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Title: Sylvie: souvenirs du Valois
Author: Nerval, Gérard de, 1808-1855
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SYLVIE:

SOUVENIRS DU VALOIS

TRANSLATED FROM

GÉRARD DE NERVAL

BY

LUCIE PAGE

Portland, Maine

THOMAS B. MOSHER

1896

       *       *       *       *       *


GÉRARD DE NERVAL.


   Of all that were thy prisons--ah, untamed,
     Ah, light and sacred soul!--none holds thee now;
   No wall, no bar, no body of flesh, but thou
   Art free and happy in the lands unnamed,
   Within whose gates, on weary wings and maimed,
     Thou still would'st bear that mystic golden bough
     The Sybil doth to singing men allow,
   Yet thy report folk heeded not, but blamed.

   And they would smile and wonder, seeing where
     Thou stood'st, to watch light leaves, or clouds, or wind,
   Dreamily murmuring a ballad air,
     Caught from the Valois peasants, dost thou find
   A new life gladder than the old times were,
     A love more fair than Sylvie, and as kind?

                                             ANDREW LANG.


       *       *       *       *       *


CONTENTS

     SYLVIE ET AURÉLIE.--ANDREW LANG
     GÉRARD DE NERVAL

     SYLVIE:

     I    A WASTED NIGHT
     II   ADRIENNE
     III  RESOLVE
     IV   A VOYAGE TO CYTHERA
     V    THE VILLAGE
     VI   OTHYS
     VII  CHAÂLIS
     VIII THE BALL AT LOISY
     IX   HERMENONVILLE
     X    BIG CURLY-HEAD
     XI   RETURN
     XII  FATHER DODU
     XIII AURÉLIE
     XIV  THE LAST LEAF

     APPENDIX



_SYLVIE ET AURÉLIE._

_IN MEMORY OF GÉRARD DE NERVAL._

     _Two loves there were, and one was born_
     _Between the sunset and the rain;_
     _Her singing voice went through the corn,_
     _Her dance was woven 'neath the thorn,_
     _On grass the fallen blossoms stain;_
     _And suns may set and moons may wane,_
     _But this love comes no more again._

     _There were two loves, and one made white_
     _Thy singing lips and golden hair;_
     _Born of the city's mire and light,_
     _The shame and splendour of the night,_
     _She trapped and fled thee unaware;_
     _Not through the lamplight and the rain_
     _Shalt thou behold this love again._

     _Go forth and seek, by wood and bill,_
     _Thine ancient love of dawn and dew;_
     _There comes no voice from mere or rill,_
     _Her dance is over, fallen still_
     _The ballad burdens that she knew:_
     _And thou must wait for her in vain,_
     _Till years bring back thy youth again._


     _That other love, afield, afar_
     _Fled the light love, with lighter feet._
     _Nay, though thou seek where gravesteads are,_
     _And flit in dreams from star to star,_
     _That dead love thou shalt never meet,_
     _Till through bleak dawn and blowing rain_
     _Thy soul shall find her soul again._

                                        ANDREW LANG.



Gérard DE NERVAL

     Il a toujours cherché dans le monde
     ce que le monde ne pouvait plus lui
     donner.

                          LUDOVIC HALÉVY.

     He has been a sick man all his life.
     He was always a seeker after something
     in the world that is there in no
     satisfying measure, or not at all.

                            WALTER PATER.



GÉRARD DE NERVAL.


I.


Of Gérard de Nerval, whose true name was Gérard Labrunie, it has been
finely said: "His was the most beautiful of all the lost souls of the
French Romance."(*) Born in 1808, he came to his death by suicide one
dark winter night towards the end of January.

The story of this life and its tragic finale was well known at the time
to all men of letters,--Théophile Gautier, Paul de Saint-Victor, Arsène
Houssaye,--friends who never forgot the young poet even after he went
the way that madness lies. For it was insanity,--a nostalgia of the soul
always imminent--that led him into the squalid _Rue de la
Vieille-Lanterne_, in which long forgotten corner of old Paris his dead
body was found one bleak belated dawn. And this was forty years ago.

In later days Maxime du Camp and Ludovic Halévy have retold with great
feeling the history of Gérard, his early triumphs, his love for Jenny
Colon,--the Aurélie of these _Souvenirs du Valois_,--and how at last
life's scurrile play was ended.

(*) See _A Century of French Verse_, translated and edited by
William John Robertson (4to, London, 1895).


II.


One of Mr. Andrew Lang's most genuine appreciations occurs in an epistle
addressed to Miss Girton, Cambridge; where, for the benefit of that
mythical young person, he translates a few passages out of _Sylvie_, and
favours us with a specimen of Gérard's verse.

"I translated these fragments," he tells her, "long ago in one of the
first things I ever tried to write. The passages are as touching and
fresh, the originals, I mean, as when first I read them, and one hears
the voice of Sylvie singing:

     _'A Dammartin, l'y a trois belles filles,_
     _L'y en a z'une plus belle que le jour.'_

So Sylvie married a confectioner, and, like Marion in the 'Ballad of
Forty Years,' 'Adrienne's dead' in a convent. That is all the story, all
the idyl."

And just before this he has said of Gérard: "What he will live by, is
his story of Sylvie; it is one of the little masterpieces of the world.
It has a Greek perfection. One reads it, and however old one is, youth
comes back, and April, and a thousand pleasant sounds of birds in
hedges, of wind in the boughs, of brooks trotting merrily under the
rustic bridges. And this fresh nature is peopled by girls eternally
young, natural, gay, or pensive, standing with eager feet on the
threshold of their life, innocent, expectant, with the old ballads of
old France upon their lips. For the story is full of these artless,
lisping numbers of the popular French muse, the ancient ballads that
Gérard collected and put into the mouth of Sylvie, the pretty
peasant-girl."

One more quotation from Mr. Lang, and we are done. Sylvie and Gérard
have met, and they go on a visit to her aunt, who, while she prepares
dinner, sends Gérard for her niece, who had "gone to ransack the peasant
treasures in the garret." "Two portraits were hanging there--one, that
of a young man of the good old times, smiling with red lips and brown
eyes, a pastel in an oval frame. Another medallion held the portrait of
his wife, gay, _piquante_, in a bodice with ribbons fluttering, and with
a bird perched on her finger. It was the old aunt in her youth, and
further search discovered her ancient festal-gown, of stiff brocade,
Sylvie arrayed herself in this splendour; patches were found in a box of
tarnished gold, a fan, a necklace of amber."

This is the charming moment chosen by M. Andhré des Gachons as the
subject of his _aquarelle_, reproduced in colour as frontispiece to the
present edition.


III.


In thus bringing out a fresh version of _Sylvie_, not to include the all
too few illusive lyrics "done into English" by Mr. Lang, his exquisite
sonnet on Gérard, and the lovely lines upon "Sylvie et Aurélie," were a
deplorable omission. The sonnet exists in an earlier form; preferably,
the later version is here given.

Of De Nerval's prose little has yet found its way to us. His poetry is
fully as inaccessible. Things of such iridescent hue are possibly beyond
the art of translation. They are written in an unknown tongue; say,
rather, in the language of Dreamland, "vaporous, unaccountable";--a
world of crepuscular dawns, as of light irradiated from submerged sea
caverns,--"the mermaid's haunt" beheld of him alone.


IV.


With what _adieux_ shall we now take leave of our little pearl of a
story? And of him who gave us this exquisite creation of heart and brain
what words remain to say?

Thou, Sylvie, art an unfading flower of virginal, soft Spring, and
faint, elusive skies. For _thee_ Earth's old sweet nights have shed
their tenderest dews, and in thy lovely Valois land thou canst not fade
or die.

Thy lover, child, fared forth beneath an alien star. For _him_ there was
no true country, here;--no return to thy happy-hearted love: the desert
sands long since effaced the valley track. Only the far distant
lying,--the abyss that calls and is never dumb, urged his onward steps.
And these things, and this divine homesickness led him, pale nympholept,
beyond Earth's human shores. Thither to thee, rapt Soul, shall all
bright dreams of day, all lonely visions of the night, converge at
last.



SYLVIE:

(SOUVENIRS DU VALOIS.)


_AN OLD TUNE._

_GÉRARD DE NERVAL._

     _There is an air for which I would disown_
       _Mozart's, Rossini's, Weber's melodies,--_
     _A sweet, sad air that languishes and sighs,_
       _And keeps its secret charm for me alone._

     _Whene'er I hear that music vague and old,_
       _Two hundred years are mist that rolls away;_
     _The thirteenth Louis reigns, and I behold_
       _A green land golden in the dying day._

     _An old red castle, strong with stony towers,_
       _The windows gay with many coloured glass;_
     _Wide plains, and rivers flowing among flowers,_
       _That bathe the castle basement as they pass._

     _In antique weed, with dark eyes and gold hair,_
       _A lady looks forth from her window high;_
     _It may be that I knew and found her fair,_
       _In some forgotten life, long time gone by._

                                          (ANDREW LANG.)



SYLVIE

(RECOLLECTIONS OF VALOIS.)



I.

A WASTED NIGHT.


I passed out of a theatre where I was wont to appear nightly, in the
proscenium boxes, in the attitude of suitor. Sometimes it was full,
sometimes nearly empty; it mattered little to me, whether a handful of
listless spectators occupied the pit, while antiquated costumes formed a
doubtful setting for the boxes, or whether I made one of an audience
swayed by emotion, crowned at every tier with flower-decked robes,
flashing gems and radiant faces. The spectacle of the house left me
indifferent, that of the stage could not fix my attention until at the
second or third scene of a dull masterpiece of the period, a familiar
vision illumined the vacancy, and by a word and a breath, gave life to
the shadowy forms around me.

I felt that my life was linked with hers; her smile filled me with
immeasurable bliss; the tones of her voice, so sweet and sonorous,
thrilled me with love and joy. My ardent fancy endowed her with every
perfection until she seemed to respond to all my raptures--beautiful as
day in the blaze of the footlights, pale as night when their glare was
lowered and rays from the chandelier above revealed her, lighting up the
gloom with the radiance of her beauty, like those divine Hours with
starry brows, which stand out against the dark background of the
frescoes of Herculaneum.

For a whole year I had not sought to know what she might be, in the
world outside, fearing to dim the magic mirror which reflected to me her
image. Some idle gossip, it is true, touching the woman, rather than the
actress, had reached my ears, but I heeded it less than any floating
rumours concerning the Princess of Elis or the Queen of Trebizonde, for
I was on my guard. An uncle of mine whose manner of life during the
period preceding the close of the eighteenth century, had given him
occasion to know them well, had warned me that actresses were not women,
since nature had forgotten to give them hearts. He referred, no doubt,
to those of his own day, but he related so many stories of his illusions
and disappointments, and displayed so many portraits upon ivory,
charming medallions which he afterwards used to adorn his snuff-boxes,
so many yellow love-letters and faded tokens, each with its peculiar
history, that I had come to think ill of them as a class, without
considering the march of time.

