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They walked side by side, under the gloomy old firs whose heavy branches leaned towards the yellowing lawn.Countess Aubry, with her charm of a negotiator of worldly loves, had just hastily brought them together, as though they were predestined for each other.They were slightly acquainted already. They remembered having met during the past winter in the Marigny Avenue Salon, that haunt of miscarried glories, and, during the past week that they had been staying at the Château de Rabodanges (among several invalids of distinction) they had succeeded in exchanging a few vaguely suggestive words, a few affected witticisms, not without disdain for such a vain communion.
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Remy de Gourmont
J. L. Barrets
CHAPTER I. THE DEAD LEAVES
CHAPTER II. MADAME DU BOYS
CHAPTER III. TRAVEL NOTES
CHAPTER IV. REFLECTIONS
CHAPTER V. MORE TRAVEL NOTES
CHAPTER VI. DREAM FIGURE
CHAPTER VII. MARCELLE AND MARCELINE
CHAPTER VIII. THE TRANSPARENT CURTAIN OF TIME
CHAPTER IX. THE PROMENADE OF SIN
CHAPTER X. THE UNLEAVENED DOUGH
CHAPTER XI. DIAMOND DUST
CHAPTER XII. THE ADORER
CHAPTER XIII. CHRISTUS PATIENS
CHAPTER XIV. THE FAUN
CHAPTER XV. THE CARNAL HOUR
CHAPTER XVI. THE IDEAL BEES
CHAPTER XVII. THE ADORER
CHAPTER XVIII. A COMPLETE WOMAN
CHAPTER XIX. NEW SUGGESTIONS
CHAPTER XX. THE TWENTY-EIGHTH OF DECEMBER
CHAPTER XXI. THE MYSTIC BARK
CHAPTER XXII. THE SIMONIAC
CHAPTER XXIII. THE ADORER
CHAPTER XXIV. THE COLOR OF MARRIAGE
CHAPTER XXV. DEPARTURE
CHAPTER XXVI. THE ADORER
CHAPTER XXVII. THE EDUCATION OF MAIDENS
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE ESTHETIC THRILL
CHAPTER XXIX. PANTOMIME
CHAPTER XXX. THE MAN AND THE PRETTY BEAST
CHAPTER XXXI. THE INFAMY OF BEING HAPPY
CHAPTER XXXII. INTOXICATION
CHAPTER XXXIII. AN EVENING IN SOCIETY
CHAPTER XXXIV. POETIC RAPTURE
CHAPTER XXXV. THE ADORER
CHAPTER XXXVI. ANGER
CHAPTER XXXVII. THE ADORER
CHAPTER XXXVIII. PRIDE
CHAPTER XXXIX. THE KEY TO THE COFFER
CHAPTER XL. ULTIMATE PEACE
"When Nature produces these masterpieces,she rarely offers them to the man who couldbest appreciate and be worthy of possessingthem."
Kant: Essay on the Beautiful.
They walked side by side, under the gloomy old firs whose heavy branches leaned towards the yellowing lawn.
Countess Aubry, with her charm of a negotiator of worldly loves, had just hastily brought them together, as though they were predestined for each other.
They were slightly acquainted already. They remembered having met during the past winter in the Marigny Avenue Salon, that haunt of miscarried glories, and, during the past week that they had been staying at the Château de Rabodanges (among several invalids of distinction) they had succeeded in exchanging a few vaguely suggestive words, a few affected witticisms, not without disdain for such a vain communion.
The one knew that Madame Sixtine Magne, a widow, had never held out her neck towards a new necklace—and believed it. The other knew that Hubert d'Entragues had dedicated himself, by inclination rather than by necessity, to the imperious craft of a man of letters. Her first impulse had been to consider him a cavalry captain, but the name captivated her, that name faded in history, so far as a pretty woman was concerned, and which a young man restored to all its freshness, under her eyes. Amorous and royal reminiscences whose auricular remembrance had remained in her head like a viol sound, like ripplings on fading silks, and suddenly with rustlings of steel—an admission with which her preciosity amused itself, perhaps, for she was very artful, through pride.
Entragues, on his side, was at the point of confessing to the young woman that she dazzled his imagination, but he would have had to tell her at the same time the origin—too fantastic not to be futile—of this wound, and he feared to have the air of inventing a tale.
