Memoirs of My Dead Life
Part 4 out of 5
"Nous n'avons que cela."
I quote his words in the language in which they were spoken, for I
remember how brutal they seemed, and how entirely in keeping with the
character of the room. No doubt the words will seem flat and tame to
the reader, but they never can seem that to me. "_Nous n'avons que
cela_" will always be to me as pregnant with meaning as the famous
_to be or not to be_. For it really amounted to that. I can see
Doris standing by me, charming, graceful as a little Tanagra
statuette, seemingly not aware of the degradation that the possession
of her love would mean in such a room as that which we stood in; and I
think I can honestly say that I wished we had never come to Orelay,
that we had gone straight on to Paris. It were better even to
sacrifice her love than that it should be degraded by vulgar
circumstances; and, instead of a holy rite, my honeymoon had come to
seem to me what the black mass must seem to the devout Christian.
"The rooms will look better," Doris said, "when fires have been
lighted, and when our bags are unpacked. A skirt thrown over the arm
of a chair furnishes a room."
Taking her hands in mine I kissed them, and was almost consoled; but
at that moment my eyes fell upon the beds, and I said:
"Those beds! O Doris, those beds! yours is no better than mine." Women
are always satisfied, or they are kind, or they are wise; and accept
the inevitable without a murmur.
"Dearest, ask the waiter to bring us some hot water."
I did so, and while he was away I paced the room, unable to think of
anything but the high bed; it was impossible to put out of my sight
the ridiculous spectacle of a couple in a nightgown and pyjama suit
climbing into it. The vision of myself and Doris lying under that
eider-down, facing that tall window, with nothing to shut out the
light but those vulgar lace curtains, pursued me, and I paced the room
till the pink waiter returned with two jugs; and then, feeling very
miserable, I began to unpack my bag without getting further than the
removal of the brushes and comb; Doris unpacked a few things, and she
washed her hands, and I thought I might wash mine; but before I had
finished washing them I left the dreadful basin, and going to Doris
with dripping hands I said:
"There is very little difference in the rooms. Perhaps you would like
to sleep in mine?"
"I can see no difference. I think I'll remain where I am."
Which room she slept in may seem insignificant to the reader, but this
is not so, for had we changed rooms this story would never have been
written. I can see myself even now walking to and fro like a caged
animal vainly seeking for a way of escape, till suddenly--my adventure
reminds me very much of the beginning of many romantic novels--the
tapestry that the wind had blown aside, the discovery of the secret
door--suddenly I discovered a door in the wall paper; it was
unlatched, and pushing through it I descended two steps, and lo! I was
in the room of my heart's desire; a large, richly-coloured saloon with
beautifully proportioned windows and red silk damask curtains hanging
from carved cornices, and all the old gilding still upon them. And the
silk fell into such graceful folds that the proportions of the windows
were enhanced. And the walls were stretched with silk of a fine
romantic design, the dominant note of which was red to match the
curtains. There were wall lights, and a curious old clock on the
marble chimney-piece amid branching candelabra. I stayed a moment to
examine the clock, deciding very soon that it was not of much value
... it was made in Marseilles a hundred years ago.
"A beautiful room in its proportions and in its colour," I said, and
seeing another door ajar I went through it and discovered a bedroom
likewise in red with two beds facing each other. The beds were high,
it is true, and a phrase from a letter I had written to Doris,
"aggressively virtuous," rose up in my mind as I looked upon them. But
the curtains hung well from _les ciels de lit_ (one cannot say
_cieux de lit_, I suppose)--the English word is, I think,
"tester." "This room is far from the bedroom of my dreams," I
muttered, "but _a la rigueur ca peut marcher_." But pursuing my
quest a little farther, I came upon a spacious bedroom with two
windows looking out on the courtyard--a room which would have
satisfied the most imaginative lover, a room worthy of the adorable
Doris, and I can say this as I look back fondly on her many various
perfections. A great bed wide and low, "like a battlefield as our bed
should be," I said, for the lines of the old poet were running in my
"Madame, shall we undress you for the fight?
The wars are naked that you make to-night."
And, looking upon it, I stood there like one transfigured, filled with
a great joy; for the curtains hanging from a graceful tester like a
crown would have satisfied the painter Boucher.... He rarely painted
bedrooms. I do not remember any at this moment; but I remember many by
Fragonard, and Fragonard would have said: "I have no fault to find
with that bed." The carpet was not Aubusson, but it was nevertheless a
finely-designed carpet, and its colour was harmonious; the sofa was
shapely enough, and the Louis XVI. arm-chairs were filled with deep
cushions. I turned to the toilet-table fearing it might prove an
incongruity, but it was in perfect keeping with the room, and I began
at once to look forward to seeing it laid out with all the manifold
ivories and silver of Doris's dressing-case.
Imagine my flight, dear reader, if you can, back to Doris, whom I had
left trying to make the best of that miserable square room; more like
a prison cell than a bedroom.
"What is the matter, dearest?" she asked.
But without answering her I said, "Give me your hand," and led her as
a prince leads his betrothed, in a fairy tale, through the
richly-coloured salon, lingering a moment for her to admire it, and
then I took her through my room, the double-bedded room, saying: "All
this is nothing; wait till you see your room." And Doris paused
overcome by the beauty of the bed, of the curtains falling from the
tester gracefully as laburnum or acacia branches in June.
"The rooms are beautiful, but a little cheerless."
"Doris, Doris, you don't deserve to lie there! The windows of course
must be opened, fresh air must be let in, and fires must be lighted.
But think of you and me sitting here side by side talking before our
Fires were lighted quickly, servants came in bearing candelabra in
their hands, and among them, and with Doris by my side, I imagined
myself a prince, for who is a prince but he who possesses the most
desirable thing in the world, who finds himself in the most delectable
circumstances? And what circumstance is more delightful than sitting
in a great shadowy bedroom, watching the logs burning, shedding their
grateful heat through the room, for the logs that were brought to us,
as we soon discovered, were not the soft wood grown for consumption in
Parisian hotels; the logs that warmed our toes in Orelay were dense
and hard as iron, and burned like coal, only more fragrantly, and very
soon the bareness of the room disappeared; a petticoat, as Doris had
said, thrown over a chair gives an inhabited look to a room at once;
and the contents of her dressing-case, as I anticipated, took the room
back to one hundred years ago, when some great lady sat there in a
flowered silk gown before one of those inlaid dressing tables, filled
with pigments and powders and glasses.
There was one of those tables in the room, and I drew it from the
corner and raised its lid, the lid with the looking-glass in it. And I
liked the unpacking of her dressing-case, the discovery of a multitude
of things for bodily use, the various sponges; the flat sponge for the
face, the round sponge for the body, and the little sponges; all the
scissors and the powder for the nails, and the scents, the soft silks,
the lace scarfs, and the long silk nightgown soon to droop over her
shoulders. My description by no means exhausts the many things she
produced from her dressing-case and bags, nor would the most complete
catalogue convey an impression of Doris's cleanliness of her little
body! One would have to see her arranging her things, with her long
curved hands and almond nails carefully cut--they were her immediate
care, and many powders and ointments and polishers were called into
requisition. Some reader will cry that all this is most unimportant,
but he is either hypocritical or stupid, for it is only with scent and
silk and artifices that we raise love from an instinct to a passion.
"I am longing," said Doris, "to see that beautiful red drawing-room
with all the candelabra lighted and half a dozen logs blazing on the
hearth. It is extraordinary how cold it is."
To procure an impartial mind, bodily ease is necessary, and we sat on
either side of a splendid fire warming our toes. At the bottom of his
heart every Christian feels, though he may not care to admit it in
these modern days, that every attempt to make love a beautiful and
pleasurable thing is a return to paganism. In his eyes the only excuse
for man's love of woman is that without it the world would come to an
end. Why he should consider the end of the world a misfortune I have
never been able to find out, for if his creed be a true one the
principal use of this world is to supply Hell with fuel. He is never
weary of telling us that very few indeed may hope to get to Heaven.
"But France is not a Christian country, and yet you see the high bed
has not become extinct," said Doris.
Doris, who was doubtless feeling a little tired, sat looking into the
fire. Her attitude encouraged reverie; dream linked into dream till at
last the chain of dreams was broken by the entrance of the pink waiter
bringing in our dinner. In the afternoon I had called him an imbecile,
which made him very angry, and he had explained that he was not an
imbecile, but if I hurried him he lost his head altogether. Of course
one is sorry for speaking rudely to a waiter; it is a shocking thing
to do, and nothing but the appearance of the bedroom we were shown
into would excuse me. His garrulousness, which was an irritation in
the afternoon, was an amusement as he laid the cloth and told me the
bill of fare; moreover, I had to consult him about the wine, and I
liked to hear him telling me in his strong Southern accent of a
certain wine of the country, as good as Pomard and as strong, and
which would be known all over the world, only it did not bear
transportation. Remembering how tired we were, and the verse--
"Quand on boit du Pomard on devient bon on aime,
On devient aussi bon que le Pomard lui-meme--"
we drank, hoping that the wine would awaken us. But the effect of that
strong Southern wine seemed to be more lethargic than exhilarating,
and when dinner was over and we had returned to our seats by the
fireside we were too weary to talk, and too nervous.
The next morning, the coffee and the rolls and butter were ready
before Doris, and the vexation of seeing the breakfast growing cold
was recompensed by the pleasure of teasing her, urging her to pass her
arms into her dressing-gown, to come as she was, it did not matter
what she had on underneath. The waiter did not count; he was not a
man, he was a waiter, a pink creature, pinker than anything in the
world, except a baby's bottom, and looking very like that.
"Hasten, dear, hasten!" and I went back to the salon and engaged in
chatter with the old provincial, my English accent contrasting
strangely with his. It was the first time I had heard the Southern
accent. At Plessy I had heard all accents, Swiss, German, Italian;
there was plenty of Parisian accent there, and I had told a Parisian
flower-woman, whose husband was a Savoyard, that I declined to believe
any more in the Southern accent _"C'est une blague qu'on m'a
faite"_; but at Orelay I had discovered the true accent, and I
listened to the old man for the sake of hearing it. He was asking me
for my appreciation of the wine we had drunk last night when Doris
entered in a foamy white dressing-gown.
"You liked the wine, dear, didn't you? He wants to know if we will
have the same wine for twelve-o'clock breakfast."
"Dear me, it's eleven o'clock now," Doris answered, and she looked at
"Monsieur and Madame will go for a little walk; perhaps you would like
to breakfast at one?"
We agreed that we could not breakfast before one, and our waiter
suggested a visit to the cathedral--it would fill up the time
pleasantly and profitably; but Doris, when she had had her coffee,
wanted to sit on my knee and to talk to me; and then there was a
piano, and she wanted to play me some things, or rather I wanted to
hear her. But the piano was a poor one; the notes did not come back,
she said, and we talked for some hours without perceiving that the
time was passing. After lunch the waiter again inquired if we intended
to go for a little walk; there were vespers about four in the
"It would do Monsieur and Madame good."
"The walk or the cathedral?" we inquired, and, a little embarrassed,
the old fellow began to tell us that he had not been to the cathedral
for some years, but the last time he was there he had been much
impressed by the darkness. It was all he could do to find his way from
pillar to pillar; he had nearly fallen over the few kneeling women who
crouched there listening to the clergy intoning Latin verses.
