The Red Lily, complete
Part 1 out of 5
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
THE RED LILY
By ANATOLE FRANCE
The real name of the subject of this preface is Jacques-Anatole Thibault.
He was born in Paris, April 16, 1844, the son of a bookseller of the Quai
Malaquais, in the shadow of the Institute. He was educated at the
College Stanislas and published in 1868 an essay upon Alfred de Vigny.
This was followed by two volumes of poetry: 'Les Poemes Dores' (1873),
and 'Les Noces Corinthiennes' (1876). With the last mentioned book his
reputation became established.
Anatole France belongs to the class of poets known as "Les Parnassiens."
Yet a book like 'Les Noces Corinthiennes' ought to be classified among a
group of earlier lyrics, inasmuch as it shows to a large degree the
influence of Andre Chenier and Alfred de Vigny. France was, and is,
also a diligent contributor to many journals and reviews, among others,
'Le Globe, Les Debats, Le Journal Officiel, L'Echo de Paris, La Revue de
Famille, and Le Temps'. On the last mentioned journal he succeeded Jules
Claretie. He is likewise Librarian to the Senate, and has been a member
of the French Academy since 1896.
The above mentioned two volumes of poetry were followed by many works in
prose, which we shall notice. France's critical writings are collected
in four volumes, under the title, 'La Vie Litteraire' (1888-1892); his
political articles in 'Opinions Sociales' (2 vols., 1902). He combines
in his style traces of Racine, Voltaire, Flaubert, and Renan, and,
indeed, some of his novels, especially 'Thais' (1890), 'Jerome Coignard'
(1893), and Lys Rouge (1894), which was crowned by the Academy, are
romances of the first rank.
Criticism appears to Anatole France the most recent and possibly the
ultimate evolution of literary expression, "admirably suited to a highly
civilized society, rich in souvenirs and old traditions . . . . It
proceeds," in his opinion, "from philosophy and history, and demands for
its development an absolute intellectual liberty . . . . . It is the
last in date of all literary forms, and it will end by absorbing them all
. . . . To be perfectly frank the critic should say: 'Gentlemen, I
propose to enlarge upon my own thoughts concerning Shakespeare, Racine,
Pascal, Goethe, or any other writer.'"
It is hardly necessary to say much concerning a critic with such
pronounced ideas as Anatole France. He gives us, indeed, the full flower
of critical Renanism, but so individualized as to become perfection in
grace, the extreme flowering of the Latin genius. It is not too much to
say that the critical writings of Anatole France recall the Causeries du
Lundi, the golden age of Sainte-Beuve!
As a writer of fiction, Anatole France made his debut in 1879 with
'Jocaste', and 'Le Chat Maigre'. Success in this field was yet decidedly
doubtful when 'Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard' appeared in 1881. It at
once established his reputation; 'Sylvestre Bonnard', as 'Le Lys Rouge'
later, was crowned by the French Academy. These novels are replete with
fine irony, benevolent scepticism and piquant turns, and will survive the
greater part of romances now read in France. The list of Anatole
France's works in fiction is a large one. The titles of nearly all of
them, arranged in chronological order, are as follows: 'Les Desirs de
Jean Seyvien (1882); Abeille (1883); Le Livre de mon Ami (1885); Nos
Enfants (1886); Balthazar (1889); Thais (1890); L'Etui de Naire (1892);
Jerome Coignard, and La Rotisserie de la Reine Pedanque (1893); and
Histoire Contemporaine (1897-1900), the latter consisting of four
separate works: 'L'Orme du Mail, Le Mannequin d'Osier, L'Anneau
d'Amethyste, and Monsieur Bergeret a Paris'. All of his writings show
his delicately critical analysis of passion, at first playfully tender in
its irony, but later, under the influence of his critical antagonism to
Brunetiere, growing keener, stronger, and more bitter. In 'Thais' he has
undertaken to show the bond of sympathy that unites the pessimistic
sceptic to the Christian ascetic, since both despise the world. In 'Lys
Rouge', his greatest novel, he traces the perilously narrow line that
separates love from hate; in 'Opinions de M. l'Abbe Jerome Coignard' he
has given us the most radical breviary of scepticism that has appeared
since Montaigne. 'Le Livre de mon Ami' is mostly autobiographical;
'Clio' (1900) contains historical sketches.
To represent Anatole France as one of the undying names in literature
would hardly be extravagant. Not that I would endow Ariel with the
stature and sinews of a Titan; this were to miss his distinctive
qualities: delicacy, elegance, charm. He belongs to a category of
writers who are more read and probably will ever exercise greater
influence than some of greater name. The latter show us life as a whole;
but life as a whole is too vast and too remote to excite in most of us
more than a somewhat languid curiosity. France confines himself to
themes of the keenest personal interest, the life of the world we live
in. It is herein that he excels! His knowledge is wide, his sympathies
are many-sided, his power of exposition is unsurpassed. No one has set
before us the mind of our time, with its half-lights, its shadowy vistas,
its indefiniteness, its haze on the horizon, so vividly as he.
In Octave Mirbeau's notorious novel, a novel which it would be
complimentary to describe as naturalistic, the heroine is warned by her
director against the works of Anatole France, "Ne lisez jamais du
Voltaire. . . C'est un peche mortel . . . ni de Renan . . . ni
de l'Anatole France. Voila qui est dangereux." The names are
appropriately united; a real, if not precisely an apostolic, succession
exists between the three writers.
de l'Academie Francais
"I NEED LOVE"
She gave a glance at the armchairs placed before the chimney, at the tea-
table, which shone in the shade, and at the tall, pale stems of flowers
ascending above Chinese vases. She thrust her hand among the flowery
branches of the guelder roses to make their silvery balls quiver. Then
she looked at herself in a mirror with serious attention. She held
herself sidewise, her neck turned over her shoulder, to follow with her
eyes the spring of her fine form in its sheath-like black satin gown,
around which floated a light tunic studded with pearls wherein sombre
lights scintillated. She went nearer, curious to know her face of that
day. The mirror returned her look with tranquillity, as if this amiable
woman whom she examined, and who was not unpleasing to her, lived without
either acute joy or profound sadness.
On the walls of the large drawing-room, empty and silent, the figures of
the tapestries, vague as shadows, showed pallid among their antique games
and dying graces. Like them, the terra-cotta statuettes on slender
columns, the groups of old Saxony, and the paintings of Sevres, spoke of
past glories. On a pedestal ornamented with precious bronzes, the marble
bust of some princess royal disguised as Diana appeared about to fly out
of her turbulent drapery, while on the ceiling a figure of Night,
powdered like a marquise and surrounded by cupids, sowed flowers.
Everything was asleep, and only the crackling of the logs and the light
rattle of Therese's pearls could be heard.
Turning from the mirror, she lifted the corner of a curtain and saw
through the window, beyond the dark trees of the quay, the Seine
spreading its yellow reflections. Weariness of the sky and of the water
was reflected in her fine gray eyes. The boat passed, the 'Hirondelle',
emerging from an arch of the Alma Bridge, and carrying humble travellers
toward Grenelle and Billancourt. She followed it with her eyes, then let
the curtain fall, and, seating herself under the flowers, took a book
from the table. On the straw-colored linen cover shone the title in
gold: 'Yseult la Blonde', by Vivian Bell. It was a collection of French
verses composed by an Englishwoman, and printed in London. She read
indifferently, waiting for visitors, and thinking less of the poetry than
of the poetess, Miss Bell, who was perhaps her most agreeable friend, and
whom she almost never saw; who, at every one of their meetings, which
were so rare, kissed her, calling her "darling," and babbled; who, plain
yet seductive, almost ridiculous, yet wholly exquisite, lived at Fiesole
like a philosopher, while England celebrated her as her most beloved
poet. Like Vernon Lee and like Mary Robinson, she had fallen in love
with the life and art of Tuscany; and, without even finishing her
Tristan, the first part of which had inspired in Burne-Jones dreamy
aquarelles, she wrote Provencal verses and French poems expressing
Italian ideas. She had sent her 'Yseult la Blonde' to "Darling," with a
letter inviting her to spend a month with her at Fiesole. She had
written: "Come; you will see the most beautiful things in the world, and
you will embellish them."
And "darling" was saying to herself that she would not go, that she must
remain in Paris. But the idea of seeing Miss Bell in Italy was not
indifferent to her. And turning the leaves of the book, she stopped by
chance at this line:
Love and gentle heart are one.
And she asked herself, with gentle irony, whether Miss Bell had ever been
in love, and what manner of man could be the ideal of Miss Bell. The
poetess had at Fiesole an escort, Prince Albertinelli. He was very
handsome, but rather coarse and vulgar; too much so to please an aesthete
who blended with the desire for love the mysticism of an Annunciation.
"Good-evening, Therese. I am positively worn out."
The Princess Seniavine had entered, supple in her furs, which almost
seemed to form a part of her dark beauty. She seated herself brusquely,
and, in a voice at once harsh yet caressing, said:
"This morning I walked through the park with General Lariviere. I met
him in an alley and made him go with me to the bridge, where he wished to
buy from the guardian a learned magpie which performs the manual of arms
with a gun. Oh! I am so tired!"
"But why did you drag the General to the bridge?"
"Because he had gout in his toe."
Therese shrugged her shoulders, smiling:
"You squander your wickedness. You spoil things."
"And you wish me, dear, to save my kindness and my wickedness for a
Therese made her drink some Tokay.
Preceded by the sound of his powerful breathing, General Lariviere
approached with heavy state and sat between the two women, looking
stubborn and self-satisfied, laughing in every wrinkle of his face.
"How is Monsieur Martin-Belleme? Always busy?"
Therese thought he was at the Chamber, and even that he was making a
Princess Seniavine, who was eating caviare sandwiches, asked Madame
Martin why she had not gone to Madame Meillan's the day before. They had
played a comedy there.
"A Scandinavian play? Was it a success?"
"Yes--I don't know. I was in the little green room, under the portrait
of the Duc d'Orleans. Monsieur Le Menil came to me and did me one of
those good turns that one never forgets. He saved me from Monsieur
The General, who knew the Annual Register, and stored away all useful
information, pricked up his ears.