"Then," he reflected, "her mind would work, she would try to please me, forcing herself to deliberate charms. The experiment would be warped. I want to know what is in her; I want to penetrate coldly into the mysterious brambles of this sacred wood."
A man and a woman, at the age of useful deceits, are never cold or truthful, face to face. Hubert judged himself capable of acting naturally, but where does the natural begin with a being endowed with several spare souls? Sixtine was but half duped and, from the first words, let it be perceived.
"Are you familiar with all the emotions of a return?" asked Entragues. "It is delicious and torturing. You enter, agitated and unbalanced and, in the confusion of brief thoughts, you say to yourself: 'Can she be there! No, she is not there!' The fear of a sudden grief has anticipated the deception: can it be that such joys are attained outside of dreams? 'She is not there. There is no danger. What? No double lock? A night lamp? Is she there?' Yes, she was there, asleep in her rose-colored morning-gown; she had risen at the sound of the key and, with bare feet and disheveled hair, pale with emotion, kissed your face, whatever her eyes fell upon—lips, brow, nose, beard—one arm gently entwining itself about your neck, the other trembling at first with the hesitancy of not knowing where to rest. She cried, meanwhile, like a hallucinated person: 'It is you! It is you!' Then she stepped back to gaze at you, seemed to doubt, saying: 'Is it really you?' And she coyly gave herself to you, resting on your shoulder, gave herself again with an 'I am yours, still yours, as before!' You are thrilled with happiness. To depart leaving tears, to find a smile upon your return, a being transported by your presence—that is a real pleasure, mingled somewhat with that necessary vanity of feeling yourself indispensable to some one. A special vanity in which the male experiences a despotic satisfaction."
"Are you thus expected?" asked Sixtine.
"Who? I? No, but it might happen, and you see that I have felt it while talking to you. The slightest impulse diverts me from the present, the very tone of a voice rouses in me an inner activity and every possibility of life opens before me."
"You must be wonderful at pretending!"
"Ah, Madame," answered Entragues, "imagination does not destroy sincerity: it clothes sincerity with brocatels and rubies, places a diadem on it, but the same body of a woman is under the royal cloak, just as it is under tatters. To adorn truth is to respect it. This makes me recall those old evangelistaries that are so covered with illuminations that profane eyes seek the holy text in vain."
"There are difficult writings," said Sixtine.
"Divination is necessary when one cannot decipher. Have not women, the illiterates of love, all the intuitions of ignorance? Now then! If I said to you; 'The heart feels the heart's beating,' you would agree. We are still taken in by some old aphorisms."
"Nothing is so good as to let oneself be taken!"
Instantly astonished by a boldness of speech, whose precise meaning Entragues sought in her eyes, she laughed.
This purely voluntary laughter whose essence he notwithstanding penetrated, troubled him. A careful writer always on the quest for the exact word, new or old, rare or common, but of exact meaning, he imagined that everybody spoke as he himself wrote, when he wrote well. It was in good faith that he stubbornly persisted in reflecting, suddenly arrested by a disquietude in the presence of such words of conversation, habiliments of pure vanity. The knowledge of this eccentricity had never cured him of it, nor was he helped by the punishments of repeating this mea culpa after each mistake, taken from Goethe and composed for his personal use: "When he hears words, Entragues always believes there is a thought behind them."
This greatly complicated his life and his talks, inducing considerable hesitations in his replies, but he was concerned only with literary anatomy and he loved to encounter complex minds upon whose momentary intricacies he would later throw light, by deduction.
Since the nut might be empty, he threw a pebble at the tree so as to cause several others to fall.
"It is preferable to give than to be robbed."
"Oh!" Sixtine replied, "the sensation is quite different. First of all, not every one who wishes it, can be robbed. It is not even enough to let one's door ajar, Monsieur d'Entragues."
He felt that she had pronounced those last words in an insidious voice, but why? While waiting to understand, he responded:
"That itself would be quite a childish system. One usually places sentinels to guard the treasure chests and one provides locks for odd boxes. The spice in the pleasure of robbing lies in forcing, breaking, or taking a thing to pieces. True artists are repelled when there is nothing to do except thrust out the hand. But this is the most elementary ethics: no pleasure without effort."
"You are speaking of robbers, I of persons who are robbed. You can belong only to the one, I to the other class, the class that is at the mercy of an eventual rifling. I wanted to explain that it requires more than that the door should be ajar or, in fine, easy to open, for if one perfects the fastenings too thoroughly, the risk is taken of being assured a truly uncivil security. Well, more than all this, it is needful that there be visible or suspected objects to steal; it is needful that, by appearances, by external and attractive promises, the thief be tempted."