According to his account there were no windows anywhere except high up
in the dome. And leaning his hands on the table, looking like all the
waiters that ever existed or that will ever exist, his _tablier_,
reaching nearly to his chin, upheld by strings passed over the
shoulders, he told us that it was impossible to see what was happening
in the chancel; but there had seemed to be a great number of clergy
seated in the darkness at the back, for one heard voices behind the
tall pieces of furniture singing Latin verses; one only heard the
terminations of the words, an "us" and a "noster," and words ending in
"e," and the organ always coming in a little late.
"My good man," I said, "your description leaves nothing to be desired.
Why should I go to the cathedral unless to verify your impressions? I
am sure the service is exactly as you describe it, and I would not for
the world destroy the picture you have evoked of those forgotten
priests intoning their vespers in the middle of the granite church
behind a three-branched candlestick."
The poor man left the room very much disconcerted, feeling, Doris
said, as if he had lost one of the forks.
"Thank Heaven that matter is done with--a great weight is off my
"But there is the museum. You would like to see that?" said Doris, and
a change came into my face.
"Well, Doris, the waiter has told us that there is a celebrated study
by David in the museum, 'The Nymph of Orelay.'"
"But, dear one, am I not your nymph of Orelay?" and Doris slipped on
her knees and put her arms about me. "Will I not do as well as the
painted creature in the museum?"
"Far better," I said, "far better. Now we are free, Doris, freed from
the cathedral and from the museum. All the day belongs to us, and
to-morrow we may pass as we like."
"And so we will," Doris said meditatively; and so we did, dear reader,
and I consider the time was well spent, for by so doing we avoided
catching cold, a thing easy to do when a mistral is blowing. It was
not until the following evening we remembered that time was always on
the wing, that our little bags would have to be packed. Next morning
we were going.
"Going away by the train," Doris said regretfully. "Would we were
going away in a carriage! We shall leave Orelay knowing nothing of it
but this suite of apartments."
"There is no reason why we should not drive," and I stopped packing my
bag, and stood looking at her.
"I wonder if we should have stayed three days if we had not discovered
these rooms? Dear one, I think I should not have meant so much to you
in those humbler rooms: you attach much importance to these cornices
"I should have loved you always, Doris, but I think I can love you
better here," and with our bags in our hands we wandered from the
bedroom into the drawing-room and stood admiring its bygone splendour.
"Doris, dear, you must play me 'The Nut Bush.' I want to hear it on
that old piano. Tinkle it, dear, tinkle it, and don't play 'The Nut
Bush' too sentimentally, nor yet too gaily."
"Which way will you have it?" she asked; "'a true love's truth or a
light love's art'?"
"I would have it dainty and fantastic as Schumann wrote it, 'only the
song of a secret bird.'"
"With a pathos of loneliness in it?"
"That is it," I cried, "that is the right time to play it in, without
stress on either side.... No, you mustn't leave the piano, Doris.
Sing me some songs. Go on singing Schumann or Schubert; there are no
other songs. Let me hear you sing 'The Moonlight' or 'The
Lotus-flower.' Schumann and Schubert were the singing birds of the
fifties; I love their romantic sentimentalities, orange gardens, south
winds, a lake with a pinnace upon it, and a nightingale singing in a
dark wood by a lonely shore; that is how they felt, how they dreamed."
And resigning herself to my humour, she sang song after song till at
last, awaking from a long reverie of music and old association of
memories, I said, "Play me a waltz, Doris; I would hear an old-time
waltz played in this room; its romantic flourishes will evoke the
departed spirits." And very soon, sitting in my chair with half-closed
eyes, it seemed to me that I saw crinolines faintly gliding over the
floor, and white-stockinged feet, sloping shoulders and glistening
necks with chignons--swan-like women, and long-whiskered cavaliers
wearing peg-top trousers and braided coats dancing or talking with
them.... The music suddenly stopped and Doris said:
"If we are to catch our train we must go on with our packing."
"You mustn't talk to me of trains," and overcome with a Schumann-like
longing and melancholy I took her in my arms, overcome by her beauty.
She was perfection. No Chelsea or Dresden figure was ever more dainty,
gayer, or brighter. She was Schumann and Dresden, but a Dresden of an
earlier period than Schumann; but why compare her to anything? She was
Doris, the very embodiment of her name.
"Ah, Doris, why are we leaving here? Why can't we remain here for
"It is strange," she said; "I feel the charm of those old stately
rooms as much as you do. But, dearest, we have missed the train."
The pink waiter came up, I promised to hasten, but my love of Doris
delayed us unduly, and we arrived at the station only to hear that the
train had gone away some ten minutes before. The train that had left
was the only good train in the day, and missing it had given us
another twenty-four hours in Orelay; but Doris was superstitious. "Our
three days are done," she said; "if we don't go today we shall go
to-morrow, and to go on the fourth day would be unlucky. What shall we
do all day? The spell has been broken. We have left our hotel. Let us
take a carriage," she pleaded, "and drive to the next station. The sun
is shining, and the country is beautiful; we saw it from the railway,
a strange red country grey with olives, olive orchards extending to
the very foot of the mountains, and mingling with the pine trees
descending the slopes."
"The slopes!" I said, "the precipitous sides of that high rock! Shall
I ever forget it, beginning like the tail of a lion and rising up to
the sky, towering above the level landscape like a sphinx."
"The drive would be delightful!"
"And it would be a continuation of the romance of the old Empire
drawing-room. A post-chaise would be the thing if we could discover
Sometimes Nature seems to conspire to carry out an idea, and though no
veritable post-chaise of old time was discovered in the coach-house
behind the courtyard in which the ilex trees flourished, we happened
to catch sight of a carriage some twenty-five or thirty years old, a
cumbersome old thing hung upon C springs, of the security of which the
coachman seemed doubtful. He spoke disparagingly, telling us that the
proprietor had been trying to sell it, but no one would buy it, so
heavy was it on the horses' backs, so out of fashion one was ashamed
to go out in it. The coachman's notions of beauty did not concern us,
but Doris dreaded lest one of the wheels should come off; however, on
examination it was found to be roadworthy, and I said to Doris as I
helped her into it:
"If it be no post-chaise, at all events ladies wearing crinolines have
sat inside it, that is certain, and gentlemen wearing peg-top trousers
with braid upon them. Good God, Doris, if you were to wear a crinoline
I should love you beyond hope of repentance. Don't I remember when I
was a boy every one wore white stockings; I had only heard of black
ones, and I always hoped to meet a lady wearing black stockings... now
my hope is to meet one wearing white."
"We might have searched the town for a crinoline and a pair of white
"Yes, and I might have discovered a black silk stock. I wonder how I
should have looked in it. Doris," I said, "we have missed the best
part of our adventure. We forgot to dress for the part we are playing,
the lovers of Orelay."
Who will disagree with me when I say that no adventure is complete
unless it necessitates an amount of ceremonial, the wearing of wigs,
high bodices, stockings, and breeches? Every one likes to dress
himself up, whether for a masquerade ball or to be enrolled in some
strange order. Have you, reader, ever seen any one enrolled in any of
these orders? If you have, you will excuse the little comedy and
believe it to be natural--the comedy that Doris and I played in the
old carriage driving from Orelay to Verlancourt, where we hoped to
We could hardly speak for excitement. Doris thought of how she would
look in a crinoline, and I remembered the illustrations in an early
edition of Balzac of which I am the happy possessor. How nice the men
looked in the light trousers and the black stockings of the period;
and crossing my legs I followed with interest the line of my calf.
Somebody did that in "Les Illusions Perdues." She and I lay back
thinking which story in "The Human Comedy" was the most applicable to
our case; and the only one we could think of was when Madame Bargeton,
a provincial blue-stocking, left Angouleme for Paris with Lucien de
Rubempre. There were no railways in the forties; they must have
travelled in a post-chaise. Yes, I remember their journey, faintly it
is true, but I remember it. Madame Bargeton was a woman of
five-and-thirty at least, and Doris was much younger. Lucien was only
one-and-twenty, and even at that time I was more than that. The names
of these people and of the people they met at the theatre and in the
Tuileries Gardens--Rastignac, Madame d'Espard, the Duchess of
Chaulieu, Madame de Rochefide, and Canalis--carried my mind back from
crinolines and white stockings, from peg-top trousers and braided
coats, to the slim trousers that were almost breeches and to the
high-breasted gowns of the Restoration. Our mothers and fathers wore
the crinolines and the peg-top trousers, and our grandfathers the
tight trousers and the black silk stocks. The remembrance of these
costumes filled me with a tenderness and a melancholy I could not
subdue, and I could see that Doris was thinking of the same subject as
We were thinking of that subject which interested men before history
began, the mutability of human things, the vanishing of generations.
Young as she was, Doris was thinking of death; nor is it the least
extraordinary she should, for as soon as any one has reached the age
of reflection the thought of death may come upon him at any moment,
though he be in the middle of a ballroom or lying in the arms of his
mistress. If the scene be a ballroom he has only to look outside, and
the night will remind him that in a few years he will enter the
eternal night; or if the scene be a bedroom the beautiful face of his
mistress may perchance remind him of another whose face was equally
beautiful and who is now under the earth; lesser things will suffice
to recall his thoughts from life to death, a rose petal falling on a
marble table, a dead bird in the path as he walks in his garden. And
after the thought of death the most familiar thought is the decay of
the bodily vesture. The first grey hair may seem to us an amusing
accident, but very few years will pass before another and yet another
appear, and if these do not succeed in reminding us that decay has
begun, a black speck on a tooth cannot fail to do so; and when we go
to the dentist to have it stopped we have begun to repair artificially
the falling structure. The activity of youth soon passes, and its
slenderness. I remember still the shock I felt on hearing an athlete
say that he could no longer run races of a hundred yards; he was half
a second or a quarter of a second slower than he was last year. I
looked at him saying, "But you are only one-and-twenty," and he
answered, "Yes, that is it." A football player I believe is out of
date at eight-and-twenty. Out of date! What a pathos there is in the
words--out of date! _Suranne_, as the French say. How are we to
render it in English? By the beautiful but artificial word
"yester-year"? Yester-year perhaps, for a sorrow clings about it; it
conveys a sense of autumn, of "the long decline of roses." There is
something ghostlike in the out-of-date. The landscape about Plessy had
transported us back into antiquity, making us dream of nymphs and
dryads, but the gilt cornices and damask hangings and the salon at
Orelay had made us dream of a generation ago, of the youth of our
parents. Ancient conveys no personal meaning, but the out-of-date
transports us, as it were, to the stern of the vessel, throws us into
a mournful attitude; we lean our heads upon our hands and, looking
back, we see the white wake of the vessel with shores sinking in the
horizon and the crests of the mountains passing away into the clouds.
While musing on these abstract questions raised by my remark that we
had not managed our adventure properly, since we had forgotten to
provide ourselves with proper costumes, the present suddenly thrust
itself upon me.