"Garain," he asked, "the minister who was in the Cabinet when the princes
"Himself. I was excessively agreeable to him. He talked to me of the
yearnings of his heart and he looked at me with alarming tenderness.
And from time to time he gazed, with sighs, at the portrait of the Duc
d'Orleans. I said to him: 'Monsieur Garain, you are making a mistake.
It is my sister-in-law who is an Orleanist. I am not.' At this moment
Monsieur Le Menil came to escort me to the buffet. He paid great
compliments--to my horses! He said, also, there was nothing so beautiful
as the forest in winter. He talked about wolves. That refreshed me."
The General, who did not like young men, said he had met Le Menil the day
before in the forest, galloping, with vast space between himself and his
He declared that old cavaliers alone retained the traditions of good
horsemanship; that people in society now rode like jockeys.
"It is the same with fencing," he added. "Formerly--"
Princess Seniavine interrupted him:
"General, look and see how charming Madame Martin is. She is always
charming, but at this moment she is prettier than ever. It is because
she is bored. Nothing becomes her better than to be bored. Since we
have been here, we have bored her terribly. Look at her: her forehead
clouded, her glance vague, her mouth dolorous. Behold a victim!"
She arose, kissed Therese tumultuously, and fled, leaving the General
Madame Martin-Belleme prayed him not to listen to what the Princess had
He collected himself and asked:
"And how are your poets, Madame?"
It was difficult for him to forgive Madame Martin her preference for
people who lived by writing and were not of his circle.
"Yes, your poets. What has become of that Monsieur Choulette, who visits
you wrapped in a red muffler?"
"My poets? They forget me, they abandon me. One should not rely on
anybody. Men and women--nothing is sure. Life is a continual betrayal.
Only that poor Miss Bell does not forget me. She has written to me from
Florence and sent her book."
"Miss Bell? Isn't she that young person who looks, with her yellow
waving hair, like a little lapdog?"
He reflected, and expressed the opinion that she must be at least thirty.
An old lady, wearing with modest dignity her crown of white hair, and a
little vivacious man with shrewd eyes, came in suddenly--Madame Marmet
and M. Paul Vence. Then, carrying himself very stiffly, with a square
monocle in his eye, appeared M. Daniel Salomon, the arbiter of elegance.
The General hurried out.
They talked of the novel of the week. Madame Marmet had dined often with
the author, a young and very amiable man. Paul Vence thought the book
"Oh," sighed Madame Martin, "all books are tiresome. But men are more
tiresome than books, and they are more exacting."
Madame Marmet said that her husband, who had much literary taste, had
retained, until the end of his days, a horror of naturalism. She was the
widow of a member of the 'Academie des Inscriptions', and plumed herself
upon her illustrious widowhood. She was sweet and modest in her black
gown and her beautiful white hair.
Madame Martin said to M. Daniel Salomon that she wished to consult him
particularly on the picture of a group of beautiful children.
"You will tell me if it pleases you. You may also give me your opinion,
Monsieur Vence, unless you disdain such trifles."
M. Daniel Salomon looked at Paul Vence through his monocle with disdain.
Paul Vence surveyed the drawing-room.
"You have beautiful things, Madame. That would be nothing. But you have
only beautiful things, and all serve to set off your own beauty."
She did not conceal her pleasure at hearing him speak in that way. She
regarded Paul Vence as the only really intelligent man she knew. She had
appreciated him before his books had made him celebrated. His ill-
health, his dark humor, his assiduous labor, separated him from society.
The little bilious man was not very pleasing; yet he attracted her. She
held in high esteem his profound irony, his great pride, his talent
ripened in solitude, and she admired him, with reason, as an excellent
writer, the author of powerful essays on art and on life.
Little by little the room filled with a brilliant crowd. Within the
large circle of armchairs were Madame de Wesson, about whom people told
frightful stories, and who kept, after twenty years of half-smothered
scandal, the eyes of a child and cheeks of virginal smoothness; old
Madame de Morlaine, who shouted her witty phrases in piercing cries;
Madame Raymond, the wife of the Academician; Madame Garain, the wife of
the exminister; three other ladies; and, standing easily against the
mantelpiece, M. Berthier d'Eyzelles, editor of the 'Journal des Debats',
a deputy who caressed his white beard while Madame de Morlaine shouted at
"Your article on bimetallism is a pearl, a jewel! Especially the end of
Standing in the rear of the room, young clubmen, very grave, lisped among
"What did he do to get the button from the Prince?"
"He, nothing. His wife, everything."
They had their own cynical philosophy. One of them had no faith in
promises of men.
"They are types that do not suit me. They wear their hearts on their
hands and on their mouths. You present yourself for admission to a club.
They say, 'I promise to give you a white ball. It will be an alabaster
ball--a snowball! They vote. It's a black ball. Life seems a vile
affair when I think of it."
"Then don't think of it."
Daniel Salomon, who had joined them, whispered in their ears spicy
stories in a lowered voice. And at every strange revelation concerning
Madame Raymond, or Madame Berthier, or Princess Seniavine, he added,
"Everybody knows it."
Then, little by little, the crowd of visitors dispersed. Only Madame
Marmet and Paul Vence remained.
The latter went toward Madame Martin, and asked:
"When do you wish me to introduce Dechartre to you?"
It was the second time he had asked this of her. She did not like to see
new faces. She replied, unconcernedly:
"Your sculptor? When you wish. I saw at the Champ de Mars medallions
made by him which are very good. But he does not work much. He is an
amateur, is he not?"
"He is a delicate artist. He does not need to work in order to live.
He caresses his figures with loving slowness. But do not be deceived
about him, Madame. He knows and he feels. He would be a master if he
did not live alone. I have known him since his childhood. People think
that he is solitary and morose. He is passionate and timid. What he
lacks, what he will lack always to reach the highest point of his art,
is simplicity of mind. He is restless, and he spoils his most beautiful
impressions. In my opinion he was created less for sculpture than for
poetry or philosophy. He knows a great deal, and you will be astonished
at the wealth of his mind."
Madame Marmet approved.
She pleased society by appearing to find pleasure in it. She listened a
great deal and talked little. Very affable, she gave value to her
affability by not squandering it. Either because she liked Madame
Martin, or because she knew how to give discreet marks of preference in
every house she went, she warmed herself contentedly, like a relative, in
a corner of the Louis XVI chimney, which suited her beauty. She lacked
only her dog.
"How is Toby?" asked Madame Martin. "Monsieur Vence, do you know Toby?
He has long silky hair and a lovely little black nose."
Madame Marmet was relishing the praise of Toby, when an old man, pink and
blond, with curly hair, short-sighted, almost blind under his golden
spectacles, rather short, striking against the furniture, bowing to empty
armchairs, blundering into the mirrors, pushed his crooked nose before
Madame Marmet, who looked at him indignantly.
It was M. Schmoll, member of the Academie des Inscriptions. He smiled
and turned a madrigal for the Countess Martin with that hereditary harsh,
coarse voice with which the Jews, his fathers, pressed their creditors,
the peasants of Alsace, of Poland, and of the Crimea. He dragged his
phrases heavily. This great philologist knew all languages except
French. And Madame Martin enjoyed his affable phrases, heavy and rusty
like the iron-work of brica-brac shops, among which fell dried leaves of
anthology. M. Schmoll liked poets and women, and had wit.
Madame Marmet feigned not to know him, and went out without returning his
When he had exhausted his pretty madrigals, M. Schmoll became sombre and
pitiful. He complained piteously. He was not decorated enough, not
provided with sinecures enough, nor well fed enough by the State--he,
Madame Schmoll, and their five daughters. His lamentations had some
grandeur. Something of the soul of Ezekiel and of Jeremiah was in them.
Unfortunately, turning his golden-spectacled eyes toward the table, he
discovered Vivian Bell's book.
"Oh, 'Yseult La Blonde'," he exclaimed, bitterly. "You are reading that
book, Madame? Well, learn that Mademoiselle Vivian Bell has stolen an
inscription from me, and that she has altered it, moreover, by putting it
into verse. You will find it on page 109 of her book: 'A shade may weep
over a shade.' You hear, Madame? 'A shade may weep over a shade.' Well,
those words are translated literally from a funeral inscription which I
was the first to publish and to illustrate. Last year, one day, when I
was dining at your house, being placed by the side of Mademoiselle Bell,
I quoted this phrase to her, and it pleased her a great deal. At her
request, the next day I translated into French the entire inscription and
sent it to her. And now I find it changed in this volume of verses under
this title: 'On the Sacred Way'--the sacred way, that is I."
And he repeated, in his bad humor:
"I, Madame, am the sacred way."
He was annoyed that the poet had not spoken to him about this
inscription. He would have liked to see his name at the top of the poem,
in the verses, in the rhymes. He wished to see his name everywhere, and
always looked for it in the journals with which his pockets were stuffed.
But he had no rancor. He was not really angry with Miss Bell. He
admitted gracefully that she was a distinguished person, and a poet that
did great honor to England.
When he had gone, the Countess Martin asked ingenuously of Paul Vence if
he knew why that good Madame Marmet had looked at M. Schmoll with such
marked though silent anger. He was surprised that she did not know.
"I never know anything," she said.
"But the quarrel between Schmoll and Marmet is famous. It ceased only at
the death of Marmet.
"The day that poor Marmet was buried, snow was falling. We were wet and
frozen to the bones. At the grave, in the wind, in the mud, Schmoll read
under his umbrella a speech full of jovial cruelty and triumphant pity,
which he took afterward to the newspapers in a mourning carriage. An
indiscreet friend let Madame Marmet hear of it, and she fainted. Is it
possible, Madame, that you have not heard of this learned and ferocious
"The Etruscan language was the cause of it. Marmet made it his unique
study. He was surnamed Marmet the Etruscan. Neither he nor any one else
knew a word of that language, the last vestige of which is lost. Schmoll
said continually to Marmet: 'You do not know Etruscan, my dear colleague;
that is the reason why you are an honorable savant and a fair-minded
man.' Piqued by his ironic praise, Marmet thought of learning a little
Etruscan. He read to his colleague a memoir on the part played by
flexions in the idiom of the ancient Tuscans."
