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

(Confession d’un Enfant du Siecle)

By ALFRED DE MUSSET

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



ALFRED DE MUSSET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                  HENRI DE BORNIER
               de l’Academie Francaise.



THE CONFESSIONS OF A CHILD OF THE CENTURY



BOOK 1.



PART I



CHAPTER I. TO THE READER

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



CHAPTER II. REFLECTIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is what the soul said:

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

This is what the body said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER III. THE BEGINNING OF THE CONFESSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He choked, and so did I.

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

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

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

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

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

To all this Desgenais replied:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it you?” she said.

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

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

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

“Is she your first love?” he asked.

“No!” I replied, “she is my last.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I saw that she wished to take it.

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

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

When I told Desgenais about it he said:

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

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

Desgenais replied that he was not so particular.

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

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

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



CHAPTER IV. THE PATH OF DESPAIR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sat in my window and said:

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

Then the thought of her perfidy occurred to me.

“Ah! let her come! I will kill her!”

Since my last letter I had heard nothing of her.

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

While thinking, I heard a far distant voice crying:

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

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

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



CHAPTER V. A PHILOSOPHER’S ADVICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VI. MADAME LEVASSEUR

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

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

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

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

“Well?” she said.

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

After dinner we sat before the fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When she had unburdened her heart she became silent.

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

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

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



CHAPTER VII. THE WISDOM OF SIRACH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VIII. THE SEARCH FOR HEALING

Yet I was unwilling to yield.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IX. BACCHUS, THE CONSOLER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop!” I cried. I arose and approached her.

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

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

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

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

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



PART II



CHAPTER I. AT THE CROSSWAYS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But,” I protested, “how did I know it, how could I know--”

Desgenais compressed his lips as if to say:

“You knew enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER II. THE CHOSEN WAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER III. AFRICAN HOSPITALITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the woman had left, I sat up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IV. MARCO

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

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

Desgenais asked what ailed me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here is another case:

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

Most of the dancers were girls from the theatres.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desgenais passed and asked what I was doing there.

“Who is that woman?” I asked.

“What woman? Of whom do you speak?”

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

“Ah!” said Desgenais, “you have danced with Marco?”

“Who is Marco?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is the matter with you?” asked Marco.

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it not good?” she asked.

“No,” I replied.

“Perhaps your head aches?”

“No.”

“Or you are tired?”

“No.”

“Ah! then it is the ennui of love?”

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

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

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

“What do you think of it?” asked Desgenais.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Marco,” I said, “woe to him who loves you.”

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

“Forse!”

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

“Come,” said I to Marco, “let us go.”

She arose and took my arm.

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing there?” she asked.

She heaved a gentle sigh that was almost a plaint.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As she spoke she extended her hand.

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

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



CHAPTER V. SATIETY

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

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

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

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

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

“What would you expect me to do?”

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

“No,” he replied.

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

“What are you doing?” asked Desgenais.

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

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

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

“It is a woman who reads,” he replied dryly.

“And a happy woman,” I continued, “with a happy book.”

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

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

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

He urged me to explain.

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

“Be frank!” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



BOOK 2.



PART III



CHAPTER I. DEATH, THE INEVITABLE

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

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

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

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

When I recovered, I heard some one say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Adieu, my son, I love you and I die.”

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

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



CHAPTER II. THE BALM OF SOLITUDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER III. BRIGITTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That is Brigitte la Rose,” said the child; “don’t you know her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah! my poor man!” said the farmer’s wife, “may God reward you!”

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

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

“You may kiss your mother, for she is saved.”

I stopped when I heard these words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you appear to be very young.”

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

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

“Have you no faith in experience?”

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER IV. RIPENING ACQUAINTANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is the matter?” she asked.

I turned aside my head.

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

She arose and stood behind me.

“What is it?” she again asked.

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

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

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

“Who is there at this hour? Is it you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                    “BRIGITTE PIERSON.”



CHAPTER V. AN INTERVIEW

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

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

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

“What do you wish of me?”

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

Nevertheless, she repeated her question in a firmer tone.

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

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

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

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

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

She tried to interrupt me.

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

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

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

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

“Rest assured,” she said, “it is not so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER VI. THE RUGGED PATH OF LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He bowed.

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

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

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

His hesitation continued.

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

“Well, what is it?” I cried, impatiently.

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

Another bow, and he retired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do you know?”

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

Mercanson saw a peasant passing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let us return,” she said, “let us retrace our steps.”

I seized her horse’s bridle.

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

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

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

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

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

“Do not come near me!” she cried, “not a step!”

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

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



CHAPTER VII. THE VENUSBERG AGAIN

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

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

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

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

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

“There is a certain maxim of a Persian poet,” I replied: “‘He who is
loved by a beautiful woman is sheltered from every blow.’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



PART IV



CHAPTER I. THE THORNS OF LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

“It is yours?”

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

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

“What is the matter?” she asked. “Are you ill?”

“It is nothing; play that air again.”

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

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

She looked at me with an air of astonishment.

“What is it?” she asked.

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

“God of Heaven!” she cried, “is it possible?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do not read that.”

I threw the book on the table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I returned home to dinner I said to Larive:

“Who is Madame Pierson?”

He looked at me in astonishment.

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

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

“Who is this Monsieur de Dalens?”

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

“Is he young?”

“Yes.”

“Is he related to Madame Pierson?”

“No, he was a friend of her husband.”

“Has her husband been dead long?”

“Five years on All-Saints’ day. He was a worthy man.”

“And has this Monsieur de Dalens paid court?”

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

“Well, will you answer me?”

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

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

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

“In a word, yes or no?”

“Yes, sir, I think so, at least.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What reply did you make?”

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

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

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

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

“Ah! my friend,” she said, “I pity you.”

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

She appeared astonished to hear me mention that name.

“Dalens?” she replied. “He was my husband’s friend.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Read that, read that!” she repeated in freezing tones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER II. UNCERTAINTY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER III. EXPLANATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you remember,” I said, “do you remember the first day?”

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



CHAPTER IV. BRIGITTE’S LOSS

As I was crossing the public square one evening I saw two men standing
together; one of them said:

“It appears to me that he has ill-treated her.”

“It is her fault,” replied the other; “why choose such a man? He has
known only public women; she is paying the price of her folly.”

I advanced in the darkness to see who was speaking thus, and to hear
more if possible; but they passed on as soon as they spied me.

I found Brigitte much disturbed; her aunt was seriously ill; she had
time for only a few words with me. I did not see her for an entire week;
I knew that she had summoned a physician from Paris; finally she sent
for me.

“My aunt is dead,” she said; “I lose the only one left me on earth, I am
now alone in the world, and I am going to leave the country.”

“Am I, then, nothing to you?”

“Yes, my friend; you know that I love you, and I often believe that you
love me. But how can I count on you? I am your mistress, alas! but you
are not my lover. It is for you that Shakespeare has written these sad
words: ‘Make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very
opal.’ And I, Octave,” she added, pointing to her mourning costume,
“I am reduced to a single color, and I shall not change it for a long
time.”

“Leave the country if you choose; I will either kill myself or I will
follow you. Ah! Brigitte,” I continued, throwing myself on my knees
before her, “you thought you were alone when your aunt died! That is the
most cruel punishment you could inflict on me; never have I so keenly
felt the misery of my love for you. You must retract those terrible
words; I deserve them, but they will kill me. Oh, God! can it be true
that I count for nothing in your life, or that I am an influence in your
life only because of the evil I have done you!”

“I do not know,” she said, “who is busying himself in our affairs;
certain insinuations, mixed with idle gossip, have been set afloat in
the village and in the neighboring country. Some say that I have been
ruined; others accuse me of imprudence and folly; others represent you
as a cruel and dangerous man. Some one has spied into our most secret
thoughts; things that I thought no one else knew, events in your life
and sad scenes to which they have led, are known to others; my poor
aunt spoke to me about it not long ago, and she knew it some time before
speaking to me. Who knows but that that has hastened her death?

“When I meet my old friends in the street, they either treat me coldly,
or turn aside. Even my dear peasant girls, those good girls who love
me so much, shrug their shoulders when they see my place empty at the
Sunday afternoon balls. How has that come about? I do not know, nor do
you, I suppose; but I must go away, I can not endure it. And my aunt’s
death, so sudden, so unexpected, above all, this solitude! this empty
room! Courage fails me; my friend, my friend, do not abandon me!”

She wept; in an adjoining room I saw her household goods in disorder, a
trunk on the floor, everything indicating preparations for departure. It
was evident that, at the time of her aunt’s death, Brigitte had tried
to go away without seeing me, but could not. She was so overwhelmed with
emotion that she could hardly speak; her condition was pitiful, and it
was I who had brought her to it. Not only was she unhappy, but she was
insulted in public, and the man who ought to be her support and her
consolation in such an hour was the cause of all her troubles.

I felt the wrong I had done her so keenly that I was overcome with
shame. After so many promises, so much useless exaltation, so many plans
and hopes, what had I, in fact, accomplished in three months? I thought
I had a treasure in my heart, and out of it came nothing but malice, the
shadow of a dream, and the misfortune of a woman I adored. For the first
time I found myself really face to face with myself. Brigitte reproached
me for nothing; she had tried to go away and could not; she was ready to
suffer still. I suddenly asked myself whether I ought not to leave her,
whether it was not my duty to flee from her and rid her of the scourge
of my presence.

I arose, and, passing into the next room, sat down on Brigitte’s trunk.
There I leaned my head on my hand and sat motionless. I looked about me
at the confused piles of goods. Alas! I knew them all; my heart was
not so hardened that it could not be moved by the memories which they
awakened. I began to calculate all the harm I had done; I saw my dear
Brigitte walking under the lindens with her goat beside her.

“O man!” I mused, “and by what right?--how dared you come to this house,
and lay hands on this woman? Who has ordained that she should suffer for
you? You array yourself in fine linen, and set out, sleek and happy,
for the home where your mistress languishes; you throw yourself upon the
cushions where she has just knelt in prayer, for you and for her, and
you gently stroke those delicate hands that still tremble. You think
it no evil to inflame a poor heart, and you perorate as warmly in your
deliriums of love as the wretched lawyer who comes with red eyes from
a suit he has lost. You play the infant prodigy in making sport of
suffering; you find it amusing to occupy your leisure moments in
committing murder by means of little pin pricks.

“What will you say to the living God, when your work is finished? What
will become of the woman who loves you? Where will you fall while she
leans on you for support? With what face will you one day bury your pale
and wretched creature, just as she buried the last man who protected
her? Yes, yes, you will doubtless have to bury her, for your love kills
and consumes; you have devoted her to the Furies and it is she who
appeases them. If you follow that woman you will be the cause of her
death. Take care! her guardian angel hesitates; he has just knocked at
the door of this house, in order to frighten away a fatal and shameful
passion! He inspired Brigitte with the idea of flight; at this moment he
may be whispering in her ear his final warning. O assassin! O murderer!
Beware! it is a matter of life and death.”

Thus I communed with myself; then on the sofa I caught sight of a little
gingham dress, folded and ready to be packed in the trunk. It had been a
witness of our happy days. I took it up and examined it.

“Must I leave you?” I said to it; “Must I lose you? O little dress,
would you go away without me?”

No, I can not abandon Brigitte; in these circumstances it would be
cowardly. She has just lost her aunt, and is all alone; she is exposed
to the power of I know not what enemy. Can it be Mercanson? He may have
spoken of my conversation with him, and, seeing that I was jealous of
Dalens, may have guessed the rest. Assuredly he is the snake who has
been hissing about my well-beloved flower. I must punish him, and I
must repair the wrong I have done Brigitte. Fool that I am! I think of
leaving her, when I ought to consecrate my life to her, to the expiation
of my sins, to rendering her happy after the tears I have drawn from her
eyes-when I am her only support in the world, her only friend, her
only protector! when I ought to follow her to the end of the world, to
shelter her with my body, to console her for having loved me, for having
given herself to me!

“Brigitte!” I cried, returning to her room, “wait an hour for me, and I
will return.”

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Wait for me,” I replied, “do not set out without me. Remember the words
of Ruth: ‘Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will
lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; where thou
diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.”’

I left her precipitately, and rushed out to find Mercanson. I was told
that he had gone out, and I entered his house to wait for him.

I sat in the corner of the room on a priest’s chair before a dirty black
table. I was becoming impatient when I recalled my duel on account of my
first mistress.

“I received a wound from a bullet and am still a fool,” I said to
myself. “What have I come to do here? This priest will not fight; if I
seek a quarrel with him, he will say that his priestly robes forbid, and
he will continue his vile gossip when I have gone. Moreover, for what
can I hold him responsible? What is it that has disturbed Brigitte? They
say that her reputation has been sullied, that I ill-treat her, and that
she ought not to submit to it. What stupidity! That concerns no one;
there is nothing to do but allow them to talk; in such a case, to notice
an insult is to give it importance.

“Is it possible to prevent provincials from talking about their
neighbors? Can any one prevent a gossip from maligning a woman who
loves? What measures can be taken to stop a public rumor? If they say
that I ill-treat her, it is for me--to prove the contrary by my conduct
with her, and not by violence. It would be as ridiculous to seek a
quarrel with Mercanson as to leave the country on account of gossip. No,
we must not leave the country; that would be a bad move; that would be
to say to all the world that there is truth in its idle rumors, and to
give excuse to the gossips. We must neither go away nor take any notice
of such things.”

I returned to Brigitte. A half hour had passed, and I had changed my
mind three times. I dissuaded her from her plans; I told her what I had
just done and why I had not carried out my first impulse. She listened
resignedly, yet she wished to go away; the house where her aunt had died
had become odious to her. Much effort and persuasion on my part were
required to get her to consent to remain; finally I accomplished it. We
repeated that we would despise the world, that we would yield nothing,
that we would not change our manner of life. I swore that my love should
console her for all her sorrows, and she pretended to hope for the best.
I told her that this circumstance had so enlightened me in the matter
of the wrongs I had done her, that my conduct would prove my repentance,
that I would drive from me as a phantom all the evil that remained in my
heart; that hence forth she should not be offended either by my pride or
by my caprices; and thus, sad and patient, her arms around my neck, she
yielded obedience to the pure caprice that I myself mistook for a flash
of reason.

One day I saw a little chamber she called her oratory; there was no
furniture except a prie-dieu and a little altar with a cross and some
vases of flowers. As for the rest, the walls and curtains were as white
as snow. She shut herself up in that room at times, but rarely since I
had known her.

I stepped to the door and saw Brigitte seated on the floor in the middle
of the room, surrounded by the flowers she was throwing here and there.
She held in her hand a little wreath that appeared to be made of dried
grass, and she was breaking it in pieces.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

She trembled and stood up.

“It is nothing but a child’s plaything,” she said; “it is a rose wreath
that has faded here in the oratory; I have come here to change my
flowers, as I have not attended to them for some time.”

Her voice trembled, and she appeared to be about to faint. I recalled
that name of Brigitte la Rose that I had heard given her. I asked her
whether it was not her crown of roses that she had just broken thus.

“No,” she replied, turning pale.

“Yes,” I cried, “yes, on my life! Give me the pieces.”

I gathered them up and placed them on the altar, then I was silent, my
eyes fixed on the offering.

“Was I not right,” she asked, “if it was my crown, to take it from the
wall where it has hung so long?

“Of what use are these remains? Brigitte la Rose is no more, nor the
flowers that baptized her.” She went out. I heard her sobs, and the door
closed on me; I fell on my knees and wept bitterly. When I returned to
her room, I found her waiting for me; dinner was ready. I took my place
in silence, and not a word was said of what was in our hearts.



CHAPTER V. A TORTURED SOUL

It was Mercanson who had repeated in the village and in the chateau my
conversation with him about Dalens and the suspicions that, in spite of
myself, I had allowed him clearly to see. Every one knows how bad news
travels in the provinces, flying from mouth to mouth and growing as it
flies; that is what had happened in this case.