"Good God!" I said to Doris, "let us look back, for we shall never see
Orelay again!" and she from one window, and I from the other, saw the
spires of Orelay for the last time. We could not tear ourselves away,
but fortunately the road turned; Orelay was blotted out from our sight
for ever, and we sank back to remember that a certain portion of our
lives was over and done, a beautiful part of our lives had been thrown
into the void, into the great rubble-heap of emotions that had been
lived through, that are no more.
"Of what are you thinking, dear? You have been far away. This is the
first time we have been separated, and we are not yet five miles from
"Five miles! Ah, if it were only five!"
We did not speak for a long time, and watching the midday sun, I
thought that peradventure it was not farther from us than yesterday.
Were I to say so to Doris she would answer, "It will be the same in
Paris," but if she did it would be the first falsehood she had told
me, for we both knew that things are never the same; things
change--for better or worse, but they change.
This last sentence seems to me somewhat trite, and if I were to
continue this story any further my pen would run into many other
superficial and facile observations, for my mind is no longer
engrossed with the story. I no longer remember it; I do not mean that
I do not remember whether we got to Verlancourt, whether we had
breakfast, or whether we drove all the way to Paris with relays of
horses. I am of course quite certain about the facts: we breakfasted
at Verlancourt, and after breakfast we asked the coachman whether he
would care to go on to Paris with us; he raised his eyes--"The
carriage is a very old one, surely, Monsieur----" Doris and I laughed,
for, truth to tell, we had been so abominably shaken that we were glad
to exchange the picturesque old coach of our fathers' generation for
These stories are memories, not inventions, and an account of the days
I spent in Paris would interest nobody; all the details are forgotten,
and invention and remembrance do not agree any better than the goat
and the cabbage. So, omitting all that does not interest me--and if it
does not interest me how can it interest the reader?--I will tell
merely that my adventure with Doris was barren of scandal or
unpleasant consequences. Her mother, a dear unsuspicious
woman--whether her credulity was the depth of folly or the depth of
wisdom I know not; there are many such mothers, my blessing be upon
them!--took charge of her daughter, and Doris and her mother returned
to England. I am afraid that when I confess that I did not speak to
Doris of marriage I shall forfeit the good opinion of my reader, who
will, of course, think that a love story with such an agreeable
creature as Doris merited a lifetime of devotion; but I pray the
reader to discover an excuse for me in the fact that Doris had told me
when we were at Plessy that there was no question of her marrying any
one but Albert. Had she not sacrificed the great love of her life in
order that she might remain constant to Albert? Is it to be expected,
then, that having done that, she would put Albert aside and throw her
lot in with mine? She might have done this; men and women act
inconsequently. Having on one occasion refused to drop the mutton chop
for the shadow, on the next occasion they would drop it for the shadow
of the shadow; but Doris was made of sterner stuff, and some months
afterwards she wrote me a steady, sensible little letter telling me
that she was going to be married, and that it seemed to her quite
natural that she should marry Albert. Years have passed away, and
nothing has happened to lead me to believe that she has not proved a
true and loving wife. Albert has always told me that he found all the
qualities in her which he had foreseen from the first time he looked
upon her pretty, sparkling face. Frown not, reader; accuse me not of
superficial cynicism! Albert is part of the world's inheritance. You
may be Albert yourself--every one has been or will be Albert; Albert
is in us all, just as I am in you all. Doris, too, is in you, dear
lady who sit reading my book--Doris my three-days mistress at Orelay,
and Doris the faithful spouse of Albert for twenty years in a lonely
Study and boudoir would like to know if Doris had any children. About
two years afterwards I heard that she was "expecting." The word came
up spontaneously in my mind, perhaps because I had written it in the
beginning of the story. Reader, do you remember in "Massimilla Doni"
how Balzac, when he came to the last pages, declares that he dare not
tell you the end of the adventure. One word, he says, will suffice for
the worshippers of the ideal--_Massimilla Doni_ was "expecting."
I have not read the story for many years, but the memory of it shines
in my mind bright--well, as the morning star; and I looked up this
last paragraph when I began to write this story, but had to excuse
myself for not translating it, my pretext being that I was baffled by
certain grammatical obscurities, or what seemed to me such. I seemed
to understand and to admire it all till I came to the line that
"_les peuplades de cent cathedrales gothiques_" (which might be
rendered as the figured company of a hundred Gothic cathedrals),
"_tout le peuple des figures qui brisent leur forme pour venir a
vous, artistes comprehensifs, toutes ces angeliques filles
incorporelles accoururent autour du lit de Massimilla, et y
pleurerent!_" What puzzles me is why statues should break their
forms (_form_ I suppose should be translated by _mould_)--break
their moulds--the expression seems very inadequate--break their
moulds "in order to go to you, great imaginative artists." How
could they break their moulds or their forms to go to the
imaginative artists, the mould or the form being the gift of
the imaginative artists? I should have understood Balzac better if
he had said that the statues escape from their niches and the madonnas
and the angels from their frames to gather round the bed of
_Massimilla_ to weep. Balzac's idea seems to have got a little
tangled, or maybe I am stupid to-day. However, here is the passage:
"Les peris, les ondines, les fees, les sylphides du vieux temps, les
muses de la Grece, les vierges de marbre de la Certosa di Pavia, le
Jour et la Nuit de Michel Ange, les petits anges que Bellini le
premier mit au bas des tableaux d'eglise, et que Raphael a faits si
divinement au bas de la vierge au donataire, et de la madone qui gele
a Dresde, les delicieuses filles d'Orcagna, dans l'eglise de
San-Michele a Florence, les choeurs celestes du tombeau de Saint Sebald
a Nuremberg, quelques vierges du Duomo de Milan, les peuplades de cent
cathedrales gothiques, tout le peuple des figures qui brisent leur
forme pour venir a vous, artistes comprehensifs, toutes ces angeliques
filles incorporelles accoururent autour du lit de Massimilla, et y
IN THE LUXEMBOURG GARDENS
There was a time when my dream was not literature, but painting; and I
remember an American giving me a commission to make a small copy of
Ingres's "Perseus and Andromeda," and myself sitting on a high stool
in the Luxembourg, trying to catch the terror of the head thrown back,
of the arms widespread, chained to the rock, and the beauty of the
foot advanced to the edge of the sea. Since my copying days the
picture has been transferred to the Louvre. What has become of my
copy, whether I ever finished it and received the money I had been
promised, matters very little. Memories of an art that one has
abandoned are not pleasant memories. Maybe the poor thing is in some
Western state where the people are ignorant enough to accept it as a
sketch for the original picture. My hope is that it has drifted away,
and become part of the world's rubbish and dust. But why am I thinking
of it at all? Only because a more interesting memory hangs upon it.
After working at it all one morning, I left the museum feeling half
satisfied with my drawing, but dreading the winged monster that
awaited me after lunch. In those days I was poor, though rich for the
Quarter. I moved in a society of art students, and we used to meet for
breakfast in a queer little cafe; the meal cost us about a shilling.
On my return from this cafe soon after twelve--I had breakfasted early
that morning--I remember how, overcome by a sudden idleness, I could
not go back to my work, and feeling that I must watch the birds and
the sunlight (they seemed to understand each other so well), I threw
myself on a bench and began to wonder if there was anything better in
the world worth doing than to sit in an alley of clipped limes,
smoking, thinking of Paris and of myself.
Every one, or nearly every one, except perhaps the upper classes,
whose ideas of Paris are the principal boulevards--the Rue de Rivoli,
the Rue de la Paix--knows the Luxembourg Gardens; and watching April
playing and listening to water trickling from a vase that a great
stone Neptune held in his arms at the end of the alley, my thoughts
embraced not only the garden, but all I know of Paris, of the old city
that lies far away behind the Hotel de Ville and behind the Boulevard
St. Antoine. I thought of a certain palace now a museum, rarely
visited, of its finely proportioned courtyard decorated with
bas-reliefs by Jean Goujon. I had gone there a week ago with Mildred;
but finding she had never heard of Madame de Sevigne, and did not care
whether she had lived in this palace or another, I spoke to her of the
Place des Vosges, saying we might go there, hoping that she would feel
interested in it because it had once been the habitation of the old
French nobility. As I spoke, its colour rose up before my eyes, pretty
tones of yellow and brown brick, the wrought-iron railings and the
high-pitched roofs and the slim chimneys. As I walked beside her I
tried to remember if there were any colonnades. It is strange how one
forgets; yes, and how one remembers. The Place des Vosges has always
seemed to me something more than an exhibition of the most beautiful
domestic architecture in France. The mind of a nation shapes itself,
like rocks, by a process of slow accumulation, and it takes centuries
to gather together an idea so characteristic as the Place des Vosges.
One cannot view it--I cannot, at least--without thinking of the great
monarchical centuries, and of the picturesque names which I have
learned from Balzac's novels and from the history of France. In his
"Etude de Catherine de Medicis," Balzac speaks of Madame de Sauve, and
I am sure she must have lived in the Place des Vosges. Monsieur de
Montresser might have occupied a flat on the first floor. Le Comte
Bouverand de la Loyere, La Marquise d'Osmond, Le Comte de Coetlogon,
La Marquise de Villefranche, and Le Duc de Cadore, and many other
names rise up in my mind, but I will not burden this story with them.
I suppose the right thing to do would be to find out who had lived in
the Place des Vosges; but the search, I am afraid, would prove tedious
and perhaps not worth the trouble. For if none of the bearers of the
names I have mentioned lived in the Place des Vosges, it is certain
that others bearing equally noble names lived there.
Its appearance is the same to-day as it was in the seventeenth
century, but it is now inhabited by the small tradespeople of the
Quarter; the last great person who lived there was Victor Hugo; his
house has been converted into a museum, and it is there that the most
interesting relics of the great poet are stored. I unburdened my mind
to Mildred, and my enthusiasm enkindled in her an interest sufficient
to induce her to go there with me, for I could not forgo a companion
that day, though she was far from being the ideal companion for such
sentimental prowling as mine. Afterwards we visited Notre Dame
together, and the quays, and the old streets; but Mildred lacked the
historical sense, I am afraid, for as we returned in the glow of the
sunset, when the monumented Seine is most beautiful, she said that
Paris wasn't bad for an old city, and it was the memory of this
somewhat crude remark that caused a smile to light up my lips as I
looked down the dark green alley through which the April sunlight
But I did not think long of her; my attention was distracted by the
beauty of a line of masonry striking across the pale spring sky,
tender as a faded eighteenth-century silk, only the blue was a young
blue like that of a newly opened flower; and it seemed to me that I
could detect in the clouds going by, great designs for groups and
single figures, and I compared this aerial sculpture with the
sculpture on the roofs. In every angle of the palace there are
statues, and in every corner of the gardens one finds groups or single
figures. Ancient Rome had sixty thousand statues--a statue for every
thirty-three or thirty-four inhabitants; in Paris the proportion of
statues to the people is not so great, still there are a great many;
no city has had so many since antiquity; and that is why Paris always
reminds me of those great days of Greece and Rome when this world was
the only world.