We were living then in a strange period, such as often follows a
revolution, or the decline of a great reign. The heroic gallantry of the
Fronde, the drawing-room vice of the Regency, the scepticism and mad
orgies of the Directory, were no more. It was a time of mingled
activity, indecision and idleness, bright utopian dreams, philosophic or
religious aspirations, vague ardour, dim instincts of rebirth, weariness
of past discords, uncertain hopes,--an age somewhat like that of
Peregrinus and Apuleius. The material man yearned for the roses which
should regenerate him, from the hands of the fair Isis; the goddess
appeared to us by night, in her eternal youth and purity, inspiring in
us remorse for the hours wasted by day; and yet, ambition suited not our
years, while the greedy strife, the mad chase in pursuit of honour and
position, held us aloof from every possible sphere of activity. Our only
refuge was the ivory tower of the poets whither we climbed higher and
higher to escape the crowd. Upon the heights to which our masters guided
us, we breathed at last the pure air of solitude, we quaffed oblivion in
the golden cup of fable, we were drunk with poetry and love. Love, alas!
of airy forms, of rose and azure tints, of metaphysical phantoms. Seen
nearer, the real woman repelled our ingenuous youth which required her
to appear as a queen or a goddess, and above all, inapproachable.

Some of our number held these platonic paradoxes in light esteem, and
athwart our mystic reveries brandished at times the torch of the deities
of the underworld, that names through the darkness for an instant with
its train of sparks. Thus it chanced that on quitting the theatre with
the sense of bitter sadness left by a vanished dream, I turned with
pleasure to a club where a party of us used to sup, and where all
depression yielded to the inexhaustible vivacity of a few brilliant
wits, whose stormy gaiety at times rose to sublimity. Periods of renewal
or decadence always produce such natures, and our discussions often
became so animated that timid ones in the company would glance from the
window to see if the Huns, the Turkomans or the Cossacks were not coming
to put an end to these disputations of sophists and rhetoricians. "Let
us drink, let us love, this is wisdom!" was the code of the younger
members. One of them said to me: "I have noticed for some time that I
always meet you in the same theatre. For which one do you go?" Which!
why, it seemed impossible to go there for another! However, I confessed
the name. "Well," said my friend kindly, "yonder is the happy man who
has just accompanied her home, and who, in accordance with the rules of
our club, will not perhaps seek her again till night is over."

With slight emotion I turned toward the person designated, and perceived
a young man, well dressed, with a pale, restless face, good manners, and
eyes full of gentle melancholy. He flung a gold piece on the card-table
and lost it with indifference. "What is it to me?" said I, "he or
another?" There must be someone, and he seemed worthy of her choice.
"And you?" "I? I chase a phantom, that is all."

On my way out, I passed through the reading-room and glanced carelessly
at a newspaper, to learn, I believe, the state of the stock market. In
the wreck of my fortunes, there chanced to be a large investment in
foreign securities, and it was reported that, although long disowned,
they were about to be acknowledged;--and, indeed, this had just
happened in consequence of a change in the ministry. The bonds were
quoted high, so I was rich again.

A single thought was occasioned by this sudden change of fortune, that
the woman whom I had loved so long, was mine, if I wished. My ideal was
within my grasp, or was it only one more disappointment, a mocking
misprint? No, for the other papers gave the same figures, while the sum
which I had gained rose before me like the golden statue of Moloch.

"What," thought I, "would that young man say, if I were to take his
place by the woman whom he has left alone?"

I shrunk from the thought, and my pride revolted. Not thus, not at my
age, dare I slay love with gold! I will not play the tempter! Besides,
such an idea belongs to the past. Who can tell me that this woman may be
bought? My eyes glanced idly over the journal in my hand, and I noticed
two lines: "_Provincial Bouquet Festival_. To-morrow the archers of
Senlis will present the bouquet to the archers of Loisy." These simple
words aroused in me an entirely new train of thought, stirring
long-forgotten memories of provincial days, faint echoes of the artless
joys of youth.

The horn and the drum were resounding afar in hamlet and forest; the
young maidens were twining garlands as they sang, and binding nosegays
with ribbon. A heavy wagon, drawn by oxen, received their offerings as
it passed, and we, the children of that region, formed the escort with
our bows and arrows, assuming the proud title of knights,--we did not
know that we were only preserving, from age to age, an ancient feast of
the Druids that had survived later religions and monarchies.



II.

ADRIENNE.


I sought my bed, but not to sleep, and, lost in a half-conscious revery,
all my youth passed before me. How often, in the border-land of dreams,
while yet the mind repels their encroaching fancies, we are enabled to
review in a few moments, the important events of a lifetime!

I saw a castle of the time of Henry IV., with its slate-covered turrets,
its reddish front, jutting corners of yellow stone, and a stretch of
green bordered by elms and lime-trees, through whose foliage, the
setting sun shot its last fiery rays. Young girls were dancing in a ring
on the lawn, singing quaint old tunes caught from their mothers, in a
French whose native purity bespoke the old country of Valois, where for
more than a thousand years had throbbed the heart of France. I was the
only boy in the circle where I had led my young companion, Sylvie, a
little maid from the neighboring hamlet, so fresh and animated, with
her black eyes, regular features and slightly sun-burned skin. I loved
but her, I had eyes but for her--till then! I had scarcely noticed in
our round, a tall, beautiful blonde, called Adrienne, when suddenly, in
following the figures of the dance, she was left alone with me, in the
centre of the ring; we were of the same height, and they bade me kiss
her, while the dance and song went whirling on, more merrily than
before. When I kissed her, I could not forbear pressing her hand; her
golden curls touched my cheek, and from that moment, a new feeling
possessed me.

The fair girl must sing a song to reclaim her place in the dance, and we
seated ourselves about her. In a sweet, penetrating voice, somewhat
husky, as is common in that country of mists and fogs, she sang one of
those old ballads full of love and sorrow, which always carry the story
of an imprisoned princess, shut in a tower by her father, as a
punishment for loving. At the end of every stanza, the melody died away
in those quavering trills which enable young voices to simulate so well
the tremulous notes of old women.

While she sang, the shadows of the great trees lengthened and the light
of the young moon fell full upon her, as she stood apart from the rapt
circle. The lawn was covered with rising clouds of mist that trailed its
white wreaths over every blade of grass. We thought ourselves in
Paradise. The song ended and no one dared break the stillness--at last I
rose and ran to the gardens where some laurels were growing in large
porcelain vases painted in monochrome. I plucked two branches which were
twined into a crown, bound with ribbon, and I placed it upon Adrienne's
brow, where its glossy leaves gleamed above her fair locks in the pale
moonlight. She looked liked Dante's Beatrice, smiling at the poet as he
strayed on the confines of the Blest Abodes.

Adrienne rose and, drawing up her slender figure, bowed to us gracefully
and ran back to the castle; they said she was the child of a race allied
to the ancient kings of France, that the blood of the Valois princes
flowed in her veins. Upon this festal day, she had been permitted to
join in our sports, but we were not to see her again, for on the morrow
she would return to the convent of which she was an inmate.

When I rejoined Sylvie, I found her weeping because of the crown I had
given to the fair singer. I offered to make another for her, but she
would not consent, saying she did not merit it. I vainly tried to
vindicate myself, but she refused to speak as we went the homeward way.

Paris soon recalled me to resume my studies, and I bore with me the
two-fold memory of a tender friendship sadly broken, and of a love
uncertain and impossible, the source of painful musings which my college
philosophy was powerless to dispel.

Adrienne's face alone haunted me, a vision of glory and beauty,
sweetening and sharing the hours of arduous study.

In the vacation of the following year, I learned that this lovely girl,
who had but flitted past me, was destined by her family to a religious
life.



III.

RESOLVE.


These memories, recalled in my dreamy revery, explained everything. This
hopeless passion for an actress, which took possession of me nightly
from the hour when the curtain rose until I fell asleep, was born of my
remembrance of Adrienne, the pale moon-flower, as she glided over the
green, a rose-tinted vision enveloped in a cloud of misty whiteness. The
likeness of a face long years forgotten was now distinctly outlined; it
was a pencil-sketch, which time had blurred, developed into a painting,
like the first drafts of the old masters which delight us in a gallery,
the completed masterpiece being found elsewhere.

To fall in love with a nun in the guise of an actress!... suppose they
were one and the same!--it is enough to drive one mad, a fatal mystery,
drawing me on like a will o' the wisp flitting over the rushes of a
stagnant pool. Let us keep a firm foothold on reality.

Sylvie, too, whom I loved so dearly, why had I forgotten her for three
long years? She was a charming girl, the prettiest maiden in Loisy;
surely she still lives, pure and good. I can see her window, with the
creeper twining around the rose-bush, and the cage of linnets hanging on
the left; I can hear the click of her bobbins and her favourite song:

     _La belle était assise_
     _Près du ruisseau coulant...._

     The maiden was sitting
     Beside the swift stream.

She is still waiting for me. Who would wed her, so poor? The men of her
native village are sturdy peasants with rough hands and gaunt, tanned
faces. I, the "little Parisian," had won her heart in my frequent visits
near Loisy, to my poor uncle, now dead. For the past three years I have
been squandering like a lord the modest inheritance left by him, which
might have sufficed for a lifetime, and Sylvie, I know, would have
helped me save it. Chance returns me a portion, it is not too late.

What is she doing now? She must be asleep.... No, she is not asleep;
to-day is the Feast of the Bow, the only one in the year when the dance
goes on all night.... She is there. What time is it? I had no watch.

Amongst a profusion of ornaments, which it was then the fashion to
collect, in order to restore the local colour of an old-time interior,
there gleamed with freshly polished lustre, one of those tortoise-shell
clocks of the Renaissance, whose gilded dome, surmounted by a figure of
Time, was supported by caryatides in the style of the Medici, resting in
their turn upon rearing steeds. The historic Diana, leaning upon her
stag, was in bas-relief under the face, where, upon an inlaid
background, enameled figures marked the hours. The works, no doubt
excellent, had not been put in motion for two centuries. It was not to
tell the hour that I bought this time-piece in Touraine.

I went down to the porter's lodge to find that his clock marked one in
the morning. "In four hours I can be at Loisy," thought I.

Five or six cabs were still standing on the Place du Palais Royal,
awaiting the gamblers and clubmen. "To Loisy," I said to the nearest
driver. "Where is it?" "Near Senlis, eight leagues distant." "I will
take you to the posting station," said the cabman, more alert than I.