Brigitte and I found ourselves face to face with each other in a
new position. However feebly she may have tried to flee, she had
nevertheless made the attempt. It was on account of my prayers that
she remained; there was an obligation implied. I was under oath not
to grieve her either by my jealousy or my levity; every thoughtless or
mocking word that escaped me was a sin, every sorrowful glance from her
was a reproach acknowledged and merited.

Her simple good-nature gave a charm even to solitude; she could see
me now at all hours without resorting to any precaution. Perhaps she
consented to this arrangement in order to prove to me that she valued
her love more highly than her reputation; she seemed to regret having
shown that she cared for the representations of malice. At any rate,
instead of making any attempt to disarm criticism or thwart curiosity,
we lived the freest kind of life, more regardless of public opinion than
ever.

For some time I kept my word, and not a cloud troubled our life. These
were happy days, but it is not of these that I would speak.

It was said everywhere about the country that Brigitte was living
publicly with a libertine from Paris; that her lover ill-treated her,
that they spent their time quarrelling, and that she would come to a bad
end. As they had praised Brigitte for her conduct in the past, so they
blamed her now. There was nothing in her past life, even, that was
not picked to pieces and misrepresented. Her lonely tramps over the
mountains, when engaged in works of charity, suddenly became the subject
of quibbles and of raillery. They spoke of her as of a woman who had
lost all human respect and who deserved the frightful misfortunes she
was drawing down on her head.

I had told Brigitte that it was best to let them talk and pay no
attention to them; but the truth is, it became insupportable to me. I
sometimes tried to catch a word that could be construed as an insult
and to demand an explanation. I listened to whispered conversations in
a salon where I was visiting, but could hear nothing; in order to do us
better justice they waited until I had gone. I returned to Brigitte and
told her that all these stories were mere nonsense; that it was foolish
to notice them; that they could talk about us as much as they pleased
and we would care nothing about it.

Was I not terribly mistaken? If Brigitte was imprudent, was it not my
place to be cautious and ward off danger? On the contrary, I took, so to
speak, the part of the world against her.

I began by indifference; I was soon to grow malignant.

“It is true,” I said, “that they speak evil of your nocturnal
excursions. Are you sure that they are wrong? Has nothing happened
in those romantic grottoes and by-paths in the forest? Have you never
accepted the arm of an unknown as you accepted mine? Was it merely
charity that served as your divinity in that beautiful temple of verdure
that you visited so bravely?”

Brigitte’s glance when I adopted this tone I shall never forget; I
shuddered at it myself. “But, bah!” I thought, “she would do the same
thing that my other mistress did--she would point me out as a ridiculous
fool, and I should pay for it all in the eyes of the public.”

Between the man who doubts and the man who denies there is only a step.
All philosophy is akin to atheism. Having told Brigitte that I suspected
her past conduct, I began to regard it with real suspicion.

I came to imagine that Brigitte was deceiving me, she who never left me
at any hour of the day; I sometimes planned long absences in order to
test her, as I supposed; but in truth it was only to give myself some
excuse for suspicion and mockery. And then I took pleasure in observing
that I had outgrown my foolish jealousy, which was the same as saying
that I no longer esteemed her highly enough to be jealous of her.

At first I kept such thoughts to myself, but soon found pleasure in
revealing them to Brigitte. We had gone out for a walk:

“That dress is pretty,” I said, “such and such a girl, belonging to one
of my friends, has one like it.”

We were now seated at table.

“Come, my dear, my former mistress used to sing for me at dessert; you
promised, you know, to imitate her.”

She sat down at the piano.

“Ah! pardon me, but will you play that waltz that was so popular last
winter? That will remind me of happy times.”

Reader, this lasted six months: for six long months Brigitte,
scandalized, exposed to the insults of the world, had to endure from me
all the wrongs that a wrathful and cruel libertine can inflict on woman.

After these distressing scenes, in which my own spirit exhausted itself
in suffering and in painful contemplation of the past; after recovering
from that frenzy, a strange access of love, an extreme exaltation, led
me to treat my mistress like an idol, or a divinity. A quarter of an
hour after insulting her I was on my knees before her; when I was not
accusing her of some crime, I was begging her pardon; when I was not
mocking, I was weeping. Then, seized by a delirium of joy, I almost lost
my reason in the violence of my transports; I did not know what to do,
what to say, what to think, in order to repair the evil I had done. I
took Brigitte in my arms, and made her repeat a hundred times that she
loved me and that she pardoned me. I threatened to expiate my evil deeds
by blowing out my brains if I ever ill-treated her again. These periods
of exaltation sometimes lasted several hours, during which time I
exhausted myself in foolish expressions of love and esteem. Then morning
came; day appeared; I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, and I awakened
with a smile on my lips, mocking at everything, believing in nothing.

During these terrible hours, Brigitte appeared to forget that there
was a man in me other than the one she saw. When I asked her pardon she
shrugged her shoulders as if to answer: “Do you not know that I pardon
you?” She would not complain as long as a spark of love remained in
my heart; she assured me that all was good and sweet coming from me,
insults as well as tears.

And yet as time passed my evil grew worse, my moments of malignity and
irony became more sombre and intractable. A real physical fever attended
my outbursts of passion; I awakened trembling in every limb and covered
with cold sweat. Brigitte, too, although she did not complain of it,
began to fail in health. When I started to abuse her she would leave me
without a word and lock herself in her room. Thank God, I never raised
my hand against her; in my most violent moments I would rather have died
than touched her.

One evening the rain was driving against the windows; we were alone, the
curtains were closed.

“I am in happy humor this evening,” I said to Brigitte, “and yet the
horrible weather saddens me. Let us seek some diversion in spite of the
storm.”

I arose and lighted all the candles I could find. The room was small and
the illumination brilliant. At the same time a bright fire threw out a
stifling heat:

“Come,” I said, “what shall we do while waiting for supper?”

I happened to remember that it was carnival time in Paris I seemed to
see the carriages filled with masks crossing the boulevards. I heard the
shouts of the crowds before the theatres; I saw the lascivious dances,
the gay costumes, the wine and the folly; all my youth bounded in my
heart.

“Let us disguise ourselves,” I said to Brigitte. “It will be for our
own amusement, but what does that matter? If you have no costumes we can
make them, and pass away the time agreeably.”

We searched in the closet for dresses, cloaks, and artificial flowers;
Brigitte, as usual, was patient and cheerful. We both arranged a sort of
travesty; she wished to dress my hair herself; we painted and powdered
ourselves freely; all that we lacked was found in an old chest that had
belonged, I believe, to the aunt. In an hour we could not recognize each
other. The evening passed in singing, in a thousand follies; toward one
o’clock in the morning it was time for supper.

We had ransacked all the closets; there was one near me that remained
open. While sitting down at the table, I perceived on a shelf the book
of which I have already spoken, the one in which Brigitte was accustomed
to write.

“Is it not a collection of your thoughts?” I asked, stretching out my
hand and taking the book down. “If I may, allow me to look at it.”

I opened the book, although Brigitte made a gesture as if to prevent me;
on the first page I read these words:

“This is my last will and testament.”

Everything was written in a firm hand; I found first a faithful recital
of all that Brigitte had suffered on my account since she had been my
mistress. She announced her firm determination to endure everything,
so long as I loved her, and to die when I left her. Her daily life was
recorded there; what she had lost, what she had hoped, the isolation she
experienced even in my presence, the barrier that was growing up between
us; the cruelties I subjected her to in return for her love and her
resignation. All this was written down without a complaint; on the
contrary she undertook to justify me. Then followed personal details,
the disposition of her effects. She would end her life by poison, she
wrote. She would die by her own hand and expressly forbade that her
death should be charged to me. “Pray for him!” were her last words.

I found in the closet on the same shelf a little box that I remembered I
had seen before, filled with a fine bluish powder resembling salt.

“What is this?” I asked of Brigitte, raising the box to my lips. She
gave vent to a scream of terror and threw herself upon me.

“Brigitte,” I said, “bid me farewell. I shall carry this box away with
me; you will forget me, and you will live if you wish to save me from
becoming a murderer. I shall set out this very night; you will agree
with me that God demands it. Give me a last kiss.”

I bent over her and kissed her forehead.

“Not yet!” she cried, in anguish. But I repulsed her and left the room.

Three hours later I was ready to set out, and the horses were at the
door. It was still raining when I entered the carriage. At the moment
the carriage was starting, I felt two arms about my body and a sob which
spent itself on my lips.

It was Brigitte. I did all I could to persuade her to remain; I ordered
the driver to stop; I even told her that I would return to her when time
should have effaced the memory of the wrongs I had done her. I forced
myself to prove to her that yesterday was the same as to-day, to-day
as yesterday; I repeated that I could only render her unhappy, that to
attach herself to me was but to make an assassin of me. I resorted to
prayers, to vows, to threats even; her only reply was: “You are going
away; take me, let us take leave of the country, let us take leave
of the past. We can not live here; let us go elsewhere, wherever you
please; let us go and die together in some remote corner of the world.
We must be happy, I by you, you by me.”

I kissed her with such passion that I feared my heart would burst.

“Drive on!” I cried to the coachman. We threw ourselves into each
other’s arms, and the horses set out at a gallop.



BOOK 3.



PART V



CHAPTER I. SWEET ANTICIPATIONS

Having decided on a long tour, we went first to Paris; the necessary
preparations required time, and we took a furnished apartment for one
month. The decision to leave France had changed everything: joy, hope,
confidence, all returned; no more sorrow, no more grief over approaching
separation. We had now nothing but dreams of happiness and vows of
eternal love; I wished, once for all, to make my dear mistress forget
all the suffering I had caused her. How had I been able to resist such
proof of tender affection and courageous resignation? Not only did
Brigitte pardon me, but she was willing to make a still greater
sacrifice and leave everything for me. As I felt myself unworthy of the
devotion she exhibited, I wished to requite her by my love; at last my
good angel had triumphed, and admiration and love resumed their sway in
my heart. Brigitte and I examined a map to determine where we should go
and bury ourselves from the world. We had not yet decided, and we found
pleasure in that very uncertainty; while glancing over the map we said
“Where shall we go? What shall we do? Where shall we begin life anew?”
 How shall I tell how deeply I repented my cruelty when I looked upon
her smiling face, a face that laughed at the future, although still pale
from the sorrows of the past! Blissful projects of future joy, you are
perhaps the only true happiness known to man! For eight days we spent
our time making purchases and preparing for our departure; then a young
man presented himself at our apartments: he brought letters to Brigitte.
After their interview I found her sad and distraught; but I could not
guess the cause unless the letters were from N------, that village
where I had confessed my love and where Brigitte’s only relatives lived.
Nevertheless, our preparations progressed rapidly and I became impatient
to get away; at the same time I was so happy that I could hardly rest.
When I arose in the morning and the sun was shining through our windows,
I experienced such transports of joy that I was almost intoxicated
with happiness. So anxious was I to prove the sincerity of my love for
Brigitte that I hardly dared kiss the hem of her skirt. Her lightest
words made me tremble as if her voice were strange to me; I alternated
between tears and laughter, and I never spoke of the past except with
horror and disgust. Our room was full of personal effects scattered
about in disorder--albums, pictures, books, and the dear map we loved so
much. We went to and fro about the little apartment; at brief intervals
I would stop and kneel before Brigitte who would call me an idler,
saying that she had to do all the work, and that I was good for nothing;
and all sorts of projects flitted through our minds. Sicily was far
away, but the winters are so delightful there! Genoa is very pretty
with its painted houses, its green gardens, and the Apennines in the
background! But what noise! What crowds! Among every three men on the
street, one is a monk and another a soldier. Florence is sad, it is the
Middle Ages living in the midst of modern life. How can any one endure
those grilled windows and that horrible brown color with which all the
houses are tinted?

What could we do at Rome? We were not travelling in order to forget
ourselves, much less for the sake of instruction. To the Rhine? But the
season was over, and although we did not care for the world of fashion,
still it is sad to visit its haunts when it has fled. But Spain? Too
many restrictions there; one travels like an army on the march, and may
expect everything except repose. Switzerland? Too many people go there,
and most of them are deceived as to the nature of its attractions;
but in that land are unfolded the three most beautiful colors on
God’s earth: the azure of the sky, the verdure of the plains, and the
whiteness of the snows on the summits of glaciers.

“Let us go, let us go!” cried Brigitte, “let us fly away like two birds.
Let us pretend, my dear Octave, that we met each other only yesterday.
You met me at a ball, I pleased you and I love you; you tell me that
some leagues distant, in a certain little town, you loved a certain
Madame Pierson; what passed between you and her I do not know. You will
not tell me the story of your love for another! And I will whisper
to you that not long since I loved a terrible fellow who made me very
unhappy; you will reprove me and close my mouth, and we will agree never
to speak of such things.”

When Brigitte spoke thus I experienced a feeling that resembled avarice;
I caught her in my arms and cried:

“Oh, God! I know not whether it is with joy or with fear that I tremble.
I am about to carry off my treasure. Die, my youth; die, all memories of
the past; die, all cares and regrets! Oh, my good, my brave Brigitte!
You have made a man out of a child. If I lose you now, I shall never
love again. Perhaps, before I knew you, another woman might have cured
me; but now you alone, of all the world, have power to destroy me or to
save me, for I bear in my heart the wound of all the evil I have done
you. I have been an ingrate, blind and cruel. God be praised! You love
me still. If you ever return to that home under whose lindens I first
met you, look carefully about that deserted house; you will find a
phantom there, for the man who left it, and went away with you, is not
the man who entered it.”

“Is it true?” said Brigitte, and her face, all radiant with love, was
raised to heaven; “is it true that I am yours? Yes, far from this odious
world in which you have grown old before your time, yes, my child, you
shall really love. I shall have you as you are, and, wherever we go you
will make me forget the possibility of a day when you will no longer
love me. My mission will have been accomplished, and I shall always be
thankful for it.”

Finally we decided to go to Geneva and then choose some resting place
in the Alps. Brigitte was enthusiastic about the lake; I thought I could
already breathe the air which floats over its surface, and the odor of
the verdure-clad valley; already I beheld Lausanne, Vevey, Oberland,
and in the distance the summits of Monte Rosa and the immense plain of
Lombardy. Already oblivion, repose, travel, all the delights of happy
solitude invited us; already, when in the evening with joined hands, we
looked at each other in silence, we felt rising within us that sentiment
of strange grandeur which takes possession of the heart on the eve of a
long journey, the mysterious and indescribable vertigo which has in it
something of the terrors of exile and the hopes of pilgrimage. Are
there not in the human mind wings that flutter and sonorous chords that
vibrate? How shall I describe it? Is there not a world of meaning in the
simple words: “All is ready, we are about to go”?

Suddenly Brigitte became languid; she bowed her head in silence. When
I asked her whether she was in pain, she said “No!” in a voice that was
scarcely audible; when I spoke of our departure, she arose, cold and
resigned, and continued her preparations; when I swore to her that she
was going to be happy, and that I would consecrate my life to her, she
shut herself up in her room and wept; when I kissed her she turned pale,
and averted her eyes as my lips approached hers; when I told her that
nothing had yet been done, that it was not too late to renounce our
plans, she frowned severely; when I begged her to open her heart to me
and told her I would die rather than cause her one regret, she threw her
arms about my neck, then stopped and repulsed me as if involuntarily.
Finally, I entered her room holding in my hand a ticket on which our
places were marked for the carriage to Besancon. I approached her and
placed it in her lap; she stretched out her hand, screamed, and fell
unconscious at my feet.



CHAPTER II. THE DEMON OF DOUBT

All my efforts to divine the cause of so unexpected a change were as
vain as the questions I had first asked. Brigitte was ill, and remained
obstinately silent. After an entire day passed in supplication and
conjecture, I went out without knowing where I was going. Passing the
Opera, I entered it from mere force of habit.