When one tires of watching the sunlight there is no greater delight
than to become absorbed in the beauty of the balustrades, the stately
flights of steps, the long avenues of clipped limes, the shapely stone
basins, every one monumented in some special way. "How shapely these
gardens are," I said, and I fell to dreaming of many rocky hills
where, at the entrance of cool caves, a Neptune lies, a vase in his
arms with water flowing from it. Yesterevening I walked in these
gardens with a sculptor; together we pondered Carpeau's fountain, and,
after admiring Fremiet's horses, we went to Watteau's statue,
appropriately placed in a dell, among greenswards like those he loved
to paint. At this moment my meditation was broken.
"I thought I should find you in the museum painting, but here you are,
idling in this pretty alley, and in the evening you'll tell us you've
been working all day."
"Will you come for a walk?" I said, thinking that the gardens might
interest her, and, if they did not, the people we should meet could
not fail to amuse her. It was just the time to see the man who came
every morning to feed the sparrows; he had taught them to take bread
from his lips, and I thought that Mildred would like to see the funny
little birds hopping about his feet, so quaint, so full of themselves,
seeming to know all about it. Then if we had luck we might meet Robin
Hood, for in those days a man used to wander in the gardens wearing
the costume of the outlaw, and armed with a bow and quiver. The
strange folk one meets in the Luxembourg Gardens are part of their
charm. Had I not once met a man in armour, not plate, but the
beautiful chain armour of the thirteenth century, sitting on a bench
eating his lunch, his helmet beside him?--a model no doubt come from a
studio for the lunch hour, or maybe he was an _exalte_ or a
_fumist_; a very innocent _fumist_ if he were one, not one
of the Quarter certainly, for even the youngest among us would know
that it would take more than a suit of armour to astonish the
frequenters of the gardens. As we came down a flight of steps we met
an old man and his wife, an aged couple nearly seventy years of age,
playing football, and the gambols of this ancient pair in the pretty
April sunlight were pathetic to watch. I called her attention to them,
telling her that in another part of the garden three old women came to
dance; but seeing that Mildred was not interested, I took the first
opportunity to talk of something else. She was more interested in the
life of the Quarter, in _le bal Bullier_, in my stories of
grisettes and students; and I noticed that she considered every
student as he passed, his slim body buttoned tightly in a long
frock-coat, with hair flowing over his shoulders from under his
slouched hat, just as she had considered each man on board the boat a
week ago as we crossed from Folkestone to Boulogne. We had met on the
boat; I noticed her the moment I got on board; her quiet, neat clothes
were unmistakably French, though not the florid French clothes
Englishwomen so often buy and wear so badly. The stays she had on I
thought must be one of those little ribbon stays with very few bones,
and as she walked up and down she kept pressing her leather waistband
still more neatly into its place, looking first over one shoulder and
then over the other. She reminded me of a bird, so quick were her
movements, and so alert. She was nice-looking, not exactly pretty, for
her lips were thin, her mouth too tightly closed, the under lip almost
disappearing, her eyes sloped up very much at the corners, and her
eyebrows were black, and they nearly met.
The next time I saw her she was beside me at dinner--we had come by
chance to the same hotel, a small hotel in the Rue du Bac. Her mother
was with her, an elderly, sedate Englishwoman, to whom the girl talked
very affectionately, "Yes, dearest mamma"; "No, dearest mamma." She
had a gay voice, though she never seemed to laugh or joke; but her
face had a sad expression, and she sighed continually. After dinner
her mother went to the piano and played with a great deal of accent
and noise the "Brooklyn Cake Walk."
"We used to dance that at Nice. Oh, dear mamma, do you remember that
Her mother nodded and smiled, and began playing a Beethoven sonata,
but she had not played many bars before her daughter said:
"Now, mother, don't play any more; come and talk to us."
I asked her if she did not like Beethoven. She shrugged her shoulders;
an expression of irritation came into her face. She either did not
want to talk of Beethoven then, or she was incapable of forming any
opinion about him, and, judging from her interest in the "Brooklyn
Cake Walk," I said:
"The Cake Walk is gayer, isn't it?"
The sarcasm seemed lost upon her; she sat looking at me with a vague
expression in her eyes, and I found it impossible to say whether it
was indifference or stupidity.
"Mildred plays Beethoven beautifully. My daughter loves music. She
plays the violin better than anybody you ever heard in your life."
"Well, she must play very well indeed, for I've heard Sarasate
"If Mildred would only practise," and she pressed her daughter to play
something for me.
"I haven't got my keys--they're upstairs. No, mother ... leave me
alone; I'm thinking of other things."
Her mother went back to the piano and continued the sonata. Mildred
looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and then turned over the
illustrated papers, saying they were stupid. We began to talk about
foreign travel, and I learned that she and her mother spent only a
small part of every year in England. She liked the Continent much
better; English clothes were detestable; English pictures she did not
know anything about, but suspected they must be pretty bad, or else
why had I come to France to paint? She admitted, however, she had met
some nice Englishmen, but Yankees--oh! Yankees! There was one at
Biarritz. Do you know Biarritz? No, nor Italy. Italians are nice, are
they not? There was one at Cannes.
"Don't think I'm not interested in hearing about pictures, because I
am, but I must look at your ring, it's so like mine. This one was
given to me by an Irishman, who said the curse of Moreen Dhu would be
upon me if I gave it away."
"But who is Moreen Dhu? I never heard of her."
"You mustn't ask me; I'm not a bit an intelligent woman. People always
get sick of me if they see me two days running."
"I doubt very much if that is true. If it were you wouldn't say it."
"Why not? I shouldn't have thought of saying it if it weren't true."
Next evening at dinner I noticed that she was dressed more carefully
than usual; she wore a cream-coloured gown with a cerise waistband and
a cerise bow at the side of her neck. I noticed, too, that she talked
less; she seemed preoccupied. And after dinner she seemed anxious; I
could not help thinking that she wished her mamma away, and was
searching for an excuse to send her to bed.
"Mamma, dear, won't you play us the 'Impassionata'?"
"But, Milly dear, you know quite well that I can't play it."
Mamma was nevertheless persuaded to play not only the "Impassionata"
but her entire repertoire. She was not allowed to leave the piano, and
had begun to play Sydney Smith when the door opened, and a man's face
appeared for a second. Remembering her interest in men, I said:
"Did you see that man? What a nice, fresh-looking young man!"
She put her finger on her lip, and wrote on a piece of paper:
"Not a word. He's my fiance, and mother doesn't know he's here. She
does not approve; he hasn't a bean." ... "Thank you, mother, thank
you; you played that sonata very nicely."
"Won't you play, my dear?"
"No, mother dear, I'm feeling rather tired; we've had a long day."
And the two bade me good-night, leaving me alone in the sitting-room
to finish a letter. But I had not quite got down to the signature when
she came in looking very agitated, even a little frightened.
"Isn't it awful?" she said. "I was in the dining-room with my fiance,
and the waiter caught us kissing. I had to beg of him not to tell
mamma. He said _'Foi de gentilhomme,_' so I suppose it's all
"Why not have your fiance in here? I'm going to bed."
"Oh, no, I wouldn't think of turning you out. I'll see him in my
bedroom; it's safer, and if one's conscience is clear it doesn't
matter what people say."
A few days afterwards, as I was slinging my paintbox over my
shoulders, I heard some one stop in the passage, and speaking to me
through the open door she said:
"You were so awfully decent the other night when Donald looked in. I
know you will think it cheek; I am the most impudent woman in the
world; but do you mind my telling mamma that I am going to the Louvre
with you to see the pictures? You won't give me away, will you?"
"I never split on any one."
"My poor darling ought to go back. He's away from the office without
leave, and he may get the sack; but he's going to stay another night.
Can you come now? Mamma is in the salon. Come just to say a word to
her and we will go out together. Donald is waiting at the corner."
Next morning as I was shaving I heard a knock at my door.
"Oh, I beg your pardon, but I didn't want to miss you. I'll wait for
you in the salon."
When I came downstairs she showed me a wedding ring. She had married
Donald, or said she had.
"Oh, I am tired. I hate going to the shops, and now mamma wants me to
go shopping with her. Can't you stay and talk to me, and later on we
might sneak out together and go somewhere?... Are you painting
"Well, no, I'm going to a museum a long way from here. I have never
seen Madame de Sevigne's house."
"Who is she?"
"The woman who wrote the famous letters."
"I am afraid I shall only bore you, because I can't talk about books."
"You had better come; you can't stay in this hotel by yourself all the
There was some reason which I have forgotten why she could not go out
with Donald, and I suppose it was my curiosity in all things human
that persuaded me to yield to her desire to accompany me, though, as I
told her, I was going to visit Madame de Sevigne's house. The reader
doubtless remembers that we visited not only Madame de Sevigne's
house, but also Victor Hugo's in the Place des Vosges, and perhaps her
remark as we returned home in the evening along the quays, that "Paris
wasn't bad for an old city," has not yet slipped out of the reader's
memory. For it was a strange remark, and one could hardly hear it
without feeling an interest in the speaker; at least, that was how I
felt. It was that remark that drew my attention to her again, and when
we stopped before the door of our hotel, I remembered that I had spent
the day talking to her about things that could have no meaning for
her. Madame de Sevigne and Jean Goujon, old Paris and its associated
ideas could have been studied on another occasion, but an opportunity
of studying Mildred might never occur again. I was dining out that
evening; the next day I did not see her, and the day after, as I sat
in the Luxembourg Gardens, beguiled from my work by the pretty April
sunlight and the birds in the alley (I have spoken already of these
things), as I sat admiring them, a thought of Mildred sprang into my
mind, a sudden fear that I might never see her again; and it was just
when I had begun to feel that I would like to walk about the gardens
with her that I heard her voice. These coincidences often occur, yet
we always think them strange, almost providential. The reader knows
how I rose to meet her, and how I asked her to come for a walk in the
gardens. Very soon we turned in the direction of the museum, for,
thinking to propitiate me, Mildred suggested I should take her there,
and I did not like to refuse, though I feared some of the pictures and
statues might distract me from the end I now had in view, which was to
find out if Donald had been her first lover, and if her dear little
mamma suspected anything.
"So your mother knows nothing about your marriage?"
"Nothing. He ought to go back, but he's going to stay another night. I
think I told you. Poor dear little mamma, she never suspected a bit."
As we walked to the museum I caught glimpses of what Donald's past
life had been, learning incidentally that his father was rich, but
since Donald was sixteen he had been considered a ne'er-do-well. He
had gone away to sea when he was a boy, and had been third mate on a
merchant ship; in a hotel in America he had been a boot-black, and
just before he came to Paris he fought a drunken stoker and won a
purse of five pounds.
She asked me which were the best pictures, but she could not keep her
attention fixed, and her attempts to remember the names of the
painters were pathetic. "Ingres, did you say? I must try to
remember.... Puvis de Chavannes? What a curious name! but I do like
his picture. He has given that man Donald's shoulders," she said,
laying her hand on my arm and stopping me before a picture of a young
naked man sitting amid some grey rocks, with grey trees and a grey
sky. The young man in the picture had dark curly hair, and Mildred
said she would like to sit by him and put her hands through his hair.
"He has got big muscles, just like Donald. I like a man to be strong:
I hate a little man."