"You have anticipated me, Madame, in awarding yourself this personal compliment. I was about to make it. But you know, better than I do, your gifts and all that might draw curious and thievish hands to the dreamed of coffer."
"Too much frankness and irony, Monsieur d'Entragues. You were not born a thief."
"Alas! I have no hiding place secure enough for such larceny. My left hand would not know what to do with what my right hand pilfered."
The somewhat brutal candor of this disinterestedness did not seem to wound her. On the contrary, she thought:
"He is no fool. Another would have thrown himself at my imprudence, would instantly have urged me to let myself be taken!"
For his part, Hubert, seeing that the nuts were decidely meaty and not too tasteless, reflected:
"I will amuse myself again with throwing a few stones at the branches."
Sixtine forestalled him:
"What end are you aiming at? Love is too fleeting for your stability, let us admit. In that case, where does your life lead? Ah! Poet, to success?"
"I am not a poet. I do not know how to cut my thoughts into little morsels that may be equal or unequal, according to the chance of the chopping knife. My prose gets its rhythm only through my breath. Only the pin thrusts of sensation mark its accents and the royal puerility of rich rhymes passes my understanding...."
The vlouement of a crow's wings agitated the air above the trees. Hubert remained silent, listening. Then:
"Vlouement, that's it, vlouement of wings, with the v v v. Is it the v v v or the f f f? The filement of wings? No, vlouement is better. Once more, crow!"
Sixtine, a trifle bewildered, stared at him open-mouthed.
"Those damned crow wings—one cannot describe them! Oh! Success! Does the apple tree solicit applause for having borne fruit? From this one could construct quasi-evangelical parables. If I am not my own judge, and if I displease myself, what matter though I please others? Who are the others? Is there in the world an existence outside of myself? Possibly there is, but I am not aware of it. The world is myself, it owes me its existence, I have created it with my senses; it is my slave and no one else has any power over it. If we were thoroughly certain of the fact that nothing exists outside of ourselves, how prompt would be the cure of our vanities, how quickly our pleasures would be purged of it! Vanity is the fictive bond which links us to an imaginary exterior world. A little effort breaks it and we are free! Free, but lonely, lonely in the frightful solitude where we are born, where we live and die."
"What a sad philosophy, but what a proud one!"
"It contains less pride than sadness, and I would give much of its arrogance so as never to feel its bitterness."
"Who led you to it?" she queried, interested in these matters which seemed sufficiently new to her mind.
"But it is natural. How conceive a life different from what it clearly appears to eyes that can see? Yes! Perhaps a certain illusion is possible.... What a pity, doubtless, what a pity for me that I did not meet you earlier—years ago. I would have loved you, and then...."
"What would have befallen your destiny, as a result?"
"You would have deluded me about life's value, Madame," Hubert continued, with a poetic enthusiasm that bordered on persiflage. "I would have drunk, like an external absinthe, the fluid illusion of your sea-green eyes and would have chained myself to life by the golden chain of your blond hair."
She veiled herself with indifference lightly embroidered with irony and, believing herself sheltered from a too inquisitive glance, ingenuously replied:
"It is really but three years since I was twenty-seven. It is now the thirtieth year, or almost."
He looked at her from head to foot, but without insolence.
"What frankness! But you have no need to lie." His eyes returned to her figure, which was a little full, he thought.
"Yes, esthetic, isn't it?" hazarded Sixtine, negligently lifting her arms to fasten some pin to her coiffure.
The gesture was fine and instrumental in making her bust more delicate in line.
He prudently replied:
"Esthetic? Oh, no! It seems good and with no treacheries."
A smile, quickly banished, attested the woman's contentment and was the most feminine efflorescence of the old human perversities. In a slow, undeceived voice, she said:
"It is lost time to wish to love me."
"See," Hubert returned, "you breathe on my bubbles and my sole and last chance of illusion vanishes, for in placing my desires in the past, I secretly constructed a bridge spanning the present. Ah! Madame, what transcendental cruelty!"
She was conscious of having taken a wretched crossroad, and of having become bemired there.
They spoke no more.