How dreary the Flanders road is by night! It gains beauty only as it
approaches the belt of the forest. Two monotonous rows of trees, taking
on the semblance of distorted figures, rise ever before the eye; in the
distance, patches of verdure and cultivated land, bounded on the left
by the blue hills of Montmorency, Ecouen and Luzarches. Here is Gonesse,
an ordinary little town, full of memories of the League and the Fronde.

Beyond Louvres is a road lined with apple-trees, whose white blossoms I
have often seen unfolding in the night, like stars of the earth--it is
the shortest way to the village. While the carriage climbs the slope,
let me recall old memories of the days when I came here so often.



IV.

A VOYAGE TO CYTHERA.


Several years had passed, and only a childish memory was left me of that
meeting with Adrienne in front of the castle. I was again at Loisy on
the annual feast, and again I mingled with the knights of the bow,
taking my place in the same company as of old. The festival had been
arranged by young people belonging to the old families, who still own
the solitary castles, despoiled rather by time than revolution, hidden
here and there in the forest. From Chantilly, Compiègne and Senlis,
joyous companies hastened to join the rustic train of archers. After the
long parade through hamlet and village, after mass in the church,
contests of skill and awarding of prizes, the victors were invited to a
feast prepared upon an island in the centre of one of the tiny lakes,
fed by the Nonette and the Thève. Boats, gay with flags, conveyed us to
this island, chosen on account of an old temple with pillars, destined
to serve as a banquet hall. Here, as in Hermenonville, the country side
is sown with these frail structures, designed by philosophical
millionaires, in accordance with the prevailing taste of the close of
the eighteenth century. Probably this temple was originally dedicated to
Urania. Three pillars had fallen, bearing with them a portion of the
architrave, but the space within had been cleared, and garlands hung
between the columns, quite rejuvenated this modern ruin, belonging
rather to the paganism of Boufflers and Chaulieu than of Horace. The
sail on the lake was perhaps designed to recall Watteau's "Voyage to
Cythera," the illusion being marred only by our modern dress. The
immense bouquet was borne from its wagon and placed in a boat,
accompanied by the usual escort of young girls dressed in white, and
this graceful pageant, the survival of an ancient custom, was mirrored
in the still waters that flowed around the island, gleaming in the red
sunlight with its hawthorn thickets and colonnades.

All the boats soon arrived, and the basket of flowers borne in state,
adorned the centre of the table, around which we took our places, the
most fortunate beside a young girl; to win this favour it was enough to
know her relatives, which explains why I found myself by Sylvie, whose
brother had already joined me in the march, and reproached me for
neglecting to visit them. I excused myself by the plea that my studies
kept me in Paris, and averred that I had come with that intention.

"No," said Sylvie, "I am sure he has forgotten me. We are only village
folk, and a Parisian is far above us." I tried to stop her mouth with a
kiss, but she still pouted, and her brother had to intercede before she
would offer me her cheek with an indifferent air. I took no pleasure in
this salute, a favour accorded to plenty of others, for in that
patriarchal country where a greeting is bestowed upon every passing
stranger, a kiss means only an exchange of courtesies between honest
people.

To crown the enjoyment of the day, a surprise had been contrived, and,
at the close of the repast, a wild swan, hitherto imprisoned beneath the
flowers, soared into the air, bearing aloft on his powerful wings, a
tangle of wreaths and garlands, which were scattered in every direction.
While he darted joyously toward the last bright gleams of the sun, we
tried to seize the falling chaplets, to crown our fair neighbours. I was
so fortunate as to secure one of the finest, and Sylvie smilingly
granted me a kiss more tender than the last, by which I perceived that I
had now redeemed the memory of a former occasion. She had grown so
beautiful that my present admiration was without reserve, and I no
longer recognised in her the little village maid, whom I had slighted
for one more skilled in the graces of the world. Sylvie had gained in
every respect; her black eyes, seductive from childhood, had become
irresistibly fascinating, and there was something Athenian in her
arching brows, together with the sudden smile lighting up her quiet,
regular features. I admired this classic profile contrasting with the
mere prettiness of her companions. Her taper fingers, round, white arms
and slender waist changed her completely, and I could not refrain from
telling her of the transformation, hoping thus to hide my long
unfaithfulness. Everything favoured me, the delightful influences of the
feast, her brother's regard, the evening hour, and even the spot chosen
by a tasteful fancy to celebrate the stately rites of ancient gallantry.
We escaped from the dance as soon as possible, to compare recollections
of our childhood and to gaze, side by side, with dreamy pleasure, upon
the sunset sky reflected in the calm waters. Sylvie's brother had to
tear us from the contemplation of this peaceful scene by the unwelcome
summons that it was time to start for the distant village where she
dwelt.



V.

THE VILLAGE.


They lived at Loisy, in the old keeper's lodge, whither I accompanied
them, and then turned back toward Montagny, where I was staying with my
uncle. Leaving the highway to cross a little wood that divides Loisy
from Saint S----, I plunged into a deep track skirting the forest of
Hermenonville. I thought it would lead me to the walls of a convent,
which I had to follow for a quarter of a league. The moon, from time to
time, concealed by clouds, shed a dim light upon the grey rocks, and the
heath which lay thick upon the ground as I advanced. Right and left
stretched a pathless forest, and before me rose the Druid altars
guarding the memory of the sons of Armen, slain by the Romans. From
these ancient piles I discerned the distant lakelets glistening like
mirrors in the misty plain, but I could not distinguish the one where
the feast was held.

The air was so balmy, that I determined to lie down upon the heath and
wait for the dawn. When I awoke, I recognized, one by one, the
neighbouring landmarks. On the left stretched the long line of the
convent of Saint S----, then, on the opposite side of the valley, La
Butte aux Gens d'Armes, with the shattered ruins of the ancient
Carlovingian palace. Close by, beyond the tree-tops, the crumbling walls
of the lofty Abbey of Thiers, stood out against the horizon. Further on,
the manor of Pontarmé, surrounded as in olden times, by a moat, began to
reflect the first fires of dawn, while on the south appeared the tall
keep of La Tournelle and the four towers of Bertrand Fosse, on the
slopes of Montméliant.

The night had passed pleasantly, and I was thinking only of Sylvie, but
the sight of the convent suggested the idea that it might be the one
where Adrienne lived. The sound of the morning bell was still ringing in
my ears and had probably awakened me. The thought came to me, for a
moment, that by climbing to the top of the cliff, I might take a peep
over the walls, but on reflection, I dismissed it as profane. The sun
with its rising beams, put to flight this idle memory, leaving only the
rosy features of Sylvie. "I will go and awaken her," I said to myself,
and again I started in the direction of Loisy.

Ah, here at the end of the forest track, is the village, twenty cottages
whose walls are festooned with creepers and climbing roses. A group of
women, with red kerchiefs on their heads, are spinning in the early
light, in front of a farmhouse, but Sylvie is not among them. She is
almost a young lady, now she makes dainty lace, but her family remain
simple villagers. I ran up to her room without exciting surprise, to
find that she had been up for a long time, and was busily plying her
bobbins, which clicked cheerfully against the square green cushion on
her knees. "So, it is you, lazybones," she said with her divine smile;
"I am sure you are just out of bed."

I told her how I had lost my way in the woods and had passed the night
in the open air, and for a moment she seemed inclined to pity me.

"If you are not too tired, I will take you for another ramble. We will
go to see my grand-aunt at Othys."

Before I had time to reply, she ran joyously to smooth her hair before
the mirror, and put on her rustic straw hat, her eyes sparkling with
innocent gaiety.

Our way, at first, lay along the banks of the Thève, through meadows
sprinkled with daisies and buttercups; then we skirted the woods of
Saint Lawrence, sometimes crossing streams and thickets to shorten the
road. Blackbirds were whistling in the trees, and tomtits, startled at
our approach, flew joyously from the bushes.

Now and then we spied beneath our feet the periwinkles which Rousseau
loved, putting forth their blue crowns amid long sprays of twin leaves,
a network of tendrils which arrested the light steps of my companion.
Indifferent to the memory of the philosopher of Geneva, she sought here
and there for fragrant strawberries, while I talked of the New Heloise,
and repeated passages from it, which I knew by heart.

"Is it pretty?" she asked.

"It is sublime."

"Is it better than Auguste Lafontaine?"

"It is more tender."

"Well, then," said she, "I must read it. I will tell my brother to bring
it to me the next time he goes to Senlis."

I went on reciting portions of the Heloise, while Sylvie picked
strawberries.



VI.

OTHYS.


When we had left the forest, we found great tufts of purple foxglove,
and Sylvie gathered an armful, saying it was for her aunt who loved to
have flowers in her room.

Only a stretch of level country now lay between us and Othys. The
village church-spire pointed heavenward against the blue hills that
extend from Montméliant to Dammartin. The Thève again rippled over the
stones, narrowing towards its source, where it forms a tiny lake which
slumbers in the meadows, fringed with gladiolus and iris. We soon
reached the first houses where Sylvie's aunt lived in a little cottage
of rough stone, adorned with a trellis of hop-vine and Virginia creeper.
Her only support came from a few acres of land which the village folk
cultivated for her, now her husband was dead. The coming of her niece
set the house astir.

"Good morning, aunt; here are your children!" cried Sylvie; "and we are
very hungry." She kissed her aunt tenderly, gave her the flowers, and
then turned to present me, saying, "He is my sweetheart."

I, in turn, kissed the good aunt, who exclaimed, "He is a fine lad! why,
he has light hair!" "He has very pretty hair," said Sylvie. "That does
not last," returned her aunt; "but you have time enough before you, and
you are dark, so you are well matched."

"You must give him some breakfast," said Sylvie, and she went peeping
into cupboards and pantry, finding milk, brown bread and sugar which she
hastily set upon the table, together with the plates and dishes of
crockery adorned with staring flowers and birds of brilliant plumage. A
large bowl of Creil china, filled with strawberries swimming in milk,
formed the centrepiece, and after she had raided the garden for cherries
and goose-berries, she arranged two vases of flowers, placing one at
each end of the white cloth. Just then, her aunt made a sensible speech:
"All this is only for dessert. Now, you must let me set to work." She
took down the frying-pan and threw a fagot upon the hearth. "No, no; I
shall not let you touch it," she said decidedly to Sylvie, who was
trying to help her. "Spoiling your pretty fingers that make finer lace
than Chantilly! You gave me some, and I know what lace is."

"Oh, yes, aunt, and if you have some left, I can use it for a pattern."

"Well, go look upstairs; there may be some in my chest of drawers."

"Give me the keys," returned Sylvie.

"Nonsense," cried her aunt; "the drawers are open." "No; there is one
always locked." While the good woman was cleaning the frying-pan, after
having passed it over the fire to warm it, Sylvie unfastened from her
belt a little key of wrought steel and showed it to me in triumph.

