The Choice of Life by Georgette Leblanc
PART THE FIRST
PART THE SECOND
PART THE THIRD
THE CHOICE OF LIFE
Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos
[Illustration: Georgette Leblanc]
New York Dodd, Mead and Company 1914
Copyright, 1914, by Dodd, Mead and Company Published, March, 1914
Women are ever divided by a miserable distrust, whereas all their
weaknesses intertwined might make for their lives a crown of love and
strength and beauty....
How one of them strove to deliver her unhappy friend, the words
which she spoke to her, the examples which she set before her, the joys
which she offered her: these are what I have tried to record in this
PART THE FIRST
Here in the garden, close to the quiet house, I sit thinking of that
strange meeting in the village. A blackbird at regular intervals sings
the same refrain, which is taken up by others in the distance. The
lily's chalice gleams under the blazing sun; and the humbler flowers
meekly droop their heads. White butterflies are everywhere, flitting
restlessly hither and thither. So fierce is the splendour of the day
that I cannot raise my eyes to the summit of the trees; and my
quivering lids show me the whole sky through my lashes.
Thereupon it seems to me that the emotion which bursts from my
heart, like a too-brilliant light, compels me to close the shutters of
my brain as well. In my mind, even as before my eyes, distances are
lessened and I see stretched before me that more or less illusive goal
which we would all fain reach in the desires of our finer selves.
This idea is soothing to me, for, in my eagerness to act, I am tired
of demanding from my reason reasons which it cannot vouchsafe me.
Is there anything definite amid the uncertainty of these blind
efforts, these unaccountable impulses, which have so often, ever since
the first awakening of my unconsciousness, urged me towards other
women? What have I wanted hitherto? What was it that I hoped when I
stretched out my hands to them, when I looked upon their lives, when I
searched their hearts, when at times I changed the very nature of their
strivings? I did not know then; and even now I do not succeed in
explaining to myself the fever that makes my thoughts tingle and burn.
I do not understand, I do not know. How did that dream stand firm amid
the total annihilation of unprofitable illusions? Is there then an
element of reality, a definite truth that encourages me, though I do
not discern it?
I see myself going forward recklessly, like a traveller who knows
that there is somewhere a goal and who makes for it blindly, with the
same assurance as though the goal stood bright and luminous on a
My only apology for these continual excursions is that I lay claim
to no rigidity of purpose; and I should almost be ashamed to come with
principles and axioms to those whom I am carrying away. Then why alter
the course of their destiny? Why appeal to their sympathy and their
confidence? What better lot have I to offer them and what can I hope
for even if they respond? Certainly I wish them fairer and more
perfect, freed from their childish dread of criticism, armed with a
prouder and more personal conception of honour than the code which is
laid upon them, respectful of their life and also encompassing it with
infinite indulgence and kindness. But is not that a wild ideal? In my
memory, I still see them smiling at it, those radiant faces which all
my sermons could not cloud, or which, vainly striving to understand
them, never reflected anything but their crudest and most extravagant
The newcomer with the grave countenance, the new soul divined
beneath a beauty that pleases me, will she at long last teach me how
much is possible and realisable in the vague ideal to which I pay
homage, without as yet being able to define it?
I dare not hope.
Hitherto, events have not justified me any more than my reason.
The swift walker goes alone upon his road; there is never any but
his shadow to follow him.
I know how conscious we are of our weakness when we try to bring our
energies into action; and I know that my pride will suffer, for I have
never seen my footprint on the sand without pitying myself....
Those who are close to our soul have no need of our words to
understand it; and those who are far removed from it do not hear us
speak. Then for whom do we speak, alas?
The blackbird's song describes precious waves in the still air;
pearls are scattered over the blue sky.
The lily's whiteness ascends like a fervent prayer; the bees make
haste; the careless butterflies enjoy their little day. Near me, a tiny
ant exhausts herself in a task too heavy for her strength. Lowly and
excellent counsellors, does not each of them set me the example of her
It was yesterday. When I woke, the cornfield under my windows, which
seemed a steadfast sea of gold, had already half disappeared. The
scythes flashed in the sun; and the ripe corn fell in great unresisting
The smallest details of that meeting are present in my memory; and I
do not weary of living every moment of it over again. The air was cool.
I still feel the caress of my sleeves, which the wind set fluttering
over my arms. I drank the breeze in great gulps. It filled me, it
revived me from head to foot. My skirts hampered me and I went slowly,
holding my hat in both hands before my face and vaguely guided by the
little patches of landscape that showed through the loose straw: a
glimpse of blue sky, of swaying tree-tops, smoking chimneys and a dim
I have come to the far end of the field, where the reapers are. It
is the hour of the first meal. The men have laid down their scythes,
the girls have ceased to bind the sheaves and all are sitting on the
slope beside the road.