The shadow diffused itself in swift waves. Slightly nervous, Sixtine walked towards the light of a nearby glade, at the foot of the avenue. There, the oaks and beeches, whose foliage was already brightened by the setting sun, were grouped in a narrow grove. The wind passed, stirring the dry leaves. A low and heavy branch bent down with the sound of a rustling of stuffs. Like a drop of rain, a leaf, then many leaves, descended with a slow moaning sound.
"They follow me! They pursue me!" she cried, caught in the vortex she vainly fled.
And swept away, like a leaf in the circular flight of wind, she drew near Entragues, distracted, panting, crying all the time:
"The leaves pursue me, the dead leaves pursue me!"
"What is the matter," Hubert asked, surprised by such a strange crisis.
While, still frantic and trembling, she seized his arm and leaned against it, he coldly added:
"Have you ever committed a crime in your life?"
This ironic interrogation changed the nature of the fever, like scalding water on a stone.
"Perhaps!" she answered, suddenly pale.
"Then you become altogether interesting."
It was beyond her strength to retort to this impertinence. With a trembling of all her little muscles, and without knowing why she did it, she tried to pull off her gloves. When one of her hands was free, she shook it, pulled it, cracked its joints.
"Excuse me," Entragues continued. He took a malicious pleasure in making the untuned instrument vibrate. "But is there not a stain on the little finger?"
"No, it was the poison."
This came from her lips with the calmness of a meditated confession.
His eyes sincerely troubled, Hubert watched the monster who disengaged herself and fled, throwing these words to him as an adieu:
"I am leaving tomorrow, come to see me."
"... Quid agunt in corpore casto Cerussaet minium, centumque venena colorum?Mentis honor morumque decus sunt vinculaConjugii...."
(Sancti Claudius Marius Victor,De perversis suae aetatis moribus)
Hubert had left Rabodanges a few days after Sixtine's departure. The unvaried green of the fields saddened him and, despite the ingenuity of the countess, deprived of the company of the young woman who puzzled him to the utmost, the château seemed to him as though plunged in a funereal widowhood.
He did not even execute his plans of visiting the Mortagne Trappists, but took the train and entered Paris one evening in a state of real satisfaction.
For him, Paris was neither the streets nor the boulevards and theaters. Paris, for Entragues, was confined within the somewhat narrow bounds of his study, peopled with pleasant phantoms of his imagination. There, sad and vague beings, pensive and formless, stirred restlessly, imploring existence, Entragues lived with them in an almost disquieting familiarity. He beheld them, heard them, repaired with them to whatever sphere their activity necessitated. In short, he underwent the keenest phenomena of hallucination.
Thus it was that, on the morrow of his return, Madame du Boys came to occupy him with her adventures. It was a matter of reconciling her in a logical way with her husband whom she had abandoned, to follow to Geneva a Polish count, retired there after sundry nihilistic adventures. Artémise du Boys was how she spelled her name after her adulterous lark, the while her husband, secretary-cashier of the Union de la Bonne-Science, the simple Monsieur Dubois, bewailed his irreparable misfortune.
He groaned and Madame du Boys grew bored, an excellent occasion for once more renewing the bond and putting into practice several verses from the Gospels. Irreparable? And the pardon? One was on the point of agreeing to ask it, the other waited for her to force his hand.
"Ah! Madame du Boys," mused Entragues, gazing upon his fair visitor, "You do not know your husband. Write to him again. Just say: 'I was a little lark of a woman and I was lured away!' Repeat this simple idea through four beautiful pages in a tiny slanting handwriting that trembles and is steeped in tears (Oh! but true tears, scientific tears, acidulated and proportioned with the desired salt of grief),—do this, O my love, and you will see."
Without awaiting her reply, and while Madame du Boys meditated, a modest and very agreeable sinner, Entragues went to comfort the secretary of the Bonne-Science. A simple and quite suitable office: journals, brochures, registers, a general list of the founding members, patrons, donors, residents, foreigners, honorary members, orders depending on the results of preliminary payments, sums deposited, sums due, and different titles.