We wandered on talking of love and lovers, our conversation
occasionally interrupted, for however interested I was in Mildred, and
I was very much interested, the sight of a picture sometimes called
away my attention. When we came to the sculpture-room it seemed to me
that Mildred was more interested in sculpture than in painting, for
she stopped suddenly before Rodin's "L'age d'arain," and I began to
wonder if her mind were really accessible to the beauty of the
sculptor's art, or if her interest were entirely in the model that had
posed before Rodin. Sculpture is a more primitive art than painting;
sculpture and music are the two primitive arts, and they are therefore
open to the appreciation of the vulgar; at least, that is how I tried
to correlate Mildred with Rodin, and at the same moment the thought
rose up in my mind that one so interested in sex as Mildred was could
not be without interest in art. For though it be true that sex is
antecedent to art, art was enlisted in the service of sex very early
in the history of the race, and has, if a colloquialism may be allowed
here, done yeoman service ever since. Even in modern days,
notwithstanding the invention of the telephone and the motor car, we
are still dependent upon art for the beginning of our courtships.
To-day the courtship begins by the man and the woman sending each
other books. Before books were invented music served the purpose of
the lover. For when man ceased to capture woman, he went to the
river's edge and cut a reed and made it into a flute and played it for
her pleasure; and when he had won her with his music he began to take
an interest in the tune for its own sake. Amusing thoughts like these
floated through my mind in the Luxembourg galleries--how could it be
otherwise since I was there with Mildred?--and I began to argue that
it was not likely that one so highly strung as Mildred could be blind
to the sculptor's dream of a slender boy, and that boy, too, swaying
like a lily in some ecstasy of efflorescence.
"The only fault I find with him is that he is not long enough from the
knee to the foot, and the thigh seems too long. I like the greater
length to be from the knee to the foot rather than from the knee to
the hip. Now, have I said anything foolish?"
"Not the least. I think you are right. I prefer your proportions. A
short tibia is not pretty."
A look of reverie came into her eyes. "I don't know if I told you that
we are going to Italy next week?"
"Yes, you told me."
Her thoughts jerked off at right angles, and turning her back on the
statue, she began to tell me how she had made Donald's acquaintance.
She and her mother were then living in a boarding-house in the same
square in which Donald's father lived, and they used to walk in the
square, and one day as she was running home trying to escape a shower,
he had come forward with his umbrella. That was in July, a few days
before she went away to Tenby for a month. It was at Tenby she had
become intimate with Toby Wells; he had succeeded for a time in
putting Donald out of her mind. She had met Toby at Nice.
"But you like Donald much better than Toby?"
"Of course I do; he came here to marry me. Oh, yes, I've forgotten all
about Toby. You see, I met Donald when I went back to London. But do
look at that woman's back; see where her head is. I wonder what made
Rodin put a woman in that position."
She looked at me, and there was a look of curious inquiry on her face.
Overcome with a sudden shyness, I hastened to assure her that the
statue was "La Danaide."
"Rodin often introduces a trivial voluptuousness into art; and his
sculpture may be sometimes called _l'article de Paris_. It is
occasionally soiled by the sentiment, of which Gounod is the great
exponent, a base soul who poured a sort of bath-water melody down the
back of every woman he met, Margaret or Madeline, it was all the
"Clearly this is not a day to walk about a picture-gallery with you.
Come, let us sit down, and we'll talk about lighter things, about
lovers. You won't mind telling me; you know you can trust me. One of
these days you will meet a man who will absorb you utterly, and all
these passing passions will wax to one passion that will know no
"Do you think so? I wonder."
"Do you doubt it?"
"I don't think any one man could absorb me; no one man could fill my
"Not even Donald?"
"Donald is wonderful. Do you remember that morning, a few days after
"Your wedding night?"
"Yes, my wedding night."
We are interested in any one who is himself or herself, and this girl
was certainly herself and nothing but herself. Travelling about as she
did with her quiet, respectable mother, who never suspected anything,
she seemed to indicate a type--type is hardly the word, for she was an
exception. Never had I seen any one like her before, her frankness and
her daring; here at least was one who had the courage of her
instincts. She was man-crazy if you will, but now and then I caught
sight of another Mildred when she sighed, when that little
dissatisfied look appeared in her face, and the other Mildred only
floated up for a moment like a water-flower or weed on the surface of
"... You know I do mean to be a good girl. I think one ought to be
good. But really, if you read the Bible----Oh, must you go?--it has
been such a relief talking things over with you. Shall I see you
to-night? There is no one else in the hotel I can talk to, and mamma
will play the piano, and when, she plays Beethoven it gets upon my
"You play the violin, don't you?"
"Yes, I play," and that peculiar sad look which I had begun to think
was characteristic of her came into her face, and I asked myself if
this sudden misting of expression should be ascribed to stupidity or
to a sudden thought or emotion. "I am sorry you're not dining at the
"I am sorry, too; I'm dining with students in the Quarter; they would
"I wish I were a grisette."
"If you were I would take you with me. Now I must say good-bye; I have
to get on with my painting."
That night I returned to the hotel late and went away early in the
morning. But the next day she came upon me again in the gardens, and
as we walked on together she told me that Donald had gone away.
"He was obliged to return, you see; he left the office without leave,
and he had only two pounds, the poor darling. I don't know if I told
you that he had to borrow two pounds to come here."
"No, you omitted that little fact. You see, you are so absorbed in
yourself that you think all these things are as interesting to
everybody else as they are to you."
"Now you're unkind," and she looked at me reproachfully. "It is the
first time you have been unsympathetic. If I talked to you it was
because I thought my chatter interested you. Moreover, I believed that
you were a little interested in me, and I have come all this way--"
My heart was touched, and I begged of her to believe that my remark
was only uttered in sport, to tease her. But it was a long time before
I could get her to finish the sentence. "You have come a long way, you
"I came to tell you that we are going to Rome tomorrow. I didn't like
to go away without seeing you, but it seems as if I were mistaken; it
would not have mattered to you if I had."
She had her fiddle-case with her; and to offer to carry it for her
seemed an easy way out of my difficulty; but she would not surrender
it for a while. I asked her if she had been playing at a concert, or
if she were coming from a lesson. No; well, then, why had she her
fiddle-case with her?
"Don't ask me; leave me in peace. It doesn't matter. I cannot play
now, and ten minutes ago my head was full of it."
These little ebullitions of temper were common in Mildred, and I knew
that the present one would soon pass away. In order that its passing
might be accomplished as rapidly as possible, I suggested we should
sit down, and I spoke to her of Donald.
"I don't want to talk about him. You have offended me."
"I'm sorry you are leaving Paris. This is the beautiful month. How
pleasant it is here, a soft diffused warmth in the air, the sunlight
flickering like a live thing in the leaves, and the sound of water
dripping at the end of the alley. We are all alone here, Mildred.
Come, tell me why you brought your fiddle-case."
"Well," she said, "I brought it on the chance of meeting you. I
thought you might like to hear me play. We are going away to-morrow
morning. I can't play in that hotel, in that stuffy little room; mamma
would want to accompany me."
"Play to me in the Luxembourg Gardens!"
"One can do anything one likes here; no one pays any attention to
anybody else," and she pointed with her parasol to a long poet, with
hair floating over his shoulders, who walked up and down the other end
of the alley reciting his verses.
"Perhaps your playing will interrupt him."
"Oh, if he doesn't like it he'll move away. But I don't want to play;
I can't play when I'm out of humour, and I was just in the very humour
for playing until your remark about--"
"You know very well," she answered.
The desire to hear her play the fiddle in the gardens gained upon me.
The moment was an enchanting one, the light falling through the
translucid leaves and the poet walking up and down carried my thoughts
into another age. I began to see a picture--myself, the poet, and
this girl playing the violin for us; other figures were wanting to
make up the composition. Cabanel's picture of the Florentine poet
intruded itself, interrupting my vision, the picture of Dante reading
his verses at one end of a stone bench to a frightened girl whose
lover is drawing her away from him who had been to Hell and witnessed
the tortures of the damned, who had met the miserable lovers of Rimini
whirling through space and heard their story from them. Lizard-like, a
man lies along a low wall, listening to the poet's story. But why
describe a picture so well known? Why mention it at all? Only because
its design intruded itself, spoiling my dream, an abortive idea that I
dimly perceived in Nature without being able to grasp it; an illusive
suggestion for a picture was passing by me, and so eager was my
pursuit of the vision that there was no strength in me to ask Mildred
to play. True that the sound of her violin might help me, but it must
happen accidentally, just as everything else was happening, without
sequence, without logic. At that moment my ear caught the sound of
violin-playing; some dance measure of old time was being played, and
in the sunlit interspace three women appeared dancing a gavotte,
advancing and retiring through the light and shade. The one who played
the violin leaned sometimes against a tree, and sometimes she joined
the others, playing as she danced.
"I know that gavotte. Come, let us go to them. I'll play for them if
they'll let me."
Very soon the woman who played the violin seemed to recognise Mildred
as a better player than herself. She handed her fiddle to a bystander
and the gavotte proceeded, the three old ladies bowing and holding up
their skirts and pointing their toes with the grace of bygone times.
Never, I think, did reality seem more like a dream. "But who are these
three women?" I asked myself, and, sinking on a bench like one
enchanted, I dreamed that these were three sisters, the remnant of a
noble family who had lost its money during several generations till at
last nothing remained, and the poor old women had to devise some mode
of earning their living. I imagined the scene in some great house
which they would have to leave on the morrow, and they talking
together, thinking they must go forth to beg, till she who played the
fiddle said that something would happen to save them from the shame of
mendicancy. I imagined her saying that their last crust of bread would
not be eaten before some one would come to tell them that a fortune
awaited them. And it so happened that the day they divided this crust
the one to whom faith had been given came upon an old letter. She
stood reading till the others asked her what she was reading with so
much interest. "I told you," she said, "that we should be saved, that
God in His great mercy would not turn us out into the streets to beg.
This letter contains explicit directions how the gavotte used to be
danced when our ancestors lived in the Place des Vosges."
"But what help to us to know the true step of the gavotte?" cried the
"A great deal," the eldest answered gravely; "I can play the fiddle,
and we can all learn to dance; we'll go to dance the gavotte in the
Luxembourg Gardens whenever it is fine--the true gavotte as it was
danced when Madame de Sevigne drove up in a painted coach drawn by six
horses, and entered the courtyard of her hotel decorated with
bas-reliefs by Jean Goujon."
This is the story that I dreamed as I sat on the bench listening to
the pretty, sprightly music flowing like a live thing. Under the
fingers of the old woman the music scratched along like dead leaves
along a pathway, without accent, without rhythm; now the old gavotte
tripped like the springtime, pretty as the budding trees, as the
sunlight along the swards. Mildred brought out the contrast between
the detached and the slurred notes. How gaily it went! Full of the
fashion of the time--the wigs, the swords, the bows, the gallantry!
How sedate! How charming! How well she understood it! How well the old
women danced to it! How delighted every one was! She played on until
the old women, unable to dance any more, sat down to listen to her.
After trying some few things which I did not know, I heard her playing
a piece of music which I could not but think I had heard before--in
church! Beginning it on the low string, she poured out the long, long
phrase that never seems to end, so stern and so evocative of
Protestantism that I could not but think of a soul going forth on its
way to the Judgment Seat, telling perforce as it goes how it has
desired and sought salvation, pleading almost defiantly. But Mildred
could not appreciate such religious exaltation, yet it was her playing
that had inspired the thought in me. Had she been taught to play it?