Madame Martin asked what a flexion was.
"Oh, Madame, if I explain anything to you, it will mix up everything.
Be content with knowing that in that memoir poor Marmet quoted Latin
texts and quoted them wrong. Schmoll is a Latinist of great learning,
and, after Mommsen, the chief epigraphist of the world.
"He reproached his young colleague--Marmet was not fifty years old--with
reading Etruscan too well and Latin not well enough. From that time
Marmet had no rest. At every meeting he was mocked unmercifully; and,
finally, in spite of his softness, he got angry. Schmoll is without
rancor. It is a virtue of his race. He does not bear ill-will to those
whom he persecutes. One day, as he went up the stairway of the Institute
with Renan and Oppert, he met Marmet, and extended his hand to him.
Marmet refused to take it, and said 'I do not know you.'--'Do you take me
for a Latin inscription?' Schmoll replied. Marmet died and was buried
because of that satire. Now you know the reason why his widow sees his
enemy with horror."
"And I have made them dine together, side by side."
"Madame, it was not immoral, but it was cruel."
"My dear sir, I shall shock you, perhaps; but if I had to choose, I
should like better to do an immoral thing than a cruel one."
A young man, tall, thin, dark, with a long moustache, entered, and bowed
with brusque suppleness.
"Monsieur Vence, I think that you know Monsieur Le Menil."
They had met before at Madame Martin's, and saw each other often at the
Fencing Club. The day before they had met at Madame Meillan's.
"Madame Meillan's--there's a house where one is bored," said Paul Vence.
"Yet Academicians go there," said M. Robert Le Menil. "I do not
exaggerate their value, but they are the elite."
Madame Martin smiled.
"We know, Monsieur Le Menil, that at Madame Meillan's you are preoccupied
by the women more than by the Academicians. You escorted Princess
Seniavine to the buffet and talked to her about wolves."
"Wolves, and forests blackened by winter. We thought that with so pretty
a woman your conversation was rather savage!"
Paul Vence rose.
"So you permit, Madame, that I should bring my friend Dechartre? He has
a great desire to know you, and I hope he will not displease you. There
is life in his mind. He is full of ideas."
"Oh, I do not ask for so much," Madame Martin said. "People that are
natural and show themselves as they are rarely bore me, and sometimes
they amuse me."
When Paul Vence had gone, Le Menil listened until the noise of footsteps
had vanished; then, coming nearer:
"To-morrow, at three o'clock? Do you still love me?"
He asked her to reply while they were alone. She answered that it was
late, that she expected no more visitors, and that no one except her
husband would come.
He entreated. Then she said:
"I shall be free to-morrow all day. Wait for me at three o'clock."
He thanked her with a look. Then, placing himself on at the other side
of the chimney, he asked who was that Dechartre whom she wished
introduced to her.
"I do not wish him to be introduced to me. He is to be introduced to me.
He is a sculptor."
He deplored the fact that she needed to see new faces, adding:
"A sculptor? They are usually brutal."
"Oh, but this one does so little sculpture! But if it annoys you that I
should meet him, I will not do so."
"I should be sorry if society took any part of the time you might give to
"My friend, you can not complain of that. I did not even go to Madame
"You are right to show yourself there as little as possible. It is not a
house for you."
He explained. All the women that went there had had some spicy adventure
which was known and talked about. Besides, Madame Meillan favored
intrigue. He gave examples. Madame Martin, however, her hands extended
on the arms of the chair in charming restfulness, her head inclined,
looked at the dying embers in the grate. Her thoughtful mood had flown.
Nothing of it remained on her face, a little saddened, nor in her languid
body, more desirable than ever in the quiescence of her mind. She kept
for a while a profound immobility, which added to her personal attraction
the charm of things that art had created.
He asked her of what she was thinking. Escaping the magic of the blaze
in the ashes, she said:
"We will go to-morrow, if you wish, to far distant places, to the odd
districts where the poor people live. I like the old streets where
He promised to satisfy her taste, although he let her know that he
thought it absurd. The walks that she led him sometimes bored him, and
he thought them dangerous. People might see them.
"And since we have been successful until now in not causing gossip--"
She shook her head.
"Do you think that people have not talked about us? Whether they know or
do not know, they talk. Not everything is known, but everything is
She relapsed into her dream. He thought her discontented, cross, for
some reason which she would not tell. He bent upon her beautiful, grave
eyes which reflected the light of the grate. But she reassured him.
"I do not know whether any one talks about me. And what do I care?
He left her. He was going to dine at the club, where a friend was
waiting for him. She followed him with her eyes, with peaceful sympathy.
Then she began again to read in the ashes.
She saw in them the days of her childhood; the castle wherein she had
passed the sweet, sad summers; the dark and humid park; the pond where
slept the green water; the marble nymphs under the chestnut-trees, and
the bench on which she had wept and desired death. To-day she still
ignored the cause of her youthful despair, when the ardent awakening of
her imagination threw her into a troubled maze of desires and of fears.
When she was a child, life frightened her. And now she knew that life is
not worth so much anxiety nor so much hope; that it is a very ordinary
thing. She should have known this. She thought:
"I saw mamma; she was good, very simple, and not very happy. I dreamed
of a destiny different from hers. Why? I felt around me the insipid
taste of life, and seemed to inhale the future like a salt and pungent
aroma. Why? What did I want, and what did I expect? Was I not warned
enough of the sadness of everything?"
She had been born rich, in the brilliancy of a fortune too new. She was
a daughter of that Montessuy, who, at first a clerk in a Parisian bank,
founded and governed two great establishments, brought to sustain them
the resources of a brilliant mind, invincible force of character, a rare
alliance of cleverness and honesty, and treated with the Government as if
he were a foreign power. She had grown up in the historical castle of
Joinville, bought, restored, and magnificently furnished by her father.
Montessuy made life give all it could yield. An instinctive and powerful
atheist, he wanted all the goods of this world and all the desirable
things that earth produces. He accumulated pictures by old masters, and
precious sculptures. At fifty he had known all the most beautiful women
of the stage, and many in society. He enjoyed everything worldly with
the brutality of his temperament and the shrewdness of his mind.
Poor Madame Montessuy, economical and careful, languished at Joinville,
delicate and poor, under the frowns of twelve gigantic caryatides which
held a ceiling on which Lebrun had painted the Titans struck by Jupiter.
There, in the iron cot, placed at the foot of the large bed, she died one
night of sadness and exhaustion, never having loved anything on earth
except her husband and her little drawing-room in the Rue Maubeuge.
She never had had any intimacy with her daughter, whom she felt
instinctively too different from herself, too free, too bold at heart;
and she divined in Therese, although she was sweet and good, the strong
Montessuy blood, the ardor which had made her suffer so much, and which
she forgave in her husband, but not in her daughter.
But Montessuy recognized his daughter and loved her. Like most hearty,
full-blooded men, he had hours of charming gayety. Although he lived out
of his house a great deal, he breakfasted with her almost every day, and
sometimes took her out walking. He understood gowns and furbelows. He
instructed and formed Therese. He amused her. Near her, his instinct
for conquest inspired him still. He desired to win always, and he won
his daughter. He separated her from her mother. Therese admired him,
she adored him.
In her dream she saw him as the unique joy of her childhood. She was
persuaded that no man in the world was as amiable as her father.
At her entrance in life, she despaired at once of finding elsewhere so
rich a nature, such a plenitude of active and thinking forces. This
discouragement had followed her in the choice of a husband, and perhaps
later in a secret and freer choice.
She had not really selected her husband. She did not know: she had
permitted herself to be married by her father, who, then a widower,
embarrassed by the care of a girl, had wished to do things quickly and
well. He considered the exterior advantages, estimated the eighty years
of imperial nobility which Count Martin brought. The idea never came to
him that she might wish to find love in marriage.
He flattered himself that she would find in it the satisfaction of the
luxurious desires which he attributed to her, the joy of making a display
of grandeur, the vulgar pride, the material domination, which were for
him all the value of life, as he had no ideas on the subject of the
happiness of a true woman, although he was sure that his daughter would
While thinking of his absurd yet natural faith in her, which accorded so
badly with his own experiences and ideas regarding women, she smiled with
melancholy irony. And she admired her father the more.
After all, she was not so badly married. Her husband was as good as any
other man. He had become quite bearable. Of all that she read in the
ashes, in the veiled softness of the lamps, of all her reminiscences,
that of their married life was the most vague. She found a few isolated
traits of it, some absurd images, a fleeting and fastidious impression.
The time had not seemed long and had left nothing behind. Six years had
passed, and she did not even remember how she had regained her liberty,
so prompt and easy had been her conquest of that husband, cold, sickly,
selfish, and polite; of that man dried up and yellowed by business and
politics, laborious, ambitious, and commonplace. He liked women only
through vanity, and he never had loved his wife. The separation had been
frank and complete. And since then, strangers to each other, they felt
a tacit, mutual gratitude for their freedom. She would have had some
affection for him if she had not found him hypocritical and too subtle in
the art of obtaining her signature when he needed money for enterprises
that were more for ostentation than real benefit. The man with whom she
dined and talked every day had no significance for her.
With her cheek in her hand, before the grate, as if she questioned a
sibyl, she saw again the face of the Marquis de Re. She saw it so
precisely that it surprised her. The Marquis de Re had been presented to
her by her father, who admired him, and he appeared to her grand and
dazzling for his thirty years of intimate triumphs and mundane glories.
His adventures followed him like a procession. He had captivated three
generations of women, and had left in the heart of all those whom he had
loved an imperishable memory. His virile grace, his quiet elegance, and
his habit of pleasing had prolonged his youth far beyond the ordinary
term of years. He noticed particularly the young Countess Martin. The
homage of this expert flattered her. She thought of him now with
pleasure. He had a marvellous art of conversation. He amused her. She
let him see it, and at once he promised to himself, in his heroic
frivolity, to finish worthily his happy life by the subjugation of this
young woman whom he appreciated above every one else, and who evidently
admired him. He displayed, to capture her, the most learned stratagems.
