D., at Strasburg. Three weeks later my mission had been accomplished and
I returned. During my absence I had thought of nothing but her, and I
despaired of ever forgetting her. Nevertheless I determined to restrain
my feelings in her presence; I had suffered too cruelly at the prospect
of losing her to run any further risks. My esteem for her rendered it
impossible for me to suspect her sincerity, and I did not see, in her
plan of getting me to leave the country, anything that resembled
hypocrisy. In a word, I was firmly convinced that at the first word of
love her door would be closed to me. Upon my return I found her thin and
changed. Her habitual smile seemed to languish on her discolored lips.
She told me that she had been suffering. We did not speak of the past.
She did not appear to wish to recall it, and I had no desire to refer to
it. We resumed our old relations of neighbors; yet there was something of
constraint between us, a sort of conventional familiarity. It was as if
we had agreed: "It was thus before, let it still be thus." She granted me
her confidence, a concession that was not without its charms for me; but
our conversation was colder, for the reason that our eyes expressed as
much as our tongues. In all that we said there was more to be surmised
than was actually spoken. We no longer endeavored to fathom each other's
minds; there was not the same interest attaching to each word, to each
sentiment; that curious analysis that characterized our past intercourse;
she treated me with kindness, but I distrusted even that kindness; I
walked with her in the garden, but no longer accompanied her outside of
the premises; we no longer wandered through the woods and valleys; she
opened the piano when we were alone; the sound of her voice no longer
awakened in my heart those transports of joy which are like sobs that are
inspired by hope. When I took leave of her, she gave me her hand, but I
was conscious of the fact that it was lifeless; there was much effort in
our familiar ease, many reflections in our lightest remarks, much sadness
at the bottom of it all. We felt that there was a third party between us:
it was my love for her. My actions never betrayed it, but it appeared in
my face. I lost my cheerfulness, my energy, and the color of health that
once shone in my cheeks. At the end of one month I no longer resembled my
old self. And yet in all our conversations I insisted on my disgust with
the world, on my aversion to returning to it. I tried to make Madame
Pierson feel that she had no reason to reproach herself for allowing me
to see her; I depicted my past life in the most sombre colors, and gave
her to understand that if she should refuse to allow me to see her, she
would condemn me to a loneliness worse than death. I told her that I held
society in abhorrence and the story of my life, as I recited it, proved
my sincerity. So I affected a cheerfulness that I was far from feeling,
in order to show her that in permitting me to see her, she had saved me
from the most frightful misfortune; I thanked her almost every time I
went to see her, that I might return in the evening or the following
morning. "All my dreams of happiness," said I, "all my hopes, all my
ambitions, are enclosed in the little corner of the earth where you
dwell; outside of the air that you breathe there is no life for me."

She saw that I was suffering and could not help pitying me. My courage
was pathetic, and her every word and gesture shed a sort of tender light
over my devotion. She saw the struggle that was going on in me; my
obedience flattered her pride, while my pallor awakened her charitable
instinct. At times she appeared to be irritated, almost coquettish; she
would say in a tone that was almost rebellious: "I shall not be here
to-morrow, do not come on such and such a day." Then, as I was going away
sad, but resigned, she sweetened the cup of bitterness by adding: "I am
not sure of it, come whenever you please;" or her adieu was more friendly
than usual, her glance more tender.

"Rest assured that Providence has led me to you," I said. "If I had not
met you, I might have relapsed into the irregular life I was leading
before I knew you.

"God has sent you as an angel of light to draw me from the abyss. He has
confided a sacred mission to you; who knows, if I should lose you,
whither the sorrow that consumes me might lead me, because of the sad
experience I have been through, the terrible combat between my youth and
my ennui?"

That thought, sincere enough on my part, had great weight with a woman of
lofty devotion whose soul was as pious as it was ardent. It was probably
the only consideration that induced Madame Pierson to permit me to see
her.

I was preparing to visit her one day when some one knocked at my door,
and I saw Mercanson enter, that priest I had met in the garden on the
occasion of my first visit. He began to make excuses that were as
tiresome as himself for presuming to call on me without having made my
acquaintance; I told him that I knew him very well as the nephew of our
cure, and asked what I could do for him.

He turned uneasily from one side to the other with an air of constraint,
searching for phrases and fingering everything on the table before him as
if at a loss what to say. Finally he informed me that Madame Pierson was
ill and that she had sent word to me by him that she would not be able to
see me that day.

"Is she ill? Why, I left her late yesterday afternoon, and she was very
well at that time!"

He bowed.

"But," I continued, "if she is ill why send word to me by a third person?
She does not live so far away that a useless call would harm me."

The same response from Mercanson. I could not understand what this
peculiar manner signified, much less why she had entrusted her mission to
him.

"Very well," I said, "I shall see her to-morrow and she will explain what
this means."

His hesitation continued.

"Madame Pierson has also told me--that I should inform you--in fact, I am
requested to--"

"Well, what is it?" I cried, impatiently.

"Sir, you are becoming violent! I think Madame Pierson is seriously ill;
she will not be able to see you this week."

Another bow, and he retired.

It was clear that his visit concealed some mystery: either Madame Pierson
did not wish to see me, and I could not explain why; or Mercanson had
interfered on his own responsibility.

I waited until the following day and then presented myself at her door;
the servant who met me said that her mistress was indeed very ill and
could not see me; she refused to accept the money I offered her, and
would not answer my questions.

As I was passing through the village on my return, I saw Mercanson; he
was surrounded by a number of schoolchildren, his uncle's pupils. I
stopped him in the midst of his harangue and asked if I could have a word
with him.

He followed me aside; but now it was my turn to hesitate, for I was at a
loss how to proceed to draw his secret from him.

"Sir," I finally said, "will you kindly inform me if what you told me
yesterday was the truth, or was there some motive behind it? Moreover, as
there is not a physician in the neighborhood who can be called in, in
case of necessity, it is important that I should know whether her
condition is serious."

He protested that Madame Pierson was ill, but that he knew nothing more,
except that she had sent for him and asked him to notify me as he had
done. While talking we had walked down the road some distance and had now
reached a deserted spot. Seeing that neither strategy nor entreaty would
serve my purpose, I suddenly turned and seized him by the arms.

"What does this mean, Monsieur? You intend to resort to violence?" he
cried.

"No, but I intend to make you tell me what you know."

"Monsieur, I am afraid of no one, and I have told you what you ought to
know."

"You have told me what you think I ought to know, but not what you know.
Madame Pierson is not sick; I am sure of it."

"How do you know?"

"The servant told me so. Why has she closed her door against me, and why
did she send you to tell me of it?"

Mercanson saw a peasant passing.

"Pierre!" he cried, calling him by name, "wait a moment, I wish to speak
with you."

The peasant approached; that was all he wanted, thinking I would not dare
use violence in the presence of a third person. I released him, but so
roughly that he staggered back and fell against a tree. He clenched his
fist and turned away without a word.

For three weeks I suffered terribly. Three times a day I called at Madame
Pierson's and each time was refused admittance. I received one letter
from her; she said that my assiduity was causing talk in the village, and
begged me to call less frequently. Not a word about Mercanson or her
illness.

This precaution on her part was so unnatural, and contrasted so strongly
with her former proud indifference in matters of this kind, that at first
I could hardly believe it. Not knowing what else to say, I replied that
there was no desire in my heart but obedience to her wishes. But in spite
of me, the words I used did not conceal the bitterness I felt.

I purposely delayed going to see her even when permitted to do so, and no
longer sent to inquire about her condition, as I wished to have her know
that I did not believe in her illness. I did not know why she kept me at
a distance; but I was so miserably unhappy that, at times, I thought
seriously of putting an end to a life that had become insupportable. I
was accustomed to spend entire days in the woods, and one day I happened
to encounter her there.

I hardly had the courage to ask for an explanation; she did not reply
frankly, and I did not recur to the subject; I could only count the days
I was obliged to pass without seeing her, and live in the hope of a
visit. All the time I was sorely tempted to throw myself at her feet, and
tell her of my despair. I knew that she would not be insensible to it,
and that she would at least express her pity; but her severity and the
abrupt manner of her departure recalled me to my senses; I trembled lest
I should lose her, and I would rather die than expose myself to that
danger.

Thus denied the solace of confessing my sorrow, my health began to give
way. My feet lagged on the way to her house; I felt that I was exhausting
the source of tears, and each visit cost me added sorrow; I was torn with
the thought that I ought not to see her.

On her part there was neither the same tone nor the same ease as of old;
she spoke of going away on a tour; she pretended to confess to me her
longing to get away, leaving me more dead than alive after her cruel
words. If surprised by a natural impulse of sympathy, she immediately
checked herself and relapsed into her accustomed coldness. Upon one
occasion I could not restrain my tears. I saw her turn pale. As I was
going, she said to me at the door:

"To-morrow I am going to Sainte-Luce (a neighboring village), and it is
too far to go on foot. Be here with your horse early in the morning, if
you have nothing to do, and go with me."

I was on hand promptly, as may readily be imagined. I had slept over that
word with transports of joy; but, upon leaving my house, I experienced a
feeling of deep dejection. In restoring me to the privilege I had
formerly enjoyed of accompanying her on her missions about the country,
she had clearly been guilty of a cruel caprice if she did not love me.
She knew how I was suffering; why abuse my courage unless she had changed
her mind?

This reflection had a strange influence on me. When she mounted her horse
my heart beat violently as I took her foot; I do not know whether it was
from desire or anger. "If she is touched," I said to myself, "why this
reserve? If she is a coquette, why so much liberty?"

Such are men. At my first word she saw that a change had taken place in
me. I did not speak to her, but kept to the other side of the road. When
we reached the valley she appeared at ease, and only turned her head from
time to time to see if I was following her; but when we came to the
forest and our horses' hoofs resounded against the rocks that lined the
road, I saw that she was trembling. She stopped as though to wait for me,
as I was some distance in the rear; when I had overtaken her she set out
at a gallop. We soon reached the foot of the mountain and were compelled
to slacken our pace. I then made my way to her side; our heads were
bowed; the time had come, I took her hand.

"Brigitte," I said, "are you weary of my complaints? Since I have been
reinstated in your favor, since I have been allowed to see you every day
and every evening, I have asked myself if I have been importunate. During
the last two months, while strength and hope have been failing me, have I
said a word of that fatal love which is consuming me? Raise your head and
answer me. Do you not see that I suffer and that my nights are given to
weeping? Have you not met in the forest an unfortunate wretch sitting in
solitary dejection with his hands pressed to his forehead? Have you not
seen tears on these bushes? Look at me, look at these mountains; do you
realize that I love you? They know it, they are my witnesses; these rocks
and these trees know my secret. Why lead me before them? Am I not
wretched enough? Do I fail in courage? Have I obeyed you? To what tests,
what tortures am I subjected, and for what crime? If you do not love me,
what are you doing here?"

"Let us return," she said, "let us retrace our steps."

I seized her horse's bridle.

"No," I replied, "for I have spoken. If we return, I lose you, I realize
it; I know in advance what you will say. You have been pleased to try my
patience, you have set my sorrow at defiance, perhaps that you might have
the right to drive me from your presence; you have become tired of that
sorrowful lover who suffered without complaint and who drank with
resignation the bitter chalice of your disdain! You knew that, alone with
you in the presence of these trees, in the midst of this solitude where
my love had its birth, I could not be silent! You wish to be offended.
Very well, Madame, I lose you! I have wept and I have suffered, I have
too long nourished in my heart a pitiless love that devours me. You have
been cruel!"

As she was about to leap from her saddle, I seized her in my arms and
pressed my lips to hers. She turned pale, her eyes closed, her bridle
slipped from her hand and she fell to the ground.

"God be praised!" I cried, "she loves me!" She had returned my kiss.

I leaped to the ground and hastened to her side. She was extended on the
ground. I raised her, she opened her eyes, and shuddered with terror; she
pushed my arm aside, and burst into tears.

I stood near the roadside; I looked at her as she leaned against a tree,
as beautiful as the day, her long hair falling over her shoulders, her
hands twitching and trembling, her cheeks suffused with crimson, whereon
shone pearly tears.

"Do not come near me!" she cried, "not a step!"

"Oh, my love!" I said, "fear nothing; if I have offended you, you know
how to punish me. I was angry and I gave way to my grief; treat me as you
choose; you may go away now, you may send me away! I know that you love
me, Brigitte, and you are safer here than a king in his palace."

As I spoke these words, Madame Pierson fixed her humid eyes on mine; I
saw the happiness of my life come to me in the flash of those orbs. I
crossed the road and knelt before her. How little he loves who can recall
the words he uses when he confesses that love!



CHAPTER VII

THE VENUSBERG AGAIN

If I were a jeweler and had in stock a pearl necklace that I wished to
give a friend, it seems to me I should take great pleasure in placing it
about her neck with my own hands; but were I that friend, I would rather
die than snatch the necklace from the jeweler's hand. I have seen many
men hasten to give themselves to the woman they love, but I have always
done the contrary, not through calculation, but through natural instinct.
The woman who loves a little and resists does not love enough, and she
who loves enough and resists knows that she is not sincerely loved.

Madame Pierson gave evidence of more confidence in me, confessing that
she loved me when she had never shown it in her actions. The respect I
felt for her inspired me with such joy that her face looked to me like a
budding rose. At times she would abandon herself to an impulse of sudden
gayety, then she would suddenly check herself; treating me like a child,
and then look at me with eyes filled with tears; indulging in a thousand
pleasantries as a pretext for a more familiar word or caress, she would
suddenly leave me, go aside and abandon herself to revery. Was ever a
more beautiful sight? When she returned she would find me waiting for her
in the same spot where I had remained watching her.

"Oh! my friend!" I said, "Heaven itself rejoices to see how you are
loved."

Yet I could conceal neither the violence of my desires nor the pain I
endured struggling against them. One evening I told her that I had just
learned of the loss of an important case, which would involve a
considerable change in my affairs.

"How is it," she asked, "that you make this announcement and smile at the
same time?"

"There is a certain maxim of a Persian poet," I replied: "'He who is
loved by a beautiful woman is sheltered from every blow.'"

Madame Pierson made no reply; all that evening she was even more cheerful
than usual. When we played cards with her aunt and I lost she was
merciless in her scorn, saying that I knew nothing of the game, and she
bet against me with so much success that she won all I had in my purse.
When the old lady retired, she stepped out on the balcony and I followed
her in silence.

The night was beautiful; the moon was setting and the stars shone
brightly in a field of deep azure. Not a breath of wind stirred the
trees; the air was warm and freighted with the perfume of spring.

She was leaning on her elbow, her eyes in the heavens; I leaned over her
and watched her as she dreamed. Then I raised my own eyes; a voluptuous
melancholy seized us both. We breathed together the warm perfume wafted
to us from the garden; we followed, in its lingering course, the pale
light of the moon which glinted through the chestnut-trees. I thought of
a certain day when I had looked up at the broad expanse of heaven with
despair; I trembled at the recollection of that hour; life was so rich
now! I felt a hymn of praise welling up in my heart. Around the form of
my dear mistress I slipped my arm; she gently turned her head; her eyes
were bathed in tears. Her body yielded as does the rose, her open lips
fell on mine, and the universe was forgotten.

Eternal angel of happy nights, who shall interpret thy silence?
Mysterious vintage that flows from lips that meet as from a stainless
chalice! Intoxication of the senses! O, supremest joy! Yes, like God,
thou art immortal! Sublime exaltation of the creature, universal
communion of beings, thrice sacred pleasure, what have they sung who have
celebrated thy praise? They have called thee transitory, O thou who dost
create! And they have said that thy passing beams have illumined their
fugitive life. Words that are as feeble as the dying breath! Words of a
sensual brute who is astonished that he should live for an hour, and who
mistakes the rays of the eternal lamp for the spark which is struck from
the flint!

O love! thou principle of life! Precious flame over which all nature,
like a careful vestal, incessantly watches in the temple of God! Centre
of all, by whom all exists, the spirit of destruction would itself die,
blowing at thy flame! I am not astonished that thy name should be
blasphemed, for they do not know who thou art, they who think they have
seen thy face because they have opened their eyes; and when thou findest
thy true prophets, united on earth with a kiss, thou closest their eyes
lest they look upon the face of perfect joy.

But you, O rapturous delights, languishing smiles, and first caressing,
stammering utterance of love, you who can be seen, who are you? Are you
less in God's sight than all the rest, beautiful cherubim who soar in the
alcove and who bring to this world man awakened from the dream divine!
Ah! dear children of pleasure, how your mother loves you! It is you,
curious prattlers, who behold the first mysteries, touches, trembling yet
chaste, glances that are already insatiable, who begin to trace on the
heart, as a tentative sketch, the ineffaceable image of cherished beauty!
O royalty! O conquest! It is you who make lovers. And thou, true diadem,
serenity of happiness! The first true concept of man's life, and first
return of happiness in the many little things of life which are seen only
through the medium of joy, first steps made by nature in the direction of
the well-beloved! Who will paint you? What human word will ever express
thy slightest caress?

He who, in the freshness of youth, has taken leave of an adored mistress;
he who has walked through the streets without hearing the voices of those
who speak to him; he who has sat in a lonely spot, laughing and weeping
without knowing why; he who has placed his hands to his face in order to
breathe the perfume that still clings to them; he who has suddenly
forgotten what he had been doing on earth; he who has spoken to the trees
along the route and to the birds in their flight; finally, he who, in the
midst of men, has acted the madman, and then has fallen on his knees and
thanked God for it; let him die without complaint: he has known the joy
of love.



PART IV



CHAPTER I

THE THORNS OF LOVE

I have now to recount what happened to my love, and the change that took
place in me. What reason can I give for it? None, except as I repeat the
story and as I say: "It is the truth." For two days, neither more nor
less, I was Madame Pierson's lover. One fine night I set out and
traversed the road that led to her house. I was feeling so well in body
and soul that I leaped for joy and extended my arms to heaven. I found
her at the top of the stairway leaning on the railing, a lighted candle
beside her. She was waiting for me, and when she saw me ran to meet me.

She showed me how she had changed her coiffure which had displeased me,
and told me how she had passed the day arranging her hair to suit my
taste; how she had taken down a villainous black picture-frame that had
offended my eye; how she had renewed the flowers; she recounted all she
had done since she had known me, how she had seen me suffer and how she
had suffered herself; how she had thought of leaving the country, of
fleeing from her love; how she had employed every precaution against me;
how she had sought advice from her aunt, from Mercanson and from the
cure; how she had vowed to herself that she would die rather than yield,
and how all that had been dissipated by a single word of mine, a glance,
an incident; and with every confession a kiss.

She said that whatever I saw in her room that pleased my taste, whatever
bagatelle on her table attracted my attention, she would give me; that
whatever she did in the future, in the morning, in the evening, at any
hour, I should regulate as I pleased; that the judgments of the world did
not concern her; that if she had appeared to care for them, it was only
to send me away; but that she wished to be happy and close her ears, that
she was thirty years of age and had not long to be loved by me. "And you
will love me a long time? Are those fine words, with which you have
beguiled me, true?" And then loving reproaches because I had been late in
coming to her; that she had put on her slippers in order that I might see
her foot, but that she was no longer beautiful; that she could wish she
were; that she had been at fifteen. She went here and there, silly with
love, rosy with joy; and she did not know what to imagine, what to say or
do, in order to give herself and all that she had.

I was lying on the sofa; I felt, at every word she spoke, a bad hour of
my past life slipping away from me. I watched the star of love rising in
my sky, and it seemed to me I was like a tree filled with sap that shakes
off its dry leaves in order to attire itself in new foliage. She sat down
at the piano and told me she was going to play an air by Stradella. More
than all else I love sacred music, and that morceau which she had sung
for me a number of times gave me great pleasure.

"Yes," she said when she had finished, "but you are very much mistaken,
the air is mine, and I have made you believe it was Stradella's."

"It is yours?"

"Yes, and I told you it was by Stradella in order to see what you would
say of it. I never play my own music when I happen to compose any; but I
wanted to try it with you, and you see it has succeeded since you were
deceived."

What a monstrous machine is man! What could be more innocent? A bright
child might have adopted that ruse to surprise his teacher. She laughed
heartily the while, but I felt a strange coldness as if a dark cloud had
settled on me; my countenance changed:

"What is the matter?" she asked. "Are you ill?"

"It is nothing; play that air again."

While she was playing I walked up and down the room; I passed my hand
over my forehead as if to brush away the fog; I stamped my foot, shrugged
my shoulders at my own madness; finally I sat down on a cushion which had
fallen to the floor; she came to me. The more I struggled with the spirit
of darkness which had seized me, the thicker the night that gathered
around my head.

"Verily," I said, "you lie so well? What! that air is yours? Is it
possible you can lie so fluently?"

She looked at me with an air of astonishment.

"What is it?" she asked.

Unspeakable anxiety was depicted on her face. Surely she could not
believe me fool enough to reproach her for such a harmless bit of
pleasantry; she did not see anything serious in that sadness which I
felt; but the more trifling the cause, the greater the surprise. At first
she thought I, too, must be joking; but when she saw me growing paler
every moment as if about to faint, she stood with open lips and bent
body, looking like a statue.

"God of Heaven!" she cried, "is it possible?"

You smile, perhaps, reader, at this page; I who write it still shudder as
I think of it. Misfortunes have their symptoms as well as diseases, and
there is nothing so terrible at sea as a little black point on the
horizon.

However, my dear Brigitte drew a little round table into the centre of
the room and brought out some supper. She had prepared it herself, and I
did not drink a drop that was not first borne to her lips. The blue light
of day, piercing through the curtains, illumined her charming face and
tender eyes; she was tired and allowed her head to fall on my shoulder
with a thousand terms of endearment.

I could not struggle against such charming abandon, and my heart expanded
with joy; I believed I had rid myself of the bad dream that had just
tormented me, and I begged her pardon for giving way to a sudden impulse
which I myself did not understand.

"My friend," I said, from the bottom of my heart, "I am very sorry that I
unjustly reproached you for a piece of innocent badinage; but if you love
me, never lie to me, even in the smallest matter, for a lie is an
abomination to me and I can not endure it."

I told her I would remain until she was asleep. I saw her close her
beautiful eyes and heard her murmur something in her sleep as I bent over
and kissed her adieu. Then I went away with a tranquil heart, promising
myself that I would henceforth enjoy my happiness and allow nothing to
disturb it.

But the next day Brigitte said to me, as if quite by chance:

"I have a large book in which I have written my thoughts, everything that
has occurred to my mind, and I want you to see what I said of you the
first day I met you."

We read together what concerned me, to which we added a hundred foolish
comments, after which I began to turn the leaves in a mechanical way. A
phrase written in capital letters caught my eye on one of the pages I was
turning; I distinctly saw some words that were insignificant enough, and
I was about to read the rest when Brigitte stopped me and said:

"Do not read that."