Curious, I go closer still. A young woman, whom the others call
mademoiselle, is kneeling a few steps away from me, in front of the
provision-basket; she has her back turned to me and is distributing
slices of bread and cream-cheese to the labourers; she hands the jug
filled with cider to the one nearest her, who drinks and sends it
round. For one second the movement of her arm passes between the sky
and my gaze, which wavers a little owing to the brilliancy of the
light; and that arm dewy with heat appears to me admirably moulded,
with bold, pure lines.
She is dressed like her companions, in a coarse linen skirt, whose
uncouth folds disguise her hips, and a calico smock imprisoned in a
black laced bodice, a sort of shapeless, barbarous cuirass. A
broad-brimmed straw hat, adorned with a faded ribbon, casts its shadow
on her shoulders; but, when she bends her head, I see the glint of her
hair, whose tightly bound and twisted masses shine like coils of gold.
The rather powerful neck is beautifully modelled. It is delicately
hollowed at the nape, where a little silver chain accentuates the
gentle curve. I can see almost nothing of her figure under the clumsy
clothes, but its proportions appear to me accurate and fairly slender.
I feel inclined to go away without a word; my fastidious eyes bring
me misgivings. When the first taste is good, why risk a second? But one
of the reapers has seen me. He bids me a friendly good-morning; and,
before I have time to answer, she has turned round.
It is so rare, in our country districts, to see a beautiful woman
that, for an instant, I blame the charm of the hour and accuse the
friendly light of complicity. But little by little her perfection
overcomes my doubts; and, the more I watch her, the lovelier I think
her. The almost statuesque slowness of her movements, the vigorous line
of her body, the glad colours that adorn her mouth, her cheeks and her
bare arms seem to make her share in the health of the soil. The fair
human sheaf is bound to nature like the golden sheaves that surround
Without stirring, we two stand looking at each other face to face.
O miracle of beauty, sovran of happiness and magnet of wandering
eyes, that day it shone in the noon-day sun like a star on the forehead
of that unhappy life; and it and it alone stayed my steps!
But for it, should I have dreamt, in the presence of that humble
girl, of one of those quests which appeal to the hearts of us women,
hearts fed on eternal illusions? But for it, should I have suspected a
sorrowing soul in the depths of those limpid eyes? And, at this moment,
should I be asking of my weakness the strength that constrains, of my
doubts the faith that saves, of my pity the tenderness that consoles
I had moved to go, happy without knowing why; I hastened my steps.
With my soul heavier and my feet lighter than before, I walked away,
glorying in my meeting as in a victory over chance, over the thousand
trifles, the thousand blind agencies that incessantly keep us from what
we seek and from what unconsciously seeks us.
I could have laughed for joy; and it would have been sweet to me,
when I passed into the garden, to proclaim my glee aloud. But the peace
of things laid silence upon me. I slowly followed the paths, bordered
with marigolds and balsam, that lead to the house; and, when I passed
under the blinds, which a friend's hand had gently drawn for me, I
heard my everyday voice describing my discovery and my delight in sober
And yet the moment of exaltation still charged my life; it seemed to
me clearer and deeper; and I thought that enthusiasm is in us like a
too-full cup, which overflows at the least movement of the soul.
I made enquiries that same evening; and all that I learnt encourages
She lives at the end of our village of Sainte-Colombe. She was
brought up at the convent in the town hard by and left it at the age of
eighteen. Since then, she has not been happy. On Sunday she is never
with the merrymaking crowd. She has never been seen at church. She
neither prays nor dances.
I took the road leading to the farm at which she lives. The yard is
a large one, the trees that hem it in are old and planted close
together. One can hardly see the straggling, thatched buildings from
the road; and I walked round the place without being able to satisfy my
curiosity. She lives there, I was told, with an old woman, her
godmother, about whom the people of the countryside tell stories of
murder and debauchery. I have seen her sometimes. She gives a
disagreeable impression. She is a tall, lean woman, with wisps of white
hair straggling about her face. Her waving arms and twitching hands
carry a perpetual vague menace. The black, deep-set eyes gleam evilly
in her ivory face; and her hard thin mouth, which opens straight across
it, often hums coarse ditties in a cracked voice.
Her curious attire completes the disorder of her appearance. Over
her rough peasant's clothes, some article of cast-off apparel cuts a
strange and lamentable figure: a muslin morning-wrap, once white and
covered with filmy lace; long, faded ribbons, which fasten a showy
Watteau pleat to the back, with ravelled ends spreading over the thick
red-cotton skirt; old pink-satin slippers, with pointed heels that sink
into the mud. In point of fact, I could say the exact number of times
when I have seen her and why I noticed her, for the sight of her always
hurt me cruelly when I met her in the sweet stillness of the country
For a long time, I wandered round the farm. I was moving away,
picking flowers as I went, when suddenly, at a bend in the road, I saw
the girl who filled my thoughts. She was sitting on a heap of stones;
and two large pails of milk stood beside her. Her attitude betokened
great weariness; and her drooping arms seemed to enjoy the rest.