But she escaped him very easily.
She yielded, two years later, to Robert Le Menil, who had desired her
ardently, with all the warmth of his youth, with all the simplicity of
his mind. She said to herself: "I gave myself to him because he loved
me." It was the truth. The truth was, also, that a dumb yet powerful
instinct had impelled her, and that she had obeyed the hidden impulse of
her being. But even this was not her real self; what awakened her nature
at last was the fact that she believed in the sincerity of his sentiment.
She had yielded as soon as she had felt that she was loved. She had
given herself, quickly, simply. He thought that she had yielded easily.
He was mistaken. She had felt the discouragement which the irreparable
gives, and that sort of shame which comes of having suddenly something to
conceal. Everything that had been whispered before her about other women
resounded in her burning ears. But, proud and delicate, she took care to
hide the value of the gift she was making. He never suspected her moral
uneasiness, which lasted only a few days, and was replaced by perfect
tranquillity. After three years she defended her conduct as innocent and
Having done harm to no one, she had no regrets. She was content. She
was in love, she was loved. Doubtless she had not felt the intoxication
she had expected, but does one ever feel it? She was the friend of the
good and honest fellow, much liked by women who passed for disdainful and
hard to please, and he had a true affection for her. The pleasure she
gave him and the joy of being beautiful for him attached her to this
friend. He made life for her not continually delightful, but easy to
bear, and at times agreeable.
That which she had not divined in her solitude, notwithstanding vague
yearnings and apparently causeless sadness, he had revealed to her. She
knew herself when she knew him. It was a happy astonishment. Their
sympathies were not in their minds. Her inclination toward him was
simple and frank, and at this moment she found pleasure in the idea of
meeting him the next day in the little apartment where they had met for
three years. With a shake of the head and a shrug of her shoulders,
coarser than one would have expected from this exquisite woman, sitting
alone by the dying fire, she said to herself: "There! I need love!"
"ONE CAN SEE THAT YOU ARE YOUNG!"
It was no longer daylight when they came out of the little apartment in
the Rue Spontini. Robert Le Menil made a sign to a coachman, and entered
the carriage with Therese. Close together, they rolled among the vague
shadows, cut by sudden lights, through the ghostly city, having in their
minds only sweet and vanishing impressions while everything around them
seemed confused and fleeting.
The carriage approached the Pont-Neuf. They stepped out. A dry cold
made vivid the sombre January weather. Under her veil Therese joyfully
inhaled the wind which swept on the hardened soil a dust white as salt.
She was glad to wander freely among unknown things. She liked to see the
stony landscape which the clearness of the air made distinct; to walk
quickly and firmly on the quay where the trees displayed the black
tracery of their branches on the horizon reddened by the smoke of the
city; to look at the Seine. In the sky the first stars appeared.
"One would think that the wind would put them out," she said.
He observed, too, that they scintillated a great deal. He did not think
it was a sign of rain, as the peasants believe. He had observed, on the
contrary, that nine times in ten the scintillation of stars was an augury
of fine weather.
Near the little bridge they found old iron-shops lighted by smoky lamps.
She ran into them. She turned a corner and went into a shop in which
queer stuffs were hanging. Behind the dirty panes a lighted candle
showed pots, porcelain vases, a clarinet, and a bride's wreath.
He did not understand what pleasure she found in her search.
"These shops are full of vermin. What can you find interesting in them?"
"Everything. I think of the poor bride whose wreath is under that globe.
The dinner occurred at Maillot. There was a policeman in the procession.
There is one in almost all the bridal processions one sees in the park on
Saturdays. Don't they move you, my friend, all these poor, ridiculous,
miserable beings who contribute to the grandeur of the past?"
Among cups decorated with flowers she discovered a little knife, the
ivory handle of which represented a tall, thin woman with her hair
arranged a la Maintenon. She bought it for a few sous. It pleased her,
because she already had a fork like it. Le Menil confessed that he had
no taste for such things, but said that his aunt knew a great deal about
them. At Caen all the merchants knew her. She had restored and
furnished her house in proper style. This house was noted as early as
1690. In one of its halls were white cases full of books. His aunt had
wished to put them in order. She had found frivolous books in them,
ornamented with engravings so unconventional that she had burned them.
"Is she silly, your aunt?" asked Therese.
For a long time his anecdotes about his aunt had made her impatient.
Her friend had in the country a mother, sisters, aunts, and numerous
relatives whom she did not know and who irritated her. He talked of them
with admiration. It annoyed her that he often visited them. When he
came back, she imagined that he carried with him the odor of things that
had been packed up for years. He was astonished, naively, and he
suffered from her antipathy to them.
He said nothing. The sight of a public-house, the panes of which were
flaming, recalled to him the poet Choulette, who passed for a drunkard.
He asked her if she still saw that Choulette, who called on her wearing
a mackintosh and a red muffler.
It annoyed her that he spoke like General Lariviere. She did not say
that she had not seen Choulette since autumn, and that he neglected her
with the capriciousness of a man not in society.
"He has wit," she said, "fantasy, and an original temperament. He
And as he reproached her for having an odd taste, she replied:
"I haven't a taste, I have tastes. You do not disapprove of them all,
He replied that he did not criticise her. He was only afraid that she
might do herself harm by receiving a Bohemian who was not welcome in
"Not welcome in respectable houses--Choulette? Don't you know that he
goes every year for a month to the Marquise de Rieu? Yes, to the
Marquise de Rieu, the Catholic, the royalist. But since Choulette
interests you, listen to his latest adventure. Paul Vence related it to
me. I understand it better in this street, where there are shirts and
flowerpots at the windows.
"This winter, one night when it was raining, Choulette went into a
public-house in a street the name of which I have forgotten, but which
must resemble this one, and met there an unfortunate girl whom the
waiters would not have noticed, and whom he liked for her humility. Her
name was Maria. The name was not hers. She found it nailed on her door
at the top of the stairway where she went to lodge. Choulette was
touched by this perfection of poverty and infamy. He called her his
sister, and kissed her hands. Since then he has not quitted her a
moment. He takes her to the coffee-houses of the Latin Quarter where the
rich students read their reviews. He says sweet things to her. He
weeps, she weeps. They drink; and when they are drunk, they fight. He
loves her. He calls her his chaste one, his cross and his salvation.
She was barefooted; he gave her yarn and knitting-needles that she might
make stockings. And he made shoes for this unfortunate girl himself,
with enormous nails. He teaches her verses that are easy to understand.
He is afraid of altering her moral beauty by taking her out of the shame
where she lives in perfect simplicity and admirable destitution."
Le Menil shrugged his shoulders.
"But that Choulette is crazy, and Paul Vence has no right to tell you
such stories. I am not austere, assuredly; but there are immoralities
that disgust me." They were walking at random. She fell into a dream.
"Yes, morality, I know--duty! But duty--it takes the devil to discover
it. I can assure you that I do not know where duty is. It's like a
young lady's turtle at Joinville. We spent all the evening looking for
it under the furniture, and when we had found it, we went to bed."
He thought there was some truth in what she said. He would think about
it when alone.
"I regret sometimes that I did not remain in the army. I know what you
are going to say--one becomes a brute in that profession. Doubtless, but
one knows exactly what one has to do, and that is a great deal in life.
I think that my uncle's life is very beautiful and very agreeable. But
now that everybody is in the army, there are neither officers nor
soldiers. It all looks like a railway station on Sunday. My uncle knew
personally all the officers and all the soldiers of his brigade.
Nowadays, how can you expect an officer to know his men?"
She had ceased to listen. She was looking at a woman selling fried
potatoes. She realized that she was hungry and wished to eat fried
"Nobody knows how they are cooked."
But he had to buy two sous' worth of fried potatoes, and to see that the
woman put salt on them.
While Therese was eating them, he led her into deserted streets far from
the gaslights. Soon they found themselves in front of the cathedral.
The moon silvered the roofs.
"Notre Dame," she said. "See, it is as heavy as an elephant yet as
delicate as an insect. The moon climbs over it and looks at it with a
monkey's maliciousness. She does not look like the country moon at
Joinville. At Joinville I have a path--a flat path--with the moon at the
end of it. She is not there every night; but she returns faithfully,
full, red, familiar. She is a country neighbor. I go seriously to meet
her. But this moon of Paris I should not like to know. She is not
respectable company. Oh, the things that she has seen during the time
she has been roaming around the roofs!"
He smiled a tender smile.
"Oh, your little path where you walked alone and that you liked because
the sky was at the end of it! I see it as if I were there."
It was at the Joinville castle that he had seen her for the first time,
and had at once loved her. It was there, one night, that he had told her
of his love, to which she had listened, dumb, with a pained expression on
her mouth and a vague look in her eyes.
The reminiscence of this little path where she walked alone moved him,
troubled him, made him live again the enchanted hours of his first
desires and hopes. He tried to find her hand in her muff and pressed her
slim wrist under the fur.
A little girl carrying violets saw that they were lovers, and offered
flowers to them. He bought a two-sous' bouquet and offered it to
She was walking toward the cathedral. She was thinking: "It is like an
enormous beast--a beast of the Apocalypse."
At the other end of the bridge a flower-woman, wrinkled, bearded, gray
with years and dust, followed them with her basket full of mimosas and
roses. Therese, who held her violets and was trying to slip them into
her waist, said, joyfully:
"Thank you, I have some."
"One can see that you are young," the old woman shouted with a wicked
air, as she went away.
Therese understood at once, and a smile came to her lips and eyes. They
were passing near the porch, before the stone figures that wear sceptres
"Let us go in," she said.
He did not wish to go in. He declared that the door was closed. She
pushed it, and slipped into the immense nave, where the inanimate trees
of the columns ascended in darkness. In the rear, candles were moving in
front of spectre-like priests, under the last reverberations of the
organs. She trembled in the silence, and said:
"The sadness of churches at night moves me; I feel in them the grandeur
"We must believe in something. If there were no God, if our souls were
not immortal, it would be too sad."