I could pay no attention to what was going on in the theatre, I was so
overwhelmed with grief, so stupefied, that I did not live, so to speak,
except in myself, and exterior objects made no impression on my senses.
All my powers were centred on a single thought, and the more I turned it
over in my head, the less clearly could I distinguish its meaning.

What obstacle was this that had so suddenly come between us and the
realization of our fondest hopes? If it was merely some ordinary event
or even an actual misfortune, such as an accident or the loss of a
friend, why that obstinate silence? After all that Brigitte had done,
when our dreams seemed about to be realized, what could be the nature of
a secret that destroyed our happiness and could not be confided to me?
What! to conceal it from me! And yet I could not find it in my heart to
suspect her. The appearance of suspicion revolted me and filled me with
horror. On the other hand, how could I conceive of inconstancy or of
caprice in that woman, as I knew her? I was lost in an abyss of doubt,
and I could not discover a gleam of light, the smallest point, on which
to base conjecture.

In front of me in the gallery sat a young man whose face was not unknown
to me. As often happens when one is preoccupied, I looked at him without
thinking of him as a personal identity or trying to fit a name on him.
Suddenly I recognized him: it was he who had brought letters to Brigitte
from N------. I arose and started to accost him without thinking what I
was doing. He occupied a place that I could not reach without disturbing
a large number of spectators, and I was forced to await the entr’acte.

My first thought was that if any one could enlighten me it was this
young man. He had had several interviews with Madame Pierson in the last
few days, and I recalled the fact that she was always much depressed
after his visits. He had seen her the morning of the day she was taken
ill.

The letters he brought Brigitte had not been shown me; it was possible
that he knew the reason why our departure was delayed. Perhaps he did
not know all the circumstances, but he could doubtless enlighten me as
to the contents of those letters, and there was no reason why I should
hesitate to question him. When the curtain fell, I followed him to the
foyer; I do not know that he saw me coming, but he hastened away and
entered a box. I determined to wait until he should come out, and stood
looking at the box for fifteen minutes. At last he appeared. I bowed and
approached him. He hesitated a moment, then turned and disappeared down
a stairway.

My desire to speak to him had been too evident to admit of any other
explanation than deliberate intention on his part to avoid me. He surely
knew my face, and, whether he knew it or not, a man who sees another
approaching him ought, at least, to wait for him. We were the only
persons in the corridor at the time, and there could be no doubt he did
not wish to speak to me. I did not dream of such impertinent treatment
from a man whom I had cordially received at my apartments; why should
he insult me? He could have no other excuse than a desire to avoid an
awkward interview, during which questions might be asked which he did
not care to answer. But why? This second mystery troubled me almost as
much as the first. Although I tried to drive the thought from my head,
that young man’s action in avoiding me seemed to have some connection
with Brigitte’s obstinate silence.

Of all torments uncertainty is the most difficult to endure, and during
my life I have exposed myself to many dangers because I could not wait
patiently. When I returned to my apartments I found Brigitte reading
those same fateful letters from N------. I told her that I could not
remain longer in suspense, and that I wished to be relieved from it at
any cost; that I desired to know the cause of the sudden change which
had taken place in her, and that, if she refused to speak, I should look
upon her silence as a positive refusal to go abroad with me and an order
for me to leave her forever.

She reluctantly handed me the letters she was reading. Her relatives had
written her that her departure had disgraced them, that every one knew
the circumstances, and that they felt it their duty to warn her of
the consequences; that she was living openly as my mistress, and that,
although she was a widow and free to do as she chose, she ought to think
of the name she bore; that neither they nor her old friends would ever
see her again if she persisted in her course; finally, by all sorts of
threats and entreaties, they urged her to return.

The tone of the letter angered me, and at first I took it as an insult.

“And that young man who brings you these remonstrances,” I cried,
“doubtless has orders to deliver them personally, and does not fail to
do his own part to the best of his ability. Am I not right?”

Brigitte’s dejection made me reflect and calm my wrath.

“You will do as you wish, and achieve my ruin,” she said. “My fate rests
with you; you have been for a long time my master. Avenge as you please
the last effort my old friends have made to recall me to reason, to the
world that I formerly respected, to the honor that I have lost. I have
not a word to say, and if you wish to dictate my reply, I will obey
you.”

“I care to know nothing,” I replied, “but your intentions; it is for me
to comply with your wishes, and I assure you I am ready to do it. Tell
me, do you desire to remain, to go away, or shall I go alone?”

“Why that question?” asked Brigitte; “have I said that I had changed my
mind? I am suffering, and can not travel in my present condition, but
when I recover we will go to Geneva as we have planned.”

We separated at these words, and the coldness with which she had
expressed her resolution saddened me more than usual. It was not the
first time our liaison had been threatened by her relatives; but up to
this time whatever letters Brigitte had received she had never taken
them so much to heart. How could I bring myself to believe that Brigitte
had been so affected by protests which in less happy moments had had no
effect on her? Could it be merely the weakness of a woman who recoils
from an act of final significance? “I will do as you please,” she had
said. No, it does not please me to demand patience, and rather than look
at that sorrowful face even a week longer, unless she speaks I will set
out alone.

Fool that I was! Had I the strength to do it? I did not close my eyes
that night, and the next morning I resolved to call on that young man I
had seen at the opera. I do not know whether it was wrath or curiosity
that impelled me to this course, nor did I know just what I desired to
learn of him; but I reflected that he could not avoid me this time, and
that was all I desired.

As I did not know his address, I asked Brigitte for it, pretending that
I felt under an obligation to call on him after all the visits he
had made us; I had not said a word about my experience at the opera.
Brigitte’s eyes betrayed signs of tears. When I entered her room she
held out her hand and said:

“What do you wish?”

Her voice was sad but tender. We exchanged a few kind words, and I set
out less unhappy.

The name of the young man I was going to see was Smith; he was living
near us. When I knocked at his door, I experienced a strange sensation
of uneasiness; I was dazed as though by a sudden flash of light. His
first gesture froze my blood. He was in bed, and with the same accent
Brigitte had employed, with a face as pale and haggard as hers, he held
out his hand and said:

“What do you wish?”

Say what you please, there are things in a man’s life which reason can
not explain. I sat as still as if awakened from a dream, and began to
repeat his questions. Why, in fact, had I come to see him? How could I
tell him what had brought me there? Even if he had anything to tell me,
how did I know he would speak? He had brought letters from N------, and
knew those who had written them. But it cost me an effort to question
him, and I feared he would suspect what was in my mind. Our first
words were polite and insignificant. I thanked him for his kindness in
bringing letters to Madame Pierson; I told him that upon leaving France
we would ask him to do the same favor for us; and then we were silent,
surprised to find ourselves vis-a-vis.

I looked about me in embarrassment. His room was on the fourth floor;
everything indicated honest and industrious poverty. Some books,
musical instruments, papers, a table and a few chairs, that was all, but
everything was well cared for and presented an agreeable ensemble.

As for him, his frank and animated face predisposed me in his favor. On
the mantel I observed a picture of an old lady. I stepped up to look at
it, and he said it was his mother.

I then recalled that Brigitte had often spoken of him; she had known
him since childhood. Before I came to the country she used to see him
occasionally at N------, but at the time of her last visit there he
was away. It was, therefore, only by chance that I had learned some
particulars of his life, which now came to mind. He had an honest
employment that enabled him to support his mother and sister.

His treatment of these two women deserved the highest praise; he
deprived himself of everything for them, and although he possessed
musical talents that would have enabled him to make a fortune, the
immediate needs of those dependent on him, and an extreme reserve, had
always led him to prefer an assured income to the uncertain chances of
success in larger ventures.

In a word, he belonged to that small class who live quietly, and who
are worth more to the world than those who do not appreciate them. I had
learned of certain traits in his character which will serve to paint
the man he had fallen in love with a beautiful girl in the neighborhood,
and, after a year of devotion to her, had secured her parents’ consent
to their union. She was as poor as he. The contract was ready to be
signed, the preparations for the wedding were complete, when his mother
said:

“And your sister? Who will marry her?”

That simple remark made him understand that if he married he would spend
all his money in the household expenses and his sister would have
no dowry. He broke off the engagement, bravely renouncing his happy
prospects; he then came to Paris.

When I heard that story I wished to see the hero. That simple,
unassuming act of devotion seemed to me more admirable than all the
glories of war.

The more I examined that young man, the less I felt inclined to broach
the subject nearest my heart. The idea which had first occurred to me,
that he would harm me in Brigitte’s eyes, vanished at once. Gradually my
thoughts took another course; I looked at him attentively, and it seemed
to me that he was also examining me with curiosity.

We were both twenty-one years of age, but what a difference between us!
He, accustomed to an existence regulated by the graduated tick of the
clock; never having seen anything of life, except that part of it which
lies between an obscure room on the fourth floor and a dingy government
office; sending his mother all his savings, that farthing of human joy
which the hand of toil clasps so greedily; having no thought except for
the happiness of others, and that since his childhood, since he had
been a babe in arms! And I, during that precious time, so swift, so
inexorable, during the time that with him had been a round of toil, what
had I done? Was I a man? Which of us had lived?

What I have said in a page can be comprehended in a moment. He spoke to
me of our journey and the countries we were going to visit.

“When do you go?” he asked.

“I do not know; Madame Pierson is indisposed, and has been confined to
her bed for three days.”

“For three days!” he repeated, in surprise.

“Yes; why are you astonished?”

He arose and threw himself on me, his arms extended, his eyes fixed. He
was trembling violently.

“Are you ill?” I asked, taking him by the hand. He pressed his hand to
his head and burst into tears. When he had recovered sufficiently to
speak, he said:

“Pardon me; be good enough to leave me. I fear I am not well; when I
have sufficiently recovered I will return your visit.”



CHAPTER III. THE QUESTION OF SMITH

Brigitte was better. She had told me that she desired to go away as soon
as she was well enough to travel. But I insisted that she ought to rest
at least fifteen days before undertaking a long journey.

Whenever I attempted to persuade her to speak frankly, she assured me
that the letter was the only cause of her melancholy, and begged me
to say nothing more about it. Then I tried in vain to guess what was
passing in her heart. We went to the theatre every night in order to
avoid embarrassing interviews. There we sometimes pressed each other’s
hands at some fine bit of acting or beautiful strain of music, or
exchanged, perhaps, a friendly glance, but going and returning we were
mute, absorbed in our thoughts.

Smith came almost every day. Although his presence in the house had
been the cause of all my sorrow, and although my visit to him had left
singular suspicions in my mind, still his apparent good faith and his
simplicity reassured me. I had spoken to him of the letters he had
brought, and he did not appear offended, but saddened. He was ignorant
of the contents, and his friendship for Brigitte led him to censure them
severely. He would have refused to carry them, he said, had he known
what they contained. On account of Brigitte’s tone of reserve in his
presence, I did not think he was in her confidence.

I therefore welcomed him with pleasure, although there was always a
sort of awkward embarrassment in our meeting. He was asked to act as
intermediary between Brigitte and her relatives after our departure.
When we three were together he noticed a certain coldness and restraint
which he endeavored to banish by cheerful good-humor. If he spoke of our
liaison it was with respect and as a man who looks upon love as a
sacred bond; in fact, he was a kind friend, and inspired me with full
confidence.

But despite all this, despite all his efforts, he was sad, and I could
not get rid of strange thoughts that came to my mind. The tears I had
seen that young man shed, his illness coming on at the same time as
Brigitte’s, I know not what melancholy sympathy I thought I discovered
between them, troubled and disquieted me. Not over a month ago I
would have become violently jealous; but now, of what could I suspect
Brigitte? Whatever the secret she was concealing from me, was she not
going away with me? Even were it possible that Smith could share some
secret of which I knew nothing, what could be the nature of the mystery?
What was there to be censured in their sadness and in their friendship?

She had known him as a child; she met him again after long years just
as she was about to leave France; she chanced to be in an unfortunate
situation, and fate decreed that he should be the instrument of adding
to her sorrow. Was it not natural that they should exchange sorrowful
glances, that the sight of this young man should awaken memories and
regrets? Could he, on the other hand, see her start off on a long
journey, proscribed and almost abandoned, without grave apprehensions?
I felt this that must be the explanation, and that it was my duty to
assure them that I was capable of protecting the one from all dangers,
and of requiting the other for the services he had rendered. And yet
a deadly chill oppressed me, and I could not determine what course to
pursue.

When Smith left us in the evening, we either were silent or talked
of him. I do not know what fatal attraction led me to ask about him
continually. She, however, told me just what I have told my reader;
Smith’s life had never been other than it was now--poor, obscure, and
honest. I made her repeat the story of his life a number of times,
without knowing why I took such an interest in it.

There was in my heart a secret cause of sorrow which I would not
confess. If that young man had arrived at the time of our greatest
happiness, had he brought an insignificant letter to Brigitte, had he
pressed her hand while assisting her into the carriage, would I have
paid the least attention to it? Had he recognized me at the opera or had
he not--had he shed tears for some unknown reason, what would it
matter so long as I was happy? But while unable to divine the cause of
Brigitte’s sorrow, I saw that my past conduct, whatever she might say
of it, had something to do with her present state. If I had been what I
ought to have been for the last six months that we had lived together,
nothing in the world, I was persuaded, could have troubled our love.

Smith was only an ordinary man, but he was good and devoted; his simple
and modest qualities resembled the large, pure lines which the eye
seizes at the first glance; one could know him in a quarter of an hour,
and he inspired confidence if not admiration. I could not help thinking
that if he were Brigitte’s lover, she would cheerfully go with him to
the ends of the earth.

I had deferred our departure purposely, but now I began to regret it.
Brigitte, too, at times urged me to hasten the day.

“Why do you wait?” she asked. “Here I am recovered and everything is
ready.”

Why did we wait, indeed? I do not know.

Seated near the fire, my eyes wandered from Smith to my loved one. I
saw that they were both pale, serious, silent. I did not know why, and
I could not help thinking that there was but one cause, or one secret to
learn. This was not one of those vague, sickly suspicions, such as
had formerly tormented me, but an instinct, persistent and fatal. What
strange creatures are we! It pleased me to leave them alone before the
fire, and to go out on the quay to dream, leaning on the parapet and
looking at the water. When they spoke of their life at N------, and
when Brigitte, almost cheerful, assumed a motherly air to recall some
incident of their childhood days, it seemed to me that I suffered, and
yet took pleasure in it. I asked questions; I spoke to Smith of his
mother, of his plans and his prospects; I gave him an opportunity to
show himself in a favorable light, and forced his modesty to reveal his
merit.

“You love your sister very much, do you not?” I asked. “When do you
expect to marry her off?”

He blushed, and replied that his expenses were rather heavy and that it
would probably be within two years, perhaps sooner, if his health would
permit him to do some extra work which would bring in enough to provide
her dowry; that there was a well-to-do family in the country, whose
eldest son was her sweetheart; that they were almost agreed on it, and
that fortune would one day come, like sleep, without thinking of it;
that he had set aside for his sister a part of the money left by their
father; that their mother was opposed to it, but that he would insist on
it; that a young man can live from hand to mouth, but that the fate of a
young girl is fixed on the day of her marriage. Thus, little by little,
he expressed what was in his heart, and I watched Brigitte listening to
him. Then, when he arose to leave us, I accompanied him to the door, and
stood there, pensively listening to the sound of his footsteps on the
stairs.

Upon examining our trunks we found that there were still a few things
needed before we could start; Smith was asked to purchase them. He was
remarkably active, and enjoyed attending to matters of this kind. When I
returned to my apartments, I found him on the floor, strapping a trunk.
Brigitte was at the piano we had rented by the week during our stay. She
was playing one of those old airs into which she put so much expression,
and which were so dear to us. I stopped in the hall; every note reached
my ear distinctly; never had she sung so sadly, so divinely.