I followed her swiftly up the wooden staircase that led to the room
above. Oh youth, and holy age! Who could sully by an evil thought the
purity of first love in this shrine of hallowed memories? The portrait
of a young man of the good old times, with laughing black eyes and rosy
lips, hung in an oval gilt frame at the head of the rustic bed. He wore
the uniform of a gamekeeper of the house of Condé; his somewhat martial
bearing, ruddy, good-humoured face, and powdered hair drawn back from
the clear brow, gave the charm of youth and simplicity to this pastel,
destitute, perhaps, of any artistic merit Some obscure artist, bidden to
the hunting parties of the prince, had done his best to portray the
keeper and his bride who appeared in another medallion, arch and
winning, in her open bodice laced with ribbons, teasing with piquant
frown, a bird perched upon her finger. It was, however, the same good
old dame, at that moment bending over the hearth-fire to cook. It
reminded me of the fairies in a spectacle who hide under wrinkled masks,
their real beauty revealed in the closing scene when the Temple of Love
appears with its whirling sun darting magic fires.

"Oh, dear old aunt!" I exclaimed, "how pretty you were!"

"And I?" asked Sylvie, who had succeeded in opening the famous drawer
which contained an old-fashioned dress of taffeta, so stiff that the
heavy folds creaked under her touch. "I will see if it fits me," she
said; "I shall look like an old fairy!" "Like the fairy of the legends,
ever young," thought I.

Sylvie had already unfastened her muslin gown and let it fall to her
feet. She bade me hook the rich robe which clung tightly to her slender
figure.

"Oh, what ridiculous sleeves!" she cried; and yet, the lace frills
displayed to advantage her bare arms, and her bust was outlined by the
corsage of yellow tulle and faded ribbon which had concealed but little
the vanished charms of her aunt.

"Come, make haste!" said Sylvie. "Do you not know how to hook a dress?"
She looked like the village bride of Greuze. "You ought to have some
powder," said I. "We will find some," and she turned to search the
drawers anew. Oh! what treasures, what sweet odours, what gleams of
light from brilliant hues and modest ornaments! Two mother-of-pearl fans
slightly broken, some pomade boxes covered with Chinese designs, an
amber necklace and a thousand trifles, among them two little white
slippers with sparkling buckles of Irish diamonds. "Oh! I will put them
on," cried Sylvie, "if I find the embroidered stockings."

A moment more, and we were unrolling a pair of pink silk stockings with
green clocks; but the voice of the old aunt, accompanied by the hiss of
the frying-pan, suddenly recalled us to reality. "Go down quickly," said
Sylvie, who refused to let me help her finish dressing. Her aunt was
just turning into a platter the contents of the frying-pan, a slice of
bacon and some eggs. Presently, I heard Sylvie calling me from the
staircase. "Dress yourself as soon as possible," and, completely attired
herself, she pointed to the wedding clothes of the gamekeeper, spread
out upon the chest. In an instant I was transformed into a bridegroom of
the last century. Sylvie waited for me on the stairs, and we went down,
arm in arm. Her aunt gave a cry when she saw us. "Oh, my children!" she
exclaimed, beginning to weep and then smiling through her tears. It was
the image of her own youth, a cruel, yet charming vision. We sat beside
her, touched, almost saddened, but soon our mirth came back, for after
the first surprise, the thoughts of the good old dame reverted to the
stately festivities of her wedding day. She even recalled the
old-fashioned songs chanted responsively from one end of the festal
board to the other, and the quaint nuptial hymn whose strains attended
the wedded pair when they withdrew after the dance. We repeated these
couplets with their simple rhymes, flowery and passionate as the Song of
Solomon. We were bride and bridegroom the space of one fair summer
morn.



VII

CHAÂLIS.


It is four o'clock in the morning; the road winds through a hollow and
comes out on high ground; the carriage passes Orry, then La Chapelle. On
the left is a road that skirts the forest of Hallate. Sylvie's brother
took me through there one evening in his covered cart, to attend some
local gathering on the Eve of Saint Bartholomew, I believe. Through the
woods, along unfrequented ways, the little horse sped as if hastening to
a witches' sabbath. We struck the highway again at Mont-l'Évêque, and a
few moments later pulled up at the keeper's lodge of the old abbey of
Chaâlis--Chaâlis, another memory!

This ancient retreat of the emperors offers nothing worthy of
admiration, save its ruined cloisters with their Byzantine arcades, the
last of which are still mirrored in the lake--crumbling fragments of the
abodes of piety, formerly attached to this demesne, known in olden
times as "Charlemagne's farms." In this quiet spot, far from the stir of
highways and cities, religion has retained distinctive traces of the
prolonged sojourn of the Cardinals of the House of Este during the time
of the Medici; a shade of poetic gallantry still lingers about its
ceremonial, a perfume of the Renaissance breathing beneath the
delicately moulded arches of the chapels decorated by Italian artists.
The faces of saints and angels outlined in rose tints upon a vaulted
roof of pale blue produce an effect of pagan allegory, which recalls the
sentimentality of Petrarch and the weird mysticism of Francesco Colonna.
Sylvie's brother and I were intruders in the festivities of the evening.
A person of noble birth, at that time proprietor of the demesne, had
invited the neighbouring families to witness a kind of allegorical
spectacle in which some of the inmates of the convent close by were to
take part. It was not intended to recall the tragedies of Saint Cyr, but
went back to the first lyric contests, introduced into France by the
Valois princes. What I saw enacted resembled an ancient mystery. The
costumes, consisting of long robes, presented no variety save in colour,
blue, hyacinth or gold. The scene lay between angels on the ruins of the
world. Each voice chanted one of the glories of the now extinct globe,
and the Angel of Death set forth the causes of its destruction. A spirit
rose from the abyss, holding a flaming sword, and convoked the others to
glorify the power of Christ, the conqueror of bell. This spirit was
Adrienne, transfigured by her costume as she was already by her
vocation. The nimbus of gilded cardboard encircling her angelic head
seemed to us a circle of light; her voice had gained in power and
compass, and an infinite variety of Italian trills relieved with their
bird-like warbling the stately severity of the recitative.

In recalling these details, I come to the point of asking myself, "Are
they real or have I dreamed them?" Sylvie's brother was not quite sober
that evening. We spent a few minutes in the keeper's house, where I was
much impressed by a cygnet displayed above the door, and within there
were tall chests of carved walnut, a large clock in its case and some
archery prizes, bows and arrows, above a red and green target. A
droll-looking dwarf in a Chinese cap, holding a bottle in one hand and a
ring in the other, seemed to warn the marksmen to take good aim. I think
the dwarf was cut out of sheet-iron. Did I really see Adrienne as surely
as I marked these details? I am, however, certain that it was the son of
the keeper who conducted us to the hall where the representation took
place; we were seated near the door behind a numerous company who seemed
deeply moved. It was the feast of Saint Bartholomew--a day strangely
linked with memories of the Medici, whose arms, impaled with those of
the House of Este, adorned these old walls. Is it an obsession, the way
these memories haunt me? Fortunately the carriage stops here on the road
to Plessis; I leave the world of dreams and find myself with only a
fifteen-minutes walk to reach Loisy by forest paths.



VIII

THE BALL AT LOISY.


I entered the ball of Loisy at that sad yet pleasing hour when the
lights flicker and grow dim at the approach of dawn. A faint bluish
tinge crept over the tops of the lime-trees, sunk in shadow below. The
rustic flute no longer contended so gayly with the trills of the
nightingale. The dancers all looked pale, and among the dishevelled
groups I distinguished with difficulty any familiar faces. Finally, I
recognized a tall girl, Sylvie's friend Lise.

"We have not seen you for a long time, Parisian," said she.

"Yes; a long time."

"And you come so late?"

"By coach."

"And you traveled slowly!"

"I came to see Sylvie; is she still here?"

"She will stay till morning; she loves to dance."

In a moment I was beside her; she looked tired, but her black eyes
sparkled with the same Athenian smile as of old. A young man stood near
her, but she refused by a gesture to join the next country-dance, and he
bowed to her and withdrew.

It began to grow light, and we left the ball hand in hand. The flowers
hung lifeless and faded in Sylvie's loosened tresses, and the nosegay at
her bosom dropped its petals on the crumpled lace made by her skilful
hands. I offered to walk home with her; it was broad day, but the sky
was cloudy. The Thève murmured on our left, leaving at every curve a
little pool of still water where yellow and white pond-lilies blossomed,
and lake star-worts, like Easter daisies, spread their delicate
broidery. The plain was covered with hay-ricks whose fragrance seemed
wafted to my brain, affecting me as the fresh scent of the woods and
hawthorn thickets had done in the past. This time neither of us thought
of crossing the meadows.

"Sylvie," said I, "you no longer love me."

She sighed. "My friend," she continued, "you must console yourself,
since things do not happen as we wish in this world. You once mentioned
the New Heloise; I read it, and shuddered when I found these words, at
the beginning: 'Any young girl who reads this book is lost.' However, I
kept on, trusting in my discretion. Do you remember the day we put on
the wedding clothes, at my aunt's house? The engravings in the book also
represented lovers dressed in olden costumes, so that to me you were
Saint-Preux and I was Julie. Ah! why did you not come back then? But
they said you were in Italy. You must have seen there far prettier girls
than I!"

"Not one, Sylvie, with your expression or the pure lines of your
profile. You do not know it, but you are a nymph of antiquity. Besides,
the woods here are as beautiful as those about Rome. There are granite
masses yonder, not less sublime, and a cascade which falls from the
rocks like that of Terni. I saw nothing there to regret here."

"And in Paris?" she asked.

"In Paris--" I shook my head, but did not answer. Suddenly I remembered
the vain shadow which I had pursued so long. "Sylvie," cried I, "let us
stop here, will you?"

I threw myself at her feet, and with hot tears I confessed my
irresolution and fickleness; I evoked the fatal spectre that haunted my
days.

"Save me!" I implored, "I come back to you forever."

She turned toward me with emotion, but at this moment our conversation
was interrupted by a loud burst of laughter, and Sylvie's brother
rejoined us with the boisterous mirth always attending a rustic
festival, and which the abundant refreshments of the evening had
stimulated beyond measure. He called to the gallant of the ball, who was
concealed in a thicket, but hastened to us. This youth was little firmer
on his feet than his companion, and appeared more embarrassed by the
presence of a Parisian than by Sylvie. His candid look and awkward
deference prevented any dislike on my part, on account of his dancing so
late with Sylvie at the ball; I did not consider him a dangerous rival.

"We must go in," said Sylvie to her brother. "We shall meet again soon,"
she said, as she offered me her cheek to kiss, at which the lover was
not offended.



IX.

HERMENONVILLE.