She remained for a while immovable under the curtains of shadow hanging
from the arches. Then she said:
"My poor friend, we do not know what to do with this life, which is so
short, and yet you desire another life which shall never finish."
In the carriage that took them back he said gayly that he had passed
a fine afternoon. He kissed her, satisfied with her and with himself.
But his good-humor was not communicated to her. The last moments they
passed together were spoiled for her always by the presentiment that he
would not say at parting the thing that he should say. Ordinarily, he
quitted her brusquely, as if what had happened were not to last. At
every one of their partings she had a confused feeling that they were
parting forever. She suffered from this in advance and became irritable.
Under the trees he took her hand and kissed her.
"Is it not rare, Therese, to love as we love each other?"
"Rare? I don't know; but I think that you love me."
"I, too, love you."
"And you will love me always?"
"What does one ever know?"
And seeing the face of her lover darken:
"Would you be more content with a woman who would swear to love only you
for all time?"
He remained anxious, with a wretched air. She was kind and she reassured
"You know very well, my friend, that I am not fickle."
Almost at the end of the lane they said good-by. He kept the carriage to
return to the Rue Royale. He was to dine at the club and go to the
theatre, and had no time to lose.
Therese returned home on foot. Opposite the Trocadero she remembered
what the old flower-woman had said: "One can see that you are young."
The words came back to her with a significance not immoral but sad. "One
can see that you are young!" Yes, she was young, she was loved, and she
was bored to death.
A DISCUSSION ON THE LITTLE CORPORAL
In the centre of the table flowers were disposed in a basket of gilded
bronze, decorated with eagles, stars, and bees, and handles formed like
horns of plenty. On its sides winged Victorys supported the branches of
candelabra. This centrepiece of the Empire style had been given by
Napoleon, in 1812, to Count Martin de l'Aisne, grandfather of the present
Count Martin-Belleme. Martin de l'Aisne, a deputy to the Legislative
Corps in 1809, was appointed the following year member of the Committee
on Finance, the assiduous and secret works of which suited his laborious
temperament. Although a Liberal, he pleased the Emperor by his
application and his exact honesty. For two years he was under a rain of
favors. In 1813 he formed part of the moderate majority which approved
the report in which Laine censured power and misfortune, by giving to the
Empire tardy advice. January 1, 1814, he went with his colleagues to
the Tuileries. The Emperor received them in a terrifying manner.
He charged on their ranks. Violent and sombre, in the horror of his
present strength and of his coming fall, he stunned them with his anger
and his contempt.
He came and went through their lines, and suddenly took Count Martin by
the shoulders, shook him and dragged him, exclaiming: "A throne is four
pieces of wood covered with velvet? No! A throne is a man, and that man
is I. You have tried to throw mud at me. Is this the time to
remonstrate with me when there are two hundred thousand Cossacks at the
frontiers? Your Laine is a wicked man. One should wash one's dirty
linen at home." And while in his anger he twisted in his hand the
embroidered collar of the deputy, he said: "The people know me. They do
not know you. I am the elect of the nation. You are the obscure
delegates of a department." He predicted to them the fate of the
Girondins. The noise of his spurs accompanied the sound of his voice.
Count Martin remained trembling the rest of his life, and tremblingly
recalled the Bourbons after the defeat of the Emperor. The two
restorations were in vain; the July government and the Second Empire
covered his oppressed breast with crosses and cordons. Raised to the
highest functions, loaded with honors by three kings and one emperor, he
felt forever on his shoulder the hand of the Corsican. He died a senator
of Napoleon III, and left a son agitated by the same fear.
This son had married Mademoiselle Belleme, daughter of the first
president of the court of Bourges, and with her the political glories of
a family which gave three ministers to the moderate monarch. The
Bellemes, advocates in the time of Louis XV, elevated the Jacobin origins
of the Martins. The second Count Martin was a member of all the
Assemblies until his death in 1881. His son took without trouble his
seat in the Chamber of Deputies. Having married Mademoiselle Therese
Montessuy, whose dowry supported his political fortune, he appeared
discreetly among the four or five bourgeois, titled and wealthy, who
rallied to democracy, and were received without much bad grace by the
republicans, whom aristocracy flattered.
In the dining-room, Count Martin-Belleme was doing the honors of his
table with the good grace, the sad politeness, recently prescribed at the
Elysee to represent isolated France at a great northern court. From time
to time he addressed vapid phrases to Madame Garain at his right; to the
Princess Seniavine at his left, who, loaded with diamonds, felt bored.
Opposite him, on the other side of the table, Countess Martin, having by
her side General Lariviere and M. Schmoll, member of the Academie des
Inscriptions, caressed with her fan her smooth white shoulders. At the
two semicircles, whereby the dinner-table was prolonged, were
M. Montessuy, robust, with blue eyes and ruddy complexion; a young
cousin, Madame Belleme de Saint-Nom, embarrassed by her long, thin arms;
the painter Duviquet; M. Daniel Salomon; then Paul Vence and Garain the
deputy; Belleme de Saint-Nom; an unknown senator; and Dechartre, who was
dining at the house for the first time. The conversation, at first
trivial and insignificant, was prolonged into a confused murmur, above
which rose Garain's voice:
"Every false idea is dangerous. People think that dreamers do no harm.
They are mistaken: dreamers do a great heal of harm. Even apparently
inoffensive utopian ideas really exercise a noxious influence. They tend
to inspire disgust at reality."
"It is, perhaps, because reality is not beautiful," said Paul Vence.
M. Garain said that he had always been in favor of all possible
improvements. He had asked for the suppression of permanent armies in
the time of the Empire, for the separation of church and state, and had
remained always faithful to democracy. His device, he said, was "Order
and Progress." He thought he had discovered that device.
"Well, Monsieur Garain, be sincere. Confess that there are no reforms to
be made, and that it is as much as one can do to change the color of
postage-stamps. Good or bad, things are as they should be. Yes, things
are as they should be; but they change incessantly. Since 1870 the
industrial and financial situation of the country has gone through four
or five revolutions which political economists had not foreseen and which
they do not yet understand. In society, as in nature, transformations
are accomplished from within."
As to matters of government his ideas were terse and decided. He was
strongly attached to the present, heedless of the future, and the
socialists troubled him little. Without caring whether the sun and
capital should be extinguished some day, he enjoyed them. According to
him, one should let himself be carried. None but fools resisted the
current or tried to go in front of it.
But Count Martin, naturally sad, had, dark presentiments. In veiled
words he announced catastrophes. His timorous phrases came through the
flowers, and irritated M. Schmoll, who began to grumble and to prophesy.
He explained that Christian nations were incapable, alone and by
themselves, of throwing off barbarism, and that without the Jews and the
Arabs Europe would be to-day, as in the time of the Crusades, sunk in
ignorance, misery, and cruelty.
"The Middle Ages," he said, "are closed only in the historical manuals
that are given to pupils to spoil their minds. In reality, barbarians
are always barbarians. Israel's mission is to instruct nations. It was
Israel which, in the Middle Ages, brought to Europe the wisdom of ages.
Socialism frightens you. It is a Christian evil, like priesthood. And
anarchy? Do you not recognize in it the plague of the Albigeois and of
the Vaudois? The Jews, who instructed and polished Europe, are the only
ones who can save it to-day from the evangelical evil by which it is
devoured. But they have not fulfilled their duty. They have made
Christians of themselves among the Christians. And God punishes them.
He permits them to be exiled and to be despoiled. Anti-Semitism is
making fearful progress everywhere. From Russia my co-religionists are
expelled like savage beasts. In France, civil and military employments
are closing against Jews. They have no longer access to aristocratic
circles. My nephew, young Isaac Coblentz, has had to renounce a
diplomatic career, after passing brilliantly his admission examination.
The wives of several of my colleagues, when Madame Schmoll calls on them,
display with intention, under her eyes, anti-Semitic newspapers. And
would you believe that the Minister of Public Instruction has refused to
give me the cross of the Legion of Honor for which I have applied?
There's ingratitude! Anti-Semitism is death--it is death, do you hear?
to European civilization."
The little man had a natural manner which surpassed all the art in the
world. Grotesque and terrible, he threw the table into consternation by
his sincerity. Madame Martin, whom he amused, complimented him on this:
"At least," she said, "you defend your co-religionists. You are not,
Monsieur Schmoll, like a beautiful Jewish lady of my acquaintance who,
having read in a journal that she received the elite of Jewish society,
went everywhere shouting that she had been insulted."
"I am sure, Madame, that you do not know how beautiful and superior to
all other moralities is Jewish morality. Do you know the parable of the
This question was lost in the murmur of the dialogues wherein were
mingled foreign politics, exhibitions of paintings, fashionable scandals,
and Academy speeches. They talked of the new novel and of the coming
play. This was a comedy. Napoleon was an incidental character in it.
The conversation settled upon Napoleon I, often placed on the stage and
newly studied in books--an object of curiosity, a personage in the
fashion, no longer a popular hero, a demi-god, wearing boots for his
country, as in the days when Norvins and Beranger, Charlet and Raffet
were composing his legend; but a curious personage, an amusing type in
his living infinity, a figure whose style is pleasant to artists, whose
movements attract thoughtless idlers.
Garain, who had founded his political fortune on hatred of the Empire,
judged sincerely that this return of national taste was only an absurd
infatuation. He saw no danger in it and felt no fear about it. In him
fear was sudden and ferocious. For the moment he was very quiet; he
talked neither of prohibiting performances nor of seizing books, of
imprisoning authors, or of suppressing anything. Calm and severe, he saw
in Napoleon only Taine's 'condottiere' who kicked Volney in the stomach.
Everybody wished to define the true Napoleon. Count Martin, in the face
of the imperial centrepiece and of the winged Victorys, talked suitably
of Napoleon as an organizer and administrator, and placed him in a high
position as president of the state council, where his words threw light
upon obscure questions. Garain affirmed that in his sessions, only too
famous, Napoleon, under pretext of taking snuff, asked the councillors to
pass to him their gold boxes ornamented with miniatures and decked with
diamonds, which they never saw again. The anecdote was told to him by
the son of Mounier himself.