Smith was listening with pleasure; he was on his knees holding the
buckle of the strap in his hands. He fastened it, then looked about the
room at the other goods he had packed and covered with a linen cloth.
Satisfied with his work, he still remained kneeling in the same spot;
Brigitte, her hands on the keys, was looking out at the horizon. For the
second time I saw tears fall from the young man’s eyes; I was ready to
shed tears myself, and not knowing what was passing in me, I held out my
hand to him.

“Were you there?” asked Brigitte. She trembled and seemed surprised.

“Yes, I was there,” I replied. “Sing, my dear, I beg of you. Let me hear
your sweet voice.”

She continued her song without a word; she noticed my emotion as well as
Smith’s; her voice faltered. With the last notes she arose, and came to
me and kissed me.

On another occasion I had brought an album containing views of
Switzerland. We were looking at them, all three of us, and when Brigitte
found a scene that pleased her, she would stop to examine it. There
was one view that seemed to attract her more than the others; it was
a certain spot in the canton of Vaud, some distance from Brigues;
some trees with cows grazing in the shade; in the distance a village
consisting of some dozen houses, scattered here and there. In the
foreground a young girl with a large straw hat, seated under a tree, and
a farmer’s boy standing before her, apparently pointing out, with his
iron-tipped stick, the route over which he had come; he was directing
her attention to a winding path that led to the mountain. Above them
were the Alps, and the picture was crowned by three snow-capped summits.
Nothing could be more simple or more beautiful than this landscape. The
valley resembled a lake of verdure, and the eye followed its contour
with delight.

“Shall we go there?” I asked Brigitte. I took a pencil and traced some
figures on the picture.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I am trying to see if I can not change that face slightly and make it
resemble yours. The pretty hat would become you, and can I not, if I am
skilful, give that fine mountaineer some resemblance to me?”

The whim seemed to please her and she set about rubbing out the two
faces. When I had painted her portrait, she wished to try mine. The
faces were very small, hence not very difficult; it was agreed that the
likenesses were striking. While we were laughing at it, the door opened
and I was called away by the servant.

When I returned, Smith was leaning on the table and looking at the
picture with interest. He was absorbed in a profound revery, and was not
aware of my presence; I sat down near the fire, and it was not until
I spoke to Brigitte that he raised his head. He looked at us a moment,
then hastily took his leave and, as he approached the door, I saw him
strike his forehead with his hand.

When I saw these signs of grief, I said to myself “What does it mean?”
 Then I clasped my hands to plead with--whom? I do not know; perhaps my
good angel, perhaps my evil fate.



CHAPTER IV. IN THE FURNACE

My heart yearned to set out and yet I delayed; some secret influence
rooted me to the spot.

When Smith came I knew no repose from the time he entered the room. How
is it that sometimes we seem to enjoy unhappiness?

One day a word, a flush, a glance, made me shudder; another day, another
glance, another word, threw me into uncertainty. Why were they both
so sad? Why was I as motionless as a statue where I had formerly been
violent? Every evening in bed I said to myself: “Let me see; let me
think that over.” Then I would spring up, crying: “Impossible!” The next
day I did the same thing.

In Smith’s presence, Brigitte treated me with more tenderness than when
we were alone. It happened one evening that some hard words escaped us;
when she heard his voice in the hall she came and sat on my knees.
As for him, it seemed to me he was always making an effort to control
himself. His gestures were carefully regulated; he spoke slowly and
prudently, so that his occasional moments of forgetfulness seemed all
the more striking.

Was it curiosity that tormented me? I remember that one day I saw a man
drowning near the Pont Royal. It was midsummer and we were rowing on the
river; some thirty boats were crowded together under the bridge, when
suddenly one of the occupants of a boat near mine threw up his hands and
fell overboard. We immediately began diving for him, but in vain; some
hours later the body was found under a raft.

I shall never forget my experience as I was diving for that man. I
opened my eyes under the water and searched painfully here and there
in the dark corners about the pier; then I returned to the surface for
breath, then resumed my horrible search. I was filled with hope and
terror; the thought that I might feel myself seized by convulsive arms
allured me, and at the same time thrilled me with horror; when I was
exhausted with fatigue, I climbed back into my boat.

Unless a man is brutalized by debauchery, eager curiosity is one of his
marked traits. I have already remarked that I felt it on the occasion of
my first visit to Desgenais. I will explain my meaning.

The truth, that skeleton of appearances, ordains that every man,
whatsoever he be, shall come, in his day and hour, to touch the bones
that lie forever at the bottom of some chance experience. It is called
“knowing the world,” and experience is purchased at that price. Some
recoil in terror before that test; others, feeble and affrighted,
vacillate like shadows. Some, the best perhaps, die at once. The large
number forget, and thus all float on to death.

But there are some men, who, at the fell stroke of chance, neither die
nor forget; when it comes their turn to touch misfortune, otherwise
called truth, they approach it with a firm step and outstretched hand,
and, horrible to say! they mistake love for the livid corpse they have
found at the bottom of the river. They seize it, feel it, clasp it in
their arms; they are drunk with the desire to know; they no longer look
with interest upon things, except to see them pass; they do nothing
except doubt and test; they ransack the world as though they were God’s
spies; they sharpen their thoughts into arrows, and give birth to a
monster.

Roues, more than all others, are exposed to that fury, and the reason
is very simple: ordinary life is the limpid surface, that of the roue
is the rapid current swirling over and over, and at times touching the
bottom. Coming from a ball, for instance, where they have danced with
a modest girl, they seek the company of bad characters, and spend the
night in riotous feasting. The last words they addressed to a beautiful
and virtuous woman are still on their lips; they repeat them and burst
into laughter. Shall I say it? Do they not raise, for some pieces of
silver, the vesture of chastity, that robe so full of mystery, which
respects the being it embellishes and engirds her without touching?
What idea can they have of the world? They are like comedians in the
greenroom. Who, more than they, is skilled in that delving to the bottom
of things, in that groping at once profound and impious? See how they
speak of everything; always in terms the most barren, crude, and abject;
such words appear true to them; the rest is only parade, convention,
prejudice. Let them tell a story, let them recount some experience, they
will always use the same dirty and material expressions. They do not say
“That woman loved me;” they say: “I betrayed that woman;” they do not
say: “I love;” they say, “I desire;” they never say: “If God wills;”
 they say: “If I will.” I do not know what they think of themselves and
of such monologues as these.

Hence, of a necessity, either from idleness or curiosity, while they
strive to find evil in everything, they do not comprehend that others
still believe in the good. Therefore they have to be so nonchalant as to
stop their ears, lest the hum of the busy world should suddenly startle
them from sleep. The father allows his son to go where so many others
go, where Cato himself went; he says that youth is but fleeting. But
when he returns, the youth looks upon his sister; and see what has taken
place in him during an hour passed in the society of brutal reality! He
says to himself: “My sister is not like that creature I have just left!”
 And from that day he is disturbed and uneasy.

Sinful curiosity is a vile malady born of impure contact. It is the
prowling instinct of phantoms who raise the lids of tombs; it is an
inexplicable torture with which God punishes those who have sinned;
they wish to believe that all sin as they have done, and would be
disappointed perhaps to find that it was not so. But they inquire, they
search, they dispute; they wag their heads from side to side as does an
architect who adjusts a column, and thus strive to find what they desire
to find. Given proof of evil, they laugh at it; doubtful of evil, they
swear that it exists; the good they refuse to recognize. “Who knows?”
 Behold the grand formula, the first words that Satan spoke when he saw
heaven closing against him. Alas! for how many evils are those words
responsible? How many disasters and deaths, how many strokes of fateful
scythes in the ripening harvest of humanity! How many hearts, how many
families where there is naught but ruin, since that word was first
heard! “Who knows! Who knows!” Loathsome words! Rather than pronounce
them one should be as sheep who graze about the slaughter-house and know
it not. That is better than to be called a strong spirit, and to read La
Rochefoucauld.

What better illustration could I present than the one I have just given?
My mistress was ready to set out and I had but to say the word. Why did
I delay? What would have been the result if I had started at once on
our trip? Nothing but a moment of apprehension that would have been
forgotten after travelling three days. When with me, she had no thought
but of me; why should I care to solve a mystery that did not threaten my
happiness?

She would have consented, and that would have been the end of it. A kiss
on her lips and all would be well; instead of that, see what I did.

One evening when Smith had dined with us, I retired at an early hour and
left them together. As I closed my door I heard Brigitte order some tea.
In the morning I happened to approach her table, and, sitting beside the
teapot, I saw but one cup. No one had been in that room before me that
morning, so the servant could not have carried away anything that had
been used the night before. I searched everywhere for a second cup but
could find none.

“Did Smith stay late?” I asked of Brigitte.

“He left about midnight.”

“Did you retire alone or did you call some one to assist you?”

“I retired alone; every one in the house was asleep.”

I continued my search and my hands trembled. In what burlesque comedy is
there a jealous lover so stupid as to inquire what has become of a cup?
Why seek to discover whether Smith and Madame Pierson had drunk from the
same cup? What a brilliant idea that!

Nevertheless I found the cup and I burst into laughter, and threw it
on the floor with such violence that it broke into a thousand pieces. I
ground the pieces under my feet.

Brigitte looked at me without saying a word. During the two succeeding
days she treated me with a coldness that had something of contempt in
it, and I saw that she treated Smith with more deference and kindness
than usual. She called him Henri and smiled on him sweetly.

“I feel that the air would do me good,” she said after dinner; “shall we
go to the opera, Octave? I would enjoy walking that far.”

“No, I will stay here; go without me.” She took Smith’s arm and went
out. I remained alone all evening; I had paper before me, and was trying
to collect my thoughts in order to write, but in vain.

As a lonely lover draws from his bosom a letter from his mistress, and
loses himself in delightful revery, thus I shut myself up in solitude
and yielded to the sweet allurement of doubt. Before me were the two
empty seats which Brigitte and Smith had just occupied; I scrutinized
them anxiously as if they could tell me something. I revolved in my mind
all the things I had heard and seen; from time to time I went to the
door and cast my eyes over our trunks which had been piled against the
wall for a month; I opened them and examined the contents so carefully
packed away by those delicate little hands; I listened to the sound of
passing carriages; the slightest noise made me tremble. I spread out on
the table our map of Europe, and there, in the very presence of all my
hopes, in that room where I had conceived and had so nearly realized
them, I abandoned myself to the most frightful presentiments.

But, strange as it may seem, I felt neither anger nor jealousy, but a
terrible sense of sorrow and foreboding. I did not suspect, and yet I
doubted. The mind of man is so strangely formed that, with what he sees
and in spite of what he sees, he can conjure up a hundred objects of
woe. In truth his brain resembles the dungeons of the Inquisition, where
the walls are covered with so many instruments of torture that one is
dazed, and asks whether these horrible contrivances he sees before him
are pincers or playthings. Tell me, I say, what difference is there in
saying to my mistress: “All women deceive,” or, “You deceive me?”

What passed through my mind was perhaps as subtle as the finest
sophistry; it was a sort of dialogue between the mind and the
conscience. “If I should lose Brigitte?” I said to the mind. “She
departs with you,” said the conscience. “If she deceives me?”--“How can
she deceive you? Has she not made out her will asking for prayers for
you?”--“If Smith loves her?”--“Fool! What does it matter so long as you
know that she loves you?”--“If she loves me why is she sad?”--“That
is her secret, respect it.”--“If I take her away with me, will she be
happy?”--“Love her and she will be.”--“Why, when that man looks at her,
does she seem to fear to meet his glance?”--“Because she is a woman
and he is young.”--“Why does that young man turn pale when she looks at
him?”--“Because he is a man and she is beautiful.”--“Why, when I went to
see him did he throw himself into my arms, and why did he weep and beat
his head with his hands?”--“Do not seek to know what you must remain
ignorant of.”--“Why can I not know these things?”--“Because you are
miserable and weak, and all mystery is of God.”

“But why is it that I suffer? Why is it that my soul recoils in
terror?”--“Think of your father and do good.”--“But why am I unable to
do as he did? Why does evil attract me to itself?”--“Get down on your
knees and confess; if you believe in evil it is because your ways have
been evil.”--“If my ways were evil, was it my fault? Why did the
good betray me?”--“Because you are in the shadow, would you deny
the existence of light? If there are traitors, why are you one of
them?”--“Because I am afraid of becoming the dupe.”--“Why do you spend
your nights in watching? Why are you alone now?”--“Because I think,
I doubt, and I fear.”--“When will you offer your prayer?”--“When I
believe. Why have they lied to me?”--“Why do you lie, coward! at this
very moment? Why not die if you can not suffer?”

Thus spoke and groaned within me two voices, voices that were defiant
and terrible; and then a third voice cried out! “Alas! Alas! my
innocence! Alas! Alas! the days that were!”



CHAPTER V. TRUTH AT LAST

What a frightful weapon is human thought! It is our defense and our
safeguard, the most precious gift that God has made us. It is ours and
it obeys us; we may launch it forth into space, but, once outside of our
feeble brains, it is gone; we can no longer control it.

While I was deferring the time of our departure from day to day I was
gradually losing strength, and, although I did not perceive it, my vital
forces were slowly wasting away. When I sat at table I experienced a
violent distaste for food; at night two pale faces, those of Brigitte
and Smith, pursued me through frightful dreams. When they went to the
theatre in the evening I refused to go with them; then I went alone,
concealed myself in the parquet, and watched them. I pretended that I
had some business to attend to in a neighboring room and sat there an
hour and listened to them. The idea occurred to me to seek a quarrel
with Smith and force him to fight with me; I turned my back on him while
he was talking; then he came to me with a look of surprise on his face,
holding out his hand. When I was alone in the night and every one slept,
I felt a strong desire to go to Brigitte’s desk and take from it her
papers. On one occasion I was obliged to go out of the house in order
to resist the temptation. One day I felt like arming myself with a knife
and threatening to kill them if they did not tell me why they were so
sad; another day I turned all this fury against myself. With what shame
do I write it! And if any one should ask me why I acted thus, I could
not reply.

To see, to doubt, to search, to torture myself and make myself
miserable, to pass entire days with my ear at the keyhole, and the
night in a flood of tears, to repeat over and over that I should die of
sorrow, to feel isolation and feebleness uprooting hope in my heart,
to imagine that I was spying when I was only listening to the feverish
beating of my own pulse; to con over stupid phrases, such as: “Life is
a dream, there is nothing stable here below;” to curse and blaspheme
God through misery and through caprice: that was my joy, the precious
occupation for which I renounced love, the air of heaven, and liberty!

Eternal God, liberty! Yes, there were certain moments when, in spite of
all, I still thought of it. In the midst of my madness, eccentricity,
and stupidity, there were within me certain impulses that at times
brought me to myself. It was a breath of air which struck my face as I
came from my dungeon; it was a page of a book I read when, in my bitter
days, I happened to read something besides those modern sycophants
called pamphleteers, who, out of regard for the public health, ought to
be prevented from indulging in their crude philosophizings. Since I have
referred to these good moments, let me mention one of them, they were so
rare. One evening I was reading the Memoirs of Constant; I came to the
following lines:

“Salsdorf, a Saxon surgeon attached to Prince Christian, had his leg
broken by a shell in the battle of Wagram. He lay almost lifeless on the
dusty field. Fifteen paces distant, Amedee of Kerbourg, aide-de-camp (I
have forgotten to whom), wounded in the breast by a bullet, fell to the
ground vomiting blood. Salsdorf saw that if that young man was not cared
for he would die of suffusion; summoning all his powers, he painfully
dragged himself to the side of the wounded man, attended to him and
saved his life. Salsdorf himself died four days later from the effects
of amputation.”

When I read these words I threw down my book, and melted into tears.