I threw the book on the table.

"Why, certainly not," I said, "I did not think what I was doing."

"Do you still take things seriously?" she asked, smiling, doubtless
seeing my malady coming on again; "take the book, I want you to read it."

The book lay on the table within easy reach and I did not take my eyes
from it. I seemed to hear a voice whispering in my ear, and I thought I
saw, grimacing before me, with his glacial smile and dry face, Desgenais.
"What are you doing here, Desgenais?" I asked as if I really saw him. He
looked as he did that evening, when he leaned over my table and unfolded
to me his catechism of vice.

I kept my eyes on the book and I felt vaguely stirring in my memory some
forgotten words of the past. The spirit of doubt hanging over my head had
injected into my veins a drop of poison; the vapor mounted to my head and
I staggered like a drunken man. What secret was Brigitte concealing from
me? I knew very well that I had only to bend over and open the book; but
at what place? How could I recognize the leaf on which my eye had chanced
to fall?

My pride, moreover, would not permit me to take the book; was it indeed
pride? "O God!" I said to myself with a frightful sense of sadness, "is
the past a spectre? and can it come out of its tomb? Ah! wretch that I
am, can I never love?"

All my ideas of contempt for women, all the phrases of mocking fatuity
which I had repeated as a schoolboy his lesson, suddenly came to my mind;
and strange to say, while formerly I did not believe in making a parade
of them, now it seemed that they were real, or at least that they had
been.

I had known Madame Pierson four months, but I knew nothing of her past
life and had never questioned her about it. I had yielded to my love for
her with confidence and without reservation. I found a sort of pleasure
in taking her just as she was, for just what she seemed, while suspicion
and jealousy are so foreign to my nature that I was more surprised at
feeling them toward Brigitte than she was in discovering them in me.
Never in my first love nor in the affairs of daily life have I been
distrustful, but on the contrary bold and frank, suspecting nothing. I
had to see my mistress betray me before my eyes before I would believe
that she could deceive me. Desgenais himself, while preaching to me after
his manner, joked me about the ease with which I could be duped. The
story of my life was an incontestable proof that I was credulous rather
than suspicious; and when the words in that book suddenly struck me, it
seemed to me I felt a new being within me, a sort of unknown self; my
reason revolted against the feeling, and I did not dare ask whither all
this was leading me.

But the suffering I had endured, the memory of the perfidy that I had
witnessed, the frightful cure I had imposed on myself, the opinions of my
friends, the corrupt life I had led, the sad truths I had learned, as
well as those that I had unconsciously surmised during my sad experience,
ending in debauchery, contempt of love, abuse of everything, that is what
I had in my heart although I did not suspect it; and at the moment when
life and hope were again being born within me, all these furies that were
being atrophied by time seized me by the throat and cried that they were
yet alive.

I bent over and opened the book, then immediately closed it and threw it
on the table. Brigitte was looking at me; in her beautiful eyes was
neither wounded pride nor anger; nothing but tender solicitude, as if I
were ill.

"Do you think I have secrets?" she asked, embracing me.

"No," I replied, "I know nothing except that you are beautiful and that I
would die loving you."

When I returned home to dinner I said to Larive:

"Who is Madame Pierson?"

He looked at me in astonishment.

"You have lived here many years," I continued; "you ought to know better
than I. What do they say of her here? What do they think of her in the
village? What kind of life did she lead before I knew her? Whom did she
receive as her friends?"

"In faith, sir, I have never seen her do otherwise than she does every
day, that is to say, walk in the valley, play picquet with her aunt, and
visit the poor. The peasants call her Brigitte la Rose; I have never
heard a word against her except that she goes through the woods alone at
all hours of the day and night; but that is when engaged in charitable
work. She is the ministering angel in the valley. As for those she
receives, there are only the cure and Monsieur de Dalens during
vacation."

"Who is this Monsieur de Dalens?"

"He owns the chateau at the foot of the mountain on the other side; he
only comes here for the chase."

"Is he young?"

"Yes."

"Is he related to Madame Pierson?"

"No, he was a friend of her husband."

"Has her husband been dead long?"

"Five years on All-Saints' day. He was a worthy man."

"And has this Monsieur de Dalens paid court?"

"To the widow? In faith--to tell the truth--" he stopped, embarrassed.

"Well, will you answer me?"

"Some say so and some do not--I know nothing and have seen nothing."

"And you just told me that they do not talk about her in the country?"

"That is all they have said, and I supposed you knew that."

"In a word, yes or no?"

"Yes, sir, I think so, at least."

I arose from the table and walked down the road; Mercanson was there. I
expected he would try to avoid me; on the contrary he approached me.

"Sir," he said, "you exhibited signs of anger which it does not become a
man of my character to resent. I wish to express my regret that I was
charged to communicate a message which appeared so unwelcome."

I returned his compliment, supposing he would leave me at once; but he
walked along at my side.

"Dalens! Dalens!" I repeated between my teeth, "who will tell me about
Dalens?" For Larive had told me nothing except what a valet might learn.
From whom had he learned it? From some servant or peasant. I must have
some witness who had seen Dalens with Madame Pierson and who knew all
about their relations. I could not get that Dalens out of my head, and
not being able to talk to any one else, I asked Mercanson about him.

If Mercanson was not a bad man, he was either a fool or very shrewd, I
have never known which. It is certain that he had reason to hate me and
that he treated me as meanly as possible. Madame Pierson, who had the
greatest friendship for the cure, had almost come to think equally well
of the nephew. He was proud of it, and consequently jealous. It is not
love alone that inspires jealousy; a favor, a kind word, a smile from a
beautiful mouth, may arouse some people to jealous rage.

Mercanson appeared to be astonished. I was somewhat astonished myself;
but who knows his own mind?

At his first words I saw that the priest understood what I wanted to know
and had decided not to satisfy me.

"How does it happen that you have known Madame Pierson so long and so
intimately (I think so, at least) and have not met Monsieur de Dalens?
But, doubtless, you have some reason unknown to me for inquiring about
him to-day. All I can say is that as far as I know, he is an honest man,
kind and charitable; he was, like you, very intimate with Madame Pierson;
he is fond of hunting and entertains handsomely. He and Madame Pierson
were accustomed to devote much of their time to music. He punctually
attended to his works of charity and, when--in the country, accompanied
that lady on her rounds, just as you do. His family enjoys an excellent
reputation at Paris; I used to find him with Madame Pierson whenever I
called; his manners were excellent. As for the rest, I speak truly and
frankly, as becomes me when it concerns persons of his merit. I believe
that he only comes here for the chase; he was a friend of her husband; he
is said to be rich and very generous; but I know nothing about it except
that--"

With what tortured phrases was this dull tormentor teasing me. I was
ashamed to listen to him, yet not daring to ask a single question or
interrupt his vile insinuations. I was alone on the promenade; the
poisoned arrow of suspicion had entered my heart. I did not know whether
I felt more of anger or of sorrow. The confidence with which I had
abandoned myself to my love for Brigitte had been so sweet and so natural
that I could not bring myself to believe that so much happiness had been
built upon an illusion. That sentiment of credulity which had attracted
me to her seemed a proof that she was worthy. Was it possible that these
four months of happiness were but a dream?

But after all, I thought, that woman has yielded too easily. Was there
not deception in that pretended anxiety to have me leave the country? Is
she not just like all the rest? Yes, that is the way they all do; they
attempt to escape in order to experience the happiness of being pursued:
it is the feminine instinct. Was it not she who confessed her love by her
own act, at the very moment I had decided that she would never be mine?
Did she not accept my arm the first day I met her? If Dalens has been her
lover, he probably is still; there is a certain sort of liaison that has
neither beginning nor end; when chance ordains a meeting, it is resumed;
when parted, it is forgotten.

If that man comes here this summer, she will probably see him without
breaking with me. Who is this aunt, what mysterious life is this that has
charity for its cloak, this liberty that cares nothing for opinion? May
they not be adventurers, these two women with their little house, their
prudence, and their caution, which enable them to impose on people so
easily? Assuredly, for all I know, I have fallen into an affair of
gallantry when I thought I was engaged in a romance. But what can I do?
There is no one here who can help me except the priest, who does not care
to tell me what he knows, and his uncle, who will say still less. Who
will save me? How can I learn the truth?

Thus spoke jealousy; thus, forgetting so many tears and all that I had
suffered, I had come at the end of two days to a point where I was
tormenting myself with the idea that Brigitte had yielded too easily.
Thus, like all who doubt, I brushed aside sentiment and reason to dispute
with facts, to attach myself to the letter and dissect my love.

While absorbed in these reflections I was slowly approaching Madame
Pierson's.

I found the gate open, and as I entered the garden I saw a light in the
kitchen. I thought of questioning the servant, I stepped to the window.

A feeling of horror rooted me to the spot. The servant was an old woman,
thin and wrinkled and bent, a common deformity in people who have worked
in the fields. I found her shaking a cooking utensil over a filthy sink.
A dirty candle fluttered in her trembling hand; about her were pots,
kettles, and dishes, the remains of dinner that a dog sniffed at, from
time to time, as though ashamed; a warm, nauseating odor emanated from
the reeking walls. When the old woman caught sight of me, she smiled in a
confidential way; she had seen me take leave of her mistress.

I shuddered as I thought what I had come to seek in a spot so well suited
to my ignoble purpose. I fled from that old woman as from jealousy
personified, and as if the stench of her cooking had come from my heart.

Brigitte was at the window watering her well-beloved flowers; a child of
one of her neighbors was lying in a cradle at her side, and she was
gently rocking the cradle with her disengaged hand; the child's mouth was
full of bonbons, and in gurgling eloquence it was addressing an
incomprehensible apostrophe to its nurse. I sat down near her and kissed
the child on its fat cheeks, as if to imbibe some of its innocence.
Brigitte accorded me a timid greeting; she could see her troubled image
in my eyes. For my part I avoided her glance; the more I admired her
beauty and her air of candor, the more I was convinced that such a woman
was either an angel or a monster of perfidy; I forced myself to recall
each one of Mercanson's words, and I confronted, so to speak, the man's
insinuations with her presence and her face. "She is very beautiful," I
said to myself, "and very dangerous if she knows how, to deceive; but I
will fathom her and I will sound her heart; and she shall know who I am."

"My dear," I said after a long silence, "I have just given a piece of
advice to a friend who consulted me. He is an honest young man, and he
writes me that a woman he loves has another lover. He asks me what he
ought to do."

"What reply did you make?"

"Two questions: Is she pretty? Do you love her? If you love her, forget
her; if she is pretty and you do not love her, keep her for your
pleasure; there will always be time to quit her, if it is merely a matter
of beauty, and one is worth as much as another."

Hearing me speak thus, Brigitte put down the child she was holding and
sat down at the other end of the room. There was no light in the room;
the moon, which was shining on the spot where she had been standing,
threw a shadow over the sofa on which she was now seated. The words I had
uttered were so heartless, so cruel, that I was dazed myself, and my
heart was filled with bitterness. The child in its cradle began to cry.
Then all three of us were silent while a cloud passed over the moon.

A servant entered the room with a light and carried the child away. I
arose, Brigitte also; but she suddenly placed her hand on her heart and
fell to the floor.

I hastened to her side; she had not lost consciousness and begged me not
to call any one. She explained that she was subject to violent
palpitation of the heart and had been troubled by fainting spells from
her youth; that there was no danger and no remedy. I kneeled beside her;
she sweetly opened her arms; I raised her head and placed it on my
shoulder.

"Ah! my friend," she said, "I pity you."

"Listen to me," I whispered in her ear, "I am a wretched fool, but I can
keep nothing on my heart. Who is this Monsieur de Dalens who lives on the
mountain and comes to see you?"

She appeared astonished to hear me mention that name.

"Dalens?" she replied. "He was my husband's friend."

She looked at me as if to inquire: "Why do you ask?" It seemed to me that
her face wore a grieved expression. I bit my lips. "If she wants to
deceive me," I thought, "I was foolish to question her."

Brigitte rose with difficulty; she took her fan and began to walk up and
down the room.

She was breathing hard; I had wounded her. She was absorbed in thought
and we exchanged two or three glances that were almost cold. She stepped
to her desk, opened it, drew out a package of letters tied together with
a ribbon, and threw it at my feet without a word.

But I was looking neither at her nor her letters; I had just thrown a
stone into the abyss and was listening to the echoes. For the first time
offended pride was depicted on Brigitte's face. There was no longer
either anxiety or pity in her eyes, and, just as I had come to feel
myself other than I had ever been, so I saw in her a woman I did not
know.

"Read that," she said, finally. I stepped up to her and took her hand.

"Read that, read that!" she repeated in freezing tones.

I took the letters. At that moment I felt so persuaded of her innocence
that I was seized with remorse.

"You remind me," she said, "that I owe you the story of my life; sit down
and you shall learn it. You will open these drawers, and you will read
all that I have written and all that has been written to me."

She sat down and motioned me to a chair. I saw that she found it
difficult to speak. She was pale as death, her voice constrained, her
throat swollen.

"Brigitte! Brigitte!" I cried, "in the name of heaven, do not speak! God
is my witness I was not born such as you see me; during my life I have
been neither suspicious nor distrustful. I have been undone, my heart has
been seared by the treachery of others. A frightful experience has led me
to the very brink of the precipice, and for a year I have seen nothing
but evil here below. God is my witness that, up to this day, I did not
believe myself capable of playing the ignoble role I have assumed, the
meanest role of all, that of a jealous lover. God is my witness that I
love you and that you are the only one in the world who can cure me of
the past.

"I have had to do, up to this time, with women who deceived me, or who
were unworthy of love. I have led the life of a libertine; I bear on my
heart certain marks that will never be effaced. Is it my fault if
calumny, and base suggestion, to-day planted in a heart whose fibres were
still trembling with pain and ready to assimilate all that resembles
sorrow, have driven me to despair? I have just heard the name of a man I
have never met, of whose existence I was ignorant; I have been given to
understand that there has been between you and him a certain intimacy,
which proves nothing. I do not intend to question you; I have suffered
from it, I have confessed to you, and I have done you an irreparable
wrong. But rather than consent to what you propose, I will throw it all
in the fire. Ah! my friend, do not degrade me; do not attempt to justify
yourself, do not punish me for suffering. How could I, in the bottom of
my heart, suspect you of deceiving me? No, you are beautiful and you are
true; a single glance of yours, Brigitte, tells me more than words
could utter and I am content. If you knew what horrors, what monstrous
deceit, the man who stands before you has seen! If you knew how he has
been treated, how they have mocked at all that is good, how they have
taken pains to teach him all that leads to doubt, to jealousy, to
despair!

"Alas! alas! my dear mistress, if you knew whom you love! Do not reproach
me, but rather pity me; I must forget that other beings than you exist.
Who can know through what frightful trials, through what pitiless
suffering I have passed! I did not expect this, I did not anticipate this
moment. Since you have become mine, I realize what I have done; I have
felt, in kissing you, that my lips were not, like yours, unsullied. In
the name of heaven, help me live! God made me a better man than the one
you see before you."

Brigitte held out her hands and caressed me tenderly. She begged me to
tell her all that had led to this sad scene. I spoke of what I had
learned from Larive, but did not dare confess that I had interviewed
Mercanson. She insisted that I listen to her explanation. M. de Dalens
had loved her; but he was a man of frivolous disposition, dissipated and
inconstant; she had given him to understand that, not wishing to remarry,
she could only request that he drop the role of suitor, and he had
yielded to her wishes with good grace; but his visits had become more
rare since that time, until now they had ceased altogether. She drew from
the bundle a certain letter which she showed me, the date of which was
recent; I could not help blushing as I found in it the confirmation of
all she had said; she assured me that she pardoned me, and exacted a
promise that in the future I would promptly tell her of any cause I might
have to suspect her. Our treaty was sealed with a kiss, and when I left
her we had both forgotten that M. de Dalens ever existed.



CHAPTER II

UNCERTAINTY

A kind of stagnant inertia, tempered with bitter joy, is characteristic
of debauchery. It is the sequence of a life of caprice, where nothing is
regulated according to the needs of the body, but everything according to
the fantasy of the mind, and one must be always ready to obey the behests
of the other. Youth and will can resist excess; but nature silently
avenges herself, and the day when she decides to repair her forces, the
will struggles to retard her work and abuses her anew.

Finding about him then all the objects that were able to tempt him the
evening before, the man who is incapable of enjoying them looks down at
them with a smile of disgust. At the same time the objects which excite
his desire are never attained with sang-froid; all that the debauches
loves, he seizes; his life is a fever; his organs, in order to search the
depths of joy, are forced to avail themselves of the stimulant of
fermented liquors and sleepless nights; in the days of ennui and of
idleness he feels more keenly than other men the disparity between his
impotence and his temptations, and, in order to resist the latter, pride
must come to his aid and make him believe that he disdains them. It is
thus he spits on all the feasts and pleasures of his life, and so,
between an ardent thirst and a profound satiety, a feeling of tranquil
vanity leads him to his death.

Although I was no longer a debauches, it came to pass that my body
suddenly remembered that it had been. It is easy to understand why I had
not felt the effects of it sooner. While mourning my father's death every
other thought was crowded from my mind. Then a passionate love succeeded;
while I was alone, ennui had nothing to struggle for. Sad or gay, fair or
foul, what matters it to him who is alone?

As zinc, rarely found unmixed, drawn from the vein where it lies
sleeping, attracts to itself a ray of light when placed near green
leather, thus Brigitte's kisses gradually awakened in my heart what had
been buried there. At her side I perceived what I really was.

There were days when I felt such a strange sensation in the mornings that
it is impossible for me to define it. I awakened without a motive,
feeling like a man who has spent the night in eating and drinking to the
point of exhaustion. All external sensations caused me insupportable
fatigue, all well-known objects of daily life repelled and annoyed me; if
I spoke it was in ridicule of what others thought or of what I thought
myself. Then, extended on the bed, as if incapable of any motion, I
dismissed any thought of undertaking whatever had been agreed upon the
evening before; I recalled all the tender and loving things I had said to
my mistress during my better moments, and was not satisfied until I had
spoiled and poisoned those memories of happy days. "Can you not forget
all that?" Brigitte would sadly inquire, "if there are two different men
in you, can you not, when the bad rouses himself, forget the good?"

The patience with which Brigitte opposed these vagaries only served to
excite my sinister gayety. Strange that the man who suffers wishes to
make her whom he loves suffer! To lose control of one's self, is that not
the worst of evils? Is there anything more cruel for a woman than to hear
a man turn to derision all that is sacred and mysterious? Yet she did not
flee from me; she remained at my side, while in my savage humor I
insulted love and allowed insane ravings to escape from lips that were
still moist with her kisses.

On such days, contrary to my usual inclination, I liked to talk of Paris
and speak of my life of debauchery as the most commendable thing in the
world. "You are nothing but a saint," I would laughingly observe; "you do
not understand what I say. There is nothing like those careless ones who
make love without believing in it." Was that not the same as saying that
I did not believe in it?

"Very well," Brigitte replied, "teach me how to please you always. I am
perhaps as pretty as those mistresses whom you mourn; if I have not their
skill to divert you, I beg that you will instruct me. Act as if you did
not love me, and let me love you without saying anything about it. If I
am devoted to religion, I am also devoted to love. What can I do to make
you believe it?"

Then she would stand before the mirror arraying herself as if for a
soiree, affecting a coquetry that she was far from feeling, trying to
adopt my tone, laughing and skipping about the room. "Am I to your
taste?" she would ask. "Which one of your mistresses do I resemble? Am I
beautiful, enough to make you forget that any one can believe in love?
Have I a sufficiently careless air to suit you?" Then, in the midst of
that factitious joy, she would turn her back and I could see her shudder
until the flowers she had placed in her hair trembled. I threw myself at
her feet.

"Stop!" I cried, "you resemble only too closely that which you try to
imitate, that which my mouth has been so vile as to conjure up before
you. Lay aside those flowers and that dress. Let us wash away such
mimicry with a sincere tear; do not remind me that I am but a prodigal
son; I remember the past too well."

But even this repentance was cruel, as it proved to her that the phantoms
in my heart were full of reality. In yielding to an impulse of horror I
merely gave her to understand that her resignation and her desire to
please me only served to call up an impure image.

And it was true; I reached her side transported with joy, swearing that I
would regret my past life; on my knees I protested my respect for her;
then a gesture, a word, a trick of turning as she approached me, recalled
to my mind the fact that such and such a woman had made that gesture, had
used that word, had that same trick of turning.

Poor devoted soul! What didst thou suffer in seeing me turn pale before
thee, in seeing my arms fall as though lifeless at my side! When the kiss
died on my lips, and the full glance of love, that pure ray of God's
light, fled from my eyes like an arrow turned by the wind! Ah! Brigitte!
what diamonds trickled from thine eyes! What treasures of charity didst
thou exhaust with patient hand! How pitiful thy love!

For a long time good and bad days succeeded each other almost regularly;
I showed myself alternately cruel and scornful, tender and devoted,
insensible and haughty, repentant and submissive. The face of Desgenais,
which had at first appeared to me as though to warn me whither I was
drifting, was now constantly before me. On my days of doubt and coldness,
I conversed, so to speak, with him; often when I had offended Brigitte by
some cruel mockery I said to myself "If he were in my place he would do
as I do!"

And then at other times, when putting on my hat to visit Brigitte, I
would look in my glass and say: "What is there so terrible about it,
anyway? I have, after all, a pretty mistress; she has given herself to a
libertine, let her take me for what I am." I reached her side with a
smile on my lips, I sank into a chair with an air of deliberate
insolence; then I saw Brigitte approach, her large eyes filled with
tenderness and anxiety; I seized her little hands in mine and lost myself
in an infinite dream.

How name a thing that is nameless? Was I good or bad? Was I distrustful
or a fool? It is useless to reflect on it; it happened thus.

One of our neighbors was a young woman whose name was Madame Daniel. She
possessed some beauty, and still more coquetry; she was poor, but tried
to pass for rich; she would come to see us after dinner and always played
a heavy game against us, although her losses embarrassed her; she sang,
but had no voice. In the solitude of that unknown village, where an
unkind fate had buried her, she was consumed with an uncontrollable
passion for pleasure. She talked of nothing but Paris, which she visited
two or three times a year. She pretended to keep up with the fashions,
and my dear Brigitte assisted her as best she could, while smiling with
pity. Her husband was employed by the government; once a year he would
take her to the house of the chief of his department, where, attired in
her best, the little woman danced to her heart's content. She would
return with shining eyes and tired body; she would come to us to tell of
her prowess, and her success in assaulting the masculine heart. The rest
of the time she read novels, never taking the trouble to look after her
household affairs, which were not always in the best condition.