"You are sad? Yes, a broken life. But, Monsieur Dubois, all lives are broken, just as all sticks thrown in the water are broken. Existence bends souls, we are not made for life. A deception gives it to us, trickery conserves it for us. Ah! I know that philosophy is not your forte; neither founder nor patron, nothing but an appointed secretary. If you are not a philosopher, why did you marry such a pretty woman as Madame du Boys? Only a philosopher could be justified in committing such imprudences, for he knows how to make an abstraction at the proper time. Figures have taught you other duties. Everything is calculated on the register page, and what is absent is called memory. Isn't it the pure truth, stripped of all symbols, that you still love her? Act as a Christian, not as a coward enslaved to habits. So! You have charge of this weak soul and you should, like the Good Shepherd, bear her on your shoulders and save her from the devouring lion. But why do you not go after her, since she has lost her way? Pride chains you to your books. You think you are a Christian, but you are a stoic. Monsieur Dubois, modern Good Shepherds use railroads and telegraphs without shame. Go! Ah! The donors? Well, telegraph! No, it is at least necessary that the sinful sheep go half way, that the sinner behave like a Magdalene and weep. Well, I will bring her to you. Thus, your wife left you to follow her pleasure; she returns somewhat atremble, but confident, and you will pardon her? Will you open your door to her, your arms, your bed? Will you write 'Memory' in the debit side of past days, under days of marital solitude, meaning, in this instance, oblivion. And will the first repast together be a holiday feast, and the first night together a night of happiness? You will do all this, Monsieur Dubois, because you are a Christian and not a stoic. I slandered you. And you will tell me of the interview, of the noble pardon, in low tones for my personal edification, and I will be able to narrate it, aloud, for the edification of the age?"
Having ended these reveries, Entragues, to amuse himself, recopied in ink the note book leaves on which he had scribbled while on the train, during evenings, in his bed, during mornings, or in the solitude of the avenues.
Rai-Aube"And when you will be thus formed, whenyou will be imbued with this truth, 'thereis no truth, nothing truly existent for youexcept what your fertile mind gives,' observethe general course of the world and, lettingit follow its own way, associate with theminority."
Dreux.—To see trains pass by—to see life pass by—never to go within save to strike cushions.
A little farther.—Trains have a destination; life has none. But life's originality lies precisely in having no destination. I occasionally find in it, as in old lace, the same charm of uselessness.
A little farther.—I viewed the landscape as far as Dreux. The unconsciousness of the vegetable kingdom is a decidedly too melancholy void. To become interested in it, one must make it live by incorporating oneself with the trees and grass, transferring the sentient soul of a man into the oak's trunk. I am an oak, I am a holly-tree, I am a wild poppy, but I realize it, while the oak, the holly-tree, the wild poppy do not: for this reason they do not exist. Pantheists are very fine fellows.
Nonancourt.—These syllables shouted through the train evoke a pretty convent of nuns, rather dissolute before the reform of Borromée; afterwards, it was devoted to God until the revolutionary dispersal. Now the house, henceforth plebeian, serves as a barn, stable and pigsty. As the notary who last sold it said: "It will serve as a farm." Cows now ruminate where women once prayed—a notable advance.
Tillières.—A ravine cuts this plain in two, a dastardly act, life.
Verneuil.—I was alone since leaving Paris. A man enters, opens his newspaper and expands into a gauloiserie. If it were evening, near his better half, or if, in my place, some obliging girl revealed a part of her foot! These flights of animalism are truly painful to a calm man. The flower-like opening contracts; the joyous flame of eyes brightens into a waxing ferocity; cruel lust opens its mouth and shows its teeth. Awaking: a searching glance: the mimicry by degrees is extinguished and there remains the disappointed ennui of a vain excitement. No, I do not care to serve as an aphrodisiac to citizens. To think of this would compel you towards a monachal literature, hard and contemptuous of vile lust.
Bourth or nearby.—The man speaks. It was inevitable. He speaks of himself, full of a need of making himself known, of introducing the passerby into his little universe. He travels for a bookseller of religious books. He goes from parsonage to parsonage, well received by the curés, who ask him to dinner. A good clientele and good payers. His center is Verneuil; thence he radiates, like an apostle. Usually a horse and carriage, rented for the season, conducts him from church to church; having some business to transact at Laigle, he took a train to amuse himself; to amuse himself he climbed into a first-class apartment with a second-class ticket. (There is no inspection at such hours.) "Verneuil's a fine town. A rare thing for the province (isn't it so, between ourselves), that this big borough has a well-kept inn, quite renovated." He is a free-thinker, but tolerant, enveloping with the same sympathetic pity, children, women, priests, devout souls—more stupid than ill-meaning, he assures you. As for himself, if a God exists he will go straight to Heaven, never having hurt a fly. Sound instruction will gradually cure us of religion. He has no fear on this score and, his conscience quite tranquil, places his Corneille de la Pierre for the best. Unmarried, but desiring a marriage so as to have sturdy little republicans, strong defenders of la Patrie: Alsace and Lorraine, Gambetta, and so forth.