I lingered a little while in front of her. Her face appeared to me
lovelier than on the first occasion, though her uncovered head allowed
me to see her magnificent hair plastered down so as to leave it no
freedom whatever. She answered my smile with a blush; and, when I
looked at her thick and awkward hands, she clasped and unclasped them
with an embarrassed air.
Just now, at the wane of the day, I was singing in the drawing-room,
with the windows open. I caught sight in the mirror of the sky ablaze
with red and rose quickly from the piano to see the sun dip into the
sea.... Near the garden, behind the hedge, I surprised the young girl
trying to hide....
I had never seen her; but now, because I saw her one day, I am
always seeing her.
Do we then behold only what we seek? It is a sad thought. We shall
be called upon to die before we have seen everything, understood
everything, loved and embraced everything. Our skirts will have brushed
against joys which we shall not have felt; our streaming tresses will
have passed through perfumes which we shall not have breathed; our
mouth will have kissed flowers which our hands have not known how to
pick; and very often our eyes will have seen without acquainting our
intelligence. We shall not have been observant continually.
It is a pity that things possess no other life than that which we
bestow upon them. I dislike to find that, for me, everything is subject
to my observation and my knowledge. The first is great indeed, but the
second is so small!...
A few years ago, the parish priest was on his way to the church at
four o'clock one morning, to celebrate the harvest mass, when he saw a
strange thing floating on the surface of the pool that washes the steps
of the wayside crucifix. As he approached, he perceived that it was a
woman's long hair. A moment later, they drew the body of a young and
beautiful girl to the bank. With nothing on her but her night-dress,
she seemed to have run straight from her bed to the pond. The gossips
of the neighbourhood will never cease chattering over this incident and
the shock which it gave the priest; and, though there is no other pond
in the village, the poor girl will be everlastingly reproached with
choosing God's Pool for her attempt at suicide.
Is it not enough for me to know that she is out of place amid her
coarse surroundings and that she is not happy there?
I have been expecting her for a week. I am wishing with all my might
that she may come; I am drawing her with my eyes, with my smile, with
my manner and with my will. But I say nothing to her. She must be able
to take to herself all the credit of this first act of independence.
Moreover, it will give me the evidence which I require of some sympathy
Outwardly, I am following a strict principle. Really, I am yielding
to a fear: am I not about to perform a dangerous and rather mad action,
in once more taking upon myself the responsibility of another's life?
We are not always unaware of the follies which we are about to
commit; but it is natural that the immediate joys should eclipse the
probable misfortunes and help us to go boldly forward.
Besides, the inquisitive know no weariness. They go with
outstretched hand to the assistance of events, heedless of increasing
the chances of suffering, because they always find, in return,
something to occupy their restlessness. Let us not blame them. In
contemplating the good or evil outcome of an action, we behold but its
main lines; we do not see the thousand little broken strokes that go to
compose it. They make the total of our days; and they have to be lived.
A broad avenue of beeches stretches in front of our garden; and at
the far end is the open country. Here we have placed a seat which looks
out over space. Nothing but fields and fields, as far as the eye can
reach; nothing but land and sky. We love the security of this elemental
landscape, where the alternations of light succeed one another
inexorably. The noontides are fierce and dazzling. The soft, opalescent
mornings are fragrant with love and pleasure. But, most of all, the
sunsets attract us by their unwearied variety, sometimes sober and
tender, ever fainter and more ethereal, sometimes blood-red, monstrous
The one which I watched to-day was pale and grey; and the obedient
earth humbly espoused its gentle tones. With my hands clasped in my
lap, it seemed to me that I was drinking in the peace that filled my
heart; and my eyes, which unconsciously fastened on my hands, held for
a moment my whole life enclosed there.
Then I heard indistinctly steps approaching me. A woman sat down on
the bench. The corner of her apron had brushed against my knees; I
raised my head and saw the young girl sitting by my side.
She said, simply:
Here I am.
And at this short speech my mind is in a tumult; thoughts rush
wildly through my brain without my being able to follow one of them. I
press her hands, I look at her, I laugh, while little cries of delight
burst from my lips:
You are here at last! I was expecting you! Do you know that you are
very pretty ... and that you look sweet and kind?... Make haste and
tell me all about yourself....
But she does not answer. She stares at me with wide-open eyes; and
my impulsive phrases strike with such force against her stupefaction
that each one of them seems by degrees to fall back upon myself. I in
my turn am left utterly dumfounded; she is so ill at ease that I myself
become nervous; her astonishment embarrasses me; I secretly laugh at my
own discomfiture; and I end by asking, feebly:
What's your name?
Rose ... Roseline.... My name is....
And I burst out laughing. We were really talking like two children
trying to make friends. I threw my arm round her waist and put my lips
to her cheek. I loved its milky perfume. My kiss left a little white
mark which the blood soon flushed again.