Whenever I saw her, I laughed at her, finding nothing so ridiculous as
the high life she thought she was leading. I would interrupt her
description of a ball to inquire about her husband and her father-in-law,
both of whom she detested, the one because he was her husband, and the
other because he was only a peasant; in short, we were always disputing
on some subject.

In my evil moments I thought of paying court to her just for the sake of
annoying Brigitte.

"You see," I said, "how perfectly Madame Daniel understands life! In her
present sprightly humor could one desire a more charming mistress?"

I then paid her the most extravagant compliments; her senseless chatting
I described as unrestraint tempered by finesse, her pretentious
exaggerations as a natural desire to please; was it her fault that she
was poor? At least she thought of nothing but pleasure and confessed it
freely; she did not preach sermons herself, nor did she listen to them
from others; I went so far as to tell Brigitte that she ought to adopt
her as a model, and that she was just the kind of woman to please me.

Poor Madame Daniel discovered signs of melancholy in Brigitte's eyes. She
was a strange creature, as good and sincere--when you could get finery
out of her head--as she was stupid when absorbed in such frivolous
affairs. On occasion she could be both good and stupid. One fine day,
when they were walking together, she threw herself into Brigitte's arms,
and told her that she had noticed I was beginning to pay court to her,
and that I had made certain proposals to her, the meaning of which was
not doubtful; but she knew that I was another's lover, and as for her,
whatever might happen, she would die rather than destroy the happiness of
a friend. Brigitte thanked her, and Madame Daniel, having set her
conscience at ease, considered it no sin to render me desolate by
languishing glances.

In the evening, when she had gone, Brigitte, in a severe tone, told me
what had happened; she begged me to spare her such affronts in the
future.

"Not that I attach any importance to such pleasantries," she said, "but
if you have any love for me, it seems to me it is useless to inform a
third party that there are times when you have not."

"Is it possible," I replied with a smile, "that it is important? You see
very well that I was only joking, and that I did it only to pass away the
time."

"Ah! my friend, my friend," said Brigitte, "it is a pity that you must
seek pastimes."

A few days later I proposed that we go to the prefecture to see Madame
Daniel dance; she unwillingly consented. While she was arranging her
toilette, I sat near the window and reproached her for losing her former
cheerfulness.

"What is the matter with you?" I asked. (I knew as well as she.) "Why
that morose air that never leaves you? In truth, you make our life quite
sad. I have known you when you were more joyous, more free and more open;
I am not flattered by the thought that I am responsible for the change.
But you have a cloistral disposition; you were born to live in a
convent."

It was Sunday; as we were driving down the road Brigitte ordered the
carriage to stop in order to say good-evening to some friends, fresh and
vigorous country girls, who were going to dance at Tilleuls. When they
had gone on, Brigitte followed them with, longing eyes; her little rustic
dance was very dear to her; she dried her eyes with her handkerchief.

We found Madame Daniel at the prefecture in high feather. I danced with
her so often that it excited comment; I paid her a thousand compliments
and she replied as best she could.

Brigitte was near us, and her eyes never left us. I can hardly describe
what I felt; it was both pleasure and pain. I clearly saw that she was
jealous; but instead of being moved by it I did all I could to increase
her suffering.

On the return I expected to hear her reproaches; she made none, but
remained silent for three days. When I came to see her she would greet me
kindly; then we would sit down facing each other, both of us preoccupied,
hardly exchanging a word. The third day she spoke, overwhelmed me with
bitter reproaches, told me that my conduct was unreasonable, that she
could not account for it except on the supposition that I had ceased to
love her; but she could not endure this life and would resort to anything
rather than submit to my caprices and coldness. Her eyes were full of
tears, and I was about to ask her pardon when some words escaped her that
were so bitter that my pride revolted. I replied in the same tone, and
our quarrel became violent.

I told her that it was absurd to suppose that I could not inspire enough
confidence in my mistress to escape the necessity of explaining my every
action; that Madame Daniel was only a pretext; that she very well knew I
did not think of that woman seriously; that her pretended jealousy was
nothing but the expression of her desire for despotic power, and that,
moreover, if she had tired of this life, it was easy enough to put an end
to it.

"Very well," she replied; "it is true that I do not recognize you as the
same man I first knew; you doubtless performed a little comedy to
persuade me that you loved me; you are tired of your role and can think
of nothing but abuse. You suspect me of deceiving you upon the first
word, and I am under no obligation to submit to your insults. You are no
longer the man I loved."

"I know what your sufferings are," I replied. "I can not make a step
without exciting your alarm. Soon I shall not be permitted to address a
word to any one but you. You pretend that you have been abused in order
that you may be justified in offering insult; you accuse me of tyranny in
order that I may become your slave. Since I trouble your repose, I leave
you in peace; you will never see me again."

We parted in anger, and I passed an entire day without seeing her. The
next night, toward midnight, I was seized by a feeling of melancholy that
I could not resist. I shed a torrent of tears; I overwhelmed myself with
reproaches that I richly deserved. I told myself that I was nothing but a
fool, and a cowardly fool at that, to make the noblest, the best of
creatures, suffer in this way. I ran to her to throw myself at her feet.

Entering the garden, I saw that her room was lighted and a flash of
suspicion crossed my mind. "She does not expect me at this hour," I said
to myself; "who knows what she may be doing. I left her in tears
yesterday; I may find her ready to sing to-day and caring no more for me
than if I never existed. I must enter gently, in order to surprise her."

I advanced on tiptoe, and the door being open, I could see Brigitte
without being seen.

She was seated at her table and was writing in that same book that had
aroused my suspicions. She held in her left hand a little box of white
wood which she looked at from time to time and trembled. There was
something sinister in the quiet that reigned in the room. Her secretary
was open and several bundles of papers were carefully ranged in order.

I made some noise at the door. She rose, went to the secretary, closed
it, then came to me with a smile:

"Octave," she said, "we are two children. If you had not come here, I
should have gone to you. Pardon me, I was wrong. Madame Daniel comes to
dinner to-morrow; make me repent, if you choose, of what you call my
despotism. If you but love me I am happy; let us forget what is past and
let us not spoil our happiness."



CHAPTER III

EXPLANATIONS

But quarrel had been, so to speak, less sad than our reconciliation; it
was attended, on Brigitte's part, by a mystery which frightened me at
first and then planted in my soul the seeds of constant dread.

There developed in me, in spite of my struggles, the two elements of
misfortune which the past had bequeathed me: at times furious jealousy
attended by reproaches and insults; at other times a cruel gayety, an
affected cheerfulness, that mockingly outraged whatever I held most dear.
Thus the inexorable spectres of the past pursued me without respite; thus
Brigitte, seeing herself treated alternately as a faithless mistress and
a shameless woman, fell into a condition of melancholy that clouded our
entire life; and worst of all, that sadness even, the cause of which I
knew, was not the most burdensome of our sorrows. I was young and I loved
pleasure; that daily association with a woman older than I, who suffered
and languished, that face, more and more serious, which was always before
me, all this repelled my youth and aroused within me bitter regrets for
the liberty I had lost.

One night we were passing through the forest in the beautiful light of
the moon, and both experienced a profound melancholy. Brigitte looked at
me in pity. We sat down on a rock near a wild gorge and passed two entire
hours there; her half-veiled eyes plunged into my soul, crossing a glance
from mine; then wandered to nature, to the heavens and the valley.

"Ah! my dear child," she said, "how I pity you! You do not love me."

To reach that rock we had to travel two leagues; two more in returning
makes four. Brigitte was afraid of neither fatigue nor darkness. We set
out at eleven at night, expecting to reach home some time in the morning.
When we went on long tramps she always dressed in a blue blouse and the
apparel of a man, saying that skirts were not made for bushes. She walked
before me in the sand with a firm step and such a charming mingling of
feminine delicacy and childlike innocence, that I stopped every few
moments to look at her. It seemed that, once started, she had to
accomplish a difficult but sacred task; she walked in front like a
soldier, her arms swinging, her voice ringing through the woods in song;
suddenly she would turn, come to me and kiss me. This was on the outward
journey; on the return she leaned on my arm; then more songs,
confidences, tender avowals in low tones, although we were alone, two
leagues from anywhere. I do not recall a single word spoken on the return
that was not of love or friendship.

Another night we struck out through the woods, leaving the road which led
to the rock. Brigitte was tramping along so stoutly and her little velvet
cap on her light hair made her look so much like a resolute youth, that I
forgot she was a woman when there were no obstacles in our path. More
than once she was obliged to call me to her aid when I, without thinking
of her, had pushed on ahead. I can not describe the effect produced on me
in the clear night air, in the midst of the forest, by that voice of
hers, half-joyous and half-plaintive, coming, as it were, from that
little schoolboy body wedged in between roots and trunks of trees, unable
to advance. I took her in my arms.

"Come, Madame," I cried, laughing, "you are a pretty little mountaineer,
but you are blistering your white hands, and in spite of your hobnailed
shoes, your stick and your martial air, I see that you must be carried."

We arrived at the rock breathless; about my body was strapped a leather
belt to which was attached a wicker bottle. When we were seated on the
rock, my dear Brigitte asked for the bottle; I had lost it, as well as a
tinder-box which served another purpose: that was to read the
inscriptions on the guide-posts when we went astray, which occurred
frequently. At such times I would climb the posts, and read the
half-effaced inscription by the light of the tinder-box; all this in
play, like the children that we were. At a crossroad we would have to
examine not one guide-post but five or six until the right one was found.
But this time we had lost our baggage on the way.

"Very well," said Brigitte, "we will pass the night here, as I am rather
tired. This rock will make a hard bed, but we can cover it with dry
leaves. Let us sit down and make the best of it."

The night was superb; the moon was rising behind us; I looked at it over
my left shoulder. Brigitte was watching the lines of the wooded hills as
they began to outline themselves against the background of sky. As the
light flooded the copse and threw its halo over sleeping nature,
Brigitte's song became more gentle and more melancholy. Then she bent
over, and, throwing her arms around my neck, said:

"Do not think that I do not understand your heart or that I would
reproach you for what you make me suffer. It is not your fault, my
friend, if you have not the power to forget your past life; you have
loved me in good faith and I shall never regret, although I should die
for it, the day I gave myself to you. You thought you were entering upon
a new life, and that with me you would forget the women who had deceived
you. Alas! Octave, I used to smile at that precocious experience which
you said you had been through, and of which I heard you boast like a
child who knows nothing of life. I thought I had but to will it, and all
that there was that was good in your heart would come to your lips with
my first kiss. You, too, believed it, but we were both mistaken.

"Oh, my child! You have in your heart a plague that can not be cured;
that woman who deceived you, how you must have loved her! Yes, more than
you love me, alas! much more, since with all my poor love I can not
efface her image; she must have deceived you most cruelly, since it is in
vain that I am faithful!

"And the others, those wretches who then poisoned your youth! The
pleasures they sold must have been terrible since you ask me to imitate
them! You remember them with me! Alas! my dear child, that is too cruel.
I like you better when you are unjust and furious, when you reproach me
for imaginary crimes and avenge on me the wrong done you by others, than
when you are under the influence of that frightful gayety, when you
assume that air of hideous mockery, when that mask of scorn affronts my
eyes.

"Tell me, Octave, why that? Why those moments when you speak of love with
contempt and rail at the most sacred mysteries of love? What frightful
power over your irritable nerves has that life you have led, that such
insults should mount to your lips in spite of you? Yes, in spite of you;
for your heart is noble, you blush at your own blasphemy; you love me too
much, not to suffer when you see me suffer. Ah! I know you now. The first
time I saw you thus, I was seized with a feeling of terror of which I can
give you no idea. I thought you were only a roue, that you had
deliberately deceived me by feigning a love you did not feel, and that I
saw you such as you really were. O my friend! I thought it was time to
die; what a night I passed! You do not know my life; you do not know that
I who speak to you have had an experience as terrible as yours. Alas!
life is sweet only to those who do not know life.

"You are not, my dear Octave, the only man I have loved. There is hidden
in my heart a fatal story that I wish you to know. My father destined me,
when I was quite young, for the only son of an old friend. They were
neighbors and each owned a little domain of almost equal value. The two
families saw each other every day, and lived, so to speak, together. My
father died; my mother had been dead some time. I lived with the aunt
whom you know. A journey she was compelled to take forced her to confide
me to the care of my future father-in-law. He called me his daughter, and
it was so well known about the country that I was to marry his son that
we were allowed the greatest liberty together.

"That young man, whose name you need not know, appeared to love me. What
had been friendship from infancy became love in time. He began to tell me
of the happiness that awaited us; he spoke of his impatience, I was only
one year younger than he; but he had made the acquaintance of a man of
dissipated habits who lived in the vicinity, a sort of adventurer, and
had listened to his evil suggestions. While I was yielding to his
caresses with the confidence of a child, he resolved to deceive his
father, and to abandon me after he had ruined me.

"His father called us into his room one evening and, in the presence of
the family, set the day of our wedding. The very evening before that day
he had met me in the garden and had spoken to me of love with more force
than usual; he said that since the time was set, we were just the same as
married, and for that matter had been in the eyes of God, ever since our
birth. I have no other excuse to offer than my youth, my ignorance, and
my confidence in him. I gave myself to him before becoming his wife, and
eight days afterward he left his father's house. He fled with a woman his
new friend had introduced to him; he wrote that he had gone to Germany
and that we should never see him again.

"That is, in a word, the story of my life; my husband knew it as you now
know it. I am proud, my child, and I have sworn that no man shall ever
make me again suffer what I suffered then. I saw you and forgot my oath,
but not my sorrow. You must treat me gently; if you are sick, I am also;
we must care for each other. You see, Octave, I, too, know what it is to
call up memories of the past. It inspires me at times with cruel terror;
I should have more courage than you, for perhaps I have suffered more. It
is my place to begin; my heart is not sure of itself, I am still very
feeble; my life in this village was so tranquil before you came! I had
promised myself that it should never change! All this makes me exacting.

"Ah! well, it does not matter, I am yours. You have told me, in your
better moments, that Providence appointed me to watch over you as a
mother. Yes, when you make me suffer I do not look upon you as a lover,
but as a sick child, fretful and rebellious, that I must care for and
cure in order that I may always keep him and love him. May God give me
that power!" she added looking up to heaven. "May God who sees me, who
hears us, may the God of mothers and of lovers permit me to accomplish
that task! When I feel as if I should sink under it, when my pride
rebels, when my heart is breaking, when all my life--"

She could not finish; her tears choked her. Oh, God! I saw her there on
her knees, her hands clasped on the rock; she swayed in the breeze as did
the bushes about us. Frail and sublime creature! she prayed for her love.
I raised her in my arms.

"Oh! my only friend," I cried, "oh! my mistress, my mother, and my
sister! Pray also for me that I may be able to love you as you deserve.
Pray that I may have the courage to live; that my heart may be cleansed
in your tears; that it may become a holy offering before God and that we
may share it together."

All was silent about us; above our heads spread the heavens resplendent
with stars.

"Do you remember," I said, "do you remember the first day?"

From that night we never returned to that spot. That rock was an altar
which has retained its purity; it is one of the visions of my life, and
it still passes before my eyes wreathed in spotless white.



CHAPTER IV

BRIGITTE'S LOSS

As I was crossing the public square one evening I saw two men standing
together; one of them said:

"It appears to me that he has ill-treated her."

"It is her fault," replied the other; "why choose such a man? He has
known only public women; she is paying the price of her folly."

I advanced in the darkness to see who was speaking thus, and to hear more
if possible; but they passed on as soon as they spied me.

I found Brigitte much disturbed; her aunt was seriously ill; she had time
for only a few words with me. I did not see her for an entire week; I
knew that she had summoned a physician from Paris; finally she sent for
me.

"My aunt is dead," she said; "I lose the only one left me on earth, I am
now alone in the world, and I am going to leave the country."

"Am I, then, nothing to you?"

"Yes, my friend; you know that I love you, and I often believe that you
love me. But how can I count on you? I am your mistress, alas! but you
are not my lover. It is for you that Shakespeare has written these sad
words: 'Make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very
opal.' And I, Octave," she added, pointing to her mourning costume, "I am
reduced to a single color, and I shall not change it for a long time."

"Leave the country if you choose; I will either kill myself or I will
follow you. Ah! Brigitte," I continued, throwing myself on my knees
before her, "you thought you were alone when your aunt died! That is the
most cruel punishment you could inflict on me; never have I so keenly
felt the misery of my love for you. You must retract those terrible
words; I deserve them, but they will kill me. Oh, God! can it be true
that I count for nothing in your life, or that I am an influence in your
life only because of the evil I have done you!"

"I do not know," she said, "who is busying himself in our affairs;
certain insinuations, mixed with idle gossip, have been set afloat in the
village and in the neighboring country. Some say that I have been ruined;
others accuse me of imprudence and folly; others represent you as a cruel
and dangerous man. Some one has spied into our most secret thoughts;
things that I thought no one else knew, events in your life and sad
scenes to which they have led, are known to others; my poor aunt spoke to
me about it not long ago, and she knew it some time before speaking to
me. Who knows but that that has hastened her death?

"When I meet my old friends in the street, they either treat me coldly,
or turn aside. Even my dear peasant girls, those good girls who love me
so much, shrug their shoulders when they see my place empty at the Sunday
afternoon balls. How has that come about? I do not know, nor do you, I
suppose; but I must go away, I can not endure it. And my aunt's death, so
sudden, so unexpected, above all, this solitude! this empty room! Courage
fails me; my friend, my friend, do not abandon me!"

She wept; in an adjoining room I saw her household goods in disorder, a
trunk on the floor, everything indicating preparations for departure. It
was evident that, at the time of her aunt's death, Brigitte had tried to
go away without seeing me, but could not. She was so overwhelmed with
emotion that she could hardly speak; her condition was pitiful, and it
was I who had brought her to it. Not only was she unhappy, but she was
insulted in public, and the man who ought to be her support and her
consolation in such an hour was the cause of all her troubles.

I felt the wrong I had done her so keenly that I was overcome with shame.
After so many promises, so much useless exaltation, so many plans and
hopes, what had I, in fact, accomplished in three months? I thought I had
a treasure in my heart, and out of it came nothing but malice, the shadow
of a dream, and the misfortune of a woman I adored. For the first time I
found myself really face to face with myself. Brigitte reproached me for
nothing; she had tried to go away and could not; she was ready to suffer
still. I suddenly asked myself whether I ought not to leave her, whether
it was not my duty to flee from her and rid her of the scourge of my
presence.

I arose, and, passing into the next room, sat down on Brigitte's trunk.
There I leaned my head on my hand and sat motionless. I looked about me
at the confused piles of goods. Alas! I knew them all; my heart was not
so hardened that it could not be moved by the memories which they
awakened. I began to calculate all the harm I had done; I saw my dear
Brigitte walking under the lindens with her goat beside her.

"O man!" I mused, "and by what right?--how dared you come to this house,
and lay hands on this woman? Who has ordained that she should suffer for
you? You array yourself in fine linen, and set out, sleek and happy, for
the home where your mistress languishes; you throw yourself upon the
cushions where she has just knelt in prayer, for you and for her, and you
gently stroke those delicate hands that still tremble. You think it no
evil to inflame a poor heart, and you perorate as warmly in your
deliriums of love as the wretched lawyer who comes with red eyes from a
suit he has lost. You play the infant prodigy in making sport of
suffering; you find it amusing to occupy your leisure moments in
committing murder by means of little pin pricks.

"What will you say to the living God, when your work is finished? What
will become of the woman who loves you? Where will you fall while she
leans on you for support? With what face will you one day bury your pale
and wretched creature, just as she buried the last man who protected her?
Yes, yes, you will doubtless have to bury her, for your love kills and
consumes; you have devoted her to the Furies and it is she who appeases
them. If you follow that woman you will be the cause of her death. Take
care! her guardian angel hesitates; he has just knocked at the door of
this house, in order to frighten away a fatal and shameful passion! He
inspired Brigitte with the idea of flight; at this moment he may be
whispering in her ear his final warning. O assassin! O murderer! Beware!
it is a matter of life and death."

Thus I communed with myself; then on the sofa I caught sight of a little
gingham dress, folded and ready to be packed in the trunk. It had been a
witness of our happy days. I took it up and examined it.

"Must I leave you?" I said to it; "Must I lose you? O little dress, would
you go away without me?"

No, I can not abandon Brigitte; in these circumstances it would be
cowardly. She has just lost her aunt, and is all alone; she is exposed to
the power of I know not what enemy. Can it be Mercanson? He may have
spoken of my conversation with him, and, seeing that I was jealous of
Dalens, may have guessed the rest. Assuredly he is the snake who has been
hissing about my well-beloved flower. I must punish him, and I must
repair the wrong I have done Brigitte. Fool that I am! I think of leaving
her, when I ought to consecrate my life to her, to the expiation of my
sins, to rendering her happy after the tears I have drawn from her
eyes-when I am her only support in the world, her only friend, her only
protector! when I ought to follow her to the end of the world, to shelter
her with my body, to console her for having loved me, for having given
herself to me!

"Brigitte!" I cried, returning to her room, "wait an hour for me, and I
will return."

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"Wait for me," I replied, "do not set out without me. Remember the words
of Ruth: 'Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will
lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou
diest, will I die, and there will I be buried."'

I left her precipitately, and rushed out to find Mercanson. I was told
that he had gone out, and I entered his house to wait for him.

I sat in the corner of the room on a priest's chair before a dirty black
table. I was becoming impatient when I recalled my duel on account of my
first mistress.

"I received a wound from a bullet and am still a fool," I said to myself.
"What have I come to do here? This priest will not fight; if I seek a
quarrel with him, he will say that his priestly robes forbid, and he will
continue his vile gossip when I have gone. Moreover, for what can I hold
him responsible? What is it that has disturbed Brigitte? They say that
her reputation has been sullied, that I ill-treat her, and that she ought
not to submit to it. What stupidity! That concerns no one; there is
nothing to do but allow them to talk; in such a case, to notice an insult
is to give it importance.

"Is it possible to prevent provincials from talking about their
neighbors? Can any one prevent a gossip from maligning a woman who loves?
What measures can be taken to stop a public rumor? If they say that I
ill-treat her, it is for me--to prove the contrary by my conduct with
her, and not by violence. It would be as ridiculous to seek a quarrel
with Mercanson as to leave the country on account of gossip. No, we must
not leave the country; that would be a bad move; that would be to say to
all the world that there is truth in its idle rumors, and to give excuse
to the gossips. We must neither go away nor take any notice of such
things."