Montessuy esteemed in Napoleon the genius of order. "He liked," he said,
"work well done. That is a taste most persons have lost."
The painter Duviquet, whose ideas were those of an artist, was
embarrassed. He did not find on the funeral mask brought from St.
Helena the characteristics of that face, beautiful and powerful, which
medals and busts have consecrated. One must be convinced of this now
that the bronze of that mask was hanging in all the old shops, among
eagles and sphinxes made of gilded wood. And, according to him, since
the true face of Napoleon was not that of the ideal Napoleon, his real
soul may not have been as idealists fancied it. Perhaps it was the soul
of a good bourgeois. Somebody had said this, and he was inclined to
think that it was true. Anyway, Duviquet, who flattered himself with
having made the best portraits of the century, knew that celebrated men
seldom resemble the ideas one forms of them.
M. Daniel Salomon observed that the fine mask about which Duviquet
talked, the plaster cast taken from the inanimate face of the Emperor,
and brought to Europe by Dr. Antommarchi, had been moulded in bronze and
sold by subscription for the first time in 1833, under Louis Philippe,
and had then inspired surprise and mistrust. People suspected the
Italian chemist, who was a sort of buffoon, always talkative and
famished, of having tried to make fun of people. Disciples of Dr. Gall,
whose system was then in favor, regarded the mask as suspicious. They
did not find in it the bumps of genius; and the forehead, examined in
accordance with the master's theories, presented nothing remarkable in
"Precisely," said Princess Seniavine. "Napoleon was remarkable only for
having kicked Volney in the stomach and stealing a snuffbox ornamented
with diamonds. Monsieur Garain has just taught us."
"And yet," said Madame Martin, "nobody is sure that he kicked Volney."
"Everything becomes known in the end," replied the Princess, gayly.
"Napoleon did nothing at all. He did not even kick Volney, and his head
was that of an idiot."
General Lariviere felt that he should say something. He hurled this
"Napoleon--his campaign of 1813 is much discussed."
The General wished to please Garain, and he had no other idea. However,
he succeeded, after an effort, in formulating a judgment:
"Napoleon committed faults; in his situation he should not have committed
any." And he stopped abruptly, very red.
Madame Martin asked:
"And you, Monsieur Vence, what do you think of Napoleon?"
"Madame, I have not much love for sword-bearers, and conquerors seem to
me to be dangerous fools. But in spite of everything, that figure of the
Emperor interests me as it interests the public. I find character and
life in it. There is no poem or novel that is worth the Memoirs of Saint
Helena, although it is written in ridiculous fashion. What I think of
Napoleon, if you wish to know, is that, made for glory, he had the
brilliant simplicity of the hero of an epic poem. A hero must be human.
Napoleon was human."
"Oh, oh!" every one exclaimed.
But Paul Vence continued:
"He was violent and frivolous; therefore profoundly human. I mean,
similar to everybody. He desired, with singular force, all that most men
esteem and desire. He had illusions, which he gave to the people. This
was his power and his weakness; it was his beauty. He believed in glory.
He had of life and of the world the same opinion as any one of his
grenadiers. He retained always the infantile gravity which finds
pleasure in playing with swords and drums, and the sort of innocence
which makes good military men. He esteemed force sincerely. He was a
man among men, the flesh of human flesh. He had not a thought that was
not in action, and all his actions were grand yet common. It is this
vulgar grandeur which makes heroes. And Napoleon is the perfect hero.
His brain never surpassed his hand--that hand, small and beautiful, which
grasped the world. He never had, for a moment, the least care for what
he could not reach."
"Then," said Garain, "according to you, he was not an intellectual
genius. I am of your opinion."
"Surely," continued Paul Vence, "he had enough genius to be brilliant in
the civil and military arena of the world. But he had not speculative
genius. That genius is another pair of sleeves, as Buffon says. We have
a collection of his writings and speeches. His style has movement and
imagination. And in this mass of thoughts one can not find a philosophic
curiosity, not one expression of anxiety about the unknowable, not an
expression of fear of the mystery which surrounds destiny. At Saint
Helena, when he talks of God and of the soul, he seems to be a little
fourteen-year-old school-boy. Thrown upon the world, his mind found
itself fit for the world, and embraced it all. Nothing of that mind was
lost in the infinite. Himself a poet, he knew only the poetry of action.
He limited to the earth his powerful dream of life. In his terrible and
touching naivete he believed that a man could be great, and neither time
nor misfortune made him lose that idea. His youth, or rather his sublime
adolescence, lasted as long as he lived, because life never brought him a
real maturity. Such is the abnormal state of men of action. They live
entirely in the present, and their genius concentrates on one point.
The hours of their existence are not connected by a chain of grave and
disinterested meditations. They succeed themselves in a series of acts.
They lack interior life. This defect is particularly visible in
Napoleon, who never lived within himself. From this is derived the
frivolity of temperament which made him support easily the enormous load
of his evils and of his faults. His mind was born anew every day. He
had, more than any other person, a capacity for diversion. The first day
that he saw the sun rise on his funereal rock at Saint Helena, he jumped
from his bed, whistling a romantic air. It was the peace of a mind
superior to fortune; it was the frivolity of a mind prompt in
resurrection. He lived from the outside."
Garain, who did not like Paul Vence's ingenious turn of wit and language,
tried to hasten the conclusion:
"In a word," he said, "there was something of the monster in the man."
"There are no monsters," replied Paul Vence; "and men who pass for
monsters inspire horror. Napoleon was loved by an entire people. He had
the power to win the love of men. The joy of his soldiers was to die for
Countess Martin would have wished Dechartre to give his opinion. But he
excused himself with a sort of fright.
"Do you know," said Schmoll again, "the parable of the three rings,
sublime inspiration of a Portuguese Jew."
Garain, while complimenting Paul Vence on his brilliant paradox,
regretted that wit should be exercised at the expense of morality and
"One great principle," he said, "is that men should be judged by their
"And women?" asked Princess Seniavine, brusquely; "do you judge them by
their acts? And how do you know what they do?"
The sound of voices was mingled with the clear tintinabulation of
silverware. A warm air bathed the room. The roses shed their leaves on
the cloth. More ardent thoughts mounted to the brain.
General Lariviere fell into dreams.
"When public clamor has split my ears," he said to his neighbor, "I shall
go to live at Tours. I shall cultivate flowers."
He flattered himself on being a good gardener; his name had been given to
a rose. This pleased him highly.
Schmoll asked again if they knew the parable of the three rings.
The Princess rallied the Deputy.
"Then you do not know, Monsieur Garain, that one does the same things for
very different reasons?"
Montessuy said she was right.
"It is very true, as you say, Madame, that actions prove nothing. This
thought is striking in an episode in the life of Don Juan, which was
known neither to Moliere nor to Mozart, but which is revealed in an
English legend, a knowledge of which I owe to my friend James Russell
Lowell of London. One learns from it that the great seducer lost his
time with three women. One was a bourgeoise: she was in love with her
husband; the other was a nun: she would not consent to violate her vows;
the third, who had for a long time led a life of debauchery, had become
ugly, and was a servant in a den. After what she had done, after what
she had seen, love signified nothing to her. These three women behaved
alike for very different reasons. An action proves nothing. It is the
mass of actions, their weight, their sum total, which makes the value of
the human being."
"Some of our actions," said Madame Martin, "have our look, our face: they
are our daughters. Others do not resemble us at all."
She rose and took the General's arm.
On the way to the drawing-room the Princess said:
"Therese is right. Some actions do not express our real selves at all.
They are like the things we do in nightmares."
The nymphs of the tapestries smiled vainly in their faded beauty at the
guests, who did not see them.
Madame Martin served the coffee with her young cousin, Madame Belleme de
Saint-Nom. She complimented Paul Vence on what he had said at the table.
"You talked of Napoleon with a freedom of mind that is rare in the
conversations I hear. I have noticed that children, when they are
handsome, look, when they pout, like Napoleon at Waterloo. You have made
me feel the profound reasons for this similarity."
Then, turning toward Dechartre:
"Do you like Napoleon?"
"Madame, I do not like the Revolution. And Napoleon is the Revolution in
"Monsieur Dechartre, why did you not say this at dinner? But I see you
prefer to be witty only in tete-a-tetes."
Count Martin-Belleme escorted the men to the smoking-room. Paul Vence
alone remained with the women. Princess Seniavine asked him if he had
finished his novel, and what was the subject of it. It was a study in
which he tried to reach the truth through a series of plausible
"Thus," he said, "the novel acquires a moral force which history, in its
heavy frivolity, never had."
She inquired whether the book was written for women. He said it was not.
"You are wrong, Monsieur Vence, not to write for women. A superior man
can do nothing else for them."
He wished to know what gave her that idea.
"Because I see that all the intelligent women love fools."
"Who bore them."
"Certainly! But superior men would weary them more. They would have
more resources to employ in boring them. But tell me the subject of your
"Do you insist?"
"Oh, I insist upon nothing."
"Well, I will tell you. It is a study of popular manners; the history of
a young workman, sober and chaste, as handsome as a girl, with the mind
of a virgin, a sensitive soul. He is a carver, and works well. At
night, near his mother, whom he loves, he studies, he reads books. In
his mind, simple and receptive, ideas lodge themselves like bullets in a
wall. He has no desires. He has neither the passions nor the vices that
attach us to life. He is solitary and pure. Endowed with strong
virtues, he becomes conceited. He lives among miserable people. He sees
suffering. He has devotion without humanity. He has that sort of cold
charity which is called altruism. He is not human because he is not
"Oh! One must be sensual to be human?"
"Certainly, Madame. True pity, like tenderness, comes from the heart.
He is not intelligent enough to doubt. He believes what he has read.
And he has read that to establish universal happiness society must be
destroyed. Thirst for martyrdom devours him. One morning, having kissed
his mother, he goes out; he watches for the socialist deputy of his
district, sees him, throws himself on him, and buries a poniard in his
breast. Long live anarchy! He is arrested, measured, photographed,
questioned, judged, condemned to death, and guillotined. That is my
"It is not very amusing," said the Princess; "but that is not your fault.