She told me that she had seen me from a distance and that she had
come running up without stopping. I was careful not to ask her what she
wanted to tell me, for I knew that she had obeyed my wishes rather than
her own; and I led her towards the house:
Rose, my dear Rose.... I know that you are unhappy.
She stops, gives me a quick look and then turns red and lowers her
eyes. Thereupon, so as not to startle her, I ask her about her work and
about the farm.
Rose answers shily, in short sentences, and we walk about in the
garden. From time to time, she stops to pull up a weed; methodically,
she breaks off the flowers hanging faded from their stalks;
occasionally, she makes a reference, full of sound sense, to the care
required by plants and vegetables. But my will passes like an
obliterating line over all that we say, over all that we do; and, while
Rose anxiously tries to fill the silence, I lie in wait, ready for a
word, a sigh, a look that will enable me to go straight to the heart of
that soul, which I am eager to grasp even as we take in our hand a
mysterious object of which we are trying to discover the secret.
Alas, the darkness between us is too dense and there is only the
light of her beautiful eyes, those sad, submissive eyes, to guide my
pity! Our conversation is somewhat laboured; the girl evades any direct
question; and any opinion which I venture to form can be only of the
She seems to me to be lacking in spirit, of a nervous and despondent
temperament, but not unintelligent. I know nothing of her mental
powers. We sometimes see an active intelligence directing very inferior
abilities, just as our good friend the dog is an excellent shepherd to
his silly, docile flock. In her, the most ordinary ideas are so
logically dovetailed that one is tempted to accept them even when one
hesitates to approve them. Her mind must be free from baseness, for
throughout our conversation she made no effort to please me. Would it
not have needed a very quick discernment, a very uncommon shrewdness to
know so soon that she would please me better like that?
That was what I said to myself by way of encouragement, so great was
my haste to pour into her ears those instinctive words of hope and
independence which it was natural to utter. And, let them be premature
or tardy, barren or fruitful, I could not refrain from speaking
But suddenly she released herself: it was already past the time for
milking the cows; they must be waiting for her. Nevertheless, she gave
a shrug of the shoulders which implied that she cared little whether
she was late or not; and, with a Good-bye till to-morrow! she went
off heavily, making the ground ring with the steady tramp of her wooden
For an instant I stood motionless in the orchard. Her shrill voice
still sounded in my ears; and the constraint of her attitude oppressed
me. The road by which she had just gone was now hardly visible. A fog
rose from the sea and gradually blotted out everything. The plains, the
hills, the cottages vanished one by one; and already, around me, veils
of mist clung to the branches of the apple-trees. At regular intervals,
the boom of the fog-horn startled the silence.
Those who pass through our life and who will simply play a part
there take shape in successive images. The first, a fair but illusive
picture, fades away as another sadly obtrudes itself; and another,
paler yet, comes in its turn; and thus they all vanish, becoming less
and less distinct until the end, until the day when a last, vague
outline is fixed in our memory.
How different is the process in the case of those who are to remain
in our existence and blend with it for all time! It is then as though
the living reality at the very outset shattered the image formed by our
admiration and triumphantly took its place. In point of fact, it
vivifies it and, later, heightens it, colours it, ever enriching it
with all the benefits which the daily round brings to healthy minds.
Those beings will always remain with us, whatever happens; they will be
more present in their absence than things which are actually present;
and the taste, the colour, the very life itself of our life will never
reach us except through them.
I thought of all this vaguely. There were two women before me: one,
coarse and awkward, was obliterating the other, so beautiful amid the
ripe corn. Alas, should I ever see that other again? Was she not one of
those images which fade out of our remembrance, becoming ever paler and
I felt a little discouraged. But perhaps the sadness of the hour was
influencing me? My feminine nerves must be affected by this damp, warm
mist. I went back to the house, doing my utmost simply to think that I
was about to undertake a rather difficult task.
Under the lamp, which the outside pall had caused to be lit earlier
than usual, and in the brightness of the red-and-white dining-room,
decked with gorgeous flowers, I discovered another side to my
interview. While I was describing it laughingly, my disappointment had
seemed natural; and, my eagerness being now reinforced by pity, a new
fervour inspired my curiosity.
In sensitive and therefore anxious natures, the very excess of the
sensation makes the impression received subject to violent reaction. It
goes up and down, down and up; and not until it slackens a little can
reason intervene and bring it to its normal level.
I have before me one of those little exercise-books whose covers are
gay with pictures of soldiers or rural scenes. It is Rose's diary. I
received it this morning, I have read it and it has left me both
pleased and touched.
It is a very simple and rather commonplace narrative, but one which,
in my eyes, has the outstanding merit of sincerity. To me it represents
the story of a real living creature, of a woman whom I saw yesterday,
whom I shall see to-morrow and whose suffering is but a step removed
from my happiness. The smallest details of that story have a familiar
voice and aspect....