I returned to Brigitte. A half hour had passed, and I had changed my mind
three times. I dissuaded her from her plans; I told her what I had just
done and why I had not carried out my first impulse. She listened
resignedly, yet she wished to go away; the house where her aunt had died
had become odious to her. Much effort and persuasion on my part were
required to get her to consent to remain; finally I accomplished it. We
repeated that we would despise the world, that we would yield nothing,
that we would not change our manner of life. I swore that my love should
console her for all her sorrows, and she pretended to hope for the best.
I told her that this circumstance had so enlightened me in the matter of
the wrongs I had done her, that my conduct would prove my repentance,
that I would drive from me as a phantom all the evil that remained in my
heart; that hence forth she should not be offended either by my pride or
by my caprices; and thus, sad and patient, her arms around my neck, she
yielded obedience to the pure caprice that I myself mistook for a flash
of reason.

One day I saw a little chamber she called her oratory; there was no
furniture except a prie-dieu and a little altar with a cross and some
vases of flowers. As for the rest, the walls and curtains were as white
as snow. She shut herself up in that room at times, but rarely since I
had known her.

I stepped to the door and saw Brigitte seated on the floor in the middle
of the room, surrounded by the flowers she was throwing here and there.
She held in her hand a little wreath that appeared to be made of dried
grass, and she was breaking it in pieces.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

She trembled and stood up.

"It is nothing but a child's plaything," she said; "it is a rose wreath
that has faded here in the oratory; I have come here to change my
flowers, as I have not attended to them for some time."

Her voice trembled, and she appeared to be about to faint. I recalled
that name of Brigitte la Rose that I had heard given her. I asked her
whether it was not her crown of roses that she had just broken thus.

"No," she replied, turning pale.

"Yes," I cried, "yes, on my life! Give me the pieces."

I gathered them up and placed them on the altar, then I was silent, my
eyes fixed on the offering.

"Was I not right," she asked, "if it was my crown, to take it from the
wall where it has hung so long?

"Of what use are these remains? Brigitte la Rose is no more, nor the
flowers that baptized her." She went out. I heard her sobs, and the door
closed on me; I fell on my knees and wept bitterly. When I returned to
her room, I found her waiting for me; dinner was ready. I took my place
in silence, and not a word was said of what was in our hearts.



CHAPTER V

A TORTURED SOUL

It was Mercanson who had repeated in the village and in the chateau my
conversation with him about Dalens and the suspicions that, in spite of
myself, I had allowed him clearly to see. Every one knows how bad news
travels in the provinces, flying from mouth to mouth and growing as it
flies; that is what had happened in this case.

Brigitte and I found ourselves face to face with each other in a new
position. However feebly she may have tried to flee, she had nevertheless
made the attempt. It was on account of my prayers that she remained;
there was an obligation implied. I was under oath not to grieve her
either by my jealousy or my levity; every thoughtless or mocking word
that escaped me was a sin, every sorrowful glance from her was a reproach
acknowledged and merited.

Her simple good-nature gave a charm even to solitude; she could see me
now at all hours without resorting to any precaution. Perhaps she
consented to this arrangement in order to prove to me that she valued her
love more highly than her reputation; she seemed to regret having shown
that she cared for the representations of malice. At any rate, instead of
making any attempt to disarm criticism or thwart curiosity, we lived the
freest kind of life, more regardless of public opinion than ever.

For some time I kept my word, and not a cloud troubled our life. These
were happy days, but it is not of these that I would speak.

It was said everywhere about the country that Brigitte was living
publicly with a libertine from Paris; that her lover ill-treated her,
that they spent their time quarrelling, and that she would come to a bad
end. As they had praised Brigitte for her conduct in the past, so they
blamed her now. There was nothing in her past life, even, that was not
picked to pieces and misrepresented. Her lonely tramps over the
mountains, when engaged in works of charity, suddenly became the subject
of quibbles and of raillery. They spoke of her as of a woman who had lost
all human respect and who deserved the frightful misfortunes she was
drawing down on her head.

I had told Brigitte that it was best to let them talk and pay no
attention to them; but the truth is, it became insupportable to me. I
sometimes tried to catch a word that could be construed as an insult and
to demand an explanation. I listened to whispered conversations in a
salon where I was visiting, but could hear nothing; in order to do us
better justice they waited until I had gone. I returned to Brigitte and
told her that all these stories were mere nonsense; that it was foolish
to notice them; that they could talk about us as much as they pleased and
we would care nothing about it.

Was I not terribly mistaken? If Brigitte was imprudent, was it not my
place to be cautious and ward off danger? On the contrary, I took, so to
speak, the part of the world against her.

I began by indifference; I was soon to grow malignant.

"It is true," I said, "that they speak evil of your nocturnal excursions.
Are you sure that they are wrong? Has nothing happened in those romantic
grottoes and by-paths in the forest? Have you never accepted the arm of
an unknown as you accepted mine? Was it merely charity that served as
your divinity in that beautiful temple of verdure that you visited so
bravely?"

Brigitte's glance when I adopted this tone I shall never forget; I
shuddered at it myself. "But, bah!" I thought, "she would do the same
thing that my other mistress did--she would point me out as a ridiculous
fool, and I should pay for it all in the eyes of the public."

Between the man who doubts and the man who denies there is only a step.
All philosophy is akin to atheism. Having told Brigitte that I suspected
her past conduct, I began to regard it with real suspicion.

I came to imagine that Brigitte was deceiving me, she who never left me
at any hour of the day; I sometimes planned long absences in order to
test her, as I supposed; but in truth it was only to give myself some
excuse for suspicion and mockery. And then I took pleasure in observing
that I had outgrown my foolish jealousy, which was the same as saying
that I no longer esteemed her highly enough to be jealous of her.

At first I kept such thoughts to myself, but soon found pleasure in
revealing them to Brigitte. We had gone out for a walk:

"That dress is pretty," I said, "such and such a girl, belonging to one
of my friends, has one like it."

We were now seated at table.

"Come, my dear, my former mistress used to sing for me at dessert; you
promised, you know, to imitate her."

She sat down at the piano.

"Ah! pardon me, but will you play that waltz that was so popular last
winter? That will remind me of happy times."

Reader, this lasted six months: for six long months Brigitte,
scandalized, exposed to the insults of the world, had to endure from me
all the wrongs that a wrathful and cruel libertine can inflict on woman.

After these distressing scenes, in which my own spirit exhausted itself
in suffering and in painful contemplation of the past; after recovering
from that frenzy, a strange access of love, an extreme exaltation, led me
to treat my mistress like an idol, or a divinity. A quarter of an hour
after insulting her I was on my knees before her; when I was not accusing
her of some crime, I was begging her pardon; when I was not mocking, I
was weeping. Then, seized by a delirium of joy, I almost lost my reason
in the violence of my transports; I did not know what to do, what to say,
what to think, in order to repair the evil I had done. I took Brigitte in
my arms, and made her repeat a hundred times that she loved me and that
she pardoned me. I threatened to expiate my evil deeds by blowing out my
brains if I ever ill-treated her again. These periods of exaltation
sometimes lasted several hours, during which time I exhausted myself in
foolish expressions of love and esteem. Then morning came; day appeared;
I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, and I awakened with a smile on my
lips, mocking at everything, believing in nothing.

During these terrible hours, Brigitte appeared to forget that there was a
man in me other than the one she saw. When I asked her pardon she
shrugged her shoulders as if to answer: "Do you not know that I pardon
you?" She would not complain as long as a spark of love remained in my
heart; she assured me that all was good and sweet coming from me, insults
as well as tears.

And yet as time passed my evil grew worse, my moments of malignity and
irony became more sombre and intractable. A real physical fever attended
my outbursts of passion; I awakened trembling in every limb and covered
with cold sweat. Brigitte, too, although she did not complain of it,
began to fail in health. When I started to abuse her she would leave me
without a word and lock herself in her room. Thank God, I never raised my
hand against her; in my most violent moments I would rather have died
than touched her.

One evening the rain was driving against the windows; we were alone, the
curtains were closed.

"I am in happy humor this evening," I said to Brigitte, "and yet the
horrible weather saddens me. Let us seek some diversion in spite of the
storm."

I arose and lighted all the candles I could find. The room was small and
the illumination brilliant. At the same time a bright fire threw out a
stifling heat:

"Come," I said, "what shall we do while waiting for supper?"

I happened to remember that it was carnival time in Paris I seemed to see
the carriages filled with masks crossing the boulevards. I heard the
shouts of the crowds before the theatres; I saw the lascivious dances,
the gay costumes, the wine and the folly; all my youth bounded in my
heart.

"Let us disguise ourselves," I said to Brigitte. "It will be for our own
amusement, but what does that matter? If you have no costumes we can make
them, and pass away the time agreeably."

We searched in the closet for dresses, cloaks, and artificial flowers;
Brigitte, as usual, was patient and cheerful. We both arranged a sort of
travesty; she wished to dress my hair herself; we painted and powdered
ourselves freely; all that we lacked was found in an old chest that had
belonged, I believe, to the aunt. In an hour we could not recognize each
other. The evening passed in singing, in a thousand follies; toward one
o'clock in the morning it was time for supper.

We had ransacked all the closets; there was one near me that remained
open. While sitting down at the table, I perceived on a shelf the book of
which I have already spoken, the one in which Brigitte was accustomed to
write.

"Is it not a collection of your thoughts?" I asked, stretching out my
hand and taking the book down. "If I may, allow me to look at it."

I opened the book, although Brigitte made a gesture as if to prevent me;
on the first page I read these words:

"This is my last will and testament."

Everything was written in a firm hand; I found first a faithful recital
of all that Brigitte had suffered on my account since she had been my
mistress. She announced her firm determination to endure everything, so
long as I loved her, and to die when I left her. Her daily life was
recorded there; what she had lost, what she had hoped, the isolation she
experienced even in my presence, the barrier that was growing up between
us; the cruelties I subjected her to in return for her love and her
resignation. All this was written down without a complaint; on the
contrary she undertook to justify me. Then followed personal details, the
disposition of her effects. She would end her life by poison, she wrote.
She would die by her own hand and expressly forbade that her death should
be charged to me. "Pray for him!" were her last words.

I found in the closet on the same shelf a little box that I remembered I
had seen before, filled with a fine bluish powder resembling salt.

"What is this?" I asked of Brigitte, raising the box to my lips. She gave
vent to a scream of terror and threw herself upon me.

"Brigitte," I said, "bid me farewell. I shall carry this box away with
me; you will forget me, and you will live if you wish to save me from
becoming a murderer. I shall set out this very night; you will agree with
me that God demands it. Give me a last kiss."

I bent over her and kissed her forehead.

"Not yet!" she cried, in anguish. But I repulsed her and left the room.

Three hours later I was ready to set out, and the horses were at the
door. It was still raining when I entered the carriage. At the moment the
carriage was starting, I felt two arms about my body and a sob which
spent itself on my lips.

It was Brigitte. I did all I could to persuade her to remain; I ordered
the driver to stop; I even told her that I would return to her when time
should have effaced the memory of the wrongs I had done her. I forced
myself to prove to her that yesterday was the same as to-day, to-day as
yesterday; I repeated that I could only render her unhappy, that to
attach herself to me was but to make an assassin of me. I resorted to
prayers, to vows, to threats even; her only reply was: "You are going
away; take me, let us take leave of the country, let us take leave of the
past. We can not live here; let us go elsewhere, wherever you please; let
us go and die together in some remote corner of the world. We must be
happy, I by you, you by me."

I kissed her with such passion that I feared my heart would burst.

"Drive on!" I cried to the coachman. We threw ourselves into each other's
arms, and the horses set out at a gallop.

     ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

     Adieu, my son, I love you and I die
     All philosophy is akin to atheism
     And when love is sure of itself and knows response
     Can any one prevent a gossip
     Each one knows what the other is about to say
     Good and bad days succeeded each other almost regularly
     Great sorrows neither accuse nor blaspheme--they listen
     Happiness of being pursued
     He who is loved by a beautiful woman is sheltered from every blow
     I neither love nor esteem sadness
     It is a pity that you must seek pastimes
     Man who suffers wishes to make her whom he loves suffer
     No longer esteemed her highly enough to be jealous of her
     Pure caprice that I myself mistook for a flash of reason
     Quarrel had been, so to speak, less sad than our reconciliation
     She pretended to hope for the best
     Terrible words; I deserve them, but they will kill me
     There are two different men in you
     We have had a mass celebrated, and it cost us a large sum
     What human word will ever express thy slightest caress
     What you take for love is nothing more than desire



CONFESSION OF A CHILD OF THE CENTURY

(Confession d'un Enfant du Siecle)

By ALFRED DE MUSSET



BOOK 3.



PART V



CHAPTER I

SWEET ANTICIPATIONS

Having decided on a long tour, we went first to Paris; the necessary
preparations required time, and we took a furnished apartment for one
month. The decision to leave France had changed everything: joy, hope,
confidence, all returned; no more sorrow, no more grief over approaching
separation. We had now nothing but dreams of happiness and vows of
eternal love; I wished, once for all, to make my dear mistress forget all
the suffering I had caused her. How had I been able to resist such proof
of tender affection and courageous resignation? Not only did Brigitte
pardon me, but she was willing to make a still greater sacrifice and
leave everything for me. As I felt myself unworthy of the devotion she
exhibited, I wished to requite her by my love; at last my good angel had
triumphed, and admiration and love resumed their sway in my heart.
Brigitte and I examined a map to determine where we should go and bury
ourselves from the world. We had not yet decided, and we found pleasure
in that very uncertainty; while glancing over the map we said "Where
shall we go? What shall we do? Where shall we begin life anew?" How shall
I tell how deeply I repented my cruelty when I looked upon her smiling
face, a face that laughed at the future, although still pale from the
sorrows of the past! Blissful projects of future joy, you are perhaps the
only true happiness known to man! For eight days we spent our time making
purchases and preparing for our departure; then a young man presented
himself at our apartments: he brought letters to Brigitte. After their
interview I found her sad and distraught; but I could not guess the cause
unless the letters were from N------, that village where I had confessed
my love and where Brigitte's only relatives lived. Nevertheless, our
preparations progressed rapidly and I became impatient to get away; at
the same time I was so happy that I could hardly rest. When I arose in
the morning and the sun was shining through our windows, I experienced
such transports of joy that I was almost intoxicated with happiness. So
anxious was I to prove the sincerity of my love for Brigitte that I
hardly dared kiss the hem of her skirt. Her lightest words made me
tremble as if her voice were strange to me; I alternated between tears
and laughter, and I never spoke of the past except with horror and
disgust. Our room was full of personal effects scattered about in
disorder--albums, pictures, books, and the dear map we loved so much. We
went to and fro about the little apartment; at brief intervals I would
stop and kneel before Brigitte who would call me an idler, saying that
she had to do all the work, and that I was good for nothing; and all
sorts of projects flitted through our minds. Sicily was far away, but the
winters are so delightful there! Genoa is very pretty with its painted
houses, its green gardens, and the Apennines in the background! But what
noise! What crowds! Among every three men on the street, one is a monk
and another a soldier. Florence is sad, it is the Middle Ages living in
the midst of modern life. How can any one endure those grilled windows
and that horrible brown color with which all the houses are tinted?

What could we do at Rome? We were not travelling in order to forget
ourselves, much less for the sake of instruction. To the Rhine? But the
season was over, and although we did not care for the world of fashion,
still it is sad to visit its haunts when it has fled. But Spain? Too many
restrictions there; one travels like an army on the march, and may expect
everything except repose. Switzerland? Too many people go there, and most
of them are deceived as to the nature of its attractions; but in that
land are unfolded the three most beautiful colors on God's earth: the
azure of the sky, the verdure of the plains, and the whiteness of the
snows on the summits of glaciers.

"Let us go, let us go!" cried Brigitte, "let us fly away like two birds.
Let us pretend, my dear Octave, that we met each other only yesterday.
You met me at a ball, I pleased you and I love you; you tell me that some
leagues distant, in a certain little town, you loved a certain Madame
Pierson; what passed between you and her I do not know. You will not tell
me the story of your love for another! And I will whisper to you that not
long since I loved a terrible fellow who made me very unhappy; you will
reprove me and close my mouth, and we will agree never to speak of such
things."

When Brigitte spoke thus I experienced a feeling that resembled avarice;
I caught her in my arms and cried:

"Oh, God! I know not whether it is with joy or with fear that I tremble.
I am about to carry off my treasure. Die, my youth; die, all memories of
the past; die, all cares and regrets! Oh, my, good, my brave Brigitte!
You have made a man out of a child. If I lose you now, I shall never love
again. Perhaps, before I knew you, another woman might have cured me; but
now you alone, of all the world, have power to destroy me or to save me,
for I bear in my heart the wound of all the evil I have done you. I have
been an ingrate, blind and cruel. God be praised! You love me still. If
you ever return to that home under whose lindens I first met you, look
carefully about that deserted house; you will find a phantom there, for
the man who left it, and went away with you, is not the man who entered
it."

"Is it true?" said Brigitte, and her face, all radiant with love, was
raised to heaven; "is it true that I am yours? Yes, far from this odious
world in which you have grown old before your time, yes, my child, you
shall really love. I shall have you as you are, and, wherever we go you
will make me forget the possibility of a day when you will no longer love
me. My mission will have been accomplished, and I shall always be
thankful for it."

Finally we decided to go to Geneva and then choose some resting place in
the Alps. Brigitte was enthusiastic about the lake; I thought I could
already breathe the air which floats over its surface, and the odor of
the verdure-clad valley; already I beheld Lausanne, Vevey, Oberland, and
in the distance the summits of Monte Rosa and the immense plain of
Lombardy. Already oblivion, repose, travel, all the delights of happy
solitude invited us; already, when in the evening with joined hands, we
looked at each other in silence, we felt rising within us that sentiment
of strange grandeur which takes possession of the heart on the eve of a
long journey, the mysterious and indescribable vertigo which has in it
something of the terrors of exile and the hopes of pilgrimage. Are there
not in the human mind wings that flutter and sonorous chords that
vibrate? How shall I describe it? Is there not a world of meaning in the
simple words: "All is ready, we are about to go"?

Suddenly Brigitte became languid; she bowed her head in silence. When I
asked her whether she was in pain, she said "No!" in a voice that was
scarcely audible; when I spoke of our departure, she arose, cold and
resigned, and continued her preparations; when I swore to her that she
was going to be happy, and that I would consecrate my life to her, she
shut herself up in her room and wept; when I kissed her she turned pale,
and averted her eyes as my lips approached hers; when I told her that
nothing had yet been done, that it was not too late to renounce our
plans, she frowned severely; when I begged her to open her heart to me
and told her I would die rather than cause her one regret, she threw her
arms about my neck, then stopped and repulsed me as if involuntarily.
Finally, I entered her room holding in my hand a ticket on which our
places were marked for the carriage to Besancon.  I approached her and
placed it in her lap; she stretched out her hand, screamed, and fell
unconscious at my feet.



CHAPTER II

THE DEMON OF DOUBT

All my efforts to divine the cause of so unexpected a change were as vain
as the questions I had first asked. Brigitte was ill, and remained
obstinately silent. After an entire day passed in supplication and
conjecture, I went out without knowing where I was going. Passing the
Opera, I entered it from mere force of habit.

I could pay no attention to what was going on in the theatre, I was so
overwhelmed with grief, so stupefied, that I did not live, so to speak,
except in myself, and exterior objects made no impression on my senses.
All my powers were centred on a single thought, and the more I turned it
over in my head, the less clearly could I distinguish its meaning.

What obstacle was this that had so suddenly come between us and the
realization of our fondest hopes? If it was merely some ordinary event or
even an actual misfortune, such as an accident or the loss of a friend,
why that obstinate silence? After all that Brigitte had done, when our
dreams seemed about to be realized, what could be the nature of a secret
that destroyed our happiness and could not be confided to me? What! to
conceal it from me! And yet I could not find it in my heart to suspect
her. The appearance of suspicion revolted me and filled me with horror.
On the other hand, how could I conceive of inconstancy or of caprice in
that woman, as I knew her? I was lost in an abyss of doubt, and I could
not discover a gleam of light, the smallest point, on which to base
conjecture.

In front of me in the gallery sat a young man whose face was not unknown
to me. As often happens when one is preoccupied, I looked at him without
thinking of him as a personal identity or trying to fit a name on him.
Suddenly I recognized him: it was he who had brought letters to Brigitte
from N------. I arose and started to accost him without thinking what I
was doing. He occupied a place that I could not reach without disturbing
a large number of spectators, and I was forced to await the entr'acte.

My first thought was that if any one could enlighten me it was this young
man. He had had several interviews with Madame Pierson in the last few
days, and I recalled the fact that she was always much depressed after
his visits. He had seen her the morning of the day she was taken ill.

The letters he brought Brigitte had not been shown me; it was possible
that he knew the reason why our departure was delayed. Perhaps he did not
know all the circumstances, but he could doubtless enlighten me as to the
contents of those letters, and there was no reason why I should hesitate
to question him. When the curtain fell, I followed him to the foyer; I do
not know that he saw me coming, but he hastened away and entered a box. I
determined to wait until he should come out, and stood looking at the box
for fifteen minutes. At last he appeared. I bowed and approached him. He
hesitated a moment, then turned and disappeared down a stairway.

My desire to speak to him had been too evident to admit of any other
explanation than deliberate intention on his part to avoid me. He surely
knew my face, and, whether he knew it or not, a man who sees another
approaching him ought, at least, to wait for him. We were the only
persons in the corridor at the time, and there could be no doubt he did
not wish to speak to me. I did not dream of such impertinent treatment
from a man whom I had cordially received at my apartments; why should he
insult me? He could have no other excuse than a desire to avoid an
awkward interview, during which questions might be asked which he did not
care to answer. But why? This second mystery troubled me almost as much
as the first. Although I tried to drive the thought from my head, that
young man's action in avoiding me seemed to have some connection with
Brigitte's obstinate silence.

Of all torments uncertainty is the most difficult to endure, and during
my life I have exposed myself to many dangers because I could not wait
patiently. When I returned to my apartments I found Brigitte reading
those same fateful letters from N------. I told her that I could not
remain longer in suspense, and that I wished to be relieved from it at
any cost; that I desired to know the cause of the sudden change which had
taken place in her, and that, if she refused to speak, I should look upon
her silence as a positive refusal to go abroad with me and an order for
me to leave her forever.

She reluctantly handed me the letters she was reading. Her relatives had
written her that her departure had disgraced them, that every one knew
the circumstances, and that they felt it their duty to warn her of the
consequences; that she was living openly as my mistress, and that,
although she was a widow and free to do as she chose, she ought to think
of the name she bore; that neither they nor her old friends would ever
see her again if she persisted in her course; finally, by all sorts of
threats and entreaties, they urged her to return.

The tone of the letter angered me, and at first I took it as an insult.

"And that young man who brings you these remonstrances," I cried,
"doubtless has orders to deliver them personally, and does not fail to do
his own part to the best of his ability. Am I not right?"