I do not regret those tears, for they were such as I could shed only
when my heart was right; I do not speak merely of Salsdorf, and do not
care for that particular instance. I am sure, however, that I did not
suspect any one that day. Poor dreamer! Ought I to remember that I have
been other than I am? What good will it do me as I stretch out my arms
in anguish to heaven and wait for the bolt that will deliver me forever?
Alas! it was only a gleam that flashed across the night of my life.

Like those dervish fanatics who find ecstasy in vertigo, so thought,
turning on itself, exhausted by the stress of introspection and tired of
vain effort, falls terror-stricken. So it would seem that man must be a
void and that by dint of delving unto himself he reaches the last turn
of a spiral. There, as on the summits of mountains and at the bottom of
mines, air fails, and God forbids man to go farther. Then, struck with
a mortal chill, the heart, as if impaired by oblivion, seeks to escape
into a new birth; it demands life of that which environs it, it eagerly
drinks in the air; but it finds round about only its own chimeras, which
have exhausted its failing powers and which, self-created, surround it
like pitiless spectres.

This could not last long. Tired of uncertainty, I resolved to resort to
a test that would discover the truth.

I ordered post-horses for ten in the evening. We had hired a caleche and
I gave directions that all should be ready at the hour indicated. At the
same time I asked that nothing be said to Madame Pierson. Smith came to
dinner; at the table I affected unusual cheerfulness, and without a
word about my plans, I turned the conversation to our journey. I would
renounce all idea of going away, I said, if I thought Brigitte did not
care to go; I was so well satisfied with Paris that I asked nothing
better than to remain as long as she pleased. I made much of all the
pleasures of the city; I spoke of the balls, the theatres, of the many
opportunities for diversion on every hand. In short, since we were happy
I did not see why we should make a change; and I did not think of going
away at present.

I was expecting her to insist that we carry out our plan of going to
Geneva, and was not disappointed. However, she insisted but feebly; but,
after a few words, I pretended to yield, and then changing the subject I
spoke of other things, as though it was all settled.

“And why will not Smith go with us?” I asked. “It is very true that he
has duties here, but can he not obtain leave of absence? Moreover, will
not the talents he possesses and which he is unwilling to use, assure
him an honorable living anywhere? Let him come along with us; the
carriage is large and we offer him a place in it. A young man should
see the world, and there is nothing so irksome for a man of his age as
confinement in an office and restriction to a narrow circle. Is it not
true?” I asked, turning to Brigitte. “Come, my dear, let your wiles
obtain from him what he might refuse me; urge him to give us six weeks
of his time. We will travel together, and after a tour of Switzerland he
will return to his duties with new life.”

Brigitte joined her entreaties to mine, although she knew it was only
a joke on my part. Smith could not leave Paris without danger of losing
his position, and replied that he regretted being obliged to deny
himself the pleasure of accompanying us. Nevertheless I continued
to press him, and, ordering another bottle of wine, I repeated my
invitation. After dinner I went out to assure myself that my orders were
carried out; then I returned in high spirits, and seating myself at the
piano I proposed some music.

“Let us pass the evening here,” I said; “believe me, it is better than
going to the theatre; I can not take part myself, but I can listen. We
will make Smith play if he tires of our company, and the time will pass
pleasantly.”

Brigitte consented with good grace and began singing for us; Smith
accompanied her on the violoncello. The materials for a bowl of punch
were brought and the flame of burning rum soon cheered us with varied
lights. The piano was abandoned for the table; then we had cards;
everything passed off as I wished and we succeeded in diverting
ourselves to my heart’s content.

I had my eyes fixed on the clock and waited impatiently for the hands to
mark the hour of ten. I was tormented with anxiety, but allowed them to
see nothing. Finally the hour arrived; I heard the postilion’s whip as
the horses entered the court. Brigitte was seated near me; I took her by
the hand and asked her if she was ready to depart. She looked at me with
surprise, doubtless wondering if I was not joking. I told her that at
dinner she had appeared so anxious to go that I had felt justified in
sending for the horses, and that I went out for that purpose when I left
the table.

“Are you serious?” asked Brigitte; “do you wish to set out to-night?”

“Why not?” I replied, “since we have agreed that we ought to leave
Paris?”

“What! now? At this very moment?”

“Certainly; have we not been ready for a month? You see there is nothing
to do but load our trunks on the carriage; as we have decided to go,
ought we not go at once? I believe it is better to go now and put off
nothing until tomorrow. You are in the humor to travel to-night and I
hasten to profit by it. Why wait longer and continue to put it off? I
can not endure this life. You wish to go, do you not? Very well, let us
go and be done with it.”

Profound silence ensued. Brigitte stepped to the window and satisfied
herself that the carriage was there. Moreover, the tone in which I spoke
would admit of no doubt, and, however hasty my action may appear to
her, it was due to her own expressed desire. She could not deny her own
words, nor find any pretext for further delay. Her decision was made
promptly; she asked a few questions as though to assure herself that all
the preparations had been made; seeing that nothing had been omitted,
she began to search here and there. She found her hat and shawl, then
continued her search.

“I am ready,” she said; “shall we go? We are really going?”

She took a light, went to my room, to her own, opened lockers and
closets. She asked for the key to her secretary which she said she had
lost. Where could that key be? She had it in her possession not an hour
ago.

“Come, come! I am ready,” she repeated in extreme agitation; “let us go,
Octave, let us set out at once.”

While speaking she continued her search and then came and sat down near
us.

I was seated on the sofa watching Smith, who stood before me. He had not
changed countenance and seemed neither troubled nor surprised; but two
drops of sweat trickled down his forehead, and I heard an ivory counter
crack between his fingers, the pieces falling to the floor. He held out
both hands to us.

“Bon voyage, my friends!” he said.

Again silence; I was still watching him, waiting for him to add a word.
“If there is some secret here,” thought I, “when shall I learn it, if
not now? It must be on the lips of both of them. Let it but come out
into the light and I will seize it.”

“My dear Octave,” said Brigitte, “where are we to stop? You will write
to us, Henri, will you not? You will not forget my relatives and will do
what you can for me?” He replied in a voice that trembled slightly that
he would do all in his power to serve her.

“I can answer for nothing,” he said, “and, judging from the letters you
have received, there is not much hope. But it will not be my fault if I
do not send you good news. Count on me, I am devoted to you.”

After a few more kind words he made ready to take his departure. I arose
and left the room before him; I wished to leave them together a moment
for the last time and, as soon as I had closed the door behind me, in a
perfect rage of jealousy, I pressed my ear to the keyhole.

“When shall I see you again?” he asked.

“Never,” replied Brigitte; “adieu, Henri.” She held out her hand. He
bent over it, pressed it to his lips and I had barely time to slip into
a corner as he passed out without seeing me.

Alone with Brigitte, my heart sank within me. She was waiting for me,
her shawl on her arm, and emotion plainly marked on her face. She had
found the key she had been looking for and her desk was open. I returned
and sat down near the fire. “Listen to me,” I said, without daring to
look at her; “I have been so culpable in my treatment of you that I
ought to wait and suffer without a word of complaint. The change which
has taken place in you has thrown me into such despair that I have not
been able to refrain from asking you the cause; but to-day I ask nothing
more. Does it cost you an effort to depart? Tell me, and if so I am
resigned.”

“Let us go, let us go!” she replied.

“As you please, but be frank; whatever blow I may receive, I ought not
to ask whence it comes; I should submit without a murmur. But if I lose
you, do not speak to me of hope, for God knows I will not survive the
loss.”

She turned on me like a flash.

“Speak to me of your love,” she said, “not of your grief.”

“Very well, I love you more than life. Beside my love, my grief is but
a dream. Come with me to the end of the world, I will die or I will live
with you.”

With these words I advanced toward her; she turned pale and recoiled.
She made a vain effort to force a smile on her contracted lips, and
sitting down before her desk she said:

“One moment; I have some papers here I want to burn.”

She showed me the letters from N------, tore them up and threw them
into the fire; she then took out other papers which she reread and then
spread out on the table. They were bills of purchases she had made and
some of them were still unpaid. While examining them she began to talk
rapidly, while her cheeks burned as if with fever. Then she begged my
pardon for her obstinate silence and her conduct since our arrival.

She gave evidence of more tenderness, more confidence than ever. She
clapped her hands gleefully at the prospect of a happy journey; in
short, she was all love, or at least apparently all love. I can not tell
how I suffered at the sight of that factitious joy; there was in that
grief which crazed her something more sad than tears and more bitter
than reproaches. I would have preferred to have her cold and indifferent
rather than thus excited; it seemed to me a parody of our happiest
moments. There were the same words, the same woman, the same caresses;
and that which, fifteen days before would have intoxicated me with love
and happiness, repeated thus, filled me with horror.

“Brigitte,” I suddenly inquired, “what secret are you concealing from
me? If you love me, what horrible comedy is this you are enacting before
me?”

“I!” said she, almost offended. “What makes you think I am acting?”

“What makes me think so? Tell me, my dear, that you have death in your
soul and that you are suffering martyrdom. Behold my arms are ready to
receive you; lean your head on me and weep. Then I will take you away,
perhaps; but in truth, not thus.”

“Let us go, let us go!” she again repeated.

“No, on my soul! No, not at present; no, not while there is between us
a lie or a mask. I like unhappiness better than such cheerfulness as
yours.”

She was silent, astonished to see that I had not been deceived by her
words and manner and that I saw through them both.

“Why should we delude ourselves?” I continued.

“Have I fallen so low in your esteem that you can dissimulate before me?
That unfortunate journey, you think you are condemned to it, do you?
Am I a tyrant, an absolute master? Am I an executioner who drags you to
punishment? How much do you fear my wrath when you come before me with
such mimicry? What terror impels you to lie thus?”

“You are wrong,” she replied; “I beg of you, not a word more.”

“Why so little sincerity? If I am not your confidant, may I not at
least be your friend? If I am denied all knowledge of the source of your
tears, may I not at least see them flow? Have you not enough confidence
in me to believe that I will respect your sorrow? What have I done that
I should be ignorant of it? Might not the remedy lie right there?”

“No,” she replied, “you are wrong; you will achieve your own unhappiness
as well as mine if you press me farther. Is it not enough that we are
going away?”

“And do you expect me to drag you away against your will? Is it not
evident that you have consented reluctantly, and that you already begin
to repent? Great God! What is it you are concealing from me? What is the
use of playing with words when your thoughts are as clear as that glass
before which you stand? Should I not be the meanest of men to accept at
your hands what is yielded with so much regret? And yet how can I refuse
it? What can I do if you refuse to speak?”

“No, I do not oppose you, you are mistaken; I love you, Octave; cease
tormenting me thus.”

She threw so much tenderness into these words that I fell down on my
knees before her. Who could resist her glance and her voice?

“My God!” I cried, “you love me, Brigitte? My dear mistress, you love
me?”

“Yes, I love you; yes. I belong to you; do with me what you will. I
will follow you, let us go away together; come, Octave, the carriage is
waiting.”

She pressed my hand in hers, and kissed my forehead.

“Yes, it must be,” she murmured, “it must be.”

“It must be,” I repeated to myself. I arose.

On the table there remained only one piece of paper that Brigitte was
examining. She picked it up, then allowed it to drop to the floor.

“Is that all?” I asked.

“Yes, that is all.”

When I ordered the horses I had no idea that we would really go, I
wished merely to make a trial, but circumstances bid fair to force me to
carry my plans farther than I at first intended. I opened the door.

“It must be!” I said to myself. “It must be!” I repeated aloud.

“What do you mean by that, Brigitte? What is there in those words that I
do not understand? Explain yourself, or I will not go. Why must you love
me?”

She fell on the sofa and wrung her hands in grief.

“Ah! Unhappy man!” she cried, “you will never know how to love!”

“Yes, I think you are right, but, before God, I know how to suffer. You
must love me, must you not? Very well, then you must answer me. Were I
to lose you forever, were these walls to crumble over my head, I will
not leave this spot until I have solved the mystery that has been
torturing me for more than a month. Speak, or I will leave you. I may be
a fool who destroys his own happiness; I may be demanding something that
is not for me to possess; it may be that an explanation will separate
us and raise before me an insurmountable barrier, which will render our
tour, on which I have set my heart, impossible; whatever it may cost you
and me, you shall speak or I will renounce everything.”

“No, I will not speak.”

“You will speak! Do you fondly imagine I am the dupe of your lies? When
I see you change between morning and evening until you differ more from
your natural self than does night from day, do you think I am deceived?
When you give me as a cause some letters that are not worth the trouble
of reading, do you imagine that I am to be put off with the first
pretext that comes to hand because you do not choose to seek another? Is
your face made of plaster, that it is difficult to see what is passing
in your heart? What is your opinion of me? I do not deceive myself as
much as you suppose, and take care lest in default of words your silence
discloses what you so obstinately conceal.”

“What do you imagine I am concealing?”

“What do I imagine? You ask me that! Is it to brave me you ask such a
question! Do you think to make me desperate and thus get rid of me? Yes,
I admit it, offended pride is capable of driving me to extremes. If
I should explain myself freely, you would have at your service all
feminine hypocrisy; you hope that I will accuse you, so that you can
reply that such a woman as you does not stoop to justify herself. How
skilfully the most guilty and treacherous of your sex contrive to use
proud disdain as a shield! Your great weapon is silence; I did not learn
that yesterday. You wish to be insulted and you hold your tongue until
it comes to that. Come, struggle against my heart--where yours beats
you will find it; but do not struggle against my head, it is harder than
iron, and it has served me as long as yours!”

“Poor boy!” murmured Brigitte; “you do not want to go?”

“No, I shall not go except with my beloved, and you are not that now. I
have struggled, I have suffered, I have eaten my own heart long enough.
It is time for day to break, I have loved long enough in the night. Yes
or no, will you answer me?”

“No.”

“As you please; I will wait.”

I sat down on the other side of the room, determined not to rise until
I had learned what I wished to know. She appeared to be reflecting, and
walked back and forth before me.

I followed her with an eager eye, while her silence gradually increased
my anger. I was unwilling to have her perceive it and was undecided what
to do. I opened the window.

“You may drive off,” I called to those below, “and I will see that you
are paid. I shall not start to-night.”

“Poor boy!” repeated Brigitte. I quietly closed the window and sat down
as if I had not heard her; but I was so furious with rage that I
could hardly restrain myself. That cold silence, that negative force,
exasperated me to the last point. Had I been really deceived and
convinced of the guilt of a woman I loved I could not have suffered
more. As I had condemned myself to remain in Paris, I reflected that I
must compel Brigitte to speak at any price. In vain I tried to think of
some means of forcing her to enlighten me; for such power I would have
given all I possessed. What could I do or say? She sat there calm and
unruffled, looking at me with sadness. I heard the sound of the horses’
hoofs on the paving as the carriage drew out of the court. I had merely
to turn my hand to call them back, but it seemed to me that there was
something irrevocable about their departure. I slipped the bolt on the
door; something whispered in my ear: “You are face to face with the
woman who must give you life or death.”

While thus buried in thought I tried to invent some expedient that
would lead to the truth. I recalled one of Diderot’s romances in which
a woman, jealous of her lover, resorted to a novel plan, for the purpose
of clearing away her doubts. She told him that she no longer loved him
and that she wished to leave him. The Marquis des Arcis (the name of the
lover) falls into the trap, and confesses that he himself has tired of
the liaison. That piece of strategy, which I had read at too early an
age, had struck me as being very skilful, and the recollection of it at
this moment made me smile. “Who knows?” said I to myself. “If I should
try this with Brigitte, she might be deceived and tell me her secret.”

My anger had become furious when the idea of resorting to such trickery
occurred to me. Was it so difficult to make a woman speak in spite of
herself? This woman was my mistress; I must be very weak if I could not
gain my point. I turned over on the sofa with an air of indifference.