Not feeling inclined to sleep, I walked to Montagny to revisit my
uncle's house. Sadness fell upon me at the first glimpse of its yellow
front and green shutters. Everything looked as before, but I was obliged
to go to the farmer's to obtain the key. The shutters once open, I
surveyed with emotion the old furniture, polished from time to time, to
preserve its lustre, the tall cupboard of walnut, two Flemish paintings
said to be the work of an ancient artist, our ancestor, some large
prints after Boucher, and a whole series of framed engravings
representing scenes from "Emile" and the "New Heloise" by Moreau; on the
table was the dog, now stuffed and mounted, that I remembered alive, as
the companion of my forest rambles, perhaps the last "Carlin," for it
had belonged to that breed now extinct.

"As for the parrot," said the farmer, "he is still alive, and I took him
home with me."

The garden offered a magnificent picture of the growth of wild
vegetation, and there in a corner was the plot I had tended as a child.
A shudder came over me as I entered the study, which still contained the
little library of choice books, familiar friends of him who was no more,
and where upon his desk lay antique relics, vases and Roman medals found
in the garden,--a local collection, the source of much pleasure to him.

"Let us go to see the parrot," I said to the farmer. The parrot
clamoured for his breakfast, as in his best days, and gave me a knowing
look from his round eye peering out from the wrinkled skin, like the
wise glances of the old.

Full of sad thoughts awakened by my return to this cherished spot, I
felt that I must again see Sylvie, the only living tie which bound me to
that region, and once more I took the road to Loisy. It was the middle
of the day, and I found them all asleep, worn out by the night of
merry-making. It occurred to me that it might divert my thoughts to
stroll to Hermenonville, a league distant, by the forest road. It was
fine summer weather, and on setting out I was delighted by the freshness
and verdure of the path which seemed like the avenue of a park. The
green branches of the great oaks were relieved by the white trunks and
rustling leaves of the birches. The birds were silent, and I heard no
sound but the woodpecker tapping the trees to find a hollow for her
nest. At one time I was in danger of losing my way, the characters being
wholly effaced on the guide-posts which served to distinguish the roads.
Passing the Desert on the left, I came to the dancing-ring where I found
the benches of the old men still in place. All the associations of
ancient philosophy, revived by the former owner of the demesne, crowded
upon me, at the sight of this picturesque realisation of "Anacharsis"
and "Emile."

When I caught sight of the waters of the lake sparkling through the
branches of willows and hazels, I recognised a spot which I had often
visited with my uncle. Here stands to this day, sheltered by a group of
pines, the Temple of Philosophy which its founder had not the good
fortune to complete. It is built in the form of the temple of the
Tiburtine Sibyl, and displays with pride the names of all the great
thinkers from Montaigne and Descartes to Rousseau. This unfinished
structure is now but a ruin around which the ivy twines its graceful
tendrils, while brambles force their way between its disjointed steps.
When but a child, I witnessed the celebrations here, where young girls,
dressed in white, came to receive prizes for scholarship and good
conduct. Where are the roses that girdled the hillside? Hidden by brier
and eglantine, they are fast losing all traces of cultivation. As for
the laurels, have they been cut down, according to the old song of the
maidens who no longer care to roam the forest? No! these shrubs from
sweet Italy have withered beneath our unfriendly skies. Happily, the
privet of Virgil still thrives as if to emphasize the words of the
Master, inscribed above the door, _Rerum cognoscere causas._ Yes! like
so many others, this temple crumbles, and man, weary or thoughtless,
passes it by, while indifferent nature reclaims the soil for which art
contended, but the thirst for knowledge is eternal, the mainspring of
all power and activity.

Here are the poplars of the island and the empty tomb of Rousseau. O
Sage! thou gavest us the milk of the strong and we were too weak to
receive it! We have forgotten thy lessons which our fathers knew, and we
have lost the meaning of thy words, the last faint echoes of ancient
wisdom! Still, let us not despair, and like thee, in thy last moments,
let us turn our eyes to the sun!

I revisited the castle, the quiet waters about it, the cascade which
complains among the rocks, the causeway that unites the two parts of
the village with the four dove-cotes that mark the corners, and the
green that stretches beyond like a prairie, above which rise wooded
slopes; the tower of Gabrielle is reflected from afar in the waters of
an artificial lake studded with ephemeral blossoms; the scum is
seething, the insects hum. It is best to escape the noxious vapours and
seek the rocks and sand of the desert and the waste lands where the pink
heath blooms beside green ferns. How sad and lonely it all seems! In
by-gone days, Sylvie's enchanting smile, her merry pranks and glad cries
enlivened every spot! She was then a wild little creature with bare feet
and sun-burned skin, in spite of the straw hat whose long strings
floated loosely amid her dark locks. We used to go to the Swiss farm to
drink milk, and they said: "How pretty your sweetheart is, little
Parisian!" Ah! no peasant lad could have danced with her in those days!
She would have none but me for her partner, at the yearly Feast of the
Bow.



X.

BIG CURLY-HEAD


I went back to Loisy and they were all awake. Sylvie was dressed like a
young lady, almost in the fashion of the city. She led me up to her room
with all her old simplicity. Her bright eyes smiled as charmingly as
ever, but the decided arch of her brows made her at times look serious.
The room was simply decorated, but the furniture was modern: a mirror in
a gilt frame had replaced the old-fashioned looking-glass where an
idyllic shepherd was depicted offering a nest to a blue and pink
shepherdess; the four-post bed, modestly hung with flowered chintz, was
succeeded by a little walnut couch with net curtains; canaries occupied
the cage at the window where once there were linnets. I was impatient to
leave this room, where nothing spoke to me of the past. "Shall you make
lace to-day?" I asked Sylvie. "Oh, I do not make lace now; there is no
demand for it here, and even at Chantilly the factory is closed." "What
is your work then?" She brought forward, from the corner of the room, an
iron tool which resembled a long pair of pincers.

"What is that?"

"It is called the machine and is used to hold the leather in place while
the gloves are sewed."

"Then you are a glove-maker, Sylvie?"

"Yes, we work here for Dammartin; it pays well now, but I shall not work
to-day; let us go wherever you like." I glanced towards Othys, but she
shook her head, and I understood that the old aunt was no more. Sylvie
called a little boy and bade him saddle an ass. "I am still tired from
yesterday," she said, "but the ride will do me good; let us go to
Chaâlis."

We set out through the forest, followed by the boy armed with a branch.
Sylvie soon wished to stop, and I kissed her as I led her to a seat. Our
conversation could no longer be very intimate. I had to talk of my life
in Paris, my travels.... "How can anyone go so far?" she demanded. "It
seems strange to me, when I look at you."

"Oh! of course,"

"Well, admit that you were not so pretty in the old days."

"I cannot tell."

"Do you remember when we were children and you the tallest?"

"And you the wisest?"

"Oh! Sylvie!"

"They put us on an ass, one in each pannier."

"And we said thee and thou to each other? Do you remember how you taught
me to catch crawfish under the bridges over the Nonette and the Thève?"

"Do you remember your foster-brother who pulled you out of the water one
day?"

"Big Curly-head? It was he who told me to go in."

I made haste to change the subject, because this recollection had
brought vividly to mind the time when I used to go into the country,
wearing a little English coat which made the peasants laugh. Sylvie was
the only one who liked it, but I did not venture to remind her of such a
juvenile opinion. For some reason, my mind turned to the old aunt's
wedding clothes in which we had arrayed ourselves, and I asked what had
become of them.

"Oh! poor aunt," cried Sylvie; "she lent me her gown to wear to the
carnival at Dammartin, two years ago, and the next year she died, dear,
old aunt!" She sighed and the tears came, so I could not inquire how it
chanced that she went to a masquerade, but I perceived that, thanks to
her skill, Sylvie was no longer a peasant girl. Her parents had not
risen above their former station, and she lived with them, scattering
plenty around her like an industrious fairy.



XI.

RETURN.


The outlook widened when we left the forest and we found ourselves near
the lake of Chaâlis. The galleries of the cloister, the chapel with its
pointed arches, the feudal tower and the little castle which had
sheltered the loves of Henry IV. and Gabrielle, were bathed in the
crimson glow of evening against the dark background of the forest.

"Like one of Walter Scott's landscapes, is it not?" said Sylvie. "And
who has told you of Walter Scott?" I inquired. "You must have read much
in the past three years! As for me, I try to forget books, and what
delights me, is to revisit with you this old abbey where, as little
children, we played hide and seek among the ruins. Do you remember,
Sylvie, how afraid you were when the keeper told us the story of the Red
Monks?"

"Oh, do not speak of it!"

"Well then, sing me the song of the fair maid under the white
rose-bush, who was stolen from her father's garden."

"Nobody sings that now."

"Is it possible that you have become a musician?"

"Perhaps."

"Sylvie, Sylvie, I am positive that you sing airs from operas!"

"Why should you complain?"

"Because I loved the old songs and you have forgotten them."

Sylvie warbled a few notes of a grand air from a modern opera.... She
_phrased!_

We turned away from the lakeside and approached the green bordered with
lime-trees and elms, where we had so often danced. I had the conceit to
describe the old Carlovingian walls and to decipher the armorial
bearings of the House of Este.

"And you! How much more you have read than I, and how learned you have
become!" said Sylvie. I was vexed by her tone of reproach, as I had all
the way been seeking a favourable opportunity to resume the tender
confidences of the morning, but what could I say, accompanied by a
donkey and a very wide-awake lad who pressed nearer and nearer for the
pleasure of hearing a Parisian talk? Then I displayed my lack of tact,
by relating the vision of Chaâlis which I recalled so vividly. I led
Sylvie into the very hall of the castle where I had heard Adrienne sing.
"Oh, let me hear you!" I besought her; "let your loved voice ring out
beneath these arches and put to flight the spirit that torments me, be
it angel or demon!" She repeated the words and sang after me:

     "_Anges, descendez promptement_
     _au fond du purgatoire...._"

     Angels descend without delay
     To dread abyss of purgatory.

"It is very sad!" she cried.

"It is sublime! An air from Porpora, I think, with words translated in
the present century."

"I do not know," she replied.

We came home through the valley, following the Charlepont road which the
peasants, without regard to etymology, persistently called Châllepont.
The way was deserted, and Sylvie, weary of riding, leaned upon my arm,
while I tried to speak of what was in my heart, but, I know not why,
could find only trivial words or stilted phrases from some romance that
Sylvie might have read. I stopped suddenly then, in true classic style,
and she was occasionally amazed by these disjointed rhapsodies. Having
reached the walls of Saint S---- we had to look well to our steps, on
account of the numerous stream-lets winding through the damp marshes.

"What has become of the nun?" I asked suddenly.

"You give me no peace with your nun! Ah, well! it is a sad story!" Not a
word more would Sylvie say.