Was she echoing another's thought? Her playing did not sound like an
echo; it seemed to come from the heart, or out of some unconscious
self, an ante-natal self that in her present incarnation only emerged
in music, borne up by some mysterious current to be sucked down by
She played other things, not certain what she was going to play; and
then, as if suddenly moved to tell us about other things, she began to
play a very simple, singing melody, interrupted now and again, so it
seemed to me, by little fluttering confessions. I seemed to see a lady
in white, at the close of day, in a dusky boudoir, one of Alfred
Stevens's women, only much more refined, one whose lover has been
unfaithful to her, or maybe a woman who is weary of lovers and knows
not what to turn her mind to, hesitating between the convent and the
ball-room. Ah, the beautiful lament--how well Mildred played
it!--followed by the slight crescendo, and then the return of the soul
upon itself, bewailing its weakness, confessing its follies in
elegant, lovely language, seemingly speaking in a casual way, yet
saying such profound things, profound even as Bach. The form is
different, more light, more graceful, apparently more superficial, but
just as deep; for when we go to the bottom of things all things are
deep, one as deep as another, just as all things are shallow, one as
shallow as another; for have not mystics of every age held that things
exist not in themselves, but in the eye that sees and the ear that
A crowd had collected to hear her, for she was playing out of the
great silence that is in every soul, in that of the light-o'-love as
well as of the saint, and she went on playing, apparently unaware of
the number of people she had collected about her. She stopped playing
and returned to me.
"You play beautifully; why did you say you didn't like Beethoven?"
"I didn't say I didn't like Beethoven; you know very well mamma can't
play the 'Impassionata.'"
"Why aren't you always like this?"
"I don't know. One can't always be the same. I feel differently when I
play; the mood only comes over me sometimes. I used to play a great
deal; I only play occasionally now, just when I feel like it."
We walked through the alleys by the statues, seeing them hardly at
all, thinking of the music.
"I must be getting back," she said. "You see, I've got to pack up.
Mother can't do any packing; I've to do hers for her. I hope we shall
meet again some day."
"What good would it be? I only like you when you're playing, and
you're not often in the mood."
"I'm sorry for that; perhaps if you knew me better----"
"Now you're married, and I suppose Donald will come to Rome to fetch
"Oh, I don't think he'll be able. He has got no money."
"And you'll fall in love with some one else?"
"Well, perhaps so; I don't feel that I ever could again after this
week." Stopping suddenly in front of a hosier's shop, she said: "I
like those collars; they have just come out--those turned-down ones.
Do you like them as well as the great high stand-up collars about
three inches deep? When they were the fashion men could hardly move
their heads." Then she made some remarks about neckties and the colour
she liked best--violet. "Yes, there's a nice shade of violet. Poor
Donald! He's so handsome."
After the hosier's shop she spoke no more about music. And long before
we reached the hotel she who had played--I cannot say for certain what
she played that day in the Luxembourg Gardens; my love of music was
not then fully awakened; could it have been?--the names of Bach and
Chopin come up in my mind--"I can't speak about music," she said, as
we turned into the Rue du Bac, and she ran up the stairs of the hotel
possessed completely by the other Mildred. She asked her mother to
play the "Brooklyn Cake Walk," and she danced "the lovely two-step,"
as she had learned it at Nice, for my enjoyment. I noticed that she
looked extraordinarily comic as she skipped up and down the room, the
line of her chin deflected, and that always gives a slightly comic
look to a face. She came downstairs with me, and, standing at the
hotel door, she told me of something that had happened yesterday.
"Mother and I went to Cook's to get the tickets. When we went into the
office I saw a Yank--oh, so nicely dressed! Lovely patent-leather
boots. And I thought, 'Oh, dear, he'll never look at me.' But
presently he did, and took out his card-case and folded up a card and
put it on the ledge behind him, and gave me a look and moved away. So
I walked over and took it up. Mamma never saw, but the clerks did."
* * * * *
I have reported Mildred's story truthfully at a particular moment of
her life. Those who travel meet people now and again whose
individuality is so strong that it survives. Mildred's has survived
many years, and I have written this account of it because it seems to
me to throw a gleam into the mystery of life without, however, doing
anything to destroy the mystery.
It was in the vastness of Westminster Hall that I saw her for the
first time--saw her pointed face, her red hair, her brilliant teeth.
The next time was in her own home--a farm-house that had been rebuilt
and was half a villa. At the back were wheat-stacks, a noisy
thrashing-machine, a pigeon-cote, and stables whence, with jangle of
harness and cries of yokels, the great farm-horses always seemed to be
coming from or going to their work on the downs. In a garden planted
with variegated firs she tended her flowers all day; and in the
parlour, where we assembled in the evening, her husband smoked his
pipe in silence; the young ladies, their blonde hair hanging down
their backs, played waltzes; she alone talked. Her conversation was
effusive, her laughter abundant and bright. I had only just turned
eighteen, and was deeply interested in religious problems, and one day
I told her the book I carried in my pocket, and sometimes pretended to
study, was Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason." My explanation of the
value of the work did not seem to strike her, and her manifest want of
interest in the discussion of religious problems surprised me, for she
passed for a religious woman, and I failed to understand how mere
belief could satisfy any one. One day in the greenhouse, whither I had
wandered, she interrupted some allusion to the chapter entitled "The
Deduction of the Categories" with a burst of laughter, and declared
that she would call me Kant. The nickname was not adopted by the rest
of the family--another was invented which appealed more to their
imagination--but she held to the name she had given me, and during the
course of our long friendship never addressed me by any other.
There was no reason why I should have become the friend of these
people. We were opposed in character and temperament, but somehow we
seemed to suit. There was little reflection on either side; certainly
there was none on mine; at that time I was incapable of any; my youth
was a vague dream, and my friends were the shadows on the dream. I saw
and understood them only as one sees and understands the summer clouds
when, lying at length in the tall grass, one watches the clouds curl
and uncurl. In such mood, visit succeeded visit, and before I was
aware, the old Squire who walked about the downs in a tall hat died,
and my friends moved into the family place, distant about a hundred
yards--an Italian house, sheltered among the elms that grew along the
seashore. And in their new house they became to me more real than
shadows; they were then like figures on a stage, and the building of
the new wing and the planting of the new garden interested me as might
an incident in a play; and I left them as I might leave a play, taking
up another thread in life, thinking very little of them, if I thought
at all. Years passed, and after a long absence abroad I met them by
chance in London.
Again visit succeeded visit. My friends were the same as when I had
left them; their house was the same, the conduct of their lives was
the same. I do not think I was conscious of any change until, one day,
walking with one of the girls in the garden, a sensation of home came
upon me. I seemed always to have known these people; they seemed part
and parcel of my life. It was a sudden and enchanting awaking of love;
life seemed to lengthen out like the fields at dawn, and to become
distinct and real in many new and unimagined ways. Above all, I was
surprised to find myself admiring her who, fifteen years ago, had
appeared to me not a little dowdy. She was now fifty-five, but such an
age seemed impossible for so girl-like a figure and such young and
effusive laughter. I was, however, sure that she was fifteen years
older than when I first saw her, but those fifteen years had brought
each within range of the other's understanding and sympathy. We became
companions. I noticed what dresses she wore, and told her which I
liked her best in. She was only cross with me when I surprised her in
the potting-shed wearing an old bonnet out of which hung a faded
poppy. She used to cry: "Don't look at me, Kant. I know I'm like an
old gipsy woman."
"You look charming," I said, "in that old bonnet."
She put down the watering-can and laughingly took it from her head.
"It is a regular show."
"Not at all. You look charming when working in the greenhouse.... I
like you better like that than when you are dressed to go to
"Do you?... I thought you liked me best in my new black silk."
"I think I like you equally well at all times."
We looked at each other. There was an accent of love in our
friendship. "And strange, is it not," I said, "I did not admire you
half as much when I knew you first?"
"How was that? I was quite a young woman then."
"Yes," I said, regretting my own words; "but, don't you see, at that
time I was a mere boy--I lived in a dream, hardly seeing what passed
"Yes, of course," she said gaily, "you were so young then, all you saw
in me was a woman with a grown-up son."
Her dress was pinned up, she held in her hand the bonnet which she
said made her look like an old gipsy woman, and the sunlight fell on
the red hair, now grown a little thinner, but each of the immaculate
teeth was an elegant piece of statuary, and not a wrinkle was there on
that pretty, vixen-like face. Her figure especially showed no signs of
age, and if she and her daughters were in the room it was she I
One day, while seeking through the store-room for a sheet of brown
paper to pack up a book in, I came across a pile of old
_Athenaeums_. Had I happened upon a set of drawings by Raphael I
could not have been more astonished. Not one, but twenty copies of the
_Athenaeum_ in a house where never a book was read. I looked at
the dates--three-and-thirty years ago. At that moment she was
gathering some withering apples from the floor.
"Whoever," I cried, "could have left these copies of the
"Oh, they are my _Athenaeums_," she said. "I always used to read
the _Athenaeum_ when I was engaged to be married to Mr. Bartlett.
You must have heard of him--he wrote that famous book about the
Euphrates. I was very fond of reading in those days, and he and I used
to talk about books in the old garden at Wandsworth. It is all built
This sudden discovery of dead tastes and sympathies seemed to draw us
closer together, and in the quietness of the store-room, amid the
odour of the apples, her face flushed with all the spirit of her
girlhood, and I understood her as if I had lived it with her.
"You must have been a delightful girl. I believe if I had known you
then I should have asked you to marry me."
"I believe you would, Kant.... So you thought because I never read
books now that I had never read any? You have no idea how fond of
books I was once, and if I had married Mr. Bartlett I believe I should
have been quite a blue-stocking. But then Dick came, and my father
thought it a more suitable match, and I had young children to look
after. We were very poor in those days; the old Squire never attempted
to help us."
At this time I seemed to be always with my friends; I came to see them
when I pleased, and sometimes I stayed a week, sometimes I stayed six
months: but however long my visit they said it was not long enough.
The five-o'clock from London brought me down in time for dinner, and I
used to run up to my room just as if I were a member of the family. If
I missed this train and came down by the six-o'clock, I found them at
dinner, and then the lamplight seemed to accentuate our affectionate
intimacy, and to pass round the table shaking hands with them all was
in itself a peculiar delight. On one of these occasions, missing her
from her place, I said: "Surely you have not allowed her to remain
till this hour in the garden?"
I was told that she was ill, and had been for the last fortnight
confined to her room. Several days passed; allusion to her illness
became more frequent; and then I heard that the local doctor would
accept the responsibility no longer, and had demanded a consultation
with a London physician. But she would not hear of so much expense for
her sake, and declared herself to be quite sufficiently well to go to
The little pony-carriage took her to the station, and I saw her in the
waiting-room wrapped up in shawls. She was ashamed to see me, but in
truth the disease had not changed her as she thought it had. There are
some who are so beautiful that disease cannot deform them, and she was
endowed with such exquisite life that she would turn to smile back on
you over the brink of the grave.