Brigitte's dejection made me reflect and calm my wrath.

"You will do as you wish, and achieve my ruin," she said. "My fate rests
with you; you have been for a long time my master. Avenge as you please
the last effort my old friends have made to recall me to reason, to the
world that I formerly respected, to the honor that I have lost. I have
not a word to say, and if you wish to dictate my reply, I will obey you."

"I care to know nothing," I replied, "but your intentions; it is for me
to comply with your wishes, and I assure you I am ready to do it. Tell
me, do you desire to remain, to go away, or shall I go alone?"

"Why that question?" asked Brigitte; "have I said that I had changed my
mind? I am suffering, and can not travel in my present condition, but
when I recover we will go to Geneva as we have planned."

We separated at these words, and the coldness with which she had
expressed her resolution saddened me more than usual. It was not the
first time our liaison had been threatened by her relatives; but up to
this time whatever letters Brigitte had received she had never taken them
so much to heart. How could I bring myself to believe that Brigitte had
been so affected by protests which in less happy moments had had no
effect on her? Could it be merely the weakness of a woman who recoils
from an act of final significance? "I will do as you please," she had
said. No, it does not please me to demand patience, and rather than look
at that sorrowful face even a week longer, unless she speaks I will set
out alone.

Fool that I was! Had I the strength to do it? I did not close my eyes
that night, and the next morning I resolved to call on that young man I
had seen at the opera. I do not know whether it was wrath or curiosity
that impelled me to this course, nor did I know just what I desired to
learn of him; but I reflected that he could not avoid me this time, and
that was all I desired.

As I did not know his address, I asked Brigitte for it, pretending that I
felt under an obligation to call on him after all the visits he had made
us; I had not said a word about my experience at the opera. Brigitte's
eyes betrayed signs of tears. When I entered her room she held out her
hand and said:

"What do you wish?"

Her voice was sad but tender. We exchanged a few kind words, and I set
out less unhappy.

The name of the young man I was going to see was Smith; he was living
near us. When I knocked at his door, I experienced a strange sensation of
uneasiness; I was dazed as though by a sudden flash of light. His first
gesture froze my blood. He was in bed, and with the same accent Brigitte
had employed, with a face as pale and haggard as hers, he held out his
hand and said:

"What do you wish?"

Say what you please, there are things in a man's life which reason can
not explain. I sat as still as if awakened from a dream, and began to
repeat his questions. Why, in fact, had I come to see him? How could I
tell him what had brought me there? Even if he had anything to tell me,
how did I know he would speak? He had brought letters from N------, and
knew those who had written them. But it cost me an effort to question
him, and I feared he would suspect what was in my mind. Our first words
were polite and insignificant. I thanked him for his kindness in bringing
letters to Madame Pierson; I told him that upon leaving France we would
ask him to do the same favor for us; and then we were silent, surprised
to find ourselves vis-a-vis.

I looked about me in embarrassment. His room was on the fourth floor;
everything indicated honest and industrious poverty. Some books, musical
instruments, papers, a table and a few chairs, that was all, but
everything was well cared for and presented an agreeable ensemble.

As for him, his frank and animated face predisposed me in his favor. On
the mantel I observed a picture of an old lady. I stepped up to look at
it, and he said it was his mother.

I then recalled that Brigitte had often spoken of him; she had known him
since childhood. Before I came to the country she used to see him
occasionally at N------, but at the time of her last visit there he was
away. It was, therefore, only by chance that I had learned some
particulars of his life, which now came to mind. He had an honest
employment that enabled him to support his mother and sister.

His treatment of these two women deserved the highest praise; he deprived
himself of everything for them, and although he possessed musical talents
that would have enabled him to make a fortune, the immediate needs of
those dependent on him, and an extreme reserve, had always led him to
prefer an assured income to the uncertain chances of success in larger
ventures.

In a word, he belonged to that small class who live quietly, and who are
worth more to the world than those who do not appreciate them. I had
learned of certain traits in his character which will serve to paint the
man he had fallen in love with a beautiful girl in the neighborhood, and,
after a year of devotion to her, had secured her parents' consent to
their union. She was as poor as he. The contract was ready to be signed,
the preparations for the wedding were complete, when his mother said:

"And your sister? Who will marry her?"

That simple remark made him understand that if he married he would spend
all his money in the household expenses and his sister would have no
dowry. He broke off the engagement, bravely renouncing his happy
prospects; he then came to Paris.

When I heard that story I wished to see the hero. That simple, unassuming
act of devotion seemed to me more admirable than all the glories of war.

The more I examined that young man, the less I felt inclined to broach
the subject nearest my heart. The idea which had first occurred to me,
that he would harm me in Brigitte's eyes, vanished at once. Gradually my
thoughts took another course; I looked at him attentively, and it seemed
to me that he was also examining me with curiosity.

We were both twenty-one years of age, but what a difference between us!
He, accustomed to an existence regulated by the graduated tick of the
clock; never having seen anything of life, except that part of it which
lies between an obscure room on the fourth floor and a dingy government
office; sending his mother all his savings, that farthing of human joy
which the hand of toil clasps so greedily; having no thought except for
the happiness of others, and that since his childhood, since he had been
a babe in arms! And I, during that precious time, so swift, so
inexorable, during the time that with him had been a round of toil, what
had I done? Was I a man? Which of us had lived?

What I have said in a page can be comprehended in a moment. He spoke to
me of our journey and the countries we were going to visit.

"When do you go?" he asked.

"I do not know; Madame Pierson is indisposed, and has been confined to
her bed for three days."

"For three days!" he repeated, in surprise.

"Yes; why are you astonished?"

He arose and threw himself on me, his arms extended, his eyes fixed. He
was trembling violently.

"Are you ill?" I asked, taking him by the hand. He pressed his hand to
his head and burst into tears. When he had recovered sufficiently to
speak, he said:

"Pardon me; be good enough to leave me. I fear I am not well; when I have
sufficiently recovered I will return your visit."



CHAPTER III

THE QUESTION OF SMITH

Brigitte was better. She had told me that she desired to go away as soon
as she was well enough to travel. But I insisted that she ought to rest
at least fifteen days before undertaking a long journey.

Whenever I attempted to persuade her to speak frankly, she assured me
that the letter was the only cause of her melancholy, and begged me to
say nothing more about it. Then I tried in vain to guess what was passing
in her heart. We went to the theatre every night in order to avoid
embarrassing interviews. There we sometimes pressed each other's hands at
some fine bit of acting or beautiful strain of music, or exchanged,
perhaps, a friendly glance, but going and returning we were mute,
absorbed in our thoughts.

Smith came almost every day. Although his presence in the house had been
the cause of all my sorrow, and although my visit to him had left
singular suspicions in my mind, still his apparent good faith and his
simplicity reassured me. I had spoken to him of the letters he had
brought, and he did not appear offended, but saddened. He was ignorant of
the contents, and his friendship for Brigitte led him to censure them
severely. He would have refused to carry them, he said, had he known what
they contained. On account of Brigitte's tone of reserve in his presence,
I did not think he was in her confidence.

I therefore welcomed him with pleasure, although there was always a sort
of awkward embarrassment in our meeting. He was asked to act as
intermediary between Brigitte and her relatives after our departure. When
we three were together he noticed a certain coldness and restraint which
he endeavored to banish by cheerful good-humor. If he spoke of our
liaison it was with respect and as a man who looks upon love as a sacred
bond; in fact, he was a kind friend, and inspired me with full
confidence.

But despite all this, despite all his efforts, he was sad, and I could
not get rid of strange thoughts that came to my mind. The tears I had
seen that young man shed, his illness coming on at the same time as
Brigitte's, I know not what melancholy sympathy I thought I discovered
between them, troubled and disquieted me. Not over a month ago I would
have become violently jealous; but now, of what could I suspect Brigitte?
Whatever the secret she was concealing from me, was she not going away
with me? Even were it possible that Smith could share some secret of
which I knew nothing, what could be the nature of the mystery? What was
there to be censured in their sadness and in their friendship?

She had known him as a child; she met him again after long years just as
she was about to leave France; she chanced to be in an unfortunate
situation, and fate decreed that he should be the instrument of adding to
her sorrow. Was it not natural that they should exchange sorrowful
glances, that the sight of this young man should awaken memories and
regrets? Could he, on the other hand, see her start off on a long
journey, proscribed and almost abandoned, without grave apprehensions? I
felt this that must be the explanation, and that it was my duty to assure
them that I was capable of protecting the one from all dangers, and of
requiting the other for the services he had rendered. And yet a deadly
chill oppressed me, and I could not determine what course to pursue.

When Smith left us in the evening, we either were silent or talked of
him. I do not know what fatal attraction led me to ask about him
continually. She, however, told me just what I have told my reader;
Smith's life had never been other than it was now--poor, obscure, and
honest. I made her repeat the story of his life a number of times,
without knowing why I took such an interest in it.

There was in my heart a secret cause of sorrow which I would not confess.
If that young man had arrived at the time of our greatest happiness, had
he brought an insignificant letter to Brigitte, had he pressed her hand
while assisting her into the carriage, would I have paid the least
attention to it? Had he recognized me at the opera or had he not--had he
shed tears for some unknown reason, what would it matter so long as I was
happy? But while unable to divine the cause of Brigitte's sorrow, I saw
that my past conduct, whatever she might say of it, had something to do
with her present state. If I had been what I ought to have been for the
last six months that we had lived together, nothing in the world, I was
persuaded, could have troubled our love.

Smith was only an ordinary man, but he was good and devoted; his simple
and modest qualities resembled the large, pure lines which the eye seizes
at the first glance; one could know him in a quarter of an hour, and he
inspired confidence if not admiration. I could not help thinking that if
he were Brigitte's lover, she would cheerfully go with him to the ends of
the earth.

I had deferred our departure purposely, but now I began to regret it.
Brigitte, too, at times urged me to hasten the day.

"Why do you wait?" she asked. "Here I am recovered and everything is
ready."

Why did we wait, indeed? I do not know.

Seated near the fire, my eyes wandered from Smith to my loved one. I saw
that they were both pale, serious, silent. I did not know why, and I
could not help thinking that there was but one cause, or one secret to
learn. This was not one of those vague, sickly suspicions, such as had
formerly tormented me, but an instinct, persistent and fatal. What
strange creatures are we! It pleased me to leave them alone before the
fire, and to go out on the quay to dream, leaning on the parapet and
looking at the water. When they spoke of their life at N------, and when
Brigitte, almost cheerful, assumed a motherly air to recall some incident
of their childhood days, it seemed to me that I suffered, and yet took
pleasure in it. I asked questions; I spoke to Smith of his mother, of his
plans and his prospects; I gave him an opportunity to show himself in a
favorable light, and forced his modesty to reveal his merit.

"You love your sister very much, do you not?" I asked. "When do you
expect to marry her off?"

He blushed, and replied that his expenses were rather heavy and that it
would probably be within two years, perhaps sooner, if his health would
permit him to do some extra work which would bring in enough to provide
her dowry; that there was a well-to-do family in the country, whose
eldest son was her sweetheart; that they were almost agreed on it, and
that fortune would one day come, like sleep, without thinking of it; that
he had set aside for his sister a part of the money left by their father;
that their mother was opposed to it, but that he would insist on it; that
a young man can live from hand to mouth, but that the fate of a young
girl is fixed on the day of her marriage. Thus, little by little, he
expressed what was in his heart, and I watched Brigitte listening to him.
Then, when he arose to leave us, I accompanied him to the door, and stood
there, pensively listening to the sound of his footsteps on the stairs.

Upon examining our trunks we found that there were still a few things
needed before we could start; Smith was asked to purchase them. He was
remarkably active, and enjoyed attending to matters of this kind. When I
returned to my apartments, I found him on the floor, strapping a trunk.
Brigitte was at the piano we had rented by the week during our stay. She
was playing one of those old airs into which she put so much expression,
and which were so dear to us. I stopped in the hall; every note reached
my ear distinctly; never had she sung so sadly, so divinely.

Smith was listening with pleasure; he was on his knees holding the buckle
of the strap in his hands. He fastened it, then looked about the room at
the other goods he had packed and covered with a linen cloth. Satisfied
with his work, he still remained kneeling in the same spot; Brigitte, her
hands on the keys, was looking out at the horizon. For the second time I
saw tears fall from the young man's eyes; I was ready to shed tears
myself, and not knowing what was passing in me, I held out my hand to
him.

"Were you there?" asked Brigitte. She trembled and seemed surprised.

"Yes, I was there," I replied. "Sing, my dear, I beg of you. Let me hear
your sweet voice."

She continued her song without a word; she noticed my emotion as well as
Smith's; her voice faltered. With the last notes she arose, and came to
me and kissed me.

On another occasion I had brought an album containing views of
Switzerland. We were looking at them, all three of us, and when Brigitte
found a scene that pleased her, she would stop to examine it. There was
one view that seemed to attract her more than the others; it was a
certain spot in the canton of Vaud, some distance from Brigues; some
trees with cows grazing in the shade; in the distance a village
consisting of some dozen houses, scattered here and there. In the
foreground a young girl with a large straw hat, seated under a tree, and
a farmer's boy standing before her, apparently pointing out, with his
iron-tipped stick, the route over which he had come; he was directing her
attention to a winding path that led to the mountain. Above them were the
Alps, and the picture was crowned by three snow-capped summits. Nothing
could be more simple or more beautiful than this landscape. The valley
resembled a lake of verdure, and the eye followed its contour with
delight.

"Shall we go there?" I asked Brigitte. I took a pencil and traced some
figures on the picture.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I am trying to see if I can not change that face slightly and make it
resemble yours. The pretty hat would become you, and can I not, if I am
skilful, give that fine mountaineer some resemblance to me?"

The whim seemed to please her and she set about rubbing out the two
faces. When I had painted her portrait, she wished to try mine. The faces
were very small, hence not very difficult; it was agreed that the
likenesses were striking. While we were laughing at it, the door opened
and I was called away by the servant.

When I returned, Smith was leaning on the table and looking at the
picture with interest. He was absorbed in a profound revery, and was not
aware of my presence; I sat down near the fire, and it was not until I
spoke to Brigitte that he raised his head. He looked at us a moment, then
hastily took his leave and, as he approached the door, I saw him strike
his forehead with his hand.

When I saw these signs of grief, I said to myself "What does it mean?"
Then I clasped my hands to plead with--whom? I do not know; perhaps my
good angel, perhaps my evil fate.



CHAPTER IV

IN THE FURNACE

My heart yearned to set out and yet I delayed; some secret influence
rooted me to the spot.

When Smith came I knew no repose from the time he entered the room. How
is it that sometimes we seem to enjoy unhappiness?

One day a word, a flush, a glance, made me shudder; another day, another
glance, another word, threw me into uncertainty. Why were they both so
sad? Why was I as motionless as a statue where I had formerly been
violent? Every evening in bed I said to myself: "Let me see; let me think
that over." Then I would spring up, crying: "Impossible!" The next day I
did the same thing.

In Smith's presence, Brigitte treated me with more tenderness than when
we were alone. It happened one evening that some hard words escaped us;
when she heard his voice in the hall she came and sat on my knees. As for
him, it seemed to me he was always making an effort to control himself.
His gestures were carefully regulated; he spoke slowly and prudently, so
that his occasional moments of forgetfulness seemed all the more
striking.

Was it curiosity that tormented me? I remember that one day I saw a man
drowning near the Pont Royal. It was midsummer and we were rowing on the
river; some thirty boats were crowded together under the bridge, when
suddenly one of the occupants of a boat near mine threw up his hands and
fell overboard. We immediately began diving for him, but in vain; some
hours later the body was found under a raft.

I shall never forget my experience as I was diving for that man. I opened
my eyes under the water and searched painfully here and there in the dark
corners about the pier; then I returned to the surface for breath, then
resumed my horrible search. I was filled with hope and terror; the
thought that I might feel myself seized by convulsive arms allured me,
and at the same time thrilled me with horror; when I was exhausted with
fatigue, I climbed back into my boat.

Unless a man is brutalized by debauchery, eager curiosity is one of his
marked traits. I have already remarked that I felt it on the occasion of
my first visit to Desgenais. I will explain my meaning.

The truth, that skeleton of appearances, ordains that every man,
whatsoever he be, shall come, in his day and hour, to touch the bones
that lie forever at the bottom of some chance experience. It is called
"knowing the world," and experience is purchased at that price. Some
recoil in terror before that test; others, feeble and affrighted,
vacillate like shadows. Some, the best perhaps, die at once. The large
number forget, and thus all float on to death.

But there are some men, who, at the fell stroke of chance, neither die
nor forget; when it comes their turn to touch misfortune, otherwise
called truth, they approach it with a firm step and outstretched hand,
and, horrible to say! they mistake love for the livid corpse they have
found at the bottom of the river. They seize it, feel it, clasp it in
their arms; they are drunk with the desire to know; they no longer look
with interest upon things, except to see them pass; they do nothing
except doubt and test; they ransack the world as though they were God's
spies; they sharpen their thoughts into arrows, and give birth to a
monster.

Roues, more than all others, are exposed to that fury, and the reason is
very simple: ordinary life is the limpid surface, that of the roue is the
rapid current swirling over and over, and at times touching the bottom.
Coming from a ball, for instance, where they have danced with a modest
girl, they seek the company of bad characters, and spend the night in
riotous feasting. The last words they addressed to a beautiful and
virtuous woman are still on their lips; they repeat them and burst into
laughter. Shall I say it? Do they not raise, for some pieces of silver,
the vesture of chastity, that robe so full of mystery, which respects the
being it embellishes and engirds her without touching? What idea can they
have of the world? They are like comedians in the greenroom. Who, more
than they, is skilled in that delving to the bottom of things, in that
groping at once profound and impious? See how they speak of everything;
always in terms the most barren, crude, and abject; such words appear
true to them; the rest is only parade, convention, prejudice. Let them
tell a story, let them recount some experience, they will always use the
same dirty and material expressions. They do not say "That woman loved
me;" they say: "I betrayed that woman;" they do not say: "I love;" they
say, "I desire;" they never say: "If God wills;" they say: "If I will." I
do not know what they think of themselves and of such monologues as
these.

Hence, of a necessity, either from idleness or curiosity, while they
strive to find evil in everything, they do not comprehend that others
still believe in the good. Therefore they have to be so nonchalant as to
stop their ears, lest the hum of the busy world should suddenly startle
them from sleep. The father allows his son to go where so many others go,
where Cato himself went; he says that youth is but fleeting. But when he
returns, the youth looks upon his sister; and see what has taken place in
him during an hour passed in the society of brutal reality! He says to
himself: "My sister is not like that creature I have just left!" And from
that day he is disturbed and uneasy.

Sinful curiosity is a vile malady born of impure contact. It is the
prowling instinct of phantoms who raise the lids of tombs; it is an
inexplicable torture with which God punishes those who have sinned; they
wish to believe that all sin as they have done, and would be disappointed
perhaps to find that it was not so. But they inquire, they search, they
dispute; they wag their heads from side to side as does an architect who
adjusts a column, and thus strive to find what they desire to find. Given
proof of evil, they laugh at it; doubtful of evil, they swear that it
exists; the good they refuse to recognize. "Who knows?" Behold the grand
formula, the first words that Satan spoke when he saw heaven closing
against him. Alas! for how many evils are those words responsible? How
many disasters and deaths, how many strokes of fateful scythes in the
ripening harvest of humanity! How many hearts, how many families where
there is naught but ruin, since that word was first heard! "Who knows!
Who knows!" Loathsome words! Rather than pronounce them one should be as
sheep who graze about the slaughter-house and know it not. That is better
than to be called a strong spirit, and to read La Rochefoucauld.

What better illustration could I present than the one I have just given?
My mistress was ready to set out and I had but to say the word. Why did I
delay? What would have been the result if I had started at once on our
trip? Nothing but a moment of apprehension that would have been forgotten
after travelling three days. When with me, she had no thought but of me;
why should I care to solve a mystery that did not threaten my happiness?

She would have consented, and that would have been the end of it. A kiss
on her lips and all would be well; instead of that, see what I did.

One evening when Smith had dined with us, I retired at an early hour and
left them together. As I closed my door I heard Brigitte order some tea.
In the morning I happened to approach her table, and, sitting beside the
teapot, I saw but one cup. No one had been in that room before me that
morning, so the servant could not have carried away anything that had
been used the night before. I searched everywhere for a second cup but
could find none.

"Did Smith stay late?" I asked of Brigitte.

"He left about midnight."

"Did you retire alone or did you call some one to assist you?"

"I retired alone; every one in the house was asleep."

I continued my search and my hands trembled. In what burlesque comedy is
there a jealous lover so stupid as to inquire what has become of a cup?
Why seek to discover whether Smith and Madame Pierson had drunk from the
same cup? What a brilliant idea that!

Nevertheless I found the cup and I burst into laughter, and threw it on
the floor with such violence that it broke into a thousand pieces. I
ground the pieces under my feet.

Brigitte looked at me without saying a word. During the two succeeding
days she treated me with a coldness that had something of contempt in it,
and I saw that she treated Smith with more deference and kindness than
usual. She called him Henri and smiled on him sweetly.

"I feel that the air would do me good," she said after dinner; "shall we
go to the opera, Octave? I would enjoy walking that far."

"No, I will stay here; go without me." She took Smith's arm and went out.
I remained alone all evening; I had paper before me, and was trying to
collect my thoughts in order to write, but in vain.

As a lonely lover draws from his bosom a letter from his mistress, and
loses himself in delightful revery, thus I shut myself up in solitude and
yielded to the sweet allurement of doubt. Before me were the two empty
seats which Brigitte and Smith had just occupied; I scrutinized them
anxiously as if they could tell me something. I revolved in my mind all
the things I had heard and seen; from time to time I went to the door and
cast my eyes over our trunks which had been piled against the wall for a
month; I opened them and examined the contents so carefully packed away
by those delicate little hands; I listened to the sound of passing
carriages; the slightest noise made me tremble. I spread out on the table
our map of Europe, and there, in the very presence of all my hopes, in
that room where I had conceived and had so nearly realized them, I
abandoned myself to the most frightful presentiments.

But, strange as it may seem, I felt neither anger nor jealousy, but a
terrible sense of sorrow and foreboding. I did not suspect, and yet I
doubted. The mind of man is so strangely formed that, with what he sees
and in spite of what he sees, he can conjure up a hundred objects of woe.
In truth his brain resembles the dungeons of the Inquisition, where the
walls are covered with so many instruments of torture that one is dazed,
and asks whether these horrible contrivances he sees before him are
pincers or playthings. Tell me, I say, what difference is there in saying
to my mistress: "All women deceive," or, "You deceive me?"