Your anarchists are as timid and moderate as other Frenchmen. The
Russians have more audacity and more imagination."
Countess Martin asked Paul Vence whether he knew a silent, timid-looking
man among the guests. Her husband had invited him. She knew nothing of
him, not even his name. Paul Vence could only say that he was a senator.
He had seen him one day by chance in the Luxembourg, in the gallery that
served as a library.
"I went there to look at the cupola, where Delacroix has painted, in a
wood of bluish myrtles, heroes and sages of antiquity. That gentleman
was there, with the same wretched and pitiful air. His coat was damp and
he was warming himself. He was talking with old colleagues and saying,
while rubbing his hands: 'The proof that the Republic is the best of
governments is that in 1871 it could kill in a week sixty thousand
insurgents without becoming unpopular. After such a repression any other
regime would have been impossible.'"
"He is a very wicked man," said Madame Martin. "And to think that I was
Madame Garain, her chin softly dropped on her chest, slept in the peace
of her housewifely mind, and dreamed of her vegetable garden on the banks
of the Loire, where singing-societies came to serenade her.
Joseph Schmoll and General Lariviere came out of the smoking-room. The
General took a seat between Princess Seniavine and Madame Martin.
"I met this morning, in the park, Baronne Warburg, mounted on a
magnificent horse. She said, 'General, how do you manage to have such
fine horses?' I replied: Madame, to have fine horses, you must be either
very wealthy or very clever.'"
He was so well satisfied with his reply that he repeated it twice.
Paul Vence came near Countess Martin:
"I know that senator's name: it is Lyer. He is the vice-president of a
political society, and author of a book entitled, The Crime of December
The General continued:
"The weather was horrible. I went into a hut and found Le Menil there.
I was in a bad humor. He was making fun of me, I saw, because I sought
shelter. He imagines that because I am a general I must like wind and
snow. He said that he liked bad weather, and that he was to go
foxhunting with friends next week."
There was a pause; the General continued:
"I wish him much joy, but I don't envy him. Foxhunting is not
"But it is useful," said Montessuy.
The General shrugged his shoulders.
"Foxes are dangerous for chicken-coops in the spring when the fowls have
to feed their families."
"Foxes are sly poachers, who do less harm to farmers than to hunters.
I know something of this."
Therese was not listening to the Princess, who was talking to her. She
"He did not tell me that he was going away!"
"Of what are you thinking, dear?" inquired the Princess.
"Of nothing interesting," Therese replied.
THE END OF A DREAM
In the little shadowy room, where sound was deadened by curtains,
portieres, cushions, bearskins, and carpets from the Orient, the
firelight shone on glittering swords hanging among the faded favors of
the cotillons of three winters. The rosewood chiffonier was surmounted
by a silver cup, a prize from some sporting club. On a porcelain plaque,
in the centre of the table, stood a crystal vase which held branches of
white lilacs; and lights palpitated in the warm shadows. Therese and
Robert, their eyes accustomed to obscurity, moved easily among these
familiar objects. He lighted a cigarette while she arranged her hair,
standing before the mirror, in a corner so dim she could hardly see
herself. She took pins from the little Bohemian glass cup standing on
the table, where she had kept it for three years. He looked at her,
passing her light fingers quickly through the gold ripples of her hair,
while her face, hardened and bronzed by the shadow, took on a mysterious
expression. She did not speak.
He said to her:
"You are not cross now, my dear?"
And, as he insisted upon having an answer, she said:
"What do you wish me to say, my friend? I can only repeat what I said at
first. I think it strange that I have to learn of your projects from
He knew very well that she had not forgiven him; that she had remained
cold and reserved toward him. But he affected to think that she only
"My dear, I have explained it to you. I have told you that when I met
Lariviere I had just received a letter from Caumont, recalling my promise
to hunt the fox in his woods, and I replied by return post. I meant to
tell you about it to-day. I am sorry that General Lariviere told you
first, but there was no significance in that."
Her arms were lifted like the handles of a vase. She turned toward him a
glance from her tranquil eyes, which he did not understand.
"Then you are going?"
"Next week, Tuesday or Wednesday. I shall be away only ten days at
She put on her sealskin toque, ornamented with a branch of holly.
"Is it something that you can not postpone?"
"Oh, yes. Fox-skins would not be worth anything in a month. Moreover,
Caumont has invited good friends of mine, who would regret my absence."
Fixing her toque on her head with a long pin, she frowned.
"Is fox-hunting interesting?"
"Oh, yes, very. The fox has stratagems that one must fathom. The
intelligence of that animal is really marvellous. I have observed at
night a fox hunting a rabbit. He had organized a real hunt. I assure
you it is not easy to dislodge a fox. Caumont has an excellent cellar.
I do not care for it, but it is generally appreciated. I will bring you
half a dozen skins."
"What do you wish me to do with them?"
"Oh, you can make rugs of them."
"And you will be hunting eight days?"
"Not all the time. I shall visit my aunt, who expects me. Last year at
this time there was a delightful reunion at her house. She had with her
her two daughters and her three nieces with their husbands. All five
women are pretty, gay, charming, and irreproachable. I shall probably
find them at the beginning of next month, assembled for my aunt's
birthday, and I shall remain there two days."
"My friend, stay as long as it may please you. I should be inconsolable
if you shortened on my account a sojourn which is so agreeable."
"But you, Therese?"
"I, my friend? I can take care of myself."
The fire was languishing. The shadows were deepening between them. She
said, in a dreamy tone:
"It is true, however, that it is never prudent to leave a woman alone."
He went near her, trying to see her eyes in the darkness. He took her
"You love me?" he said.
"Oh, I assure you that I do not love another but--"
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing. I am thinking--I am thinking that we are separated all through
the summer; that in winter you live with your parents and your friends
half the time; and that, if we are to see so little of each other, it is
better not to see each other at all."
He lighted the candelabra. His frank, hard face was illuminated. He
looked at her with a confidence that came less from the conceit common to
all lovers than from his natural lack of dignity. He believed in her
through force of education and simplicity of intelligence.
"Therese, I love you, and you love me, I know. Why do you torment me?
Sometimes you are painfully harsh."
She shook her little head brusquely.
"What will you have? I am harsh and obstinate. It is in the blood. I
take it from my father. You know Joinville; you have seen the castle,
the ceilings, the tapestries, the gardens, the park, the hunting-grounds,
you have said that none better were in France; but you have not seen my
father's workshop--a white wooden table and a mahogany bureau.
Everything about me has its origin there. On that table my father made
figures for forty years; at first in a little room, then in the apartment
where I was born. We were not very wealthy then. I am a parvenu's
daughter, or a conqueror's daughter, it's all the same. We are people of
material interests. My father wanted to earn money, to possess what he
could buy--that is, everything. I wish to earn and keep--what? I do not
know--the happiness that I have--or that I have not. I have my own way
of being exacting. I long for dreams and illusions. Oh, I know very
well that all this is not worth the trouble that a woman takes in giving
herself to a man; but it is a trouble that is worth something, because my
trouble is myself, my life. I like to enjoy what I like, or think what I
like. I do not wish to lose. I am like papa: I demand what is due to
me. And then--"
She lowered her voice:
"And then, I have--impulses! Now, my dear, I bore you. What will you
have? You shouldn't have loved me."
This language, to which she had accustomed him, often spoiled his
pleasure. But it did not alarm him. He was sensitive to all that she
did, but not at all to what she said; and he attached no importance to a
woman's words. Talking little himself, he could not imagine that often
words are the same as actions.
Although he loved her, or, rather, because he loved her with strength and
confidence, he thought it his duty to resist her whims, which he judged
absurd. Whenever he played the master, he succeeded with her; and,
naively, he always ended by playing it.
"You know very well, Therese, that I wish to do nothing except to be
agreeable to you. Don't be capricious with me."
"And why should I not be capricious? If I gave myself to you, it was not
because I was logical, nor because I thought I must. It was because I
He looked at her, astonished and saddened.
"The word is not pleasant to you, my friend? Well let us say that it was
love. Truly it was, with all my heart, and because I felt that you loved
me. But love must be a pleasure, and if I do not find in it the
satisfaction of what you call my capriciousness, but which is really my
desire, my life, my love, I do not want it; I prefer to live alone. You
are astonishing! My caprices! Is there anything else in life? Your
foxhunt, isn't that capricious?"
He replied, very sincerely:
"If I had not promised, I swear to you, Therese, that I would sacrifice
that small pleasure with great joy."
She felt that he spoke the truth. She knew how exact he was in filling
the most trifling engagements, yet realized that if she insisted he would
not go. But it was too late: she did not wish to win. She would seek
hereafter only the violent pleasure of losing. She pretended to take his
reason seriously, and said:
"Ah, you have promised!"
And she affected to yield.
Surprised at first, he congratulated himself at last on having made her
listen to reason. He was grateful to her for not having been stubborn.
He put his arm around her waist and kissed her on the neck and eyelids as
a reward. He said:
"We may meet three or four times before I go, and more, if you wish.
I will wait for you as often as you wish to come. Will you meet me here
She gave herself the satisfaction of saying that she could not come the
next day nor any other day.
Softly she mentioned the things that prevented her.
The obstacles seemed light; calls, a gown to be tried on, a charity fair,
exhibitions. As she dilated upon the difficulties they seemed to
increase. The calls could not be postponed; there were three fairs; the
exhibitions would soon close. In fine, it was impossible for her to see
him again before his departure.
As he was well accustomed to making excuses of that sort, he failed to
observe that it was not natural for Therese to offer them. Embarrassed
by this tissue of social obligations, he did not persist, but remained
silent and unhappy.
With her left arm she raised the portiere, placed her right hand on the
key of the door; and, standing against the rich background of the
sapphire and ruby-colored folds of the Oriental draperies, she turned her
head toward the friend she was leaving, and said, a little mockingly, yet
with a touch of tragic emotion:
"Good-by, Robert. Enjoy yourself. My calls, my errands, your little
visits are nothing. Life is made up of just such trifles. Good-by!"