We thought the train was taking her from us for ever, but she came
back hopeful. Operation had been pronounced unnecessary, but she
remained in her room many days before the medicine had reduced her
sufficiently to allow her to come downstairs. Nearly a month passed,
and then she appeared looking strangely well, and every day she grew
better until she regained her girlish figure and the quick dance of
movement which was a grace and a joy in the silent peacefulness of the
old house. Her grace and lightness were astonishing, and one day,
coming down dressed to go in the carriage, she raced across the
library, opened her escritoire, hunting through its innumerable
drawers for one of the sums of money which she kept there wrapped up
in pieces of paper.
"How nice you look! You are quite well now, and your figure is like a
girl of fifteen."
She turned and looked at me with that love in her face which an old
woman feels for a young man who is something less and something more
to her than her son. As a flush of summer lingers in autumn's face, so
does a sensation of sex float in such an affection. There is something
strangely tender in the yearning of the young man for the decadent
charms of her whom he regards as the mother of his election, and who,
at the same time, suggests to him the girl he would have loved if time
had not robbed him of her youth. There is a waywardness in such an
affection that formal man knows not of.
I remember that day, for it was the last time I saw her beautiful.
Soon after we noticed that she did not quite recover, and we thought
it was because she did not take her medicine regularly. She spent
long hours alone in her greenhouse, the hot sun playing fiercely
on her back, and we supplicated--I was the foremost among her
supplicators--that she would not carry the heavy flower-pots to and
fro, nor cans of water from the tank at the bottom of the garden, and
to save her I undertook to water her flowers for her. But she was one
of those who would do everything herself--who thought that if she did
not shut the door it was not properly shut. She was always speaking of
her work. "If I leave my work," she would say, "even for one week,
everything gets so behind-hand that I despair of ever being able to
make up the arrear. The worst of it is that no one can take up my work
where I leave off." And as she grew worse this idea developed until it
became a kind of craze. At last, speculating on the strength of our
friendship, I told her her life belonged to her husband and children,
and that she had no right to squander it in this fashion. I urged that
with ordinary forbearance she might live for twenty years, but at the
present rate of force-expenditure she could not hope to live long. I
spoke brutally, but she smiled, knowing how much I loved her; and,
looking back, it seems to me she must have known she could not be
saved, and preferred to give the last summer of her life entirely to
her flowers. It was pathetic to see her, poor moribund one, sitting
through the long noons alone, the sun beating in upon her through the
fiery glass, tending her flowers. I remember how she used to come in
in the evenings exhausted, and lie down on the little sofa. Her
husband, with an anxious, quiet, kindly look in his eyes, used to draw
the skirt over her feet and sit down at her feet, tender, loving,
soliciting the right to clasp her hand, as if they had not been
married thirty years, but were only sweethearts. At that time we used
all to implore her to allow us to send for the London doctor, and I
remember how proud I was when she looked up and said, "Very well,
Kant, it shall be as you wish it." I remember, too, waiting by the
little wood at the corner of the lane, where I should be sure to meet
the doctor as he came up from the station. The old elms were beautiful
with green, the sky was beautiful with blue, and we lingered, looking
out on the fair pasturage where the sheep moved so peacefully, and,
with the exquisite warmth of summer in our flesh, we talked of her who
was to die.
"Is it then incurable?"
"There is no such thing as cure.... We cannot create, we can only
stimulate an existent force, and every time we stimulate we weaken,
and so on until exhaustion. Our drugs merely precipitate the end."
"Then there is no hope?"
"I'm afraid not."
"Can she live for five years?"
"I should think it extremely improbable."
"What length of life do you give her?"
"You are asking too much.... I should say about a year."
The doctor passed up the leafy avenue. I remained looking at the silly
sheep, seeing in all the green landscape only a dark, narrow space.
That day I saw her for the last time. She was sitting on a low chair,
very ill indeed, and the voice, weak, but still young and pure, said:
"Is that you, Kant? Come round here and let me look at you." Amid my
work in London, I used to receive letters from my friends, letters
telling me of the march of the disease, and with each letter death
grew more and more realisable until her death seemed to stand in
person before me. It could not be much longer delayed, and the letter
came which told me that "Mother was not expected to live through the
winter." Soon after came another letter: "Mother will not live another
month"; and this was followed by a telegram: "Mother is dying; come at
It was a bleak and gusty afternoon in the depth of winter, and the
Sunday train stopped at every station, and the journey dragged its
jogging length of four hours out to the weary end. The little station
shivered by an icy sea, and going up the lane the wind rattled and
beat my face like an iron. I hurried, looking through the trees for
the lights that would shine across the park if she were not dead, and
welcome indeed to my eyes were the gleaming yellow squares. Slipping
in the back way, and meeting the butler in the passage, I said: "How
"Very bad indeed, sir."
She did not die that night, nor the next, nor yet the next; and as we
waited for death, slow but sure of foot, to come and take what
remained of her from us, I thought often of the degradation that these
lingering deaths impose upon the watchers, and how they force into
disgraceful prominence all that is animal in us. For, however great
our grief may be, we must eat and drink, and must even talk of other
things than the beloved one whom we are about to lose; for we may not
escape from our shameful nature. And, eating and drinking, we
commented on the news that came hourly from the sickroom: "Mother will
not live the week." A few days after, "Mother will hardly get over
Sunday"; and the following week, "Mother will not pass the night."
Lunch was the meal that shocked me most, and I often thought, "She is
dying upstairs while we are eating jam tarts."
One day I had to ride over the downs for some letters, and when, on my
return, I walked in from the stables, I met her son. He was in tears,
and sobbing he said: "My dear old chap, it is all over; she is gone."
I took his hand and burst into tears. Then one of her daughters came
downstairs and I was told how she had passed away. A few hours before
she died she had asked for a silk thread; for thirty years, before
sleeping, she always passed one between her beautiful teeth. Her poor
arms were shrunken to the very bone and were not larger than a little
child's. Haggard and over-worn, she was lifted up, and the silk was
given to her and the glass was held before her; but her eyes were
glazed with death, and she fell back exhausted. Then her breathing
grew thicker, and at last and quite suddenly, she realised that she
was about to die; and looking round wildly, not seeing those who were
collected about her bed, she said, "Oh, to die when so much remains
undone! How will they get on without me!"
I helped to write the letters, so melancholy, so conventional, and
expressing so little of our grief, and the while the girls sat weaving
wreaths for the dead, and at every hour wreaths and letters of
sympathy arrived. The girls went upstairs where the dead lay, and when
they returned they told me how beautiful their mother looked. And
during those dreadful days, how many times did I refuse to look on her
dead! My memory of her was an intensely living thing, and I could not
be persuaded to sacrifice it. We thought the day would never come, but
it came. There was a copious lunch, cigars were smoked, the crops, the
price of lambs, and the hunting, which the frost had much interfered
with, were alluded to furtively, and the conversation was interspersed
with references to the excellent qualities of the deceased. I remember
the weather was beautiful, full of pure sunlight, with the colour of
the coming spring in the face of the heavens. And the funeral
procession wound along the barren sea road, the lily-covered coffin on
a trolley drawn by the estate labourers. That day every slightest line
and every colour of that bitter, barren coast impressed themselves on
my mind, and I saw more distinctly than I had ever done before the old
church with red-brown roofs and square dogmatic tower, the forlorn
village, the grey undulations of the dreary hills, whose ring of trees
showed aloft like a plume. In the church the faces of the girls were
discomposed with grief, and they wept hysterically in each other's
arms. The querulous voice of the organ, the hideous hymn, and the
grating voice of the aged parson standing in white surplice on the
altar-steps! Dear heart! I saw thee in thy garden while others looked
unto that sunless hole, while old men, white-haired and tottering,
impelled by senile curiosity, pressed forward and looked down into
that comfortless hole.
The crowd quickly dispersed; the relatives and the friends of the
deceased, as they returned home, sought those who were most agreeable
and sympathetic, and matters of private interest were discussed. Those
who had come from a distance consulted their watches, and an apology
to life was implicit in their looks, and the time they had surrendered
to something outside of life evidently struck them as being strangely
disproportionate. The sunlight laughed along the sea, and the young
corn was thick in the fields; leaves were beginning in the branches,
larks rose higher and higher, disappearing in the pale air, and, as we
approached the plantations, the amorous cawing of the rooks sounded
pleasantly in the ear. The appearance of death in the springtime, at
the moment when the world renews its life, touched my soul with that
anguish which the familiar spectacle has always and will never fail to
cause as long as a human heart beats beneath the heavens. And,
dropping behind the chattering crowd that in mourning-weed wended its
way through the sad spring landscape, I thought of her whom I had
loved so long and should never see again. I thought of memory as a
shrine where we can worship without shame, of friendship, and of the
pure escapement it offers us from our natural instincts; I remembered
that there is love other than that which the young man offers to her
he would take to wife, and I knew how much more intense and strangely
personal was my love of her than the love which that day I saw the
world offering to its creatures.
BRING IN THE LAMP
For many days there has not been a wind in the trees, and the
landscape reminds me of a somnambulist--the same silence, the same
mystery, the same awe. The thick foliage of the ash never stirs; even
the fingery leaves hanging out from the topmost twigs are still. The
hawthorns growing out of a tumbled wall are turning yellow and brown,
the hollyhocks are over, the chrysanthemums are beginning. Last night
a faint pink sky melted into the solemn blue of midnight. There were
few stars; Jupiter, wearisomely brilliant, sailed overhead; red Mars
hung above the horizon under a round, decorative moon.... The last
days of September! and every day the light dies a few minutes earlier.
At half-past five one perceives a chilliness about one's feet; no
doubt there is a touch of frost in the air; that is why the leaves
hang so plaintively. There is certainly a touch of frost in the air,
and one is tempted to put a match to the fire. It is difficult to say
whether one feels cold or whether one desires the company of the
blaze. Tea is over, the dusk gathers, and the brute Despondency lurks
in the corners. At the close of day, when one's work is over,
benumbing thoughts arise in the study and in the studio. Think of a
painter of architecture finishing the thirty-sixth pillar (there are
forty-three). The dusk has interrupted his labour, and an ache begins
in his heart as he rises from the easel. Be his talent great or
little, he must ask himself who will care should he leave the last
seven pillars unfinished? Think of the writer of stories! Two, three,
or four more stories are required to make up a requisite number of
pages. The dusk has interrupted his labour, and he rises from his
writing-table asking who will care whether the last stories are
written or left unwritten? If he write them his ideas will flicker
green for a brief springtime, they will enjoy a little summer; when
his garden is fading in the autumn his leaves will be well-nigh
forgotten; winter will overtake them sooner than it overtakes his
garden, perhaps. The flowers he deemed immortal are more mortal than
the rose. "Why," he asks, "should any one be interested in my stories
any more than in the thousand and one stories published this year?
Mine are among the number of trivial things that compose the tedium
which we call life." His thoughts will flit back over the past, and
his own life will seem hardly more real than the day's work on the
easel if he be a painter, on the secretaire if he be a writer. He will
seem to himself like a horse going round and round a well. But the
horse is pumping water--water is necessary; but art, even if his work
is good enough to be called art, is not, so far as he knows, necessary
to any one. Whosoever he may be, proof is not wanting that the world
can do well without his work. But however sure he may feel that that
is so, and in the hours I describe it seems sure indeed, he will have
to continue his labour. Man was born to labour, as the oldest texts
say; he must continue to drive his furrow to the end of the field,
otherwise he would lie down and die of sheer boredom, or go mad. He
asks himself why he became a maker of idols. "An idol-maker, an
idol-maker," he cries, "who can find no worshippers for his wares!