Do women really feel that certain words come from the lips rather than
the heart? It does not seem probable, to see how readily they are
deceived, and what an inexplicable choice they usually make--there are
men who play the comedy of love so well! I never could accustom myself
to it, although I know some women lend themselves wittingly to the
deception. A love that dates from childhood is, however, sacred, and
Sylvie, whom I had seen grow up, was like a sister to me; I could not
betray her. Suddenly, a new thought came to me. "At this very hour, I
might be at the theatre. What is Aurélie (that was the name of the
actress) playing to-night? No doubt the part of the Princess in the new
play. How touching she is in the third act! And in the love scene of the
second with that wrinkled actor who plays the lover!"

"Lost in thought?" said Sylvie; and she began to sing:

     _"A Dammartin l'y a trots belles filles:_
     _L'y en a z'une plus belle que le jour...."_

     _At Dammartin there are three fair maids,_
     _And one of them is fairer than day._

"Little tease!" I cried, "you know you remember the old songs."

"If you would come here oftener, I would try to remember more of them,"
she said; "but we must think of realities; you have your affairs at
Paris, I have my work here; let us go in early, for I must rise with the
sun to-morrow."



XII.

FATHER DODU.


I was about to reply, to fall at her feet and offer her my uncle's house
which I could purchase, as the little estate had not been apportioned
among the numerous heirs, but just then we reached Loisy, where supper
awaited us and the onion-soup was diffusing its patriarchal odour.
Neighbours had been invited to celebrate the day after the feast, and I
recognised at a glance Father Dodu, an old wood-cutter who used to amuse
or frighten us, in the evenings by his stories. Shepherd, carrier,
gamekeeper, fisherman and even poacher, by turns, Father Dodu made
clocks and turnspits in his leisure moments. For a long time he acted as
guide to the English tourists at Hermenonville, and while he recounted
the last moments of the philosopher, would lead them to Rousseau's
favourite spots for meditation. He was the little boy employed to
classify the herbs and gather the hemlock twigs from which the sage
pressed the juice into his cup of coffee. The landlord of the Golden
Cross contested this point and a lasting feud resulted. Father Dodu had
once borne the reproach of possessing some very innocent secrets, such
as how to cure cows by saying a rhyme backwards and making the sign of
the cross with the left foot, but he had renounced these
superstitions--thanks, he declared, to his conversations with Jean
Jacques.

"That you, little Parisian?" said Father Dodu; "have you come to carry
off our pretty girls?"

"I, Father Dodu?"

"You take them into the woods when the wolf is away!"

"Father Dodu, you are the wolf."

"I was as long as I could find sheep, but at present I meet only goats,
and they know how to take care of themselves! As for you, why, you are
all rascals in Paris. Jean Jacques was right when he said, 'Man grows
corrupt in the poisonous air of cities.'"

"Father Dodu, you know very well that men become corrupt everywhere."

"Father Dodu began to roar out a drinking song, and it was impossible to
stop him at a questionable couplet that everyone knew by heart. Sylvie
would not sing, in spite of our entreaties, on the plea that it was no
longer customary to sing at table. I bad already noticed the lover of
the ball, seated at her left, and his round face and tumbled hair seemed
familiar. He rose and stood behind me, saying, "Have you forgotten me,
Parisian?" A good woman who came back to dessert after serving us,
whispered in my ear: "Do you not recognize your foster-brother?" Without
this warning, I should have made myself ridiculous. "Ah, it is _Big
Curly-head_!" I cried; "the very same who pulled me out of the water."
Sylvie burst out laughing at the recollection.

"Without considering," said the youth em-bracing me, "that you had a
fine silver watch and on the way home you were more concerned about it
than yourself, because it had stopped. You said, 'the _creature is
drowned_ does not go tick-tack; what will Uncle say?'" "A watch is a
creature," said Father Dodu; "that is what they tell children in Paris!"

Sylvie was sleepy, and I fancied there was no hope for me. She went
upstairs, and as I kissed her, said: "Come again to-morrow." Father Dodu
remained at table with Sylvain and my foster-brother, and we talked a
long time over a bottle of Louvres ratafia.

"All men are equal," said Father Dodu between glasses; "I drink with a
pastry-cook as readily as with a prince."

"Where is the pastry-cook?" I asked.

"By your side! There you see a young man who is ambitious to get on in
life."

My foster-brother appeared embarrassed and I understood the situation.
Fate had reserved for me a foster-brother in the very country made
famous by Rousseau, who opposed putting children out to nurse! I learned
from Father Dodu that there was much talk of a marriage between Sylvie
and Big Curly-head, who wished to open a pastry-shop at Dammartin. I
asked no more. Next morning the coach from Nanteuil-le-Haudouin took me
back to Paris.



XIII

AURÉLIE.


To Paris, a journey of five hours! I was impatient for evening, and
eight o'clock found me in my accustomed seat Aurélie infused her own
spirit and grace into the lines of the play, the work of a contemporary
author evidently inspired by Schiller. In the garden scene she was
sublime. During the fourth act, when she did not appear, I went out to
purchase a bouquet of Madame Prevost, slipping into it a tender effusion
signed _An Unknown_, "There," thought I, "is something definite for the
future," but on the morrow I was on my way to Germany.

Why did I go there? In the hope of com-posing my disordered fancy. If I
were to write a book, I could never gain credence for the story of a
heart torn by these two conflicting loves. I had lost Sylvie through my
own fault, but to see her for a day, sufficed to restore my soul. A
glance from her had arrested me on the verge of the abyss, and
henceforth I enshrined her as a smiling goddess in the Temple of Wisdom.
I felt more than ever reluctant to present myself before Aurélie among
the throng of vulgar suitors who shone in the light of her favour for an
instant only to fall blinded.

"Some day," said I, "we shall see whether this woman has a heart."

One morning I learned from a newspaper that Aurélie was ill, and I wrote
to her from the mountains of Salzburg, a letter so filled with German
mysticism that I could hardly hope for a reply, indeed I expected none.
I left it to chance or ... the _unknown._

Months passed, and in the leisure intervals of travel I undertook to
embody in poetic action the life-long devotion of the painter Colonna to
the fair Laura who was constrained by her relatives to take the veil.
Something in the subject lent itself to my habitual train of thought,
and as soon as the last verse of the drama was written, I hastened back
to France.

Can I avoid repeating in my own history, that of many others? I passed
through all the ordeals of the theatre. I "ate the drum and drank the
cymbal," according to the apparently meaningless phrase of the initiates
at Eleusis, which probably signifies that upon occasion we must stand
ready to pass the bounds of reason and absurdity; for me it meant to
win and possess my ideal.

Aurélie accepted the leading part in the play which I brought back from
Germany. I shall never forget the day she allowed me to read it to her.
The love scenes had been arranged expressly for her, and I am positive
that I rendered them with feeling. In the conversation that followed I
revealed myself as the "Unknown" of the two letters. She said: "You are
mad, but come again; I have never found anyone who knew how to love me."

Oh, woman! you seek for love ... but what of me?

In the days which followed I wrote probably the most eloquent and
touching letters that she ever received. Her answers were full of good
sense. Once she was moved, sent for me and confessed that it was hard
for her to break an attachment of long standing. "If you love me for
myself alone, then you will understand that I can belong to but one."

Two months later, I received an effusive letter which brought me to her
feet--in the meantime, someone volunteered an important piece of
information. The handsome young man whom I had met one night at the club
had just enlisted in the Turkish cavalry.

Races were held at Chantilly the next season, and the theatre troupe to
which Aurélie belonged gave a performance. Once in the country, the
company was for three days subject to the orders of the director. I had
made friends with this worthy man, formerly the Dorante of the comedies
of Marivaux and for a long time successful in lovers' parts. His latest
triumph was achieved in the play imitated from Schiller, when my
opera-glass had discovered all his wrinkles. He had fire, however, and
being thin, produced a good effect in the provinces. I accompanied the
troupe in the quality of poet, and persuaded the manager to give
performances at Senlis and Dammartin. He inclined to Compiègne at first,
but Aurélie was of my opinion. Next day, while arrangements with the
local authorities were in progress, I ordered horses and we set out on
the road to Commelle to breakfast at the castle of Queen Blanche.
Aurélie, on horseback, with her blonde hair floating in the wind, rode
through the forest like some queen of olden times, and the peasants were
dazzled by her appearance. Madame de _F_-----was the only woman they had
ever seen so imposing and so graceful. After breakfast we rode down to
the villages like Swiss hamlets where the waters of the Nonette turn the
busy saw-mills. These scenes, which my remembrance cherished, interested
Aurélie, but did not move her to delay. I had planned to conduct her to
the castle near Orry, where I had first seen Adrienne on the green. She
manifested no emotion. Then I told her all; I revealed the hidden spring
of that love which haunted my dreams by night and was realized in her.
She listened with attention and said: "You do not love me! You expect me
to say 'the actress and the nun are the same'; you are merely arranging
a drama and the issue of the plot is lacking. Go! I no longer believe in
you."

Her words were an illumination. The unnatural enthusiasm which had
possessed me for so long, my dreams, my tears, my despair and my
tenderness,--could they mean aught but love? What then is love?

Aurélie played that night at Senlis, and I thought she displayed a
weakness for the director, the wrinkled "young lover" of the stage. His
character was exemplary, and he had already shown her much kindness.

One day, Aurélie said to me: "There is the man who loves me!"



XIV.

THE LAST LEAF.


Such are the fancies that charm and beguile us in the morning of life! I
have tried to set them down here, in a disconnected fashion, but many
hearts will understand me. One by one our illusions fall like husks, and
the kernel thus laid bare is experience. Its taste is bitter, but it
yields an acrid flavour that invigorates,--to use an old-fashioned
simile. Rousseau says that the aspect of nature is a universal
consolation. Sometimes I seek again my groves of Clarens lost in the fog
to the north of Paris, but now, all is changed! Hermenonville, the spot
where the ancient idyl blossomed again, transplanted by Gessner, thy
star has set, the star that glowed for me with two-fold lustre. Blue and
rose by turns, like the changeful Aldebaran, it was formed by Adrienne
and Sylvie, the two halves of my love. One was the sublime ideal, the
other, the sweet reality. What are thy groves and lakes and thy desert
to me now? Othys, Montagny, Loiseaux, poor neighbouring hamlets, and
Chaâlis now to be restored, you guard for me no treasures of the past.
Occasionally, I feel a desire to return to those scenes of lonely
musing, where I sadly mark the fleeting traces of a period when
affectation invaded nature; sometimes I smile as I read upon the granite
rocks certain lines from Boucher, which I once thought sublime, or
virtuous maxims inscribed above a fountain or a grotto dedicated to Pan.
The swans disdain the stagnant waters of the little lakes excavated at
such an expense. The time is no more when the hunt of Condé swept by
with its proud riders, and the forest-echoes rang with answering horns!
There is to-day no direct route to Hermenonville, and sometimes I go by
Creil and Senlis, sometimes by Dammartin.