What passed through my mind was perhaps as subtle as the finest
sophistry; it was a sort of dialogue between the mind and the conscience.
"If I should lose Brigitte?" I said to the mind. "She departs with you,"
said the conscience. "If she deceives me?"--"How can she deceive you? Has
she not made out her will asking for prayers for you?"--"If Smith loves
her?"--"Fool! What does it matter so long as you know that she loves
you?"--"If she loves me why is she sad?"--"That is her secret, respect
it."--"If I take her away with me, will she be happy?"--"Love her and she
will be."--"Why, when that man looks at her, does she seem to fear to
meet his glance?"--"Because she is a woman and he is young."--"Why does
that young man turn pale when she looks at him?"--"Because he is a man
and she is beautiful."--"Why, when I went to see him did he throw himself
into my arms, and why did he weep and beat his head with his hands?"--"Do
not seek to know what you must remain ignorant of."--"Why can I not know
these things?"--"Because you are miserable and weak, and all mystery is
of God."

"But why is it that I suffer? Why is it that my soul recoils in
terror?"--"Think of your father and do good."--"But why am I unable to do
as he did? Why does evil attract me to itself?"--"Get down on your knees
and confess; if you believe in evil it is because your ways have been
evil."--"If my ways were evil, was it my fault? Why did the good betray
me?"--"Because you are in the shadow, would you deny the existence of
light? If there are traitors, why are you one of them?"--"Because I am
afraid of becoming the dupe."--"Why do you spend your nights in watching?
Why are you alone now?"--"Because I think, I doubt, and I fear."--"When
will you offer your prayer?"--"When I believe. Why have they lied to
me?"--"Why do you lie, coward! at this very moment? Why not die if you
can not suffer?"

Thus spoke and groaned within me two voices, voices that were defiant and
terrible; and then a third voice cried out! "Alas! Alas! my innocence!
Alas! Alas! the days that were!"



CHAPTER V

TRUTH AT LAST

What a frightful weapon is human thought! It is our defense and our
safeguard, the most precious gift that God has made us. It is ours and it
obeys us; we may launch it forth into space, but, once outside of our
feeble brains, it is gone; we can no longer control it.

While I was deferring the time of our departure from day to day I was
gradually losing strength, and, although I did not perceive it, my vital
forces were slowly wasting away. When I sat at table I experienced a
violent distaste for food; at night two pale faces, those of Brigitte and
Smith, pursued me through frightful dreams. When they went to the theatre
in the evening I refused to go with them; then I went alone, concealed
myself in the parquet, and watched them. I pretended that I had some
business to attend to in a neighboring room and sat there an hour and
listened to them. The idea occurred to me to seek a quarrel with Smith
and force him to fight with me; I turned my back on him while he was
talking; then he came to me with a look of surprise on his face, holding
out his hand. When I was alone in the night and every one slept, I felt a
strong desire to go to Brigitte's desk and take from it her papers. On
one occasion I was obliged to go out of the house in order to resist the
temptation. One day I felt like arming myself with a knife and
threatening to kill them if they did not tell me why they were so sad;
another day I turned all this fury against myself. With what shame do I
write it! And if any one should ask me why I acted thus, I could not
reply.

To see, to doubt, to search, to torture myself and make myself miserable,
to pass entire days with my ear at the keyhole, and the night in a flood
of tears, to repeat over and over that I should die of sorrow, to feel
isolation and feebleness uprooting hope in my heart, to imagine that I
was spying when I was only listening to the feverish beating of my own
pulse; to con over stupid phrases, such as: "Life is a dream, there is
nothing stable here below;" to curse and blaspheme God through misery and
through caprice: that was my joy, the precious occupation for which I
renounced love, the air of heaven, and liberty!

Eternal God, liberty! Yes, there were certain moments when, in spite of
all, I still thought of it. In the midst of my madness, eccentricity, and
stupidity, there were within me certain impulses that at times brought me
to myself. It was a breath of air which struck my face as I came from my
dungeon; it was a page of a book I read when, in my bitter days, I
happened to read something besides those modern sycophants called
pamphleteers, who, out of regard for the public health, ought to be
prevented from indulging in their crude philosophizings. Since I have
referred to these good moments, let me mention one of them, they were so
rare. One evening I was reading the Memoirs of Constant; I came to the
following lines:

"Salsdorf, a Saxon surgeon attached to Prince Christian, had his leg
broken by a shell in the battle of Wagram. He lay almost lifeless on the
dusty field. Fifteen paces distant, Amedee of Kerbourg, aide-de-camp (I
have forgotten to whom), wounded in the breast by a bullet, fell to the
ground vomiting blood. Salsdorf saw that if that young man was not cared
for he would die of suffusion; summoning all his powers, he painfully
dragged himself to the side of the wounded man, attended to him and saved
his life. Salsdorf himself died four days later from the effects of
amputation."

When I read these words I threw down my book, and melted into tears.

I do not regret those tears, for they were such as I could shed only when
my heart was right; I do not speak merely of Salsdorf, and do not care
for that particular instance. I am sure, however, that I did not suspect
any one that day. Poor dreamer! Ought I to remember that I have been
other than I am? What good will it do me as I stretch out my arms in
anguish to heaven and wait for the bolt that will deliver me forever?
Alas! it was only a gleam that flashed across the night of my life.

Like those dervish fanatics who find ecstasy in vertigo, so thought,
turning on itself, exhausted by the stress of introspection and tired of
vain effort, falls terror-stricken. So it would seem that man must be a
void and that by dint of delving unto himself he reaches the last turn of
a spiral. There, as on the summits of mountains and at the bottom of
mines, air fails, and God forbids man to go farther. Then, struck with a
mortal chill, the heart, as if impaired by oblivion, seeks to escape into
a new birth; it demands life of that which environs it, it eagerly drinks
in the air; but it finds round about only its own chimeras, which have
exhausted its failing powers and which, self-created, surround it like
pitiless spectres.

This could not last long. Tired of uncertainty, I resolved to resort to a
test that would discover the truth.

I ordered post-horses for ten in the evening. We had hired a caleche and
I gave directions that all should be ready at the hour indicated. At the
same time I asked that nothing be said to Madame Pierson. Smith came to
dinner; at the table I affected unusual cheerfulness, and without a word
about my plans, I turned the conversation to our journey. I would
renounce all idea of going away, I said, if I thought Brigitte did not
care to go; I was so well satisfied with Paris that I asked nothing
better than to remain as long as she pleased. I made much of all the
pleasures of the city; I spoke of the balls, the theatres, of the many
opportunities for diversion on every hand. In short, since we were happy
I did not see why we should make a change; and I did not think of going
away at present.

I was expecting her to insist that we carry out our plan of going to
Geneva, and was not disappointed. However, she insisted but feebly; but,
after a few words, I pretended to yield, and then changing the subject I
spoke of other things, as though it was all settled.

"And why will not Smith go with us?" I asked. "It is very true that he
has duties here, but can he not obtain leave of absence? Moreover, will
not the talents he possesses and which he is unwilling to use, assure him
an honorable living anywhere? Let him come along with us; the carriage is
large and we offer him a place in it. A young man should see the world,
and there is nothing so irksome for a man of his age as confinement in an
office and restriction to a narrow circle. Is it not true?" I asked,
turning to Brigitte. "Come, my dear, let your wiles obtain from him what
he might refuse me; urge him to give us six weeks of his time. We will
travel together, and after a tour of Switzerland he will return to his
duties with new life."

Brigitte joined her entreaties to mine, although she knew it was only a
joke on my part. Smith could not leave Paris without danger of losing his
position, and replied that he regretted being obliged to deny himself the
pleasure of accompanying us. Nevertheless I continued to press him, and,
ordering another bottle of wine, I repeated my invitation. After dinner I
went out to assure myself that my orders were carried out; then I
returned in high spirits, and seating myself at the piano I proposed some
music.

"Let us pass the evening here," I said; "believe me, it is better than
going to the theatre; I can not take part myself, but I can listen. We
will make Smith play if he tires of our company, and the time will pass
pleasantly."

Brigitte consented with good grace and began singing for us; Smith
accompanied her on the violoncello. The materials for a bowl of punch
were brought and the flame of burning rum soon cheered us with varied
lights. The piano was abandoned for the table; then we had cards;
everything passed off as I wished and we succeeded in diverting ourselves
to my heart's content.

I had my eyes fixed on the clock and waited impatiently for the hands to
mark the hour of ten. I was tormented with anxiety, but allowed them to
see nothing. Finally the hour arrived; I heard the postilion's whip as
the horses entered the court. Brigitte was seated near me; I took her by
the hand and asked her if she was ready to depart. She looked at me with
surprise, doubtless wondering if I was not joking. I told her that at
dinner she had appeared so anxious to go that I had felt justified in
sending for the horses, and that I went out for that purpose when I left
the table.

"Are you serious?" asked Brigitte; "do you wish to set out to-night?"

"Why not?" I replied, "since we have agreed that we ought to leave
Paris?"

"What! now? At this very moment?"

"Certainly; have we not been ready for a month? You see there is nothing
to do but load our trunks on the carriage; as we have decided to go,
ought we not go at once? I believe it is better to go now and put off
nothing until tomorrow. You are in the humor to travel to-night and I
hasten to profit by it. Why wait longer and continue to put it off? I can
not endure this life. You wish to go, do you not? Very well, let us go
and be done with it."

Profound silence ensued. Brigitte stepped to the window and satisfied
herself that the carriage was there. Moreover, the tone in which I spoke
would admit of no doubt, and, however hasty my action may appear to her,
it was due to her own expressed desire. She could not deny her own words,
nor find any pretext for further delay. Her decision was made promptly;
she asked a few questions as though to assure herself that all the
preparations had been made; seeing that nothing had been omitted, she
began to search here and there. She found her hat and shawl, then
continued her search.

"I am ready," she said; "shall we go? We are really going?"

She took a light, went to my room, to her own, opened lockers and
closets. She asked for the key to her secretary which she said she had
lost. Where could that key be? She had it in her possession not an hour
ago.

"Come, come! I am ready," she repeated in extreme agitation; "let us go,
Octave, let us set out at once."

While speaking she continued her search and then came and sat down near
us.

I was seated on the sofa watching Smith, who stood before me. He had not
changed countenance and seemed neither troubled nor surprised; but two
drops of sweat trickled down his forehead, and I heard an ivory counter
crack between his fingers, the pieces falling to the floor. He held out
both hands to us.

"Bon voyage, my friends!" he said.

Again silence; I was still watching him, waiting for him to add a word.
"If there is some secret here," thought I, "when shall I learn it, if not
now? It must be on the lips of both of them. Let it but come out into the
light and I will seize it."

"My dear Octave," said Brigitte, "where are we to stop? You will write to
us, Henri, will you not? You will not forget my relatives and will do
what you can for me?" He replied in a voice that trembled slightly that
he would do all in his power to serve her.

"I can answer for nothing," he said, "and, judging from the letters you
have received, there is not much hope. But it will not be my fault if I
do not send you good news. Count on me, I am devoted to you."

After a few more kind words he made ready to take his departure. I arose
and left the room before him; I wished to leave them together a moment
for the last time and, as soon as I had closed the door behind me, in a
perfect rage of jealousy, I pressed my ear to the keyhole.

"When shall I see you again?" he asked.

"Never," replied Brigitte; "adieu, Henri." She held out her hand. He bent
over it, pressed it to his lips and I had barely time to slip into a
corner as he passed out without seeing me.

Alone with Brigitte, my heart sank within me. She was waiting for me, her
shawl on her arm, and emotion plainly marked on her face. She had found
the key she had been looking for and her desk was open. I returned and
sat down near the fire. "Listen to me," I said, without daring to look at
her; "I have been so culpable in my treatment of you that I ought to wait
and suffer without a word of complaint. The change which has taken place
in you has thrown me into such despair that I have not been able to
refrain from asking you the cause; but to-day I ask nothing more. Does it
cost you an effort to depart? Tell me, and if so I am resigned."

"Let us go, let us go!" she replied.

"As you please, but be frank; whatever blow I may receive, I ought not to
ask whence it comes; I should submit without a murmur. But if I lose you,
do not speak to me of hope, for God knows I will not survive the loss."

She turned on me like a flash.

"Speak to me of your love," she said, "not of your grief."

"Very well, I love you more than life. Beside my love, my grief is but a
dream. Come with me to the end of the world, I will die or I will live
with you."

With these words I advanced toward her; she turned pale and recoiled. She
made a vain effort to force a smile on her contracted lips, and sitting
down before her desk she said:

"One moment; I have some papers here I want to burn."

She showed me the letters from N------, tore them up and threw them into
the fire; she then took out other papers which she reread and then spread
out on the table. They were bills of purchases she had made and some of
them were still unpaid. While examining them she began to talk rapidly,
while her cheeks burned as if with fever. Then she begged my pardon for
her obstinate silence and her conduct since our arrival.

She gave evidence of more tenderness, more confidence than ever. She
clapped her hands gleefully at the prospect of a happy journey; in short,
she was all love, or at least apparently all love. I can not tell how I
suffered at the sight of that factitious joy; there was in that grief
which crazed her something more sad than tears and more bitter than
reproaches. I would have preferred to have her cold and indifferent
rather than thus excited; it seemed to me a parody of our happiest
moments. There were the same words, the same woman, the same caresses;
and that which, fifteen days before would have intoxicated me with love
and happiness, repeated thus, filled me with horror.

"Brigitte," I suddenly inquired, "what secret are you concealing from me?
If you love me, what horrible comedy is this you are enacting before me?"

"I!" said she, almost offended. "What makes you think I am acting?"

"What makes me think so? Tell me, my dear, that you have death in your
soul and that you are suffering martyrdom. Behold my arms are ready to
receive you; lean your head on me and weep. Then I will take you away,
perhaps; but in truth, not thus."

"Let us go, let us go!" she again repeated.

"No, on my soul! No, not at present; no, not while there is between us a
lie or a mask. I like unhappiness better than such cheerfulness as
yours."

She was silent, astonished to see that I had not been deceived by her
words and manner and that I saw through them both.

"Why should we delude ourselves?" I continued.

"Have I fallen so low in your esteem that you can dissimulate before me?
That unfortunate journey, you think you are condemned to it, do you? Am I
a tyrant, an absolute master? Am I an executioner who drags you to
punishment? How much do you fear my wrath when you come before me with
such mimicry? What terror impels you to lie thus?"

"You are wrong," she replied; "I beg of you, not a word more."

"Why so little sincerity? If I am not your confidant, may I not at least
be your friend? If I am denied all knowledge of the source of your tears,
may I not at least see them flow? Have you not enough confidence in me to
believe that I will respect your sorrow? What have I done that I should
be ignorant of it? Might not the remedy lie right there?"

"No," she replied, "you are wrong; you will achieve your own unhappiness
as well as mine if you press me farther. Is it not enough that we are
going away?"

"And do you expect me to drag you away against your will? Is it not
evident that you have consented reluctantly, and that you already begin
to repent? Great God! What is it you are concealing from me? What is the
use of playing with words when your thoughts are as clear as that glass
before which you stand? Should I not be the meanest of men to accept at
your hands what is yielded with so much regret? And yet how can I refuse
it? What can I do if you refuse to speak?"

"No, I do not oppose you, you are mistaken; I love you, Octave; cease
tormenting me thus."

She threw so much tenderness into these words that I fell down on my
knees before her. Who could resist her glance and her voice?

"My God!" I cried, "you love me, Brigitte? My dear mistress, you love
me?"

"Yes, I love you; yes. I belong to you; do with me what you will. I will
follow you, let us go away together; come, Octave, the carriage is
waiting."

She pressed my hand in hers, and kissed my forehead.

"Yes, it must be," she murmured, "it must be."

"It must be," I repeated to myself. I arose.

On the table there remained only one piece of paper that Brigitte was
examining. She picked it up, then allowed it to drop to the floor.

"Is that all?" I asked.

"Yes, that is all."

When I ordered the horses I had no idea that we would really go, I wished
merely to make a trial, but circumstances bid fair to force me to carry
my plans farther than I at first intended. I opened the door.

"It must be!" I said to myself. "It must be!" I repeated aloud.

"What do you mean by that, Brigitte? What is there in those words that I
do not understand? Explain yourself, or I will not go. Why must you love
me?"

She fell on the sofa and wrung her hands in grief.

"Ah! Unhappy man!" she cried, "you will never know how to love!"

"Yes, I think you are right, but, before God, I know how to suffer. You
must love me, must you not? Very well, then you must answer me. Were I to
lose you forever, were these walls to crumble over my head, I will not
leave this spot until I have solved the mystery that has been torturing
me for more than a month. Speak, or I will leave you. I may be a fool who
destroys his own happiness; I may be demanding something that is not for
me to possess; it may be that an explanation will separate us and raise
before me an insurmountable barrier, which will render our tour, on which
I have set my heart, impossible; whatever it may cost you and me, you
shall speak or I will renounce everything."

"No, I will not speak."

"You will speak! Do you fondly imagine I am the dupe of your lies? When I
see you change between morning and evening until you differ more from
your natural self than does night from day, do you think I am deceived?
When you give me as a cause some letters that are not worth the trouble
of reading, do you imagine that I am to be put off with the first pretext
that comes to hand because you do not choose to seek another? Is your
face made of plaster, that it is difficult to see what is passing in your
heart? What is your opinion of me? I do not deceive myself as much as you
suppose, and take care lest in default of words your silence discloses
what you so obstinately conceal."

"What do you imagine I am concealing?"

"What do I imagine? You ask me that! Is it to brave me you ask such a
question! Do you think to make me desperate and thus get rid of me? Yes,
I admit it, offended pride is capable of driving me to extremes. If I
should explain myself freely, you would have at your service all feminine
hypocrisy; you hope that I will accuse you, so that you can reply that
such a woman as you does not stoop to justify herself. How skilfully the
most guilty and treacherous of your sex contrive to use proud disdain as
a shield! Your great weapon is silence; I did not learn that yesterday.
You wish to be insulted and you hold your tongue until it comes to that.
Come, struggle against my heart--where yours beats you will find it; but
do not struggle against my head, it is harder than iron, and it has
served me as long as yours!"

"Poor boy!" murmured Brigitte; "you do not want to go?"

"No, I shall not go except with my beloved, and you are not that now. I
have struggled, I have suffered, I have eaten my own heart long enough.
It is time for day to break, I have loved long enough in the night. Yes
or no, will you answer me?"

"No."

"As you please; I will wait."

I sat down on the other side of the room, determined not to rise until I
had learned what I wished to know. She appeared to be reflecting, and
walked back and forth before me.

I followed her with an eager eye, while her silence gradually increased
my anger. I was unwilling to have her perceive it and was undecided what
to do. I opened the window.

"You may drive off," I called to those below, "and I will see that you
are paid. I shall not start to-night."

"Poor boy!" repeated Brigitte. I quietly closed the window and sat down
as if I had not heard her; but I was so furious with rage that I could
hardly restrain myself. That cold silence, that negative force,
exasperated me to the last point. Had I been really deceived and
convinced of the guilt of a woman I loved I could not have suffered more.
As I had condemned myself to remain in Paris, I reflected that I must
compel Brigitte to speak at any price. In vain I tried to think of some
means of forcing her to enlighten me; for such power I would have given
all I possessed. What could I do or say? She sat there calm and
unruffled, looking at me with sadness. I heard the sound of the horses'
hoofs on the paving as the carriage drew out of the court. I had merely
to turn my hand to call them back, but it seemed to me that there was
something irrevocable about their departure. I slipped the bolt on the
door; something whispered in my ear: "You are face to face with the woman
who must give you life or death."

While thus buried in thought I tried to invent some expedient that would
lead to the truth. I recalled one of Diderot's romances in which a woman,
jealous of her lover, resorted to a novel plan, for the purpose of
clearing away her doubts. She told him that she no longer loved him and
that she wished to leave him. The Marquis des Arcis (the name of the
lover) falls into the trap, and confesses that he himself has tired of
the liaison. That piece of strategy, which I had read at too early an
age, had struck me as being very skilful, and the recollection of it at
this moment made me smile. "Who knows?" said I to myself. "If I should
try this with Brigitte, she might be deceived and tell me her secret."

My anger had become furious when the idea of resorting to such trickery
occurred to me. Was it so difficult to make a woman speak in spite of
herself? This woman was my mistress; I must be very weak if I could not
gain my point. I turned over on the sofa with an air of indifference.

"Very well, my dear," said I, gayly, "this is not a time for confidences,
then?"

She looked at me in astonishment.

"And yet," I continued, "we must some day come to the truth. Now I
believe it would be well to begin at once; that will make you confiding,
and there is nothing like an understanding between friends."

Doubtless my face betrayed me as I spoke these words; Brigitte did not
appear to understand and kept on walking up and down.

"Do you know," I resumed, "that we have been together now six months? The
life we are leading together is not one to be laughed at. You are young,
I also; if this kind of life should become distasteful to you, are you
the woman to tell me of it? In truth, if it were so, I would confess it
to you frankly. And why not? Is it a crime to love? If not, it is not a
crime to love less or to cease to love at all. Would it be astonishing if
at our age we should feel the need of change?"

She stopped me.

"At our age!" said she. "Are you addressing me? What comedy are you now
playing, yourself?"

Blood mounted to my face. I seized her hand. "Sit down here," I said,
"and listen to me."

"What is the use? It is not you who speak."

I felt ashamed of my own strategy and abandoned it.

"Listen to me," I repeated, "and come, I beg of you, sit down near me. If
you wish to remain silent yourself, at least hear what I have to say."

"I am listening, what have you to say to me?"

"If some one should say to me: 'You are a coward!' I, who am twenty-two
years of age and have fought on the field of honor, would throw the taunt
back in the teeth of my accuser. Have I not within me the consciousness
of what I am? It would be necessary for me to meet my accuser on the
field, and play my life against his; why? In order to prove that I am not
a coward; otherwise the world would believe it. That single word demands
that reply every time it is spoken, and it matters not by whom."

"It is true; what is your meaning?"

"Women do not fight; but as society is constituted there is no being, of
whatever sex, who ought to submit to the indignity involved in an
aspersion on all his or her past life, be that life regulated as by a
pendulum. Reflect; who escapes that law? There are some, I admit; but
what happens? If it is a man, dishonor; if it is a woman, what?
Forgiveness? Every one who loves ought to give some evidence of life,
some proof of existence. There is, then, for woman as well as for man, a
time when an attack must be resented. If she is brave, she rises,
announces that she is present and sits down again. A stroke of the sword
is not for her. She must not only avenge herself, but she must forge her
own arms. Someone suspects her; who? An outsider? She may hold him in
contempt--her lover whom she loves? If so, it is her life that is in
question, and she may not despise him."

"Her only recourse is silence."