Poor girl! Would not one think that an evil genius had taken
pleasure in playing with her destiny, like a child playing at ball? She
was born of poor parents. Her father, a carpenter, was a drunkard and
frequently out of work. He would often come home at night intoxicated,
when he would beat his wife and threaten to kill her. Coarse scenes,
visions of murder, screams, oaths and suppressed weeping were the first
images and the first sounds that stamped themselves on Rose's memory.
One's heart bleeds to think of those child-souls which open in the same
hour to the light of day and to horror, gaining their knowledge of life
whilst trembling lest they should lose it. We see them caught in a
hurricane of madness, like little leaves whirling in the storm; and to
the end of their days they will shudder at the thought of it.
She was left an orphan at the age of six. A neighbour offered to
take her, a wealthy and devout old man, who sent her to the Nuns of the
Visitation at the neighbouring town.
Of those quiet, uneventful years in the convent there is nothing in
particular to record. The child is perfectly happy, nor could she be
otherwise, for she is naturally reasonable and she is in no danger of
forgetting how kind fate has been to her. She pictures what she might
have been, she sees what she is; and her soul is full of gladness.
In January 18, Rose is seventeen. She is to pass her examinations
the following summer. Her diary here gives evidence of a steadfast and
wholehearted optimism; she views the future with joyous eyes, or rather
she does not see it at all, which is the surest way of smiling at it
cheerfully. Her eyes are still the eyes of a child, to whom the
convent-garden is a world and the present hour an eternity.
Unfortunately, she had a rude awakening to life. The old man who had
adopted her died after a few days' illness, without having time to make
arrangements for her future. The good sisters at once wrote to her
grandmother; and, the next day, Rose was packed off to Sainte-Colombe
with a parcel of indulgences, a few sacred medals and a scapular round
her neck. What more can a young life want to stay its uncertain steps?
From that moment, I see her delicate profile stand out against a
background of pain and sorrow, like a lovely cameo whose dainty
workmanship has been obliterated by the hand of time. Moral suffering
can refine and accentuate the character of a beautiful face, is indeed
nearly always kind to it. But here the mental distress was only the
feeble reflection of a crushing and deadening material torture. In the
evenings, when the hour of rest came at last, Rose, exhausted, accepted
it dully; her whole body called for oblivion; her heavy eyelids
drooped; and her submerged wretchedness had no time for tears.
How could the poor girl make any resistance? Her environment was too
hostile, her disposition too gentle and the task laid upon her too
The very look of her diary, during those Sainte-Colombe days, tells
us her story far better than the words which it contains. The first few
pages are filled with wild and incoherent sentences. There are passages
that can scarcely be deciphered and others blotted with tears. Her
suffering is not sufficiently well-expressed for it to be understood
and more or less identified, but it can be felt and divined: it is a
landscape of pain, it is the sight of an inner life which has received
a grievous wound and whose blood is gushing forth in torrents.
And then hope is exhausted drop by drop; and with it go anger and
resistance. Everything goes under, grows still and silent. For months,
Rose hardly touches her diary: here and there, scattered on pages
bearing no date, are occasional melancholy reflections, the last
flickers of an expiring consciousness....
It is then, no doubt, that one day she flies to death for
deliverance. She is saved, but for a long time remains ill and weak.
When she recovers her health, her spirit is finally broken. In silence
and gloom, she drowns all feeling in work too heavy for her strength.
In the district they blame this young girl who, after receiving a
good education, has acquiesced in this miserable existence. And yet I
find a thousand reasons which explain her conduct and cannot find one
for condemning it. Rose's soul is still in the chrysalis-stage.
Ignorant of her own strength and qualities, how could she make use of
Is not this the case with most young girls? If our moral
transformations could bring about physical changes, if a woman, like a
butterfly, had to pass through different phases before attaining her
perfect state, we should almost always see her stop at the first and
die without even approaching the second.
It is difficult enough for us merely to conceive that there are
other roads to follow than that laid down for us by chance or by
parents too often shortsighted; and when we make the discovery, our
first dreams of liberty appear so momentous and so dangerous! Is it not
just then that we need time to venture upon the most lawful actions,
seeing that we have no sense of their real proportion?
It is as though a wall separated the life that is forced upon us
from the life which we do not know. Little by little, slowly, by
instinct as much as by volition, we withdraw from the wall and it seems
to become lower. The sky above us becomes vaster, the horizon is
disclosed before our eyes and we at last distinguish what is happening
on the other side. Ah, what sight would compare with that, if it broke
suddenly upon our vision, if we could view life as we view the
spreading country beneath us, when we stand on the summit of a tower!
All our senses, being equally affected, would impart to our will a
motive force which is, on the contrary, dissipated by the tardiness of
our feeble comprehension.
Yes, an age comes when our vision is clear and true; but often it is
too late to find a way out of the circle in which we are imprisoned.
That is the secret tragedy of many women's lives.