“Very well, my dear,” said I, gayly, “this is not a time for
confidences, then?”

She looked at me in astonishment.

“And yet,” I continued, “we must some day come to the truth. Now I
believe it would be well to begin at once; that will make you confiding,
and there is nothing like an understanding between friends.”

Doubtless my face betrayed me as I spoke these words; Brigitte did not
appear to understand and kept on walking up and down.

“Do you know,” I resumed, “that we have been together now six months?
The life we are leading together is not one to be laughed at. You are
young, I also; if this kind of life should become distasteful to you,
are you the woman to tell me of it? In truth, if it were so, I would
confess it to you frankly. And why not? Is it a crime to love? If not,
it is not a crime to love less or to cease to love at all. Would it be
astonishing if at our age we should feel the need of change?”

She stopped me.

“At our age!” said she. “Are you addressing me? What comedy are you now
playing, yourself?”

Blood mounted to my face. I seized her hand. “Sit down here,” I said,
“and listen to me.”

“What is the use? It is not you who speak.”

I felt ashamed of my own strategy and abandoned it.

“Listen to me,” I repeated, “and come, I beg of you, sit down near me.
If you wish to remain silent yourself, at least hear what I have to
say.”

“I am listening, what have you to say to me?”

“If some one should say to me: ‘You are a coward!’ I, who am twenty-two
years of age and have fought on the field of honor, would throw
the taunt back in the teeth of my accuser. Have I not within me the
consciousness of what I am? It would be necessary for me to meet my
accuser on the field, and play my life against his; why? In order to
prove that I am not a coward; otherwise the world would believe it. That
single word demands that reply every time it is spoken, and it matters
not by whom.”

“It is true; what is your meaning?”

“Women do not fight; but as society is constituted there is no being,
of whatever sex, who ought to submit to the indignity involved in an
aspersion on all his or her past life, be that life regulated as by a
pendulum. Reflect; who escapes that law? There are some, I admit;
but what happens? If it is a man, dishonor; if it is a woman, what?
Forgiveness? Every one who loves ought to give some evidence of life,
some proof of existence. There is, then, for woman as well as for man,
a time when an attack must be resented. If she is brave, she rises,
announces that she is present and sits down again. A stroke of the sword
is not for her. She must not only avenge herself, but she must forge her
own arms. Someone suspects her; who? An outsider? She may hold him in
contempt--her lover whom she loves? If so, it is her life that is in
question, and she may not despise him.”

“Her only recourse is silence.”

“You are wrong; the lover who suspects her casts an aspersion on her
entire life. I know it. Her plea is in her tears, her past life, her
devotion and her patience. What will happen if she remains silent? Her
lover will lose her by her own act and time will justify her. Is not
that your thought?”

“Perhaps; silence before all.”

“Perhaps, you say? Assuredly I will lose you if you do not speak; my
resolution is made: I am going away alone.”

“But, Octave--”

“But,” I cried, “time will justify you! Let us put an end to it; yes or
no?”

“Yes, I hope so.”

“You hope so! Will you answer me definitely? This is doubtless the last
time you will have the opportunity. You tell me that you love me, and I
believe it. I suspect you; is it your intention to allow me to go away
and rely on time to justify you?”

“Of what do you suspect me?”

“I do not choose to say, for I see that it would be useless. But, after
all, misery for misery, at your leisure; I am as well pleased. You
deceive me, you love another; that is your secret and mine.”

“Who is it?” she asked.

“Smith.”

She placed her hand on her lips and turned aside. I could say no more;
we were both pensive, our eyes fixed on the floor.

“Listen to me,” she began with an effort, “I have suffered much. I call
heaven to bear me witness that I would give my life for you. So long as
the faintest gleam of hope remains, I am ready to suffer anything; but,
although I may rouse your anger in saying to you that I am a woman, I
am nevertheless a woman, my friend. We can not go beyond the limits
of human endurance. Beyond a certain point I will not answer for the
consequences. All I can do at this moment is to get down on my knees
before you and beseech you not to go away.”

She knelt down as she spoke. I arose.

“Fool that I am!” I muttered, bitterly; “fool, to try to get the
truth from a woman! He who undertakes such a task will earn naught
but derision and will deserve it! Truth! Only he who consorts with
chambermaids knows it, only he who steals to their pillow and listens
to the unconscious utterance of a dream, hears it. He alone knows it who
makes a woman of himself, and initiates himself into the secrets of her
cult of inconstancy! But man, who asks for it openly, he who opens a
loyal hand to receive that frightful alms, he will never obtain it! They
are on guard with him; for reply he receives a shrug of the shoulders,
and, if he rouses himself in his impatience, they rise in righteous
indignation like an outraged vestal, while there falls from their lips
the great feminine oracle that suspicion destroys love, and they refuse
to pardon an accusation which they are unable to meet. Ah! just God! How
weary I am! When will all this cease?”

“Whenever you please,” said she, coldly; “I am as tired of it as you.”

“At this very moment; I leave you forever, and may time justify you!
Time! Time! Oh! what a cold lover! Remember this adieu. Time! and thy
beauty, and thy love, and thy happiness, where will they be? Is it thus,
without regret, you allow me to go? Ah! the day when the jealous lover
will know that he has been unjust, the day when he shall see proofs,
he will understand what a heart he has wounded, is it not so? He will
bewail his shame, he will know neither joy nor sleep; he will live only
in the memory of the time when he might have been happy. But, on that
day, his proud mistress will turn pale as she sees herself avenged; she
will say to herself: ‘If I had only done it sooner!’ And believe me, if
she loves him, pride will not console her.”

I tried to be calm, but I was no longer master of myself, and I began to
pace the floor as she had done. There are certain glances that resemble
the clashing of drawn swords; such glances Brigitte and I exchanged at
that moment. I looked at her as the prisoner looks on her at the door of
his dungeon. In order to break her sealed lips and force her to speak I
would give my life and hers.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “What do you wish me to tell you?”

“What you have on your heart. Are you cruel enough to make me repeat
it?”

“And you, you,” she cried, “are you not a hundred times more cruel? Ah!
fool, as you say, who would know the truth! Fool that I should be if I
expected you to believe it! You would know my secret, and my secret is
that I love you. Fool that I am! you will seek another. That pallor of
which you are the cause, you accuse it, you question it. Like a fool, I
have tried to suffer in silence, to consecrate to you my resignation;
I have tried to conceal my tears; you have played the spy, and you have
counted them as witnesses against me. Fool that I am! I have thought of
crossing seas, of exiling myself from France with you, of dying far from
all who have loved me, leaning for sole support on a heart that doubts
me. Fool that I am! I thought that truth had a glance, an accent, that
could not be mistaken, that would be respected! Ah! when I think of it,
tears choke me. Why, if it must ever be thus, induce me to take a step
that will forever destroy my peace? My head is confused, I do not know
where I am!”

She leaned on me weeping. “Fool! Fool!” she repeated, in a heartrending
voice.

“And what is it you ask?” she continued, “what can I do to meet those
suspicions that are ever born anew, that alter with your moods? I
must justify myself, you say! For what? For loving, for dying,
for despairing? And if I assume a forced cheerfulness, even that
cheerfulness offends you. I sacrifice everything to follow you and
you have not gone a league before you look back. Always, everywhere,
whatever I may do, insults and anger!”

“Ah! dear child, if you knew what a mortal chill comes over me, what
suffering I endure in seeing my simplest words this taken up and hurled
back at me with suspicion and sarcasm! By that course you deprive
yourself of the only happiness there is in the world--perfect love. You
kill all delicate and lofty sentiment in the hearts of those who love
you; soon you will believe in nothing except the material and the gross;
of love there will remain for you only that which is visible and can
be touched with the finger. You are young, Octave, and you have still a
long life before you; you will have other mistresses. Yes, as you say,
pride is a little thing and it is not to it I look for consolation; but
God wills that your tears shall one day pay me for those which I now
shed for you!”

She arose.

“Must it be said? Must you know that for six months I have not sought
repose without repeating to myself that it was all in vain, that you
would never be cured; that I have never risen in the morning without
saying that another effort must be made; that after every word you have
spoken I have felt that I ought to leave you, and that you have not
given me a caress that I would rather die than endure; that, day by day,
minute by minute, hesitating between hope and fear, I have vainly tried
to conquer either my love or my grief; that, when I opened my heart to
you, you pierced it with a mocking glance, and that, when I closed it,
it seemed to me I felt within it a treasure that none but you could
dispense? Shall I speak of all the frailty and all the mysteries which
seem puerile to those who do not respect them? Shall I tell you that
when you left me in anger I shut myself up to read your first letters;
that there is a favorite waltz that I never played in vain when I felt
too keenly the suffering caused by your presence? Ah! wretch that I am!
How dearly all these unnumbered tears, all these follies, so sweet to
the feeble, are purchased! Weep now; not even this punishment, this
sorrow, will avail you.”

I tried to interrupt her.

“Allow me to continue,” she said; “the time has come when I must speak.
Let us see, why do you doubt me? For six months, in thought, in body,
and in soul, I have belonged to no one but you. Of what do you dare
suspect me? Do you wish to set out for Switzerland? I am ready, as you
see. Do you think you have a rival? Send him a letter that I will sign
and you will direct. What are we doing? Where are we going? Let us
decide. Are we not always together? Very well then, why would you leave
me? I can not be near you and separated from you at the same moment. It
is necessary to have confidence in those we love. Love is either good or
bad: if good, we must believe in it; if evil, we must cure ourselves of
it. All this, you see, is a game we are playing; but our hearts and our
lives are the stakes, and it is horrible! Do you wish to die? That would
perhaps be better. Who am I that you should doubt me?”

She stopped before the glass.

“Who am I?” she repeated, “who am I? Think of it. Look at this face of
mine.”

“Doubt thee!” she cried, addressing her own image; “poor, pale face,
thou art suspected! poor, thin cheeks, poor, tired eyes, thou and thy
tears are in disgrace. Very well, put an end to thy suffering; let
those kisses that have wasted thee close thy lids! Descend into the cold
earth, poor trembling body that can no longer support its own weight.
When thou art there, perchance thou wilt be believed, if doubt believes
in death. O sorrowful spectre! On the banks of what stream wilt thou
wander and groan? What fires devour thee? Thou dreamest of a long
journey and thou hast one foot in the grave!

“Die! God is thy witness that thou hast tried to love. Ah! what wealth
of love has been awakened in thy heart! Ah! what dreams thou hast had,
what poisons thou hast drunk! What evil hast thou committed that there
should be placed in thy breast a fever that consumes! What fury animates
that blind creature who pushes thee into the grave with his foot, while
his lips speak to thee of love? What will become of you if you live? Is
it not time to end it all? Is it not enough? What proof canst thou give
that will satisfy when thou, poor, living proof, art not believed? To
what torture canst thou submit that thou hast not already endured? By
what torments, what sacrifices, wilt thou appease insatiable love? Thou
wilt be only an object of ridicule, a thing to excite laughter; thou
wilt vainly seek a deserted street to avoid the finger of scorn. Thou
wilt lose all shame and even that appearance of virtue which has been
so dear to you; and the man for whom you have disgraced yourself will be
the first to punish you. He will reproach you for living for him alone,
for braving the world for him, and while your friends are whispering
about you, he will listen to assure himself that no word of pity is
spoken; he will accuse you of deceiving him if another hand even then
presses yours, and if, in the desert of life, you find some one who can
spare you a word of pity in passing.

“O God! dost thou remember a day when a wreath of roses was placed on
my head? Was it this brow on which that crown rested? Ah! the hand that
hung it on the wall of the oratory has now fallen, like it, to dust!
Oh, my native valley! Oh, my old aunt, who now sleeps in peace! Oh, my
lindens, my little white goat, my dear peasants who loved me so much!
You remember when I was happy, proud, and respected? Who threw in my
path that stranger who took me away from all this? Who gave him the
right to enter my life? Ah! wretch! why didst thou turn the first day
he followed you? Why didst thou receive him as a brother? Why didst thou
open thy door, and why didst thou hold out thy hand? Octave, Octave, why
have you loved me if all is to end thus?”

She was about to faint as I led her to a chair where she sank down
and her head fell on my shoulder. The terrible effort she had made in
speaking to me so bitterly had broken her down. Instead of an outraged
woman I found now only a suffering child. Her eyes closed and she was
motionless.

When she regained consciousness she complained of extreme languor, and
begged to be left alone that she might rest. She could hardly walk; I
carried her gently to her room and placed her on the bed. There was no
mark of suffering on her face: she was resting from her sorrow as
from great fatigue, and seemed not even to remember it. Her feeble and
delicate body yielded without a struggle; the strain had been too great.
She held my hand in hers; I kissed her; our lips met in loving union,
and after the cruel scene through which she had passed, she slept
smilingly on my heart as on the first day.



CHAPTER VI. SELF-SACRIFICE THE SOLUTION

Brigitte slept. Silent, motionless, I sat near her. As a husbandman,
when the storm has passed, counts the sheaves that remain in his
devastated field, thus I began to estimate the evil I had done.

The more I thought of it, the more irreparable I felt it to be. Certain
sorrows, by their very excess, warn us of their limits, and the more
shame and remorse I experienced, the more I felt that after such a
scene, nothing remained for us to do but to say adieu. Whatever courage
Brigitte had shown, she had drunk to the dregs the bitter cup of her sad
love; unless I wished to see her die, I must give her repose. She had
often addressed cruel reproaches to me, and had, perhaps, on certain
other occasions shown more anger than in this scene; but what she had
said this time was not dictated by offended pride; it was the truth,
which, hidden closely in her heart, had broken it in escaping.

Our present relations, and the fact that I had refused to go away with
her, destroyed all hope; she desired to pardon me, but she had not the
power. This slumber even, this deathlike sleep of one who could suffer
no more, was conclusive evidence; this sudden silence, the tenderness
she had shown in the final moments, that pale face, and that kiss,
confirmed me in the belief that all was over, and that I had broken
forever whatever bond had united us. As surely as she slept now, as soon
as I gave her cause for further suffering she would sleep in eternal
rest. The clock struck and I felt that the last hour had carried away my
life with hers.

Unwilling to call any one, I lighted Brigitte’s lamp; I watched its
feeble flame and my thoughts seemed to flicker in the darkness like its
uncertain rays.

Whatever I had said or done, the idea of losing Brigitte had never
occurred to me up to this time. A hundred times I wished to leave her,
but who has loved and is ready to say just what is in his heart? That
was in times of despair or of anger. So long as I knew that she loved
me, I was sure of loving her; stern necessity had just arisen between us
for the first time. I experienced a dull languor and could distinguish
nothing clearly. What my mind understood, my soul recoiled from
accepting. “Come,” I said to myself, “I have desired it and I have done
it; there is not the slightest hope that we can live together; I am
unwilling to kill this woman, so I have no alternative but to leave her.
It is all over; I shall go away tomorrow.”

And all the while I was thinking neither of my responsibility, nor of
the past, nor future; I thought neither of Smith nor his connection with
the affair; I could not say who had led me there, or what I had done
during the last hour. I looked at the walls of the room and thought that
all I had to do was to wait until to-morrow and decide what carriage I
would take.

I remained for a long time in this strange calm, just as the man who
receives a thrust from a poignard feels at first only the cold steel and
can often travel some distance ere he becomes weak, and his eyes start
from their sockets and he realizes what has happened. But drop by drop
the blood flows, the ground under his feet becomes red, death comes; the
man, at its approach, shudders with horror and falls as though struck
by a thunderbolt. Thus, apparently calm, I awaited the coming of
misfortune; I repeated in a low voice what Brigitte had said, and I
placed near her all that I supposed she would need for the night; then
I looked at her, then went to the window and pressed my forehead against
the pane peering out at a sombre and lowering sky; then I returned to
the bedside. That I was going away tomorrow was the only thought in my
mind, and little by little the word “depart” became intelligible to me.
“Ah! God!” I suddenly cried, “my poor mistress, I am about to lose you,
and I have not known how to love you!”