"You are wrong; the lover who suspects her casts an aspersion on her
entire life. I know it. Her plea is in her tears, her past life, her
devotion and her patience. What will happen if she remains silent? Her
lover will lose her by her own act and time will justify her. Is not that
your thought?"

"Perhaps; silence before all."

"Perhaps, you say? Assuredly I will lose you if you do not speak; my
resolution is made: I am going away alone."

"But, Octave--"

"But," I cried, "time will justify you! Let us put an end to it; yes or
no?"

"Yes, I hope so."

"You hope so! Will you answer me definitely? This is doubtless the last
time you will have the opportunity. You tell me that you love me, and I
believe it. I suspect you; is it your intention to allow me to go away
and rely on time to justify you?"

"Of what do you suspect me?"

"I do not choose to say, for I see that it would be useless. But, after
all, misery for misery, at your leisure; I am as well pleased. You
deceive me, you love another; that is your secret and mine."

"Who is it?" she asked.

"Smith."

She placed her hand on her lips and turned aside. I could say no more; we
were both pensive, our eyes fixed on the floor.

"Listen to me," she began with an effort, "I have suffered much. I call
heaven to bear me witness that I would give my life for you. So long as
the faintest gleam of hope remains, I am ready to suffer anything; but,
although I may rouse your anger in saying to you that I am a woman, I am
nevertheless a woman, my friend. We can not go beyond the limits of human
endurance. Beyond a certain point I will not answer for the consequences.
All I can do at this moment is to get down on my knees before you and
beseech you not to go away."

She knelt down as she spoke. I arose.

"Fool that I am!" I muttered, bitterly; "fool, to try to get the truth
from a woman! He who undertakes such a task will earn naught but derision
and will deserve it! Truth! Only he who consorts with chambermaids knows
it, only he who steals to their pillow and listens to the unconscious
utterance of a dream, hears it. He alone knows it who makes a woman of
himself, and initiates himself into the secrets of her cult of
inconstancy! But man, who asks for it openly, he who opens a loyal hand
to receive that frightful alms, he will never obtain it! They are on
guard with him; for reply he receives a shrug of the shoulders, and, if
he rouses himself in his impatience, they rise in righteous indignation
like an outraged vestal, while there falls from their lips the great
feminine oracle that suspicion destroys love, and they refuse to pardon
an accusation which they are unable to meet. Ah! just God! How weary I
am! When will all this cease?"

"Whenever you please," said she, coldly; "I am as tired of it as you."

"At this very moment; I leave you forever, and may time justify you!
Time! Time! Oh! what a cold lover! Remember this adieu. Time! and thy
beauty, and thy love, and thy happiness, where will they be? Is it thus,
without regret, you allow me to go? Ah! the day when the jealous lover
will know that he has been unjust, the day when he shall see proofs, he
will understand what a heart he has wounded, is it not so? He will bewail
his shame, he will know neither joy nor sleep; he will live only in the
memory of the time when he might have been happy. But, on that day, his
proud mistress will turn pale as she sees herself avenged; she will say
to herself: 'If I had only done it sooner!' And believe me, if she loves
him, pride will not console her."

I tried to be calm, but I was no longer master of myself, and I began to
pace the floor as she had done. There are certain glances that resemble
the clashing of drawn swords; such glances Brigitte and I exchanged at
that moment. I looked at her as the prisoner looks on her at the door of
his dungeon. In order to break her sealed lips and force her to speak I
would give my life and hers.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "What do you wish me to tell you?"

"What you have on your heart. Are you cruel enough to make me repeat it?"

"And you, you," she cried, "are you not a hundred times more cruel? Ah!
fool, as you say, who would know the truth! Fool that I should be if I
expected you to believe it! You would know my secret, and my secret is
that I love you. Fool that I am! you will seek another. That pallor of
which you are the cause, you accuse it, you question it. Like a fool, I
have tried to suffer in silence, to consecrate to you my resignation; I
have tried to conceal my tears; you have played the spy, and you have
counted them as witnesses against me. Fool that I am! I have thought of
crossing seas, of exiling myself from France with you, of dying far from
all who have loved me, leaning for sole support on a heart that doubts
me. Fool that I am! I thought that truth had a glance, an accent, that
could not be mistaken, that would be respected! Ah! when I think of it,
tears choke me. Why, if it must ever be thus, induce me to take a step
that will forever destroy my peace? My head is confused, I do not know
where I am!"

She leaned on me weeping. "Fool! Fool!" she repeated, in a heartrending
voice.

"And what is it you ask?" she continued, "what can I do to meet those
suspicions that are ever born anew, that alter with your moods? I must
justify myself, you say! For what? For loving, for dying, for despairing?
And if I assume a forced cheerfulness, even that cheerfulness offends
you. I sacrifice everything to follow you and you have not gone a league
before you look back. Always, everywhere, whatever I may do, insults and
anger!"

"Ah! dear child, if you knew what a mortal chill comes over me, what
suffering I endure in seeing my simplest words this taken up and hurled
back at me with suspicion and sarcasm! By that course you deprive
yourself of the only happiness there is in the world--perfect love. You
kill all delicate and lofty sentiment in the hearts of those who love
you; soon you will believe in nothing except the material and the gross;
of love there will remain for you only that which is visible and can be
touched with the finger. You are young, Octave, and you have still a long
life before you; you will have other mistresses. Yes, as you say, pride
is a little thing and it is not to it I look for consolation; but God
wills that your tears shall one day pay me for those which I now shed for
you!"

She arose.

"Must it be said? Must you know that for six months I have not sought
repose without repeating to myself that it was all in vain, that you
would never be cured; that I have never risen in the morning without
saying that another effort must be made; that after every word you have
spoken I have felt that I ought to leave you, and that you have not given
me a caress that I would rather die than endure; that, day by day, minute
by minute, hesitating between hope and fear, I have vainly tried to
conquer either my love or my grief; that, when I opened my heart to you,
you pierced it with a mocking glance, and that, when I closed it, it
seemed to me I felt within it a treasure that none but you could
dispense? Shall I speak of all the frailty and all the mysteries which
seem puerile to those who do not respect them? Shall I tell you that when
you left me in anger I shut myself up to read your first letters; that
there is a favorite waltz that I never played in vain when I felt too
keenly the suffering caused by your presence? Ah! wretch that I am! How
dearly all these unnumbered tears, all these follies, so sweet to the
feeble, are purchased! Weep now; not even this punishment, this sorrow,
will avail you."

I tried to interrupt her.

"Allow me to continue," she said; "the time has come when I must speak.
Let us see, why do you doubt me? For six months, in thought, in body, and
in soul, I have belonged to no one but you. Of what do you dare suspect
me? Do you wish to set out for Switzerland? I am ready, as you see. Do
you think you have a rival? Send him a letter that I will sign and you
will direct. What are we doing? Where are we going? Let us decide. Are we
not always together? Very well then, why would you leave me? I can not be
near you and separated from you at the same moment. It is necessary to
have confidence in those we love. Love is either good or bad: if good, we
must believe in it; if evil, we must cure ourselves of it. All this, you
see, is a game we are playing; but our hearts and our lives are the
stakes, and it is horrible! Do you wish to die? That would perhaps be
better. Who am I that you should doubt me?"

She stopped before the glass.

"Who am I?" she repeated, "who am I? Think of it. Look at this face of
mine."

"Doubt thee!" she cried, addressing her own image; "poor, pale face, thou
art suspected! poor, thin cheeks, poor, tired eyes, thou and thy tears
are in disgrace. Very well, put an end to thy suffering; let those kisses
that have wasted thee close thy lids! Descend into the cold earth, poor
trembling body that can no longer support its own weight. When thou art
there, perchance thou wilt be believed, if doubt believes in death. O
sorrowful spectre! On the banks of what stream wilt thou wander and
groan? What fires devour thee? Thou dreamest of a long journey and thou
hast one foot in the grave!

"Die! God is thy witness that thou hast tried to love. Ah! what wealth of
love has been awakened in thy heart! Ah! what dreams thou hast had, what
poisons thou hast drunk! What evil hast thou committed that there should
be placed in thy breast a fever that consumes! What fury animates that
blind creature who pushes thee into the grave with his foot, while his
lips speak to thee of love? What will become of you if you live? Is it
not time to end it all? Is it not enough? What proof canst thou give that
will satisfy when thou, poor, living proof, art not believed? To what
torture canst thou submit that thou hast not already endured? By what
torments, what sacrifices, wilt thou appease insatiable love? Thou wilt
be only an object of ridicule, a thing to excite laughter; thou wilt
vainly seek a deserted street to avoid the finger of scorn. Thou wilt
lose all shame and even that appearance of virtue which has been so dear
to you; and the man for whom you have disgraced yourself will be the
first to punish you. He will reproach you for living for him alone, for
braving the world for him, and while your friends are whispering about
you, he will listen to assure himself that no word of pity is spoken; he
will accuse you of deceiving him if another hand even then presses yours,
and if, in the desert of life, you find some one who can spare you a word
of pity in passing.

"O God! dost thou remember a day when a wreath of roses was placed on my
head? Was it this brow on which that crown rested? Ah! the hand that hung
it on the wall of the oratory has now fallen, like it, to dust! Oh, my
native valley! Oh, my old aunt, who now sleeps in peace! Oh, my lindens,
my little white goat, my dear peasants who loved me so much! You remember
when I was happy, proud, and respected? Who threw in my path that
stranger who took me away from all this? Who gave him the right to enter
my life? Ah! wretch! why didst thou turn the first day he followed you?
Why didst thou receive him as a brother? Why didst thou open thy door,
and why didst thou hold out thy hand? Octave, Octave, why have you loved
me if all is to end thus?"

She was about to faint as I led her to a chair where she sank down and
her head fell on my shoulder. The terrible effort she had made in
speaking to me so bitterly had broken her down. Instead of an outraged
woman I found now only a suffering child. Her eyes closed and she was
motionless.

When she regained consciousness she complained of extreme languor, and
begged to be left alone that she might rest. She could hardly walk; I
carried her gently to her room and placed her on the bed. There was no
mark of suffering on her face: she was resting from her sorrow as from
great fatigue, and seemed not even to remember it. Her feeble and
delicate body yielded without a struggle; the strain had been too great.
She held my hand in hers; I kissed her; our lips met in loving union, and
after the cruel scene through which she had passed, she slept smilingly
on my heart as on the first day.



CHAPTER VI

SELF-SACRIFICE THE SOLUTION

Brigitte slept. Silent, motionless, I sat near her. As a husbandman, when
the storm has passed, counts the sheaves that remain in his devastated
field, thus I began to estimate the evil I had done.

The more I thought of it, the more irreparable I felt it to be. Certain
sorrows, by their very excess, warn us of their limits, and the more
shame and remorse I experienced, the more I felt that after such a scene,
nothing remained for us to do but to say adieu. Whatever courage Brigitte
had shown, she had drunk to the dregs the bitter cup of her sad love;
unless I wished to see her die, I must give her repose. She had often
addressed cruel reproaches to me, and had, perhaps, on certain other
occasions shown more anger than in this scene; but what she had said this
time was not dictated by offended pride; it was the truth, which, hidden
closely in her heart, had broken it in escaping.

Our present relations, and the fact that I had refused to go away with
her, destroyed all hope; she desired to pardon me, but she had not the
power. This slumber even, this deathlike sleep of one who could suffer no
more, was conclusive evidence; this sudden silence, the tenderness she
had shown in the final moments, that pale face, and that kiss, confirmed
me in the belief that all was over, and that I had broken forever
whatever bond had united us. As surely as she slept now, as soon as I
gave her cause for further suffering she would sleep in eternal rest. The
clock struck and I felt that the last hour had carried away my life with
hers.

Unwilling to call any one, I lighted Brigitte's lamp; I watched its
feeble flame and my thoughts seemed to flicker in the darkness like its
uncertain rays.

Whatever I had said or done, the idea of losing Brigitte had never
occurred to me up to this time. A hundred times I wished to leave her,
but who has loved and is ready to say just what is in his heart? That was
in times of despair or of anger. So long as I knew that she loved me, I
was sure of loving her; stern necessity had just arisen between us for
the first time. I experienced a dull languor and could distinguish
nothing clearly. What my mind understood, my soul recoiled from
accepting. "Come," I said to myself, "I have desired it and I have done
it; there is not the slightest hope that we can live together; I am
unwilling to kill this woman, so I have no alternative but to leave her.
It is all over; I shall go away tomorrow."

And all the while I was thinking neither of my responsibility, nor of the
past, nor future; I thought neither of Smith nor his connection with the
affair; I could not say who had led me there, or what I had done during
the last hour. I looked at the walls of the room and thought that all I
had to do was to wait until to-morrow and decide what carriage I would
take.

I remained for a long time in this strange calm, just as the man who
receives a thrust from a poignard feels at first only the cold steel and
can often travel some distance ere he becomes weak, and his eyes start
from their sockets and he realizes what has happened. But drop by drop
the blood flows, the ground under his feet becomes red, death comes; the
man, at its approach, shudders with horror and falls as though struck by
a thunderbolt. Thus, apparently calm, I awaited the coming of misfortune;
I repeated in a low voice what Brigitte had said, and I placed near her
all that I supposed she would need for the night; then I looked at her,
then went to the window and pressed my forehead against the pane peering
out at a sombre and lowering sky; then I returned to the bedside. That I
was going away tomorrow was the only thought in my mind, and little by
little the word "depart" became intelligible to me. "Ah! God!" I suddenly
cried, "my poor mistress, I am about to lose you, and I have not known
how to love you!"

I trembled at these words as if it had been another who had pronounced
them; they resounded through all my being as resounds the string of the
harp that has been plucked to the point of breaking. In an instant two
years of suffering again racked my breast, and after them as their
consequence and as their last expression, the present seized me. How
shall I describe such woe? By a single word, perhaps, for those who have
loved. I had taken Brigitte's hand, and, in a dream, doubtless, she had
pronounced my name.

I arose and went to my room; a torrent of tears flowed from my eyes. I
held out my arms as if to seize the past which was escaping me. "Is it
possible," I repeated, "that I am going to lose you? I can love no one
but you. What! you are going away? And forever? What! you, my life, my
adored mistress, you flee me, I shall never see you more? Never! never!"
I said aloud; and, addressing myself to the slumbering Brigitte as if she
could hear me, I added: "Never, never; do not think of it; I will never
consent to it. And why so much pride? Are there no means of atoning for
the offense I have committed? I beg of you, let us seek some expiation.
Have you not pardoned me a thousand times? But you love me, you will not
be able to go, for courage will fail you. What shall we do?"

A horrible madness seized me; I began to run here and there in search of
some instrument of death. At last I fell on my knees and beat my head
against the bed. Brigitte stirred, and I remained quiet, fearing I should
waken her.

"Let her sleep until to-morrow," I said to myself; "I have all night to
watch her."

I resumed my place; I was so frightened at the idea of waking Brigitte,
that I scarcely dared breathe. Gradually I became more calm and less
bitter tears began to course gently down my cheeks. Tenderness succeeded
fury. I leaned over Brigitte and looked at her as if, for the last time,
my better angel were urging me to grave on my soul the lines of that dear
face!

How pale she was! Her large eyes, surrounded by a bluish circle, were
moist with tears; her form, once so lithe, was bent as if beneath a
burden; her cheek, wasted and leaden, rested on a hand that was spare and
feeble; her brow seemed to bear the marks of that crown of thorns which
is the diadem of resignation. I thought of the cottage. How young she was
six months ago! How cheerful, how free, how careless! What had I done
with all that? It seemed to me that a strange voice repeated an old
romance that I had long since forgotten:

          Altra volta gieri biele,
          Blanch' e rossa com' un flore,
          Ma ora no. Non son piu biele
          Consumatis dal' amore.

My sorrow was too great; I sprang to my feet and once more began to walk
the floor. "Yes," I continued, "look at her; think of those who are
consumed by a grief that is not shared with another. The evils you endure
others have suffered, and nothing is singular or peculiar to you. Think
of those who have no mother, no relatives, no friends; of those who seek
and do not find, of those who love in vain, of those who die and are
forgotten."

"Before thee, there on that bed, lies a being that nature, perchance,
formed for thee. From the highest circles of intelligence to the deepest
and most impenetrable mysteries of matter and of form, that soul and that
body are thy affinities; for six months thy mouth has not spoken, thy
heart has not beat, without a responsive word and heart-beat from her;
and that woman, whom God has sent thee as He sends the rose to the field,
is about to glide from thy heart. While rejoicing in each other's
presence, while the angels of eternal love were singing before you, you
were farther apart than two exiles at the two ends of the earth. Look at
her, but be silent. Thou hast still one night to see her, if thy sobs do
not awaken her."

Little by little, my thoughts mounted and became more sombre, until I
recoiled in terror.

"To do evil! Such was the role imposed upon me by Providence. I, to do
evil! I, to whom my conscience, even in the midst of my wildest follies,
said that I was good! I, whom a pitiless destiny was dragging swiftly
toward the abyss and whom a secret horror unceasingly warned of the awful
fate to come! I, who, if I had shed blood with these hands, could yet
repeat that my heart was not guilty; that I was deceived, that it was not
I who did it, but my destiny, my evil genius, some unknown being who
dwelt within me, but who was not born there!

"I do evil! For six months I had been engaged in that task, not a day had
passed that I had not worked at that impious occupation, and I had at
that moment the proof before my eyes. The man who had loved Brigitte, who
had offended her, then insulted her, then abandoned her only to take her
back again, trembling with fear, beset with suspicion, finally thrown on
that bed of sorrow, where she now lay extended, was I!"

I beat my breast, and, although looking at her, I could not believe it. I
touched her as if to assure myself that it was not a dream. My face, as I
saw it in the glass, regarded me with astonishment. Who was that creature
who appeared before me bearing my features? Who was that pitiless man who
blasphemed with my mouth and tortured with my hands? Was it he whom my
mother called Octave? Was it he who, at fifteen, leaning over the crystal
waters of a fountain, had a heart not less pure than they? I closed my
eyes and thought of my childhood days. As a ray of light pierces a cloud,
a gleam from the past pierced my heart.

"No," I mused, "I did not do that. These things are but an absurd dream."

I recalled the time when I was ignorant of life, when I was taking my
first steps in experience. I remembered an old beggar who used to sit on
a stone bench before the farm gate, to whom I was sometimes sent with the
remains of our morning meal. Holding out his feeble, wrinkled hands he
would bless me as he smiled upon me. I felt the morning wind blowing on
my brow and a freshness as of the rose descending from heaven into my
soul. Then I opened my eyes and, by the light of the lamp, saw the
reality before me.

"And you do not believe yourself guilty?" I demanded, with horror. "O
novice of yesterday, how corrupt art thou today! Because you weep, you
fondly imagine yourself innocent? What you consider the evidence of your
conscience is only remorse; and what murderer does not experience it? If
your virtue cries out, is it not because it feels the approach of death?
O wretch! those far-off voices that you hear groaning in your heart, do
you think they are sobs? They are perhaps only the cry of the sea-mew,
that funereal bird of the tempest, whose presence portends shipwreck. Who
has ever told the story of the childhood of those who have died stained
with human blood? They, also, have been good in their day; they sometimes
bury their faces in their hands and think of those happy days. You do
evil, and you repent? Nero did the same when he killed his mother. Who
has told you that tears can wash away the stains of guilt?

"And even if it were true that a part of your soul is not devoted to evil
forever, what will you do with the other part that is not yours? You will
touch with your left hand the wounds that you inflict with your right;
you will make a shroud of your virtue in which to bury your crimes; you
will strike, and like Brutus you will engrave on your sword the prattle
of Plato! Into the heart of the being who opens her arms to you, you will
plunge that blood-stained but repentant arm; you will follow to the
cemetery the victim of your passion, and you will plant on her grave the
sterile flower of your pity. You will say to those who see you 'What
could you expect? I have learned how to kill, and observe that I already,
weep; learn that God made me better than you see me.' You will speak of
your youth, and you will persuade yourself that heaven ought to pardon
you, that your misfortunes are involuntary, and you will implore
sleepless nights to grant you a little repose.

"But who knows? You are still young. The more you trust in your heart,
the farther astray you will be led by your pride. To-day you stand before
the first ruin you are going to leave on your route. If Brigitte dies
to-morrow you will weep on her tomb; where will you go when you leave
her? You will go away for three months perhaps, and you will travel in
Italy; you will wrap your cloak about you like a splenetic Englishman,
and you will say some beautiful morning, sitting in your inn with your
glasses before you, that it is time to forget in order to live again.

"You who weep too late, take care lest you weep more than one day. Who
knows? When the present which makes you shudder shall have become the
past, an old story, a confused memory, may it not happen some night of
debauchery that you will overturn your chair and recount, with a smile on
your lips, what you witnessed with tears in your eyes? It is thus that
one drinks away shame. You have begun by being good, you will become
weak, and you will become a monster.

"My poor friend," said I, from the bottom of my heart, "I have a word of
advice for you, and it is this: I believe that you must die. While there
is still some virtue left, profit by it in order that you may not become
altogether bad; while a woman you love lies there dying on that bed, and
while you have a horror of yourself, strike the decisive blow; she still
lives; that is enough; do not attend her funeral obsequies for fear that
on the morrow you will not be consoled; turn the poignard against your
own heart while that heart yet loves the God who made it. Is it your
youth that gives you pause? And would you spare those youthful locks?
Never allow them to whiten if they are not white to-night.

"And then what would you do in the world? If you go away, where will you
go? What can you hope for if you remain? Ah! in looking at that woman you
seem to have a treasure buried in your heart. It is not merely that you
lose her; it is less what has been than what might have been. When the
hands of the clock indicated such and such an hour, you might have been
happy. If you suffer why do you not open your heart? If you love, why do
you not say so? Why do you die of hunger, clasping a priceless treasure
in your hands? You have closed the door, you miser; you debate with
yourself behind locks and bolts. Shake them, for it was your hand that
forged them.

"O fool! who desired and have possessed your desire, you have not thought
of God! You play with happiness as a child plays with a rattle, and you
do not reflect how rare and fragile a thing you hold in your hands; you
treat it with disdain, you smile at it and you continue to amuse yourself
with it, forgetting how many prayers it has cost your good angel to
preserve for you that shadow of daylight! Ah! if there is in heaven one
who watches over you, what is he doing at this moment? He is seated
before an organ; his wings are half-folded, his hands extended over the
ivory keys; he begins an eternal hymn; the hymn of love and immortal
rest, but his wings droop, his head falls over the keys; the angel of
death has touched him on the shoulder, he disappears into the Nirvana.