Laigle.—He offers me something. I politely decline, he withdraws. Throughout the world, this matter interests the millions of similarly constituted minds: for whom do you work, poor unconscious bees? The species? But does the intelligence of a few balance the universal stupidity?
Rai-Aube.—A village I never again shall see, a village with such a pretty name, with such a fine combination of radiant words—aurora and ray—an alliance of syllables married by a morning smile; grasses watered by the freshness of dew, transparent springs, murmuring fluidity of waters flowing under the abundant rushes: all this, Rai-Aube, and oblivion, and the ineffable, palpitates in the white letters of your name, alluring and fugitive rebus hung on the gable of the station! Remembrance rather than vision: in my youth I lived among these vernal delights and steeped myself in them. I do not belong to towns and a built-up plot of ground does not incite me to excessive joys. All that was created by youthful eyes remains young, and for me the country-side often has the sex of its spelling, even under the surplice of snow. That alone remains of my earliest years: all is dead, whether by real death or the death of memory. The tenderness of vague figures bending towards my precocious orphanhood, is the farthest removed; of school, the horror is still painful to remember; a Dantesque and futile horror inflicted upon my pitiful childhood. But already, due a little to my will, the world retreated from me and by a slow or sudden recreation, I reformed for myself a life more harmonious with my intimate sense. But already, in arrogant moments, I scorned everything external to me, everything that had not been reformed and reground by the machine ceaselessly in motion in my head. Excepting the unknowable principle, I have fashioned everything anew; at least, for scepticism even gnaws at one's personality, such is the allusion in which I have confined myself.
With such a fixed determination, with this Kantian system which can be called transcendental egoism, my life has marched with a relatively light pace. Of all the griefs which my will has not succeeded in putting aside, the heaviest to bear is my very solitude. Never having surrendered to its deceits, I know not if hope be aught but a bleeding spur, driving man towards a future nothingness. I know not if the wound opened without respite and the sight of the spilled blood be not powerful stimulants necessary for the functioning of the human mechanism. I have never experienced them. I only believe in the final charnel-house, but without coveting it. Life does not yet displease me sufficiently. Without this, having no philosophical principles to converge with a possible practice, I would be consistent with my disgust and would give it my sanction. Like Crantor, I will die "without being astonished;" if my organs are still sound when death comes, perhaps regretfully. As for survival, on this point I have no such tranquilizing ideas as has the traveling salesman of Dreux. Perhaps the delightful Unconscious reserves some of its good tricks for the truly supreme, last moment of corporeal decomposition! This relative fear doubtless comes to me from my Christian youth, and I repudiate neither the one nor the other; Catholicism is an aristocracy. I do not know how this positive religion can come to be allied in me with subjective idealism; it is an obscure amalgam, like all heresies. Theology always procured me the most agreeable reading; from Augustine I can go to Claudius Mamertinus; there the joys are not less because of the curiosity. How I would have loved to be a bishop in some less modern Rome, or a cardinal! If I dwelt on this rather sterile desire, a sensation of a deficient life would clutch my throat, a vulgar sensation that my pride contemptuously repels. And then, have I not of my own accord tasted the mystic happiness and the celestial anguishes of episcopacy? Have I not clothed myself with the violet robe lifted at the bottom, or trailing up the stairs of the altar? Have I not ascended, mitre on head, the steps of the presidial chair? What then would reality serve me, when I have the dream and the faculty of changing myself like Proteus, the faculty of successively possessing all forms of life, all states of soul which man diversifies himself.