She went out. He would have liked to accompany her, but he made it a
point not to show himself with her in the street, unless she absolutely
forced him to do so.
In the street, Therese felt suddenly that she was alone in the world,
without joy and without pain. She returned to her house on foot, as was
her habit. It was night; the air was frozen, clear, and tranquil. But
the avenues through which she walked, in shadows studded with lights,
enveloped her with that mild atmosphere of the queen of cities, so
agreeable to its inhabitants, which makes itself felt even in the cold of
winter. She walked between the lines of huts and old houses, remains of
the field-days of Auteuil, which tall houses interrupted here and there.
These small shops, these monotonous windows, were nothing to her. Yet
she felt that she was under the mysterious spell of the friendship of
inanimate things; and it seemed to her that the stones, the doors of
houses, the lights behind the windowpanes, looked kindly upon her. She
was alone, and she wished to be alone. The steps she was taking between
the two houses wherein her habits were almost equal, the steps she had
taken so often, to-day seemed to her irrevocable. Why? What had that
day brought? Not exactly a quarrel. And yet the words spoken that day
had left a subtle, strange, persistent sting, which would never leave
her. What had happened? Nothing. And that nothing had effaced
everything. She had a sort of obscure certainty that she would never
return to that room which had so recently enclosed the most secret and
dearest phases of her life. She had loved Robert with the seriousness of
a necessary joy. Made to be loved, and very reasonable, she had not lost
in the abandonment of herself that instinct of reflection, that necessity
for security, which was so strong in her. She had not chosen: one seldom
chooses. She had not allowed herself to be taken at random and by
surprise. She had done what she had wished to do, as much as one ever
does what one wishes to do in such cases. She had nothing to regret.
He had been to her what it was his duty to be. She felt, in spite of
everything, that all was at an end. She thought, with dry sadness,
that three years of her life had been given to an honest man who had
loved her and whom she had loved. "For I loved him. I must have loved
him in order to give myself to him." But she could not feel again the
sentiments of early days, the movements of her mind when she had yielded.
She recalled small and insignificant circumstances: the flowers on the
wall-paper and the pictures in the room. She recalled the words,
a little ridiculous and almost touching, that he had said to her.
But it seemed to her that the adventure had occurred to another woman,
to a stranger whom she did not like and whom she hardly understood.
And what had happened only a moment ago seemed far distant now.
The room, the lilacs in the crystal vase, the little cup of Bohemian
glass where she found her pins--she saw all these things as if through a
window that one passes in the street. She was without bitterness,
and even without sadness. She had nothing to forgive, alas!
This absence for a week was not a betrayal, it was not a fault against
her; it was nothing, yet it was everything. It was the end. She knew
it. She wished to cease. It was the consent of all the forces of her
being. She said to herself: "I have no reason to love him less. Do I
love him no more? Did I ever love him?" She did not know and she did
not care to know. Three years, during which there had been months when
they had seen each other every day--was all this nothing? Life is not a
great thing. And what one puts in it, how little that is!
In fine, she had nothing of which to complain. But it was better to end
it all. All these reflections brought her back to that point. It was
not a resolution; resolutions may be changed. It was graver: it was a
state of the body and of the mind.
When she arrived at the square, in the centre of which is a fountain, and
on one side of which stands a church of rustic style, showing its bell in
an open belfry, she recalled the little bouquet of violets that he had
given to her one night on the bridge near Notre Dame. They had loved
each other that day--perhaps more than usual. Her heart softened at that
reminiscence. But the little bouquet remained alone, a poor little
flower skeleton, in her memory.
While she was thinking, passers-by, deceived by the simplicity of her
dress, followed her. One of them made propositions to her: a dinner and
the theatre. It amused her. She was not at all disturbed; this was not
a crisis. She thought: "How do other women manage such things? And I,
who promised myself not to spoil my life. What is life worth?"
Opposite the Greek lantern of the Musee des Religions she found the soil
disturbed by workmen. There were paving-stones crossed by a bridge made
of a narrow flexible plank. She had stepped on it, when she saw at the
other end, in front of her, a man who was waiting for her. He recognized
her and bowed. It was Dechartre. She saw that he was happy to meet her;
she thanked him with a smile. He asked her permission to walk a few
steps with her, and they entered into the large and airy space. In this
place the tall houses, set somewhat back, efface themselves, and reveal a
glimpse of the sky.
He told her that he had recognized her from a distance by the rhythm of
her figure and her movements, which were hers exclusively.
"Graceful movements," he added, "are like music for the eyes."
She replied that she liked to walk; it was her pleasure, and the cause of
her good health.
He, too, liked to walk in populous towns and beautiful fields. The
mystery of highways tempted him. He liked to travel. Although voyages
had become common and easy, they retained for him their powerful charm.
He had seen golden days and crystalline nights, Greece, Egypt, and the
Bosporus; but it was to Italy that he returned always, as to the mother
country of his mind.
"I shall go there next week," he said. "I long to see again Ravenna
asleep among the black pines of its sterile shore. Have you seen
Ravenna, Madame? It is an enchanted tomb where sparkling phantoms appear.
The magic of death lies there. The mosaic works of Saint Vitale, with
their barbarous angels and their aureolated empresses, make one feel the
monstrous delights of the Orient. Despoiled to-day of its silver lamels,
the grave of Galla Placidia is frightful under its crypt, luminous yet
gloomy. When one looks through an opening in the sarcophagus, it seems
as if one saw the daughter of Theodosius, seated on her golden chair,
erect in her gown studded with stones and embroidered with scenes from
the Old Testament; her beautiful, cruel face preserved hard and black
with aromatic plants, and her ebony hands immovable on her knees. For
thirteen centuries she retained this funereal majesty, until one day a
child passed a candle through the opening of the grave and burned the
Madame Martin-Belleme asked what that dead woman, so obstinate in her
conceit, had done during her life.
"Twice a slave," said Dechartre, "she became twice an empress."
"She must have been beautiful," said Madame Martin. "You have made me
see her too vividly in her tomb. She frightens me. Shall you go to
Venice, Monsieur Dechartre? Or are you tired of gondolas, of canals
bordered by palaces, and of the pigeons of Saint Mark? I confess that
I still like Venice, after being there three times."
He said she was right. He, too, liked Venice.
Whenever he went there, from a sculptor he became a painter, and made
studies. He would like to paint its atmosphere.
"Elsewhere," he said, "even in Florence, the sky is too high. At Venice
it is everywhere; it caresses the earth and the water. It envelops
lovingly the leaden domes and the marble facades, and throws into the
iridescent atmosphere its pearls and its crystals. The beauty of Venice
is in its sky and its women. What pretty creatures the Venetian women
are! Their forms are so slender and supple under their black shawls.
If nothing remained of these women except a bone, one would find in that
bone the charm of their exquisite structure. Sundays, at church, they
form laughing groups, agitated, with hips a little pointed, elegant
necks, flowery smiles, and inflaming glances. And all bend, with the
suppleness of young animals, at the passage of a priest whose head
resembles that of Vitellius, and who carries the chalice, preceded by two
He walked with unequal step, following the rhythm of his ideas, sometimes
quick, sometimes slow. She walked more regularly, and almost outstripped
him. He looked at her sidewise, and liked her firm and supple carriage.
He observed the little shake which at moments her obstinate head gave to
the holly on her toque.
Without expecting it, he felt a charm in that meeting, almost intimate,
with a young woman almost unknown.
They had reached the place where the large avenue unfolds its four rows
of trees. They were following the stone parapet surmounted by a hedge of
boxwood, which entirely hides the ugliness of the buildings on the quay.
One felt the presence of the river by the milky atmosphere which in misty
days seems to rest on the water. The sky was clear. The lights of the
city were mingled with the stars. At the south shone the three golden
nails of the Orion belt. Dechartre continued:
"Last year, at Venice, every morning as I went out of my house, I saw at
her door, raised by three steps above the canal, a charming girl, with
small head, neck round and strong, and graceful hips. She was there, in
the sun and surrounded by vermin, as pure as an amphora, fragrant as a
flower. She smiled. What a mouth! The richest jewel in the most
beautiful light. I realized in time that this smile was addressed to a
butcher standing behind me with his basket on his head."
At the corner of the short street which goes to the quay, between two
lines of small gardens, Madame Martin walked more slowly.
"It is true that at Venice," she said, "all women are pretty."
"They are almost all pretty, Madame. I speak of the common girls--the
cigar-girls, the girls among the glass-workers. The others are
"By others you mean society women; and you don't like these?"
"Society women? Oh, some of them are charming. As for loving them,
that's a different affair."
"Do you think so?"
She extended her hand to him, and suddenly turned the corner.
A DINNER 'EN FAMILLE'
She dined that night alone with her husband. The narrow table had not
the basket with golden eagles and winged Victorys. The candelabra did
not light Oudry's paintings. While he talked of the events of the day,
she fell into a sad reverie. It seemed to her that she floated in a
mist. It was a peaceful and almost sweet suffering. She saw vaguely
through the clouds the little room of the Rue Spontini transported by
angels to one of the summits of the Himalaya Mountains, and Robert Le
Menil--in the quaking of a sort of world's end--had disappeared while
putting on his gloves. She felt her pulse to see whether she were
feverish. A rattle of silverware on the table awoke her. She heard her
"My dear friend Gavaut delivered to-day, in the Chamber, an excellent
speech on the question of the reserve funds. It's extraordinary how his
ideas have become healthy and just. Oh, he has improved a great deal."
She could not refrain from smiling.
"But Gavaut, my friend, is a poor devil who never thought of anything
except escaping from the crowd of those who are dying of hunger. Gavaut
never had any ideas except at his elbows. Does anybody take him
seriously in the political world? You may be sure that he never gave an
illusion to any woman, not even his wife. And yet to produce that sort
of illusion a man does not need much." She added, brusquely:
"You know Miss Bell has invited me to spend a month with her at Fiesole.
I have accepted; I am going."
Less astonished than discontented, he asked her with whom she was going.
At once she answered:
"With Madame Marmet."
There was no objection to make. Madame Marmet was a proper companion,
and it was appropriate for her to visit Italy, where her husband had made
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