I trembled at these words as if it had been another who had pronounced
them; they resounded through all my being as resounds the string of the
harp that has been plucked to the point of breaking. In an instant
two years of suffering again racked my breast, and after them as their
consequence and as their last expression, the present seized me. How
shall I describe such woe? By a single word, perhaps, for those who have
loved. I had taken Brigitte’s hand, and, in a dream, doubtless, she had
pronounced my name.

I arose and went to my room; a torrent of tears flowed from my eyes. I
held out my arms as if to seize the past which was escaping me. “Is it
possible,” I repeated, “that I am going to lose you? I can love no one
but you. What! you are going away? And forever? What! you, my life, my
adored mistress, you flee me, I shall never see you more? Never! never!”
 I said aloud; and, addressing myself to the slumbering Brigitte as if
she could hear me, I added: “Never, never; do not think of it; I will
never consent to it. And why so much pride? Are there no means of
atoning for the offense I have committed? I beg of you, let us seek some
expiation. Have you not pardoned me a thousand times? But you love me,
you will not be able to go, for courage will fail you. What shall we
do?”

A horrible madness seized me; I began to run here and there in search
of some instrument of death. At last I fell on my knees and beat my
head against the bed. Brigitte stirred, and I remained quiet, fearing I
should waken her.

“Let her sleep until to-morrow,” I said to myself; “I have all night to
watch her.”

I resumed my place; I was so frightened at the idea of waking Brigitte,
that I scarcely dared breathe. Gradually I became more calm and less
bitter tears began to course gently down my cheeks. Tenderness succeeded
fury. I leaned over Brigitte and looked at her as if, for the last time,
my better angel were urging me to grave on my soul the lines of that
dear face!

How pale she was! Her large eyes, surrounded by a bluish circle, were
moist with tears; her form, once so lithe, was bent as if beneath a
burden; her cheek, wasted and leaden, rested on a hand that was spare
and feeble; her brow seemed to bear the marks of that crown of thorns
which is the diadem of resignation. I thought of the cottage. How young
she was six months ago! How cheerful, how free, how careless! What had I
done with all that? It seemed to me that a strange voice repeated an old
romance that I had long since forgotten:

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

My sorrow was too great; I sprang to my feet and once more began to
walk the floor. “Yes,” I continued, “look at her; think of those who
are consumed by a grief that is not shared with another. The evils you
endure others have suffered, and nothing is singular or peculiar to you.
Think of those who have no mother, no relatives, no friends; of those
who seek and do not find, of those who love in vain, of those who die
and are forgotten.”

“Before thee, there on that bed, lies a being that nature, perchance,
formed for thee. From the highest circles of intelligence to the deepest
and most impenetrable mysteries of matter and of form, that soul and
that body are thy affinities; for six months thy mouth has not spoken,
thy heart has not beat, without a responsive word and heart-beat from
her; and that woman, whom God has sent thee as He sends the rose to the
field, is about to glide from thy heart. While rejoicing in each other’s
presence, while the angels of eternal love were singing before you, you
were farther apart than two exiles at the two ends of the earth. Look at
her, but be silent. Thou hast still one night to see her, if thy sobs do
not awaken her.”

Little by little, my thoughts mounted and became more sombre, until I
recoiled in terror.

“To do evil! Such was the role imposed upon me by Providence. I, to do
evil! I, to whom my conscience, even in the midst of my wildest follies,
said that I was good! I, whom a pitiless destiny was dragging swiftly
toward the abyss and whom a secret horror unceasingly warned of the
awful fate to come! I, who, if I had shed blood with these hands, could
yet repeat that my heart was not guilty; that I was deceived, that it
was not I who did it, but my destiny, my evil genius, some unknown being
who dwelt within me, but who was not born there!

“I do evil! For six months I had been engaged in that task, not a day
had passed that I had not worked at that impious occupation, and I had
at that moment the proof before my eyes. The man who had loved Brigitte,
who had offended her, then insulted her, then abandoned her only to
take her back again, trembling with fear, beset with suspicion, finally
thrown on that bed of sorrow, where she now lay extended, was I!”

I beat my breast, and, although looking at her, I could not believe it.
I touched her as if to assure myself that it was not a dream. My face,
as I saw it in the glass, regarded me with astonishment. Who was that
creature who appeared before me bearing my features? Who was that
pitiless man who blasphemed with my mouth and tortured with my hands?
Was it he whom my mother called Octave? Was it he who, at fifteen,
leaning over the crystal waters of a fountain, had a heart not less pure
than they? I closed my eyes and thought of my childhood days. As a ray
of light pierces a cloud, a gleam from the past pierced my heart.

“No,” I mused, “I did not do that. These things are but an absurd
dream.”

I recalled the time when I was ignorant of life, when I was taking my
first steps in experience. I remembered an old beggar who used to sit
on a stone bench before the farm gate, to whom I was sometimes sent with
the remains of our morning meal. Holding out his feeble, wrinkled hands
he would bless me as he smiled upon me. I felt the morning wind blowing
on my brow and a freshness as of the rose descending from heaven into
my soul. Then I opened my eyes and, by the light of the lamp, saw the
reality before me.

“And you do not believe yourself guilty?” I demanded, with horror. “O
novice of yesterday, how corrupt art thou today! Because you weep, you
fondly imagine yourself innocent? What you consider the evidence of your
conscience is only remorse; and what murderer does not experience it? If
your virtue cries out, is it not because it feels the approach of death?
O wretch! those far-off voices that you hear groaning in your heart, do
you think they are sobs? They are perhaps only the cry of the sea-mew,
that funereal bird of the tempest, whose presence portends shipwreck.
Who has ever told the story of the childhood of those who have died
stained with human blood? They, also, have been good in their day; they
sometimes bury their faces in their hands and think of those happy
days. You do evil, and you repent? Nero did the same when he killed his
mother. Who has told you that tears can wash away the stains of guilt?

“And even if it were true that a part of your soul is not devoted to
evil forever, what will you do with the other part that is not yours?
You will touch with your left hand the wounds that you inflict with
your right; you will make a shroud of your virtue in which to bury your
crimes; you will strike, and like Brutus you will engrave on your sword
the prattle of Plato! Into the heart of the being who opens her arms
to you, you will plunge that blood-stained but repentant arm; you will
follow to the cemetery the victim of your passion, and you will plant on
her grave the sterile flower of your pity. You will say to those who see
you ‘What could you expect? I have learned how to kill, and observe that
I already, weep; learn that God made me better than you see me.’ You
will speak of your youth, and you will persuade yourself that heaven
ought to pardon you, that your misfortunes are involuntary, and you will
implore sleepless nights to grant you a little repose.

“But who knows? You are still young. The more you trust in your heart,
the farther astray you will be led by your pride. To-day you stand
before the first ruin you are going to leave on your route. If Brigitte
dies to-morrow you will weep on her tomb; where will you go when you
leave her? You will go away for three months perhaps, and you will
travel in Italy; you will wrap your cloak about you like a splenetic
Englishman, and you will say some beautiful morning, sitting in your inn
with your glasses before you, that it is time to forget in order to live
again.

“You who weep too late, take care lest you weep more than one day. Who
knows? When the present which makes you shudder shall have become the
past, an old story, a confused memory, may it not happen some night of
debauchery that you will overturn your chair and recount, with a smile
on your lips, what you witnessed with tears in your eyes? It is thus
that one drinks away shame. You have begun by being good, you will
become weak, and you will become a monster.

“My poor friend,” said I, from the bottom of my heart, “I have a word of
advice for you, and it is this: I believe that you must die. While there
is still some virtue left, profit by it in order that you may not become
altogether bad; while a woman you love lies there dying on that bed, and
while you have a horror of yourself, strike the decisive blow; she still
lives; that is enough; do not attend her funeral obsequies for fear that
on the morrow you will not be consoled; turn the poignard against your
own heart while that heart yet loves the God who made it. Is it your
youth that gives you pause? And would you spare those youthful locks?
Never allow them to whiten if they are not white to-night.

“And then what would you do in the world? If you go away, where will you
go? What can you hope for if you remain? Ah! in looking at that woman
you seem to have a treasure buried in your heart. It is not merely that
you lose her; it is less what has been than what might have been. When
the hands of the clock indicated such and such an hour, you might have
been happy. If you suffer why do you not open your heart? If you love,
why do you not say so? Why do you die of hunger, clasping a priceless
treasure in your hands? You have closed the door, you miser; you debate
with yourself behind locks and bolts. Shake them, for it was your hand
that forged them.

“O fool! who desired and have possessed your desire, you have not
thought of God! You play with happiness as a child plays with a rattle,
and you do not reflect how rare and fragile a thing you hold in your
hands; you treat it with disdain, you smile at it and you continue to
amuse yourself with it, forgetting how many prayers it has cost your
good angel to preserve for you that shadow of daylight! Ah! if there is
in heaven one who watches over you, what is he doing at this moment? He
is seated before an organ; his wings are half-folded, his hands extended
over the ivory keys; he begins an eternal hymn; the hymn of love and
immortal rest, but his wings droop, his head falls over the keys; the
angel of death has touched him on the shoulder, he disappears into the
Nirvana.

“And you, at the age of twenty-two, when a noble and exalted passion,
when the strength of youth might perhaps have made something of you when
after so many sorrows and bitter disappointments, a youth so dissipated,
you saw a better time shining in the future; when your life, consecrated
to the object of your adoration, gave promise of new strength, at
that moment the abyss yawns before you! You no longer experience vague
desires, but real regrets; your heart is no longer hungry, it is broken!
And you hesitate? What do you expect? Since she no longer cares for your
life, it counts for nothing! Since she abandons you, abandon yourself!

“Let those who have loved you in your youth weep for you! They are not
many. If you would live, you must not only forget love, but you must
deny that it exists; not only deny what there has been of good in you,
but kill all that may be good in the future; for what will you do if you
remember? Life for you would be one ceaseless regret. No, no, you must
choose between your soul and your body; you must kill one or the other.
The memory of the good drives you to the evil, make a corpse of yourself
unless you wish to become your own spectre. O child, child! die while
you can! May tears be shed over your grave!”

I threw myself on the foot of the bed in such a frightful state of
despair that my reason fled and I no longer knew where I was or what I
was doing. Brigitte sighed.

My senses stirred within me. Was it grief or despair? I do not know.
Suddenly a horrible idea occurred to me.

“What!” I muttered, “leave that for another! Die, descend into the
ground, while that bosom heaves with the air of heaven? Just God!
another hand than mine on that fine, transparent skin! Another mouth on
those lips, another love in that heart! Brigitte happy, loving, adored,
and I in a corner of the cemetery, crumbling into dust in a ditch! How
long will it take her to forget me if I cease to exist to-morrow? How
many tears will she shed? None, perhaps! Not a friend who speaks to
her but will say that my death was a good thing, who will not hasten to
console her, who will not urge her to forget me! If she weeps, they will
seek to distract her attention from her loss; if memory haunts her, they
will take her away; if her love for me survives me, they will seek to
cure her as if she had been poisoned; and she herself, who will perhaps
at first say that she desires to follow me, will a month later turn
aside to avoid the weeping-willow planted over my grave!

“How could it be otherwise? Who, as beautiful as she, wastes life in
idle regrets? If she should think of dying of grief, that beautiful
bosom would urge her to live, and her mirror would persuade her; and the
day when her exhausted tears give place to the first smile, who will not
congratulate her on her recovery? When, after eight days of silence, she
consents to hear my name pronounced in her presence, then she will speak
of it herself as if to say: ‘Console me;’ then little by little she will
no longer refuse to think of the past but will speak of it, and she will
open her window some beautiful spring morning when the birds are singing
in the garden; she will become pensive and say: ‘I have loved!’ Who will
be there at her side? Who will dare to tell her that she must continue
to love?

“Ah! then I shall be no more! You will listen to him, faithless one! You
will blush as does the budding rose, and the blood of youth will mount
to your face. While saying that your heart is sealed, you will allow
it to escape through that fresh aureole of beauty, each ray of which
allures a kiss. How much they desire to be loved who say they love no
more! And why should that astonish you? You are a woman; that body,
that spotless bosom, you know what they are worth; when you conceal them
under your dress you do not believe, as do the virgins, that all are
alike, and you know the price of your modesty. How can a woman who has
been praised resolve to be praised no more? Does she think she is living
when she remains in the shadow and there is silence round about her
beauty? Her beauty itself is the admiring glance of her lover. No, no,
there can be no doubt of it; she who has loved, can not live without
love; she who has seen death clings to life. Brigitte loves me and will
perhaps die of love; I will kill myself and another will have her.

“Another, another!” I repeated, bending over her until my head touched
her shoulder. “Is she not a widow? Has she not already seen death? Have
not these little hands prepared the dead for burial? Her tears for
the second will not flow as long as those shed for the first. Ah! God
forgive me! While she sleeps why should I not kill her? If I should
awaken her now and tell her that her hour had come, and that we were
going to die with a last kiss, she would consent. What does it matter?
Is it certain that all does not end with that?”

I found a knife on the table and I picked it up.

“Fear, cowardice, superstition! What do they know about it who talk
of something else beyond? It is for the ignorant common people that
a future life has been invented, but who really believes in it?
What watcher in the cemetery has seen Death leave his tomb and hold
consultation with a priest? In olden times there were phantoms; they
are interdicted by the police in civilized cities, and no cries are now
heard issuing from the earth except from those buried in haste. Who has
silenced death, if it has ever spoken? Because funeral processions are
no longer permitted to encumber our streets, does the celestial spirit
languish?

“To die, that is the final purpose, the end. God has established it, man
discusses it; but over every door is written: ‘Do what thou wilt, thou
shalt die.’ What will be said if I kill Brigitte? Neither of us will
hear. In to-morrow’s journal would appear the intelligence that Octave
de T-----had killed his mistress, and the day after no one would speak
of it. Who would follow us to the grave? No one who, upon returning to
his home, could not enjoy a hearty dinner; and when we were extended
side by side in our narrow, bed, the world could walk over our graves
without disturbing us.

“Is it not true, my well-beloved, is it not true that it would be well
with us? It is a soft bed, that bed of earth; no suffering can reach us
there; the occupants of the neighboring tombs will not gossip about us;
our bones will embrace in peace and without pride, for death is solace,
and that which binds does not also separate. Why should annihilation
frighten thee, poor body, destined to corruption? Every hour that
strikes drags thee on to thy doom, every step breaks the round on which
thou hast just rested; thou art nourished by the dead; the air of heaven
weighs upon and crushes thee, the earth on which thou treadest attracts
thee by the soles of thy feet.

“Down with thee! Why art thou affrighted? Dost thou tremble at a word?
Merely say: ‘We will not live.’ Is not life a burden that we long to lay
down? Why hesitate when it is merely a question of a little sooner or a
little later? Matter is indestructible, and the physicists, we are
told, grind to infinity the smallest speck of dust without being able to
annihilate it. If matter is the property of chance, what harm can it do
to change its form since it can not cease to be matter? Why should God
care what form I have received and with what livery I invest my grief?
Suffering lives in my brain; it belongs to me, I kill it; but my bones
do not belong to me and I return them to Him who lent them to me: may
some poet make a cup of my skull from which to drink his new wine!

“What reproach can I incur and what harm can that reproach do me? What
stern judge will tell me that I have done wrong? What does he know about
it?

“Was he such as I? If every creature has his task to perform, and if
it is a crime to shirk it, what culprits are the babes who die on the
nurse’s breast! Why should they be spared? Who will be instructed by the
lessons which are taught after death? Must heaven be a desert in order
that man may be punished for having lived? Is it not enough to have
lived? I do not know who asked that question, unless it were Voltaire
on his death-bed; it is a cry of despair worthy of the helpless old
atheist.