What would one not give to tell them, those women who tremble and
weep, to lift their minds high enough to see beyond their wretchedness!
Let them develop and strengthen themselves while still under the yoke,
in order to throw it off one day like a gossamer garment which one
casts aside without giving it a thought!...
I am happy. Wonderful flowers lie at my feet, flowers which have
been plucked and flung aside: I will pick them all up again, all of
them! I will gather them in my arms and steep myself in their scent!
One by one, I will tend them till they lift their heads again, I will
blend them cunningly; and, when I have bound the fair sheaf, fate may
do its worst!
It is no longer a question of the sanity or insanity of my
experiment, or my wisdom or unwisdom. There is a just action to be
accomplished; and, this time, circumstances favour my plans. In her
distress, in her horror of her present life, all the possibilities of
deliverance might have offered themselves to the girl: she would not
have seen them, she would even have fled from them instinctively, timid
as an animal too long confined. To save her, therefore, chance must
take to itself a substance and a name. Can I not be that chance?
She suffers; I will give her joy. She is tormented; I will give her
peace again. She knows not liberty; through me she will know its
rapture. Once already she has been snatched from death, but, on that
day, while they were carrying Rose to the presbytery, her long, golden
tresses wept along the wayside. But I will carry her where she pleases.
She shall be free and happy; and her hair shall laugh around her face.
It shall help me to light her destiny, for beauty is a beacon for
benighted hearts. Many will try to steer their course towards my
Roseline. It will be easy for her to choose her happiness.
True, I am aware how perilous and uncertain is my experiment. Will
it be possible to efface the evil impress left on that mind and body?
How much of her early grace, her early vigour shall we find? What will
have become of all the forces that, at seventeen, should still be frail
as promises, tender as the little green shoots of a first spring-day?
But no matter? The impulse is irresistible and nothing can stay me
now. Have no misgivings, Rose: hand in hand we will go through peril
and suspense. Embrace the hope which I offer you: I will bring it to
pass. Let nothing astonish you: all that is happening between us to-day
is natural. You will go hence because it is right that you should go;
and you will go of your own free will. It is not so much my heart which
will bring you comfort; it is rather your heart which will open. I
shall find in you all the good that you will receive from me.
I send for the girl without further delay. A fortnight has elapsed
since we first talked together; and I am anxious to know the result.
I look at her. A different woman is before my eyes. Is it a mistake?
Is it an illusion? No, it is all quite simple; and my words had no need
to be forcible or brilliant. The word that shows a glimpse of hope to
the sufferer has its own power.
She says nothing and I dare not question her. The wisdom that has
made her understand how serious the effect of my plans may be must also
make her fear their possible flippancy.
I have brought her into the dining-room. Sitting at the window, with
her hands folded in her lap and her head bowed, she remains there
without moving, heedless of the sun that is scorching her neck. Her
wide-eyed gaze wanders over things which it does not take in; her lips,
half-parted in a smile, betray the indecision of her soul. At last,
blushing all over her face, she stammers out:
I am frightened. You have awakened my longings, my dreams. I am
frightened. I would rather be as I was before I knew you, when I only
wanted to die. When your message was brought to the farm, I swore that
I would not come; and yet ... here I am!
I put my arm round her neck:
It's too late, I whispered, kissing her. To discuss the idea of
rebellion means to give way to it. Resist no longer, Roseline; let
Her incredulous eyes remained fixed on mine; and she said, slowly:
There is one thing that puzzles me. How am I to express it? I
should like to know why you take so much interest in me: I am neither a
friend nor a relation. And she added, with a knowing air, You see,
what you are doing doesn't seem quite natural!
My heart shrank. So this peasant, this rough, simple girl knew the
laws of the world! She knew that, even in the manner of doing good,
there are customs to be followed, conventions to be observed! Ah,
poor Rose, though your instinctive reason is like a broad white fabric
which circumstances have not yet soiled, your character already has
ugly streaks in it; the voice of the multitude spoke through your
lovely mouth and, for a brief second, it became disfigured in my eyes!
Alas, if I wore a queer head-dress and a veil down my back and a
chaplet hanging by my side and said to you, My child, I wish to save
your soul, would you not think my insistence quite simple and natural?
Taking her poor, deformed hands in mine, I knelt down beside her:
Rose, the happiness which I find in helping you is a sufficient
motive for me; and I will offer you no others.... I give you my
confidence blindly, for one can do nothing without faith. I give you my
confidence and I ask for yours. Will you vouchsafe it me?
The sun is streaming upon us; our faces are close together; my smile
calls for hers; my eyes gaze into hers; and I repeat my prayer.
Then she whispers, shily:
You see ... I have been deceived once; perhaps you don't know....
I interrupted her:
I know that we must have been deceived twenty times before we learn
to give our confidence blindly, like a little child!... I know that we
must have been perpetually deceived before we understand that nothing
proves anything; that everything is unforeseen, inconsistent, and
unexpected; and that we must just simply 'believe,' because it is good
to believe and because it is sweet to offer to others what we ourselves
are unhappy enough to lack.