"And you, at the age of twenty-two, when a noble and exalted passion,
when the strength of youth might perhaps have made something of you when
after so many sorrows and bitter disappointments, a youth so dissipated,
you saw a better time shining in the future; when your life, consecrated
to the object of your adoration, gave promise of new strength, at that
moment the abyss yawns before you! You no longer experience vague
desires, but real regrets; your heart is no longer hungry, it is broken!
And you hesitate? What do you expect? Since she no longer cares for your
life, it counts for nothing! Since she abandons you, abandon yourself!

"Let those who have loved you in your youth weep for you! They are not
many. If you would live, you must not only forget love, but you must deny
that it exists; not only deny what there has been of good in you, but
kill all that may be good in the future; for what will you do if you
remember? Life for you would be one ceaseless regret. No, no, you must
choose between your soul and your body; you must kill one or the other.
The memory of the good drives you to the evil, make a corpse of yourself
unless you wish to become your own spectre. O child, child! die while you
can! May tears be shed over your grave!"

I threw myself on the foot of the bed in such a frightful state of
despair that my reason fled and I no longer knew where I was or what I
was doing. Brigitte sighed.

My senses stirred within me. Was it grief or despair? I do not know.
Suddenly a horrible idea occurred to me.

"What!" I muttered, "leave that for another! Die, descend into the
ground, while that bosom heaves with the air of heaven? Just God! another
hand than mine on that fine, transparent skin! Another mouth on those
lips, another love in that heart! Brigitte happy, loving, adored, and I
in a corner of the cemetery, crumbling into dust in a ditch! How long
will it take her to forget me if I cease to exist to-morrow? How many
tears will she shed? None, perhaps! Not a friend who speaks to her but
will say that my death was a good thing, who will not hasten to console
her, who will not urge her to forget me! If she weeps, they will seek to
distract her attention from her loss; if memory haunts her, they will
take her away; if her love for me survives me, they will seek to cure her
as if she had been poisoned; and she herself, who will perhaps at first
say that she desires to follow me, will a month later turn aside to avoid
the weeping-willow planted over my grave!

"How could it be otherwise? Who, as beautiful as she, wastes life in idle
regrets? If she should think of dying of grief, that beautiful bosom
would urge her to live, and her mirror would persuade her; and the day
when her exhausted tears give place to the first smile, who will not
congratulate her on her recovery? When, after eight days of silence, she
consents to hear my name pronounced in her presence, then she will speak
of it herself as if to say: 'Console me;' then little by little she will
no longer refuse to think of the past but will speak of it, and she will
open her window some beautiful spring morning when the birds are singing
in the garden; she will become pensive and say: 'I have loved!' Who will
be there at her side? Who will dare to tell her that she must continue to
love?

"Ah! then I shall be no more! You will listen to him, faithless one! You
will blush as does the budding rose, and the blood of youth will mount to
your face. While saying that your heart is sealed, you will allow it to
escape through that fresh aureole of beauty, each ray of which allures a
kiss. How much they desire to be loved who say they love no more! And why
should that astonish you? You are a woman; that body, that spotless
bosom, you know what they are worth; when you conceal them under your
dress you do not believe, as do the virgins, that all are alike, and you
know the price of your modesty. How can a woman who has been praised
resolve to be praised no more? Does she think she is living when she
remains in the shadow and there is silence round about her beauty? Her
beauty itself is the admiring glance of her lover. No, no, there can be
no doubt of it; she who has loved, can not live without love; she who has
seen death clings to life. Brigitte loves me and will perhaps die of
love; I will kill myself and another will have her.

"Another, another!" I repeated, bending over her until my head touched
her shoulder. "Is she not a widow? Has she not already seen death? Have
not these little hands prepared the dead for burial? Her tears for the
second will not flow as long as those shed for the first. Ah! God forgive
me! While she sleeps why should I not kill her? If I should awaken her
now and tell her that her hour had come, and that we were going to die
with a last kiss, she would consent. What does it matter? Is it certain
that all does not end with that?"

I found a knife on the table and I picked it up.

"Fear, cowardice, superstition! What do they know about it who talk of
something else beyond? It is for the ignorant common people that a future
life has been invented, but who really believes in it? What watcher in
the cemetery has seen Death leave his tomb and hold consultation with a
priest? In olden times there were phantoms; they are interdicted by the
police in civilized cities, and no cries are now heard issuing from the
earth except from those buried in haste. Who has silenced death, if it
has ever spoken? Because funeral processions are no longer permitted to
encumber our streets, does the celestial spirit languish?

"To die, that is the final purpose, the end. God has established it, man
discusses it; but over every door is written: 'Do what thou wilt, thou
shalt die.' What will be said if I kill Brigitte? Neither of us will
hear. In to-morrow's journal would appear the intelligence that Octave de
T-----had killed his mistress, and the day after no one would speak of
it. Who would follow us to the grave? No one who, upon returning to his
home, could not enjoy a hearty dinner; and when we were extended side by
side in our narrow, bed, the world could walk over our graves without
disturbing us.

"Is it not true, my well-beloved, is it not true that it would be well
with us? It is a soft bed, that bed of earth; no suffering can reach us
there; the occupants of the neighboring tombs will not gossip about us;
our bones will embrace in peace and without pride, for death is solace,
and that which binds does not also separate. Why should annihilation
frighten thee, poor body, destined to corruption? Every hour that strikes
drags thee on to thy doom, every step breaks the round on which thou hast
just rested; thou art nourished by the dead; the air of heaven weighs
upon and crushes thee, the earth on which thou treadest attracts thee by
the soles of thy feet.

"Down with thee! Why art thou affrighted? Dost thou tremble at a word?
Merely say: 'We will not live.' Is not life a burden that we long to lay
down? Why hesitate when it is merely a question of a little sooner or a
little later? Matter is indestructible, and the physicists, we are told,
grind to infinity the smallest speck of dust without being able to
annihilate it. If matter is the property of chance, what harm can it do
to change its form since it can not cease to be matter? Why should God
care what form I have received and with what livery I invest my grief?
Suffering lives in my brain; it belongs to me, I kill it; but my bones do
not belong to me and I return them to Him who lent them to me: may some
poet make a cup of my skull from which to drink his new wine!

"What reproach can I incur and what harm can that reproach do me? What
stern judge will tell me that I have done wrong? What does he know about
it?

"Was he such as I? If every creature has his task to perform, and if it
is a crime to shirk it, what culprits are the babes who die on the
nurse's breast! Why should they be spared? Who will be instructed by the
lessons which are taught after death? Must heaven be a desert in order
that man may be punished for having lived? Is it not enough to have
lived? I do not know who asked that question, unless it were Voltaire on
his death-bed; it is a cry of despair worthy of the helpless old atheist.

"But to what purpose? Why so many struggles? Who is there above us who
delights in so much agony? Who amuses himself and wiles away an idle hour
watching this spectacle of creation, always renewed and always dying,
seeing the work of man's hands rising, the grass growing; looking upon
the planting of the seed and the fall of the thunderbolt; beholding man
walking about upon his earth until he meets the beckoning finger of
death; counting tears and watching them dry upon the cheek of pain;
noting the pure profile of love and the wrinkled face of age; seeing
hands stretched up to him in supplication, bodies prostrate before him,
and not a blade of wheat more in the harvest!

"Who is it, then, that has made so much for the pleasure of knowing that
it all amounts to nothing! The earth is dying--Herschel says it is of
cold; who holds in his hand the drop of condensed vapor and watches it as
it dries up, as a fisher watches a grain of sand in his hand? That mighty
law of attraction that suspends the world in space, torments it--and
consumes it in endless desire--every planet that carries its load of
misery and groans on its axle--calls to each other across the abyss, and
each wonders which will stop first. God controls them; they accomplish
assiduously and eternally their appointed and useless task; they whirl
about, they suffer, they burn, they become extinct and they light up with
new flame; they descend and they reascend, they follow and yet they avoid
one another, they interlace like rings; they carry on their surface
thousands of beings who are ceaselessly renewed; the beings move about,
cross one another's paths, clasp one another for an hour, and then fall,
and others rise in their place.

"Where life fails, life hastens to the spot; where air is wanting, air
rushes; no disorder, everything is regulated, marked out, written down in
lines of gold and parables of fire; everything keeps step with the
celestial music along the pitiless paths of life; and all for nothing!
And we, poor nameless dreams, pale and sorrowful apparitions, helpless
ephemera, we who are animated by the breath of a second in order that
death may exist, we exhaust ourselves with fatigue in order to prove that
we are living for a purpose, and that something indefinable is stirring
within us.

"We hesitate to turn against our breasts a little piece of steel, or to
blow out our brains with a little instrument no larger than our hands; it
seems to us that chaos would return again; we have written and revised
the laws both human and divine, and we are afraid of our catechisms; we
suffer thirty years without murmuring and imagine that we are struggling;
finally suffering becomes the stronger, we send a pinch of powder into
the sanctuary of intelligence, and a flower pierces the soil above our
grave."

As I finished these words I directed the knife I held in my hand against
Brigitte's bosom. I was no longer master of myself, and in my delirious
condition I know not what might have happened; I threw back the
bed-clothing to uncover the heart, when I discovered on her white bosom a
little ebony crucifix.

I recoiled, seized with sudden fear; my hand relaxed, my weapon fell to
the floor. It was Brigitte's aunt who had given her that little crucifix
on her deathbed. I did not remember ever having seen it before;
doubtless, at the moment of setting out, she had suspended it about her
neck as a preserving charm against the dangers of the journey. Suddenly I
joined my hands and knelt on the floor.

"O Lord, my God," I said, in trembling tones, "Lord, my God, thou art
there!"

Let those who do not believe in Christ read this page; I no longer
believed in Him. Neither as a child, nor at school, nor as a man, have I
frequented churches; my religion, if I had any, had neither rite nor
symbol, and I believed in a God without form, without a cult, and without
revelation. Poisoned, from youth, by all the writings of the last
century, I had sucked, at an early hour, the sterile milk of impiety.
Human pride, that God of the egoist, closed my mouth against prayer,
while my affrighted soul took refuge in the hope of nothingness. I was as
if drunken or insensate when I saw that effigy of Christ on Brigitte's
bosom; while not believing in Him myself, I recoiled, knowing that she
believed in Him.

It was not vain terror that arrested my hand. Who saw me? I was alone and
it was night. Was it prejudice? What prevented me from hurling out of my
sight that little piece of black wood? I could have thrown it into the
fire, but it was my weapon I threw there. Ah! what an experience that was
and still is for my soul! What miserable wretches are men who mock at
that which can save a human being! What matters the name, the form, the
belief? Is not all that is good sacred? How dare any one touch God?

As at a glance from the sun the snows descend the mountains, and the
glaciers that threatened heaven melt into streams in the valley, so there
descended into my heart a stream that overflowed its banks. Repentance is
a pure incense; it exhaled from all my suffering. Although I had almost
committed a crime when my hand was arrested, I felt that my heart was
innocent. In an instant, calm, self-possession, reason returned; I again
approached the bed; I leaned over my idol and kissed the crucifix.

"Sleep in peace," I said to her, "God watches over you! While your lips
were parting in a smile, you were in greater danger than you have ever
known before. But the hand that threatened you will harm no one; I swear
by the faith you profess I will not kill either you or myself! I am a
fool, a madman, a child who thinks himself a man. God be praised! You are
young and beautiful. You live and you will forget me. You will recover
from the evil I have done you, if you can forgive me. Sleep in peace
until day, Brigitte, and then decide our fate; to whatever sentence you
pronounce I will submit without complaint.

"And thou, Lord, who hast saved me, grant me pardon. I was born in an
impious century, and I have many crimes to expiate. Thou Son of God, whom
men forget, I have not been taught to love Thee. I have never worshipped
in Thy temples, but I thank heaven that where I find Thee, I tremble and
bow in reverence. I have at least kissed with my lips a heart that is
full of Thee. Protect that heart so long as life lasts; dwell within it,
Thou Holy One; a poor unfortunate has been brave enough to defy death at
the sight of Thy suffering and Thy death; though impious, Thou hast saved
him from evil; if he had believed, Thou wouldst have consoled him.

"Pardon those who have made him incredulous since Thou hast made him
repentant; pardon those who blaspheme! When they were in despair they did
not see Thee! Human joys are a mockery; they are scornful and pitiless; O
Lord! the happy of this world think they have no need of Thee! Pardon
them. Although their pride may outrage Thee, they will be, sooner or
later, baptized in tears; grant that they may cease to believe in any
other shelter from the tempest than Thy love, and spare them the severe
lessons of unhappiness. Our wisdom and scepticism are in our hands but
children's toys; forgive us for dreaming that we can defy Thee, Thou who
smilest at Golgotha. The worst result of all our vain misery is that it
tempts us to forget Thee.

"But Thou knowest that it is all but a shadow which a glance from Thee
can dissipate. Hast not Thou Thyself been a man? It was sorrow that made
Thee God; sorrow is an instrument of torture by which Thou hast mounted
to the very throne of God, Thy Father, and it is sorrow that leads us to
Thee with our crown of thorns to kneel before Thy mercy-seat; we touch
Thy bleeding feet with our bloodstained hands, for Thou hast suffered
martyrdom to be loved by the unfortunate."

The first rays of dawn began to appear: man and nature were rousing
themselves from sleep and the air was filled with the confusion of
distant sounds. Weak and exhausted, I was about to leave Brigitte, and
seek a little repose. As I was passing out of the room, a dress thrown on
a chair slipped to the floor near me, and in its folds I spied a piece of
paper. I picked it up; it was a letter, and I recognized Brigitte's hand.
The envelope was not sealed. I opened it and read as follows:

   23 December, 18--

   "When you receive this letter I shall be far away from you, and
   shall perhaps never see you again. My destiny is bound up with that
   of a man for whom I have sacrificed everything; he can not live
   without me, and I am going to try to die for him. I love you;
   adieu, and pity us."

I turned the letter over when I had read it, and saw that it was
addressed to "M. Henri Smith, N------, poste restante."

On the morrow, a clear December day, a young man and a woman who rested
on his arm, passed through the garden of the Palais-Royal. They entered a
jeweler's store where they chose two similar rings which they smilingly
exchanged. After a short walk they took breakfast at the
Freres-Provencaux, in one of those little rooms which are, all things
considered, the most beautiful spots in the world. There, when the garcon
had left them, they sat near the windows hand in hand.

The young man was in travelling dress; to see the joy which shone on his
face, one would have taken him for a young husband showing his young wife
the beauties and pleasures of Parisian life. His happiness was calm and
subdued, as true happiness always is. The experienced would have
recognized in him the youth who merges into manhood. From time to time he
looked up at the sky, then at his companion, and tears glittered in his
eyes, but he heeded them not, but smiled as he wept. The woman was pale
and thoughtful, her eyes were fixed on the man. On her face were traces
of sorrow which she could not conceal, although evidently touched by the
exalted joy of her companion.

When he smiled, she smiled too, but never alone; when he spoke, she
replied, and she ate what he served her; but there was about her a
silence which was only broken at his instance. In her languor could be
clearly distinguished that gentleness of soul, that lethargy of the
weaker of two beings who love, one of whom exists only in the other and
responds to him as does the echo. The young man was conscious of it, and
seemed proud of it and grateful for it; but it could be seen even by his
pride that his happiness was new to him.

When the woman became sad and her eyes fell, he cheered her with his
glance; but he could not always succeed, and seemed troubled himself.
That mingling of strength and weakness, of joy and sorrow, of anxiety and
serenity, could not have been understood by an indifferent spectator; at
times they appeared the most happy of living creatures, and the next
moment the most unhappy; but, although ignorant of their secret, one
would have felt that they were suffering together, and, whatever their
mysterious trouble, it could be seen that they had placed on their sorrow
a seal more powerful than love itself-friendship. While their hands were
clasped their glances were chaste; although they were alone they spoke in
low tones. As if overcome by their feelings, they sat face to face,
although their lips did not touch. They looked at each other tenderly and
solemnly. When the clock struck one, the woman heaved a sigh and said:

"Octave, are you sure of yourself?"

"Yes, my friend, I am resolved. I shall suffer much, a long time, perhaps
forever; but we will cure ourselves, you with time, I with God."

"Octave, Octave," repeated the woman, "are you sure you are not deceiving
yourself?"

"I do not believe we can forget each other; but I believe that we can
forgive, and that is what I desire even at the price of separation."

"Why could we not meet again? Why not some day--you are so young!"

Then she added, with a smile:

"We could see each other without danger."

"No, my friend, for you must know that I could never see you again
without loving you. May he to whom I bequeath you be worthy of you! Smith
is brave, good, and honest, but however much you may love him, you see
very well that you still love me, for if I should decide to remain, or to
take you away with me, you would consent."

"It is true," replied the woman.

"True! true!" repeated the young man, looking into her eyes with all his
soul. "Is it true that if I wished it you would go with me?"

Then he continued, softly:

"That is the reason why I must never see you again. There are certain
loves in life that overturn the head, the senses, the mind, the heart;
there is among them all but one that does not disturb, that penetrates,
and that dies only with the being in which it has taken root."

"But you will write to me?"

"Yes, at first, for what I have to suffer is so keen that the absence of
the habitual object of my love would kill me. When I was unknown to you,
I gradually approached closer and closer to you, until--but let us not go
into the past. Little by little my letters will become less frequent
until they cease altogether. I shall thus descend the hill that I have
been climbing for the past year. When one stands before a fresh grave,
over which are engraved two cherished names, one experiences a mysterious
sense of grief, which causes tears to trickle down one's cheeks; it is
thus that I wish to remember having once lived."

At these words the woman threw herself on the couch and burst into tears.
The young man wept with her, but he did not move and seemed anxious to
appear unconscious of her emotion. When her tears ceased to flow, he
approached her, took her hand in his and kissed it.

"Believe me," said he, "to be loved by you, whatever the name of the
place I occupy in your heart, will give me strength and courage. Rest
assured, Brigitte, no one will ever understand you better than I; another
will love you more worthily, no one will love you more truly. Another
will be considerate of those feelings that I offend, he will surround you
with his love; you will have a better lover, you will not have a better
brother. Give me your hand and let the world laugh at a sentence that it
does not understand: Let us be friends, and part forever. Before we
became such intimate friends there was something within that told us we
were destined to mingle our lives. Let our souls never know that we have
parted upon earth; let not the paltry chance of a moment undo our eternal
happiness!"

He held the woman's hand; she arose, tears streaming from her eyes, and,
stepping up to the mirror with a strange smile on her face, she cut from
her head a long tress of hair; then she looked at herself thus disfigured
and deprived of a part of her beautiful crown, and gave it to her lover.

The clock struck again; it was time to go; when they passed out they
seemed as joyful as when they entered.

"What a beautiful sun!" said the young man.

"And a beautiful day," said Brigitte, "the memory of which shall never
fade."

They hastened away and disappeared in the crowd.

Some time later a carriage passed over a little hill behind
Fontainebleau. The young man was the only occupant; he looked for the
last time upon his native town as it disappeared in the distance, and
thanked God that, of the three beings who had suffered through his fault,
there remained but one of them still unhappy.

     ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

     Because you weep, you fondly imagine yourself innocent
     Cold silence, that negative force
     Contrive to use proud disdain as a shield
     Fool who destroys his own happiness
     Funeral processions are no longer permitted
     How much they desire to be loved who say they love no more
     I can not be near you and separated from you at the same moment
     Is it not enough to have lived?
     Make a shroud of your virtue in which to bury your crimes
     Reading the Memoirs of Constant
     Sometimes we seem to enjoy unhappiness
     Speak to me of your love, she said, "not of your grief"
     Suffered, and yet took pleasure in it
     Suspicions that are ever born anew
     "Unhappy man!" she cried, "you will never know how to love"
     Who has told you that tears can wash away the stains of guilt
     You play with happiness as a child plays with a rattle
     Your great weapon is silence

     ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS OF THE ENTIRE CHILD OF A CENTURY:

     A terrible danger lurks in the knowledge of what is possible
     Accustomed to call its disguise virtue
     Adieu, my son, I love you and I die
     All philosophy is akin to atheism
     All that is not life, it is the noise of life
     And when love is sure of itself and knows response
     Because you weep, you fondly imagine yourself innocent
     Become corrupt, and you will cease to suffer
     Began to forget my own sorrow in my sympathy for her
     Beware of disgust, it is an incurable evil
     Can any one prevent a gossip
     Cold silence, that negative force
     Contrive to use proud disdain as a shield
     Death is more to be desired than a living distaste for life
     Despair of a man sick of life, or the whim of a spoiled child
     Do they think they have invented what they see
     Each one knows what the other is about to say
     Fool who destroys his own happiness
     Force itself, that mistress of the world
     Funeral processions are no longer permitted
     Galileo struck the earth, crying: "Nevertheless it moves!"
     Good and bad days succeeded each other almost regularly
     Great sorrows neither accuse nor blaspheme--they listen
     Grief itself was for her but a means of seducing
     Happiness of being pursued
     He who is loved by a beautiful woman is sheltered from every blow
     He lives only in the body
     How much they desire to be loved who say they love no more
     Human weakness seeks association
     I can not be near you and separated from you at the same moment
     I can not love her, I can not love another
     I boasted of being worse than I really was
     I neither love nor esteem sadness
     I do not intend either to boast or abase myself
     Ignorance into which the Greek clergy plunged the laity
     In what do you believe?
     Indignation can solace grief and restore happiness
     Is he a dwarf or a giant
     Is it not enough to have lived?
     It is a pity that you must seek pastimes
     Make a shroud of your virtue in which to bury your crimes
     Man who suffers wishes to make her whom he loves suffer
     Men doubted everything: the young men denied everything
     No longer esteemed her highly enough to be jealous of her
     Of all the sisters of love, the most beautiful is pity
     Perfection does not exist
     Pure caprice that I myself mistook for a flash of reason
     Quarrel had been, so to speak, less sad than our reconciliation
     Reading the Memoirs of Constant
     Resorted to exaggeration in order to appear original
     Sceptic regrets the faith he has lost the power to regain
     Seven who are always the same: the first is called hope
     She pretended to hope for the best
     Sometimes we seem to enjoy unhappiness
     Speak to me of your love, she said, "not of your grief"
     St. Augustine
     Suffered, and yet took pleasure in it
     Suspicions that are ever born anew
     Terrible words; I deserve them, but they will kill me
     There are two different men in you
     Ticking of which (our arteries) can be heard only at night
     "Unhappy man!" she cried, "you will never know how to love"
     We have had a mass celebrated, and it cost us a large sum
     What you take for love is nothing more than desire
     What human word will ever express thy slightest caress
     When passion sways man, reason follows him weeping and warning
     Who has told you that tears can wash away the stains of guilt
     Wine suffuses the face as if to prevent shame appearing there
     You believe in what is said here below and not in what is done
     You play with happiness as a child plays with a rattle
     You turn the leaves of dead books
     Your great weapon is silence
     Youth is to judge of the world from first impressions





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