Better the sailor before the mast or the soldier in the field." His
thoughts break away, and he begins to dream of a life of action. It
would be a fine thing, he thinks, to start away in a ship for South
America, where there are forests and mountain ranges almost unknown.
He has read of the wild shepherds of the Pampas. So inured are they to
horseback that they cannot walk a mile without resting; and sitting by
the fire at the end of the autumn day, he can see them galloping
through the long grass of the Pampas, whirling three balls attached by
leather thongs. The weapon is called the bolus, and flying through the
air it encircles the legs of the guana, bringing it to the earth. But
if he went to America, would he find content in a hunter's life? Can
the artist put by his dreams and find content in the hunter's life?
His dreams would follow him, and sitting by the camp-fire in the
evening he would begin to think how he might paint the shadows or tell
of the uncouth life of those who sat around him eating of jerked meat.
No, there is nothing for him but to follow the furrow; he will have to
write stories till his brain fades or death intervenes. And what story
shall he write to complete his book, since it must be completed, it
forming part of the procession of things? The best part of
story-writing is the seeking for the subject. Now there is a sound of
church bells in the still air, beautiful sounds of peace and long
tradition, and he likes to listen, thinking of the hymns and the
homely sermons of the good minister. Shall he get up and go? Perhaps
the service would soothe his despondency; but there is not courage
enough in his heart. He can do no more than strike a match; the fire
lights up. It is one of those autumn afternoons with just that touch
of frost in the air which makes a fire welcome, and as he crouches in
his arm-chair the warmth soothes the spirit and flesh, and in the doze
of the flesh the spirit awakes. What--is the story coming now? Yes; it
is forming independently of his will, and he says, "Let it take
shape." And the scene that rises up in his mind is a ball-room; he
sees women all arow, delicate necks and arms of young girls, and young
men in black collected about the doorways. Some couples are moving to
the rhythm of a languorous waltz, a French imitation of Strauss, a
waltz never played now, forgotten perhaps by everybody but him--a
waltz he heard twenty long years ago. That waltz has lain ever since
forgotten in his brain, but now he hears it all; never before was he
able to remember that _coda_, and it comes with a scent of
violets in it--the perfume of a little blond woman who dreams as she
dances with the young man blond as herself. Let it be that the choice
was made by her rather than by him, and let her wear _crepe de
chime_, with perhaps a touch of white somewhere, and a white frill
about her neck. Let her be a widow whose husband died six months after
marriage, six months ago. Let her have come from some distant part of
the world, from America--Baltimore will do as well as any other,
perhaps better, for the dreamer by the fire has no faintest notion
whether Baltimore lies in the middle of a plain or surrounded by
mountains, whether it be built of marble or brick or stone. Let her
come from Baltimore, from some prettily named street--Cathedral
Street--there must be a Cathedral Street in Baltimore. The sound of
the church bells in the air no doubt led the dreamer to choose
Cathedral Street for her to live in.... The dance would have to be an
informal one, some little dance that she might come to though her
husband was dead only six months. Coming from America, she would be
dancing the sliding Boston step, and the two together would pass
between the different groups sliding forward and back, avoiding the
dancer here, and reappearing from behind a group of French men and
women bumping up and down, hammering the floor, the men holding the
women as if they were guitars. An American widow dances, her hand upon
her partner's shoulder, fitting herself into him, finding a nook
between his arm and side, and her head is leaned upon his shoulder.
She follows his every step; when he reverses there is never a hitch or
jolt; they are always going to the same rhythm. How delicious are
these moments of sex and rhythm, and how intense if the woman should
take a little handkerchief edged with black and thrust it into her
dancer's cuff with some little murmur implying that she wishes him to
keep it. To whomsoever these things happen life becomes a song. A
little event of this kind lifts one out of the humdrum of material
existence. I suppose the cause of our extraordinary happiness is that
one is again, as it were, marching in step; one has dropped into the
Great Procession and is actively doing the great Work. There is no
denying it, that in these moments of sex one does feel more conscious
than at any other time of rhythm, and, after all, rhythm is joy. It is
rhythm that makes music, that makes poetry, that makes pictures; what
we are all after is rhythm, and the whole of the young man's life is
going to a tune as he walks home, to the same tune as the stars are
going over his head. All things are singing together. And he sings as
he passes the _concierge's_ lodge, pitying the poor couple
asleep--what do they know of love? Humble beasts unable to experience
the joy of rhythm. Exalted he goes upstairs; he is on rhythm bent,
words follow ideas, rhymes follow words, and he sits down at his
writing-table and drawing forth a sheet of paper he writes. A song
moves within him, a fragrant song of blond hair and perfume--the
handkerchief inspires him, and he must get the rondel perfect: a
rondel, or something like a rondel, which he will read to her
tomorrow, for she has appointed to meet him--where? No better place
for lovers than the garden of L'Eglise de la Trinite. His night passes
in shallow sleep; but his wakings are delicious, for at every awaking
he perceives a faint odour of violets. He dreams of blond hair and how
carefully he will dress himself in the morning! Would she like him
better in his yellow or his grey trousers? Or should he wear a violet
or a grey necktie? These are the questions that are important; and
what more important questions are there for a young man of twenty-five
going to meet a delicious little Dresden figure with blond hair and
forget-me-not eyes in the garden of L'Eglise de la Trinite? He knows
she will come, only he hopes not to be kept too long waiting, and at
ten o'clock he is there for sure, walking up and down watching the
nursemaids and the perambulators drawn up in the shade. On another
occasion he might have looked at the nursemaids, but this day the
prettiest is plain-featured; they are but the ordinary bread of
existence; to-day he is going to partake of more extraordinary fare.
He hopes so, at least, and the twenty years that have gone by have
done nothing to obliterate the moment when he saw her walk across the
gravelled space, a dainty little woman with blond hair, dressed in
black, coming to her appointment. The dreamer sees her and her lover
going together out of the garden. He follows them down the street,
hearing them talking, trying to decide where they shall go to
breakfast. To take her to a Parisian restaurant would be a common
pleasure. He is bent on taking her to the country. Both want to sit on
the warm grass and kiss each other peradventure. All souls dream of
the country when they are in love; and she would hear him tell her
that he loves her under the shade of trees. She is Chloe, and he is
whomsoever was Chloe's lover. Whither are they going? Are they going
to Bougeval? Many things may be said in its favour, but he has been
there; and he has been to Meudon; he would go with her to some place
where he has never been before, and where perchance he will never be
again. Vincennes? The name is a pretty one, and it lures him. And they
go there, arriving about eleven o'clock, a little early for breakfast.
The sun is shining, the sky is blue, white clouds are unfolding--like
gay pennants they seem to him. He is glad the sun is shining--all is
omen, all is oracle, the clouds are the love pennants of the sky. What
a chatter of thoughts and images are going on in his brain, perchance
in hers, too! Moreover, there is her poem in his pocket--he must read
it to her, and that she may hear it they sit upon the grass. Twenty
years ago there was some rough grass facing the villas, and some trees
and bushes, with here and there a bench for lovers to sit upon--for
all kinds of people to sit upon, but lovers think that this world is
made only for lovers. Only love is of serious account, and the object
of all music and poetry, of pictures and sculpture, is to incite love,
to praise love, to make love seem the only serious occupation.
Vincennes, its trees and its white clouds lifting themselves in the
blue sky, were regarded that day by these lovers as a very suitable
setting for their gallantries. The dear little woman sits--the dreamer
can see her on the warm grass--hidden as well as she can hide herself
behind some bushes, the black crepe dress hiding her feet or
pretending to hide them. White stockings were the fashion; she wears
white stockings, and how pretty and charming they look in the little
black shoes! The younger generation now only knows black stockings;
the charms of white are only known to the middle-aged. But the young
man must read her his poem. He wants her to hear it because the poem
pleases him, and because he feels that his poem will aid him to her
affections. And when she asks him if he has thought of her during the
night, he has to answer that her violet-scented handkerchief awoke him
many times, that the wakings were delicious. What time did he go to
bed? Very late; he had sat up writing a poem to her telling of the
beauty of her blond hair.
"Lady, unwreath thy hair,
That is so long and fair.
May flowers are not more sweet
Than the shower of loosened hair
That will fall around my feet.
Lady, unwreath thy hair,
That is so long and fair.
"The golden curls they paint,
Round the forehead of a saint,
Ne'er glittered half so bright
As thy enchanted hair,
Full of shadow, full of light.
Lady, unwreath thy hair,
That is so long and fair.
"Lady, unwreath thy hair,
That is so long and fair,
And weave a web of gold
Of thy enchanted hair,
Till all be in its hold.
Lady, unwreath thy hair,
That is so long and fair."
"Do let me see your poem.... It is charming. But what do you mean by
'enchanted hair'? Is it that my hair has enchanted you? 'And weave a
web of gold.'... 'Unwreath'--do you mean unloose my hair?"
"Dames, tressez vos cheveux blonds
Qui sont si lourds et si longs.
"How well it goes with French!"
"I don't understand French, but I like your poem in English. Do you
know, I like it very much!"
It is easy to obtain appreciation for poetry in such circumstances.
Horace's best ode would not please a young woman as much as the
mediocre verses of the young man she is in love with. It is well that
it should be so, and this is the dreamer's criticism of life as he
sits lost in shadow, lit up here and there by the blaze. He remembers
the warmth of the grass and the scanty bushes; there was hardly
sufficient cover that spring day for lovers in Vincennes, and he tries
to remember if he put his hand on her white ankle while she was
reading the poem. So far as he can remember he did, and she checked
him and was rather cross, declaring just like the puss-cat that he
must not do such things, that she would not have come out with him had
she thought he was going to misbehave himself in that way. But she is
not really angry with him. How can she be? Was it not he who wrote
that her hair was enchanted? And what concern is it of hers that the
phrase was borrowed from another poet? Her concern is that he should
think her hair enchanted, and her hands go up to it. The young man
prays to unloose it, to let it fall about her shoulders. He must be
paid for his poem, and the only payment he will accept is to see her
"But I cannot undo my hair on the common. Is there no other payment?"
and she leans a little forward, her eyes fixed upon him. The dreamer
can see her eyes, clear young eyes, but he cannot remember her mouth,
how full the lips were or how thin; ah, but he remembers kissing her!
On such a day a young man kisses his young woman, and it may be
doubted if the young woman would ever go out with him again if he
refrained, the circumstances being as I describe. But the lovers of
Vincennes have to be careful. The lady with the enchanted hair has
just spied a middle-aged gentleman with his two sons sitting on a
bench at a little distance.
"Do be quiet, I beg of you. I assure you, he saw us."
"If he did it would matter little; he would remember his young days,
before his children were born. Moreover, he looks kindly disposed."
Later on the lovers address themselves to him, for time wears away
even with lovers, and the desire of breakfast has come upon them both.
The kindly disposed gentleman tells them the way to the restaurant. He
Back to Full Books