She went on:
But what do you want me to do?
I want you to go away from here.
Because you are wretched here.
Has any one said so?
What does it matter what any one has said? I have only to look at
you to see that you are not happy. Oh, please don't regard this as an
act of charity, I would not even dare to talk about kindness! The
interest that impels me is one which you do not yet know; it looks to
none for recompense; it is its own reward. It is the mere joy, the mere
delight of knowledge.... Do you understand?
She shook her head; and I began to laugh:
I suppose I really am a little obscure!... But why do you force me
to explain myself now? You learn to understand me by degrees.... I am
leading you towards a goal of which I am almost as ignorant as you are;
I am only the guide waving a hand towards the roads which he himself
has taken and never knowing what the traveller will see or feel in the
depths of his being.
She was going to speak, but I placed my hand on her lips:
Hush! I ask nothing more of you. I shall know how to win your
I feel that she is silenced but not convinced. Hers is not a
character to be thus persuaded: she will wait for deeds before judging
the sincerity of words. I feel clearly that she is searching and
judging me, while I myself am engaged in discovering her; and I shall
have some curiosity in bending over the untroubled waters of that soul
in order to see my image there, as soon as there is sufficient light to
reflect my image.
Rose is already almost happy. Hope is penetrating her life; and the
moments of rest filter into her days of wearisome toil like the cool
water trickling through the rocks.
As soon as she can get away on any excuse, she runs across to me.
Flushed and laughing, she hurls herself into my arms with all the
violence of a catastrophe; she crushes my cheek with a vehement kiss
which waits for no response; and my hair catches in the rough hands
squeezing my head. Smiling, I cannot help warding off the attack, while
she pours out a torrent of incoherent words at the top of her voice....
During our early talks, I tried speaking very quietly, as a hint
that she should do the same. She would shake the house with the thunder
of her most intimate confidences, bellowed after the fashion of the
peasants, who are accustomed to keep up a conversation from one end of
a field to the other. As I obtained no result, I had to speak to her
about it; and, because I did so as delicately as possible, in order not
to wound her feelings, she burst into a roar of laughter which showed
me that her rustic life had robbed her of all sensitiveness.
Being now authorised to admonish her at all times with regard to her
gestures, her voice and her accent, I often make her repeat the same
sentence; and, when I at last hear her natural voice, her original
sweet and attractive voice, to which the music is beginning to return,
shily and timidly, my heart overflows with joy. But, two minutes after,
she is again bawling out her most trivial remarks, with a cheerful
unconcern that disarms my wrath. Then I plead for silence as I would
for mercy, draw her down upon my lap, take her head in my arms and
nurse her as I would a child.
The stillness is so intense in the grove where we are sitting side
by side, I am so anxious for her to feel it, that I become impatient
and irritable. When I am with her, I am in a perpetual ferment. Her
beauty and her coarseness hurt me, like two ill-matched colours that
attract and wound the eyes. I calm myself by scattering all my thoughts
over her promiscuously; and, though most of them are carried away by
the wind, I imagine that I am sprinkling them on her life to make it
I am nursing you in my arms to wake you, my Roseline, just as one
nurses children to put them to sleep. See what poor creatures we are!
As a rule, it is the conventions and constraint of our upbringing, with
all its artificiality and falsehood, that divide us. To-day, it is the
opposite that rises between you and me and spoils our happiness! I have
often longed to meet a woman who was so simple as to be almost
uncivilised; and, now that you are here, I dread your gestures and your
voice, which grate upon me and annoy me!
But am I not simple? Rose asks, ingenuously.
People generally confuse simplicity with ignorance, too often also
with sillinesswhich is not the case with you, I added, with a smile.
Real, that is to say, conscious simplicity is not even recognised;
and, when it becomes active, it appears to vulgar minds a danger that
must be averted. The better to attack it, they disfigure it. It is this
proud and noble grace that I want you to acquire. Look, it may be
compared with this diamond which I wear on my finger. The stone is
absolutely simple; and yet through how many hands has it passed before
becoming so! How many transformations has it undergone! How magnificent
is its bare simplicity when set off by the plain gold ring! It is the
same with us. For simplicity to be beautiful in us, we must have cut
and polished our soul and person many times over. Above all, we must
have learnt the harmony of things and become fixed in that knowledge,
like the stone which you see held in these gold claws.
She asked, with an effort to modulate her voice:
Oughtn't I to take you for my model?
No, Rose! You frighten me when you say that! You must not think of
it. Listen to me: if ever we are permitted to imitate any one, it is
only in the pains which she herself takes to improve herself. As for
me, I wanted to achieve simplicity and I looked for it as one looks for
a spot that is difficult to reach and easy to miss. For a long time, I
wandered beyond it. Rather than stoop to false customs, to lying
conventions, I followed the strangest fancies.... Now it all makes me
Makes you laugh?