Surdon.—Curled feathers bob up and plunge into the window. Seeing me alone, the female traveler hesitates, but the whistle has blown, a guard shoves her inside. She sits down opposite me, fallen there somewhat out of breath; she is uneasy although she is not blushing. The hesitation came from the fear of appearing to have expressly chosen the compartment in which sat one man. I try to reassure her with very polished phrases, but I succeed imperfectly. I am quite certain that some good proverb would amuse and pique her. I end with: "Occasion makes the thief." In the province, proverbs, that grammatical archæology, are still the current coin of conversation; they permit the saying of nothing at all while appearing to say a great deal. She appreciated my adage and complained of the habitual grossness of men. I answer her: "That is because women always desire what is not offered them and scorn what is offered them. A delicate man, by indefinable signs, lets his fancy be guessed, and does not commit himself to a decisive movement until the exact moment when he sees that it is shared." She smiles: "How does one feel this?" I answer: "The acquiescences are diverse, but there is a special flicker of the eye-lashes, very slow, which it is difficult to mistake." She looks at me with astonishment. A very honest woman, amused at this scabrous conversation, but inexperienced. Her youth and the rosiness of her complexion bespeak a recent marriage and little maternity: openly curious, having an eternity of ten years before her, to learn the secret. Otherwise pretty, and with much distinction, that modern name for grace; between blonde and brunette; clear, rather large eyes, the lower part of her face having no hint of brutishness. The trip from Surdon to Argentan takes sixteen minutes; our several questions and replies have exhausted them. The brake is put on, we slow up. Before I could anticipate her movement, she opens the carriage door until the train comes to a stop, holds the door back, and there I am, surprised to receive, at the same time, an equivocal bow and a glance of surprising intensity.
Is it an invitation to run after her? I believe it is and I hasten out, but I cannot find her. I had rapidly taken my light hand baggage, valise, rug, overcoat, etc. I am not forced to return to my railway carriage and I leave the station to seek the carriage bearing the arms of the countess. She is waiting for me and, thank heaven! I am the only one expected to-day. I will travel tête-à-tête with my disappointment. The coachman said the trip would take an hour, I have an hour in which to school myself with such a useless emotion. We start off; here is the Orne with its two adjacent bridges and, along the stream embanked with walls, an amusing house with balustrades and balconies on the water; an umbrella shop with a strolling singer's good-looking red parasol for an emblem; not a carriage in the peaceful streets, and thus one leads to doors of men and women, but not children; the birdless cage, the childless home: it was a prophecy. The school, the college, the barracks, the office, the study: the French revolution has perfected slavery, it is unanimous. A half-Gothic church, some old gables and less uniform façades amuse me; but we go quickly, despite the climb; then the sorry outskirts, the flat road, the stretch of grey level grass, race-grounds and wheels, some poplars.
"In carne enim ambulantes non secundumcarnem militamus."
Saint Paul, Cor., II, 10, 3.
Entragues wrote only in the morning, but often extended his work of the forenoon into the afternoon. When he did not feel lucid enough for the logic of prose, he amused himself. Poetry, a simple music admitting neither passion nor analysis, is only intended to suggest vague sentiments and confused sensations; a half-consciousness suffices for it. In imitation of Saint Notker, he composed obscure sequences full of alliterations and interior assonances. Walt Whitman, with his intuitive genius, unconsciously restored this lost poetic form. Entragues, at certain hours, delighted in it. This literature of about the tenth century, usually judged as the puerile distraction of barbarous monks, seemed to him on the contrary full of an ingenuous freshness and of an ingenious refinement. Notker charmed him, besides, by the red-blooded boldness of his metaphors, charmed and terrified him while throwing him on his knees before this God for whom prayer is a bleeding holocaust, and who demands, like a slaughtering of lambs, "immolated praise." He also took pleasure in a short and delicate sequence of Godeschalk, where Saint Mary Magdalene "covers with kisses" the feet of Jesus "which she has washed with her tears." A monk of the eleventh century had written a work entitled: The Nothingness in the Darkness. Entragues could find no trace of it beyond the mention of the title. It was one of the unknown books he would have liked to read.
Apart from two or three scorners of actual life, a strict logician of criticism, an extreme and absolute dreamer, an extraordinary creator of phrases and shaper of images, and several modern poets, he now hardly ever opened anything but antique theologies and dictionaries. He had a mania for lexicons, tools which seemed to him, generally, more interesting than works, and he spent over such instruments, often quite useless, many an idle hour. Thus ended the first day of his return.