It is impossible to reach Dammartin before night, so I lodge at the
Image of Saint John. They usually give me a neat room hung with old
tapestry, with a glass between the windows. This room shows a return to
the fashion for bric-à-brac which I renounced long ago. I sleep
comfortably under the eider-down covering used there. In the morning,
when I throw open the casement wreathed with vines and roses, I gaze
with rapture upon a wide green landscape stretching away to the
horizon, where a line of poplars stand like sentinels. Here and there
the villages nestle guarded by their protecting church-spires. First
Othys, then Eve and Ver; Hermenonville would be visible beyond the wood,
if it had a belfry, but in that philosophic spot the church has been
neglected. Having filled my lungs with the pure air of these uplands, I
go down stairs in good humour and start for the pastry-cook's. "Helloa,
big Curly-head!" "Helloa, little Parisian!" We greet each other with sly
punches in the ribs as we did in childhood, then I climb a certain stair
where two children welcome my coming. Sylvie's Athenian smile lights up
her classic features, and I say to myself: "Here, perhaps, is the
happiness I have missed, and yet...."

Sometimes I call her Lotty, and she sees in me some resemblance to
Werther without the pistols, which are out of fashion now. While Big
Curly-head is busy with the breakfast, we take the children for a walk
through the avenues of limes that border the ruins of the old brick
towers of the castle. While the little ones practise with their bows and
arrows, we read some poem or a few pages from one of those old books all
too short, and long forgotten by the world.

I forgot to say that when Aurélie's troupe gave a performance at
Dammartin, I took Sylvie to the play and asked her if she did not think
the actress resembled someone she knew.

"Whom, pray?"

"Do you remember Adrienne?"

She laughed merrily, in reply. "What an idea!"

Then, as if in self-reproach, she added with a sigh: "Poor Adrienne! she
died at the convent of Saint S---- about 1832."



APPENDIX.

'_EL DESDICHADO._'

_Gérard DE NERVAL._

_I am that dark, that disinherited._
_That all dishonoured Prince of Aquitaine,_
  _The Star upon my scutcheon long hath fled;_
_A black sun on my lute doth yet remain!_
_Oh, thou that didst console me not in vain,_
  _Within the tomb, among the midnight dead,_
  _Show me Italian seas, and blossoms wed,_
_The rose, the vine-leaf, and the golden grain._

_Say, am I Love or Phoebus? have I been_
_Or Lusignan or Biron? By a Queen_
  _Caressed within the Mermaid's haunt I lay,_
_And twice I crossed the unpermitted stream,_
_And touched on Orpheus' lute as in a dream,_
  _Sighs of a Saint, and laughter of a Fay!_

(ANDREW LANG.)


TO ALEXANDER DUMAS.

     When it was currently reported that Gérard de Nerval had become
     insane, Alexander Dumas, who was then publishing that amusing
     journal _Le Mousquetaire,_ endeavored to explain and interpret the
     poet's peculiar form of mental alienation. Gérard, who presently
     came to himself, as was his wont, took note of the study, and in
     return dedicated to Dumas his _Filles du Feu_, thus acknowledging
     the obligation conferred by the great novelist in inditing the
     epitaph of the poet's "lost wits."

     This dedication, now done into English for the first time, is
     interesting and important, as embodying the author's own
     interpretation of his singular mental constitution. He confesses
     that he is unable to compose without incarnating himself in his
     creations so thoroughly as to lose his own identity. In
     illustration, he throws into the text the tragic history of a
     mythical hero. It is easy to trace in this story of a nameless
     prince, unable to prove his lofty origin, involved in a network of
     misfortunes through the crafty machinations of the arch plotter La
     Rancune (malice) and abandoned by his mistress, the beautiful
     guiding Star of his destiny, allegorical allusions to the poet, the
     heir of genius and of glory, unable to prove or justify his noble
     birthright, his highest impulses misunderstood and trampled upon by
     a heartless and vulgar world.

                                                               LUCIE PAGE.

I dedicate this book to you, my dear Master, as I dedicated _Lorely_ to
Jules Janin. I was indebted to him for the same service that I owe to
you. A few years ago, it was reported that I was dead, and he wrote my
biography. A few days ago, I was thought to have lost my reason, and you
honoured me by devoting some of your most graceful lines to the epitaph
of my intelligence. Such an inheritance of glory has fallen to me before
my time. How shall I venture, yet living, to deck my forehead with these
shining crowns? It becomes me to assume an air of modesty and beg the
public to accept, with suitable deductions, the eulogy bestowed upon my
ashes, or rather upon the lost wits contained in the bottle which, like
Astolpho, I have been to seek in the moon, and which, I trust, I have
now restored to their normal place in the seat of thought.

Being, therefore, no longer mounted upon the hippogriff, and having, in
the popular conception, recovered what is vulgarly termed reason,--let
us proceed to the exercise of that faculty.

Here is a fragment of what you wrote concerning me, the tenth of last
December:

"As you can readily perceive, he possesses a subtle and highly
cultivated intellect, in which is manifested from time to time a
singular phenomenon which, fortunately, let us hope, has no serious
import to himself or his friends. At intervals, when preoccupied by
literary toil, imagination goaded to frenzy masters reason and drives it
from the brain; then, like an opium-smoker of Cairo, or a hashish-eater
of Algiers, Gérard finds again the talismans that evoke spirits. Now he
is King Solomon waiting for the Queen of Sheba; then by turns Sultan of
the Crimea, Count of Abyssinia, Duke of Egypt, or Baron of Smyrna. Next
day, he declares himself mad and relates the whole series of events from
which his madness sprung, with such a joyous abandon, such an ingenious
fertility of resource that one is ready to part with his wits in order
to follow such a fascinating guide through the desert of dreams and
hallucinations, sprinkled with oases fresher and greener than any which
dot the route from Alexandria to Ammon. Finally, melancholy becomes his
muse of inspiration, and now, restrain your tears if you can, for never
did Werther, René, or Antony pour forth sobs and complaints more tender
and pathetic!"

I shall now endeavour to explain to you, my dear Dumas, the phenomenon
which you mention above. There are, as you well know, certain writers
who cannot invent without identifying themselves with the creations of
their imagination. You remember with what conviction our old friend
Nodier related how he had the misfortune to be guillotined in the
Revolution. The narrative was so convincing that we wondered
instinctively how he had contrived to fasten his head on again.

Understand, therefore, that the ardour of production may conduce to a
like result, that the author incarnates himself, as it were, in the hero
of his imagination so completely that he loses himself and burns with
the imaginary flames of this hero's love and ambition! This was
precisely the effect produced upon me in narrating the history of a
personage who figured under the title of Brisacier, about the time of
Louis XV, I believe. Where did I read the fatal biography of this
adventurer? I have found again that of the Abbé of Bucquoy, but I cannot
recall the slightest historical proof of the existence of this
illustrious unknown. What for you, dear Master, would have been but a
pastime,--you, who have with clever artifices so bewildered our minds
concerning the old chronicles, that posterity will never be able to
disentangle truth from fiction, and is certain to credit your invention
with all the characters from history that figure in your romances--this
became for me a veritable obsession. To invent, is in reality only to
recollect, says a certain moralist. Finding no proofs of the material
existence of my hero, I suddenly came to believe in the transmigration
of souls, not less firmly than Pythagoras or Peter Leroux. Even the
eighteenth century, in which I believed myself to have lived, was full
of these illusions. Do you remember that courtier who recalled
distinctly that he was once a sofa? Whereupon Schahabaham exclaimed with
enthusiasm, "What, you were once a sofa! why, that is delightful!--Tell
me, were you embroidered?"

As for me, I was embroidered at every seam. From the moment when I first
grasped the continuity of all my previous existences, I figured as
readily in one character as another, prince, king, mage, genie, or even
god; could I unite my memories in one masterpiece, it would represent
the Dream of Scipio, the Vision of Tasso or the Divine Comedy of Dante.
Renouncing, henceforth, all pretensions to inspiration or illumination,
I can offer only what you so justly call impracticable theories, an
impossible book, whose first chapter, subjoined below, seems but to
furnish the context of the Comic Romance of Scarron.... Read and judge
for yourself:


A TRAGIC ROMANCE.

Here I still languish in my prison, Madame, still rash and culpable and
alas! still trusting in that beautiful _star_ of comedy, which, for one
brief instant, deigned to call me her _destiny_ The Star and its
Destiny! what a charming couple to figure in a romance like the poet
Scarron's! And yet, how difficult we should find it to sustain the two
characters now! The heavy vehicles which used to jolt us over the uneven
pavements of Mons, have been superseded by coach, post-chaise and other
new inventions. Where shall we find to-day those wild adventures, that
gay, Bohemian life that united us, poets and actresses, as comrades and
equals? You have betrayed and deserted us, and left us to perish in some
miserable inn, while you share the fortunes of some rich and gallant
lord. Here, in sooth, am I, but lately the brilliant actor, the prince
in disguise, the disinherited son and the banished lover, no better
treated than some provincial rhymer! My countenance disfigured by an
enormous plaster only adds to my discomfiture. The landlord, tempted by
the plausible story poured into his ears by La Rancune, has consented to
hold as security for the settlement of his account the person of the son
of the great Khan of the Crimea, sent here to finish his education and
well known throughout Christian Europe as Brisacier. Had the old
intriguer, La Rancune, left me a few gold pieces, or even a paltry watch
set with false brilliants, I could, doubtless, have won the respect of
my accusers and extricated myself from this unfortunate situation. But
in addition, you have left my wardrobe furnished only with a
puce-coloured smock-coat, a blue and black striped waist-coat and small
clothes in a doubtful state of repair. The suspicions of the landlord
were awakened upon lifting my valise after your departure, and he
insulted me to my face by calling me an imposter, and a _contraband
prince_, I sprang up to stab him, but La Rancune had removed my sword,
fearing lest despair on account of the ungrateful mistress who has
abandoned me, might lead me to thrust it through my heart. This
precaution was needless, O La Rancune! An actor never stabs himself with
the sword that he has worn in many a comedy; nor does he who is himself
the hero of tragedy ape the hero of a romance. I call all my comrades to
witness that such a death could never be represented with dignity upon
the stage. I know that one may plant his sword in the earth and fall
upon it with outstretched arms; but in spite of the cold weather, I have
here a bare floor with no carpet. The window, too, is wide enough and at
sufficient height to aid in putting an end to all despair. But ... but
as I have told you a thousand times, I am an actor with a conscience.