“But to what purpose? Why so many struggles? Who is there above us who
delights in so much agony? Who amuses himself and wiles away an idle
hour watching this spectacle of creation, always renewed and always
dying, seeing the work of man’s hands rising, the grass growing; looking
upon the planting of the seed and the fall of the thunderbolt; beholding
man walking about upon his earth until he meets the beckoning finger
of death; counting tears and watching them dry upon the cheek of pain;
noting the pure profile of love and the wrinkled face of age; seeing
hands stretched up to him in supplication, bodies prostrate before him,
and not a blade of wheat more in the harvest!

“Who is it, then, that has made so much for the pleasure of knowing that
it all amounts to nothing! The earth is dying--Herschel says it is of
cold; who holds in his hand the drop of condensed vapor and watches it
as it dries up, as a fisher watches a grain of sand in his hand? That
mighty law of attraction that suspends the world in space, torments
it--and consumes it in endless desire--every planet that carries its
load of misery and groans on its axle--calls to each other across the
abyss, and each wonders which will stop first. God controls them; they
accomplish assiduously and eternally their appointed and useless task;
they whirl about, they suffer, they burn, they become extinct and they
light up with new flame; they descend and they reascend, they follow
and yet they avoid one another, they interlace like rings; they carry
on their surface thousands of beings who are ceaselessly renewed; the
beings move about, cross one another’s paths, clasp one another for an
hour, and then fall, and others rise in their place.

“Where life fails, life hastens to the spot; where air is wanting, air
rushes; no disorder, everything is regulated, marked out, written down
in lines of gold and parables of fire; everything keeps step with the
celestial music along the pitiless paths of life; and all for nothing!
And we, poor nameless dreams, pale and sorrowful apparitions, helpless
ephemera, we who are animated by the breath of a second in order that
death may exist, we exhaust ourselves with fatigue in order to prove
that we are living for a purpose, and that something indefinable is
stirring within us.

“We hesitate to turn against our breasts a little piece of steel, or to
blow out our brains with a little instrument no larger than our hands;
it seems to us that chaos would return again; we have written and
revised the laws both human and divine, and we are afraid of our
catechisms; we suffer thirty years without murmuring and imagine that we
are struggling; finally suffering becomes the stronger, we send a pinch
of powder into the sanctuary of intelligence, and a flower pierces the
soil above our grave.”

As I finished these words I directed the knife I held in my hand against
Brigitte’s bosom. I was no longer master of myself, and in my delirious
condition I know not what might have happened; I threw back the
bed-clothing to uncover the heart, when I discovered on her white bosom
a little ebony crucifix.

I recoiled, seized with sudden fear; my hand relaxed, my weapon fell to
the floor. It was Brigitte’s aunt who had given her that little
crucifix on her deathbed. I did not remember ever having seen it before;
doubtless, at the moment of setting out, she had suspended it about her
neck as a preserving charm against the dangers of the journey. Suddenly
I joined my hands and knelt on the floor.

“O Lord, my God,” I said, in trembling tones, “Lord, my God, thou art
there!”

Let those who do not believe in Christ read this page; I no longer
believed in Him. Neither as a child, nor at school, nor as a man, have
I frequented churches; my religion, if I had any, had neither rite
nor symbol, and I believed in a God without form, without a cult, and
without revelation. Poisoned, from youth, by all the writings of the
last century, I had sucked, at an early hour, the sterile milk of
impiety. Human pride, that God of the egoist, closed my mouth against
prayer, while my affrighted soul took refuge in the hope of nothingness.
I was as if drunken or insensate when I saw that effigy of Christ on
Brigitte’s bosom; while not believing in Him myself, I recoiled, knowing
that she believed in Him.

It was not vain terror that arrested my hand. Who saw me? I was alone
and it was night. Was it prejudice? What prevented me from hurling out
of my sight that little piece of black wood? I could have thrown it into
the fire, but it was my weapon I threw there. Ah! what an experience
that was and still is for my soul! What miserable wretches are men who
mock at that which can save a human being! What matters the name, the
form, the belief? Is not all that is good sacred? How dare any one touch
God?

As at a glance from the sun the snows descend the mountains, and the
glaciers that threatened heaven melt into streams in the valley, so
there descended into my heart a stream that overflowed its banks.
Repentance is a pure incense; it exhaled from all my suffering. Although
I had almost committed a crime when my hand was arrested, I felt that
my heart was innocent. In an instant, calm, self-possession, reason
returned; I again approached the bed; I leaned over my idol and kissed
the crucifix.

“Sleep in peace,” I said to her, “God watches over you! While your lips
were parting in a smile, you were in greater danger than you have ever
known before. But the hand that threatened you will harm no one; I swear
by the faith you profess I will not kill either you or myself! I am a
fool, a madman, a child who thinks himself a man. God be praised! You
are young and beautiful. You live and you will forget me. You will
recover from the evil I have done you, if you can forgive me. Sleep
in peace until day, Brigitte, and then decide our fate; to whatever
sentence you pronounce I will submit without complaint.

“And thou, Lord, who hast saved me, grant me pardon. I was born in an
impious century, and I have many crimes to expiate. Thou Son of God,
whom men forget, I have not been taught to love Thee. I have never
worshipped in Thy temples, but I thank heaven that where I find Thee,
I tremble and bow in reverence. I have at least kissed with my lips a
heart that is full of Thee. Protect that heart so long as life lasts;
dwell within it, Thou Holy One; a poor unfortunate has been brave
enough to defy death at the sight of Thy suffering and Thy death; though
impious, Thou hast saved him from evil; if he had believed, Thou wouldst
have consoled him.

“Pardon those who have made him incredulous since Thou hast made him
repentant; pardon those who blaspheme! When they were in despair they
did not see Thee! Human joys are a mockery; they are scornful and
pitiless; O Lord! the happy of this world think they have no need of
Thee! Pardon them. Although their pride may outrage Thee, they will be,
sooner or later, baptized in tears; grant that they may cease to believe
in any other shelter from the tempest than Thy love, and spare them
the severe lessons of unhappiness. Our wisdom and scepticism are in
our hands but children’s toys; forgive us for dreaming that we can defy
Thee, Thou who smilest at Golgotha. The worst result of all our vain
misery is that it tempts us to forget Thee.

“But Thou knowest that it is all but a shadow which a glance from Thee
can dissipate. Hast not Thou Thyself been a man? It was sorrow that made
Thee God; sorrow is an instrument of torture by which Thou hast mounted
to the very throne of God, Thy Father, and it is sorrow that leads us to
Thee with our crown of thorns to kneel before Thy mercy-seat; we touch
Thy bleeding feet with our bloodstained hands, for Thou hast suffered
martyrdom to be loved by the unfortunate.”

The first rays of dawn began to appear: man and nature were rousing
themselves from sleep and the air was filled with the confusion of
distant sounds. Weak and exhausted, I was about to leave Brigitte, and
seek a little repose. As I was passing out of the room, a dress thrown
on a chair slipped to the floor near me, and in its folds I spied
a piece of paper. I picked it up; it was a letter, and I recognized
Brigitte’s hand. The envelope was not sealed. I opened it and read as
follows:

   23 December, 18--

   “When you receive this letter I shall be far away from you, and
   shall perhaps never see you again. My destiny is bound up with that
   of a man for whom I have sacrificed everything; he can not live
   without me, and I am going to try to die for him. I love you;
   adieu, and pity us.”

I turned the letter over when I had read it, and saw that it was
addressed to “M. Henri Smith, N------, poste restante.”

On the morrow, a clear December day, a young man and a woman who rested
on his arm, passed through the garden of the Palais-Royal. They
entered a jeweler’s store where they chose two similar rings which
they smilingly exchanged. After a short walk they took breakfast at the
Freres-Provencaux, in one of those little rooms which are, all things
considered, the most beautiful spots in the world. There, when the
garcon had left them, they sat near the windows hand in hand.

The young man was in travelling dress; to see the joy which shone on
his face, one would have taken him for a young husband showing his young
wife the beauties and pleasures of Parisian life. His happiness was calm
and subdued, as true happiness always is. The experienced would have
recognized in him the youth who merges into manhood. From time to time
he looked up at the sky, then at his companion, and tears glittered in
his eyes, but he heeded them not, but smiled as he wept. The woman was
pale and thoughtful, her eyes were fixed on the man. On her face were
traces of sorrow which she could not conceal, although evidently touched
by the exalted joy of her companion.

When he smiled, she smiled too, but never alone; when he spoke, she
replied, and she ate what he served her; but there was about her a
silence which was only broken at his instance. In her languor could
be clearly distinguished that gentleness of soul, that lethargy of the
weaker of two beings who love, one of whom exists only in the other and
responds to him as does the echo. The young man was conscious of it, and
seemed proud of it and grateful for it; but it could be seen even by his
pride that his happiness was new to him.

When the woman became sad and her eyes fell, he cheered her with his
glance; but he could not always succeed, and seemed troubled himself.
That mingling of strength and weakness, of joy and sorrow, of anxiety
and serenity, could not have been understood by an indifferent
spectator; at times they appeared the most happy of living creatures,
and the next moment the most unhappy; but, although ignorant of their
secret, one would have felt that they were suffering together, and,
whatever their mysterious trouble, it could be seen that they had placed
on their sorrow a seal more powerful than love itself-friendship. While
their hands were clasped their glances were chaste; although they were
alone they spoke in low tones. As if overcome by their feelings, they
sat face to face, although their lips did not touch. They looked at each
other tenderly and solemnly. When the clock struck one, the woman heaved
a sigh and said:

“Octave, are you sure of yourself?”

“Yes, my friend, I am resolved. I shall suffer much, a long time,
perhaps forever; but we will cure ourselves, you with time, I with God.”

“Octave, Octave,” repeated the woman, “are you sure you are not
deceiving yourself?”

“I do not believe we can forget each other; but I believe that we can
forgive, and that is what I desire even at the price of separation.”

“Why could we not meet again? Why not some day--you are so young!”

Then she added, with a smile:

“We could see each other without danger.”

“No, my friend, for you must know that I could never see you again
without loving you. May he to whom I bequeath you be worthy of you!
Smith is brave, good, and honest, but however much you may love him, you
see very well that you still love me, for if I should decide to remain,
or to take you away with me, you would consent.”

“It is true,” replied the woman.

“True! true!” repeated the young man, looking into her eyes with all his
soul. “Is it true that if I wished it you would go with me?”

Then he continued, softly:

“That is the reason why I must never see you again. There are certain
loves in life that overturn the head, the senses, the mind, the heart;
there is among them all but one that does not disturb, that penetrates,
and that dies only with the being in which it has taken root.”

“But you will write to me?”

“Yes, at first, for what I have to suffer is so keen that the absence of
the habitual object of my love would kill me. When I was unknown to you,
I gradually approached closer and closer to you, until--but let us not
go into the past. Little by little my letters will become less frequent
until they cease altogether. I shall thus descend the hill that I have
been climbing for the past year. When one stands before a fresh
grave, over which are engraved two cherished names, one experiences
a mysterious sense of grief, which causes tears to trickle down one’s
cheeks; it is thus that I wish to remember having once lived.”

At these words the woman threw herself on the couch and burst into
tears. The young man wept with her, but he did not move and seemed
anxious to appear unconscious of her emotion. When her tears ceased to
flow, he approached her, took her hand in his and kissed it.

“Believe me,” said he, “to be loved by you, whatever the name of the
place I occupy in your heart, will give me strength and courage. Rest
assured, Brigitte, no one will ever understand you better than I;
another will love you more worthily, no one will love you more truly.
Another will be considerate of those feelings that I offend, he will
surround you with his love; you will have a better lover, you will not
have a better brother. Give me your hand and let the world laugh at
a sentence that it does not understand: Let us be friends, and part
forever. Before we became such intimate friends there was something
within that told us we were destined to mingle our lives. Let our souls
never know that we have parted upon earth; let not the paltry chance of
a moment undo our eternal happiness!”

He held the woman’s hand; she arose, tears streaming from her eyes, and,
stepping up to the mirror with a strange smile on her face, she cut
from her head a long tress of hair; then she looked at herself thus
disfigured and deprived of a part of her beautiful crown, and gave it to
her lover.

The clock struck again; it was time to go; when they passed out they
seemed as joyful as when they entered.

“What a beautiful sun!” said the young man.

“And a beautiful day,” said Brigitte, “the memory of which shall never
fade.”

They hastened away and disappeared in the crowd.

Some time later a carriage passed over a little hill behind
Fontainebleau. The young man was the only occupant; he looked for the
last time upon his native town as it disappeared in the distance, and
thanked God that, of the three beings who had suffered through his
fault, there remained but one of them still unhappy.


     ETEXT EDITOR’S BOOKMARKS:

     A terrible danger lurks in the knowledge of what is possible
     Accustomed to call its disguise virtue
     Adieu, my son, I love you and I die
     All philosophy is akin to atheism
     All that is not life, it is the noise of life
     And when love is sure of itself and knows response
     Because you weep, you fondly imagine yourself innocent
     Become corrupt, and you will cease to suffer
     Began to forget my own sorrow in my sympathy for her
     Beware of disgust, it is an incurable evil
     Can any one prevent a gossip
     Cold silence, that negative force
     Contrive to use proud disdain as a shield
     Death is more to be desired than a living distaste for life
     Despair of a man sick of life, or the whim of a spoiled child
     Do they think they have invented what they see
     Each one knows what the other is about to say
     Fool who destroys his own happiness
     Force itself, that mistress of the world
     Funeral processions are no longer permitted
     Galileo struck the earth, crying: “Nevertheless it moves!”
      Good and bad days succeeded each other almost regularly
     Great sorrows neither accuse nor blaspheme--they listen
     Grief itself was for her but a means of seducing
     Happiness of being pursued
     He who is loved by a beautiful woman is sheltered from every blow
     He lives only in the body
     How much they desire to be loved who say they love no more
     Human weakness seeks association
     I can not be near you and separated from you at the same moment
     I can not love her, I can not love another
     I boasted of being worse than I really was
     I neither love nor esteem sadness
     I do not intend either to boast or abase myself
     Ignorance into which the Greek clergy plunged the laity
     In what do you believe?
     Indignation can solace grief and restore happiness
     Is he a dwarf or a giant
     Is it not enough to have lived?
     It is a pity that you must seek pastimes
     Make a shroud of your virtue in which to bury your crimes
     Man who suffers wishes to make her whom he loves suffer
     Men doubted everything: the young men denied everything
     No longer esteemed her highly enough to be jealous of her
     Of all the sisters of love, the most beautiful is pity
     Perfection does not exist
     Pure caprice that I myself mistook for a flash of reason
     Quarrel had been, so to speak, less sad than our reconciliation
     Reading the Memoirs of Constant
     Resorted to exaggeration in order to appear original
     Sceptic regrets the faith he has lost the power to regain
     Seven who are always the same: the first is called hope
     She pretended to hope for the best
     Sometimes we seem to enjoy unhappiness
     Speak to me of your love, she said, “not of your grief”
      St. Augustine
     Suffered, and yet took pleasure in it
     Suspicions that are ever born anew
     Terrible words; I deserve them, but they will kill me
     There are two different men in you
     Ticking of which (our arteries) can be heard only at night
     “Unhappy man!” she cried, “you will never know how to love”
      We have had a mass celebrated, and it cost us a large sum
     What you take for love is nothing more than desire
     What human word will ever express thy slightest caress
     When passion sways man, reason follows him weeping and warning
     Who has told you that tears can wash away the stains of guilt
     Wine suffuses the face as if to prevent shame appearing there
     You believe in what is said here below and not in what is done
     You play with happiness as a child plays with a rattle
     You turn the leaves of dead books
     Your great weapon is silence
     Youth is to judge of the world from first impressions





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