On the morrow, after a night in which he had relived some of the most characteristic minutes passed with Sixtine at the château de Rabodanges, Hubert suspected that his life was about to change in orientation, that an inevitable crisis threatened him. It was a propitious occasion for meditation. In several weeks perhaps—oh! Only perhaps!—he will have undergone obvious modifications. It was necessary—in order to make a reckoning of it later—to note certain dominant traits of the state of his actual mind, to proceed to a summary examination of consciousness. His travel note book already containing some sufficiently precise remarks on this subject, he restricted himself to completing them with the following reflections:
"I am ashamed to admit it, so banal is this malady: I am bored. I have excruciating awakenings. I believe in nothing and I do not love. My calling is a sad one. It is to experiment with all the griefs and all the horrors of the human soul, so that men may recognize themselves in my work and say: 'Well roared, lion'! Yet, I am free: without nightly obligations, neither a parasite nor a worldling, nor a dramatic critic, I retire early, when I please. Having reached my thirtieth year with hardly any social relations, having enough revenue to be independent, I act in everything as I desire, heedless of general customs and satisfied, for example, to testify my scorn for the civilization of gas, by burning my lamp for ten hours. I am free, I have neither wife nor mistress. I fear mistresses for the confusion in which they throw the regularity of my work; but with sensitive beings a large lagoon is hollowed from principles to acts. When I am with some one, I desire solitude; alone, I feel the disquietudes of the void.
"When the commandment of the flesh hurls me to lustful adorations, I blush at such a servitude and at the earliest lucid moment I treat myself with contempt. When I have long stored the concentrated poison of vain seeds, hammer strokes drum on me, my organism gives way and my brain becomes troubled. Never having been kept upright by hair-cloth, iron tacks, wounds freshened by perpetual excoriations, pitiless fasts, privation of sleep, nor any of the mystic and Franciscan maneuvers, I subdue my flesh by leading it to pasture, but with no more sin in my intention than an invalid who breaks his abstinence to procure a remedy. Although pleasure follows, it is an obedience to the ineluctable commands governing animated life. Though I accept it, it is a human weakness. To love so much that one wishes to die—that test I have had in adolescence, and the reasonable insensibility of the woman I adored has never shed any bitterness on that far off remembrance. I do not smile pityingly on these days of umbrageous follies. After ten or eleven years, I am as sure as I was at the first hour of having been deprived of the greatest happiness put within reach of my hands by the Decrees, and in moments of emotion this regret can still throw a gloom over my revery. Since then, nothing but transitory pluckings; barely, now and then, an attempt at the band broken at the first touch.
"Far from being the aim of my life, sensation is its accident: I reserve my voluntary strength for the tales I tell my contemporaries. They have been found cold and ironic, but I have neither the quality to be an enthusiast of my age, nor to take it too seriously. Another motive removes me from emotional researches: without being a pessimist, without denying the possibility of satisfaction, without even denying happiness, I scorn it. I do not seek to aggravate my miseries by meditations on the universal misery, to which my egoism, moreover, makes me almost indifferent. A state of perfect peace of mind agrees with me. It is possible for me to regret an unhatched joy, but I wish neither to provoke nor to lie in wait for the hatching. In fine, there is no doubt that I do not know how to live. A perpetual celebration, my existence is the very negation of ordinary life, which is composed of ordinary loves. I have no tendency towards the altruisms demanded by society. If ever I could be drawn from myself, for the benefit of some creation, it would be in the manner of an imaginative person, at all points re-creating the object of my passion, minutely scrutinizing the mechanism of my impressions. Such is my character: it is obvious that I have not applied myself to elude the knowledge of myself; and yet no one knows better than I do to what point this knowledge is puerile and unhealthy."
The Pale and Green Moon
"In hac hora anima ebria videtur, ut amoris stimulis magis perforetur."
Saint Bonaventure, Philomena.
Château de Rabodanges, in the portrait chamber, September 12.—Upon arriving, I was received by Henri de Fortier, director of la Revue spéculative, and Michel Paysant, whose novels, full of swelling busts and caressing glances, charm families which mistake impotence for chastity. Fortier mentions the names of the guests to me. None of my acquaintances are here. Separated from the general, her husband, Countess Aubry brings to the country, at the summer end, her cosmopolitan salon which is frequented by the grand courtiers of academic or worldly literature. It is rumored that Fortier succeeds, in her gallant nights, the Bonapartist deputy who recently died and with whom she had an open liaison. Fortier assumes the modest airs of a host. At the dinner, several aristocrats who live in the vicinity mention the fact that the hunting season has opened. The only interesting face to see is that of a young fair woman, with sparkling eyes, who is either silent or speaks to Madame Aubry alone. A stroll in the moonlight follows, then the neighbors call for their carriages. Fortier disappears with the countess. Paysant takes my arm and prattles.
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