Do you remember how I used to play Achilles, when in passing through
some third or fourth-rate town, the whim would seize us to re-establish
the neglected cult of the old French tragedians? Was I not noble and
puissant in the gilded helmet with streaming locks of purple blackness,
the glittering armor and azure cloak? What a spectacle to see a father
as weak and cowardly as Agamemnon contend with the priest Calchas for
the honour of immolating such a victim as poor, weeping Iphigenia! I
rushed like a thunderbolt into the midst of the forced and cruel action;
I restored hope to the mothers and reawakened courage in the daughters,
always sacrificed from a sense of duty, to stay the anger of a god,
allay the vengeance of a nation, or advance the interests of a family.
For it is easy to recognize here the eternal type of human marriage. The
father will forevermore deliver up his daughter through ambition, and
the mother will sell her through cupidity; but the lover is not always
the worthy Achilles, so gallant and terrible, albeit a trifle too
rhetorical for a man of war!

As for me, I often rebelled against declaiming long tirades in defense
of a course so evidently just, in the face of an audience so easily
convinced that I was in the right. I was tempted to stab the whole
idiotic court of the king of kings, with its sleepy rows of
super-numeraries, and so put an end to the piece. The public would have
been delighted, but on second thoughts would have found the play too
short, considering that time sufficient to witness the sufferings of a
princess, a lover and a queen, was its rightful due; a period long
enough to see them weep, rage and pour forth a torrent of poetic
invective against the established authority of priest and king. That was
well worth five acts and two hours of close attention, and the audience
would not content itself with less. It desires the humiliation of this
proud race seated upon the throne of Greece, before whom Achilles
himself dares to thunder but in words; it must sound all the depths of
misery hidden beneath this royal purple whose majesty seems so
irresistible. The tears which fall from the most glorious eyes in the
world upon the swelling bosom of Iphigenia, excite the crowd no less
than her beauty, her grace and the splendour of her royal robes. Listen
to the sweet voice that pleads for life with the touching reminder that,
as yet, she stands but upon its threshold. Who does not favour her
lover? Who could wish to see her slain? Great gods, what heart so hard!
None, surely!... On the contrary, the whole audience has already
decided that she must die for the general good rather than live for one
individual. Achilles seems to all too grand, too superb! Shall Iphigenia
be borne away by this Thessalian vulture, as, not long ago, the daughter
of Leda was stolen by a shepherd prince from the voluptuous shores of
Asia? This is the question of paramount importance to the Greeks and to
the audience as well, which takes our measure when we act the part of
hero. I felt myself as much an object of hatred to the men as of
admiration to the women when I thus played the part of victorious lover,
because it was no indifferent actress, taught to listlessly drone those
immortal verses, that I was defending, but a true Greek maiden, a pearl
of grace, purity and love, worthy, indeed, to be rescued by all human
efforts from the hands of the jealous gods. Not Iphigenia alone, she was
Junia, Berenice, all the heroines rendered illustrious by the fair blue
eyes of Mlle. de Champmeslé, or the charming graces of the noble maidens
of Saint Cyr. Poor Aurélie! My comrade and my sister, wilt thou never
regret those hours of triumph and rapture? Didst thou not love me for an
instant, cold star, when I fought and wept and suffered for thee? The
audience questioned nightly: "Who, pray, is this actress, so far beyond
all that we have ever applauded? Are we not mistaken? Is she really as
young, as dazzling, and as pure as she seems?" The young women envied,
criticised or admired sadly. As for me, I needed to see her constantly,
so as not to feel overpowered by her beauty and to be able to meet her
eyes whenever the exigencies of the plot demanded....

This is why Achilles was my triumph, although I was often embarrassed in
other parts. What a pity that I could not change the situations to suit
me, and sacrifice even the thoughts of genius to my love and respect!
The character of a timid and captive lover like Britannicus or Bajazet,
did not please me. The purple of the young Caesar attracted me more; but
what a misfortune to declaim in conclusion only cold and perfidious
speeches! What! Was this young Nero, the idol of Rome, the handsome
athlete, the dancer, the poet whose only wish was to please the
populace? Is this what history and the conceptions of our poets have
left of him? Ah! give me his fury to interpret; his power I would fear
to accept. Nero! I have comprehended thee, not alas! according to
Racine, but according to my own heart, torn with agony whenever I have
ventured to impersonate thee! Yes, thou wast a god, thou who wouldst
have burned Rome. Thou wast right, perhaps, since Rome had insulted
thee!...

A hiss, a miserable hiss, in her presence, and because of her! A hiss of
scorn which she attributes to herself--through my mistake, be it
understood! Alas! my friends, for an instant, I felt an impulse to show
myself truly great, immortal, upon the stage of your theatre. Instead of
replying to the insult by another, which brought upon me the assault
from which I still suffer, instead of provoking a vulgar audience to
rush upon the scene and cowardly beat and belabour me, I held for a
moment a sublime purpose, worthy of Caesar himself, a purpose which none
could hesitate to pronounce in harmony with the dramatic conceptions of
the great Racine himself! I thought to set fire to the theatre, and
while the audience perished in the flames, bear away Aurélie in my arms,
her disheveled tresses streaming over her disordered dress. O remorse
that fills my feverish nights and days of agony! What! I might have done
this and I refrained! What! Do ye still insult me, ye, who owe your
lives to pity, rather than any fear on my part? I might have burned them
all! Judge for yourselves: the theatre of P---- has but one exit; ours
opened upon a little street in the rear, but the green-room, where you
were all assembled, is on the other side of the stage. In order to set
fire to the curtain, I had only to snatch down one of the lamps; I ran
no risk of detection, for the manager could not see me and I was alone
listening to the insipid dialogue between Britannicus and Junia, waiting
for my cue to reappear; all through that scene I was struggling with
myself, and when I entered upon the stage I was turning and twisting in
my fingers a glove that I had picked up; I expected to avenge myself
more nobly than Caesar himself of an insult that I had felt with all the
heart of a Caesar.... Ah, well! the cowards dared not begin again; my
glance confounded them, and I was on the point of pardoning the
audience, if not Junia herself, when she dared.... Immortal gods!...
Hold, let me speak my mind! ... Yes, since that night, it is my delusion
to imagine myself a Roman, an emperor; I have identified myself with my
part, and the tunic of Nero clings to my burning limbs as that of the
centaur to the dying Hercules. Let us jest no more with sacred things,
not even those of an age and nation long since past, lest perchance some
tongue of flame yet quiver in the ashes of the gods of Rome!...

Consider, friends, that in this scene more than a mere repetition of
measured lines was involved and three hearts contended with equal
chances, where as in the arena, life-blood itself might flow! The
audience, that of a small town where there are no secrets, knew it well;
those women, many of them ready to fall at my feet, could I be false to
my one love, those men all jealous of me on her account, and the third,
well chosen for the part of Britannicus, the poor, stammering suitor,
who trembled before me in her presence, but who was destined to be my
conqueror in that fearful contest where all the honours were reserved
for the latest comer.... Ah! the no-vice in love knew his part well....
However, he had nothing to fear, for I am too just to condemn another
for the same love that I feel myself; in this particular, I am far
removed from the ideal monster of the poet Racine; I could burn Rome
without hesitation, but, in saving Junia, I should also save my brother,
Britannicus.

Yes, my brother, yes, frail child of art and fancy like myself, thou
hast conquered in the struggle, having merited the prize for which we
two contended. Heaven preserve me from taking advantage of my age,
strength, or the fierce courage of returning health to question the
choice or the caprice of her, the all-powerful, impartial divinity of my
dreams and life!... I only feared, for a time, lest my defeat profit
thee nothing and the gay suitors of the town wrest from us both the
prize lost only for me.

The letter which I have just received from La Caverne reassures me fully
on that point. She advises me to renounce an art for which I have no
capacity and which is incompatible with my necessities. The jest, in
sooth, is bitter, for never did I stand in greater need, if not of my
art, at least of its swift returns. This is just the point that you do
not understand. You consider that you have acquitted yourself of all
obligations toward me in recommending me to the authorities of Soissons
as a distinguished personage, whom his family cannot abandon, but whose
violent illness has forced you to leave him behind in your journey. Your
tool, La Rancune, presented himself at the town hall and the inn with
all the airs of a Spanish grandee forced by unpleasant circumstances to
spend a couple of nights in such a disagreeable place; the rest of you
obliged to leave P---- the day after my disaster, had, as I conceive, no
reason to allow yourselves to pass merely for disreputable players: it
is quite enough to wear that mask in places where no other course is
possible. As for me, what can I say, how shall I extricate myself from
the infernal network of conspiracy in which I find myself caught and
held through the machinations of La Rancune? The famous couplet from
Corneille's "Menteur" assuredly aided him in his invention for the wit
of such a rascal as he never reached such a pitch. Think for a
moment.... But what can I tell you that you do not know already and have
not devised together to ruin me? Have not the white fingers of the
ingrate who is the cause of all my misfortunes, tangled inextricably all
the silken threads that she could weave about her poor victim?... What a
master-plot! Ah, well! I am a captive and I confess it; I yield and
implore mercy. You can take me back without fear now, and if the rapid
post-chaises that bore you swiftly over the Flanders' route, three
months ago, have already given place to the humble equipages of our
first adventures, deign at least to receive me in the quality of monster
or phenomenon, fit to draw the crowd, and I promise to acquit myself of
these duties in a manner calculated to appease the most exacting amateur
of the province.... Answer immediately and I will send a trusty
messenger to bring me the letter from the post, as I fear the curiosity
of mine host....

                                                              BRISACIER.


How dispose now of this hero deserted by his mistress and his
companions? Is he, in truth, only a strolling player, rightly punished
for insulting the public, for indulging in his mad jealousy and alleging
ridiculous claims? How can he prove that he is the legitimate son of the
Khan of the Crimea, according to the crafty recital of La Rancune? How,
from the depths of misery where he is plunged, can he rise to the
highest destiny? These are points which would, doubtless, trouble you
but little, but which have thrown my mind into a strange disorder. Once
persuaded that I was writing my own history, I was touched by this love
for a fugitive star which deserted me in the dark night of my destiny; I
have wept and shuddered over these visions. Then a ray divine illumined
my _inferno_; surrounded by dim and monstrous shapes of horror against
which I struggled blindly, I seized at last the magic clue, the thread
of Ariadne, and since then all my visions have become celestial. One
day, I shall write the history of this "Descent to Hades," and you will
see that it has not been entirely devoid of reason, if it has always
been wanting in fact. And, since you have been so rash as to cite one of
my sonnets composed in this state of supernatural trance, as the Germans
call it, you must hear the rest. You will find them among my poems. They
are little more obscure than the metaphysics of Hegel or the Visions of
Swedenborg, and would lose their charm with any attempt at explanation,
were that possible;--probably my last illusion will be that of thinking
myself a poet; criticism must dispel it.

1854.





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