Yes, past errors are dead branches that make our present life burn
more brightly. But, when I see how I judge my former selves, I become
suspicious as to what I may soon think of my actual self; and therefore
I do not wish you to take me as an example.
Rose was still lying in my arms; and her beautiful eyes were looking
up at me. I raised her head in my hands and whispered, tenderly:
I feel that you understand me, that my words touch you, that you
trust me and that you love me deep down in your heart; I feel that you
also will soon be able to speak and unburden yourself freely, to be
silent amid silence and peaceful amid the peace of things....
The girl rose to her feet, with a glint of emotion animating her
features; and, as though to escape my eyes, she took a few steps in the
garden. While she was hidden by the bend of the narrow path fenced by
the tall sunflowers, my heart was filled with misgiving: her step was
so heavy, so clumsy! Would she ever be able to improve her walk?
Judging by the ponderous rhythm of her hips, one would always think
that she was carrying invisible burdens at the end of each of her
But she soon returned; and her fair countenance was so adorable amid
the golden glory of the great flowers that I could not suppress a cry
of admiration. She came towards me smiling; and, to protect herself a
little from the blinding sunlight, she was holding both hands over her
head. Was it simply the curve of her raised arms that thus transfigured
her whole bearing, that reduced the unwieldiness of her figure and made
its lines freer? It was, no doubt; but it was also the soft breeze
which now blew against her and accentuated the movement of her limbs by
plastering her thin cotton skirt against them. And the heavy gait now
seemed stately; and the excessive stride appeared virile and bold. I
watched the humble worker in the fields, the poor farm-girl; and I
thought of the proud Victory whom my mind pictured enfolding all
the beauties of the Louvre in her mighty wings!
We were lying in the long grass, looking up at the sky through the
branches of the apple-trees and watching the clouds drift past.
The light was fading slowly, the leaves became dim, the birds
Rose, I do nothing but think of you. Who are you? What will become
of you? I should like to anticipate everything, so as to save you every
pain. Had you been happy and well-cared-for, I would have wished you
trouble and grief. But, strengthened as you now are by many trials, you
will be able to find in sorrows avoided and only seen in the distance
all the good which we usually draw from them by draining them to the
I am not afraid, I expect to be unhappy.
I hope that you will not be unhappy. The change will be quite
simple if it is wisely brought about; you will drop out of your present
life like a ripe fruit dropping from its stalk.
How shall I prepare myself?
So far, your chief merit has been patience. But now rouse yourself,
look around you, judge, find out your good and bad qualities.
Rose interrupted me:
My good qualities! Have I any?
Indeed you have: plenty of common sense, a great power of
resistance, shrewdness. By means of these, you have been able to subdue
the tyranny of others: can you not escape from that of your failings?
Your life has adapted itself to an evil and stupid environment; it must
now adapt itself to the environment of your own self.
From the neighbouring farms came the plaintive, monotonous cry
calling the cattle home. The drowsy sky became one universal grey,
while the night dews covered the earth with a faint haze.
I am surprised that, when you were so unhappy, solitude did not
appear to you in the light of a beautiful dream.
Rose's timid and astonished voice echoed my last words:
A beautiful dream! Then do you like solitude?
Oh, Rose, I owe it the greatest, the only joys of my childhood! It
was to gain solitude that, later, I set myself to win my independence,
knowing that, if I did not meet with the love I wished, I should yet be
happier alone than among others.
But, still, you do not live alone!
I remained silent for a moment, stirred by that question which
filled my mind with the thought of my own happiness; and then I said in
a whisper, as though speaking to myself:
Rose, my present life is the most exquisite form of independence
And I went on:
Ah, Rose, to know how to be alone! That is the finest conquest that
a woman can make! You cannot imagine my rapture when I first found
myself in a home of my own, surrounded by all the things purchased by
my work. When I came in at the end of the day, my heart used to throb
with gladness. No pleasure has ever seemed to equal that blessed
harmony which reigned and reigns in my soul or that assured peace which
no one can take from me, because it depends only on my mood.
Teach me that joy.
It is only a brighter light of our own consciousness, a more
detached and loftier contemplation of what affects us, a truer way of
seeing and understanding....
The girl murmured:
Shall I ever have it?
Later, when you have gone away.
And, in response to her anxious sigh, I went on, confidently:
And you will go away when you want to go as badly as I did, when
your object is not so much to escape unhappiness as to secure
happiness; for, when you become what I hope to see you, you will look
at things so differently! You will pity those about you, you will not
judge them. The irksome duties laid upon you will not be a burden to
you. You will understand the beauty of the country for the first time;
and the thought of leaving it will reveal its sweetness to you. But, on
the other hand, fortunately, new reasons for going will appeal to your
conscience: first, your just pride in what you are and what you may
become; the sense of your independence; and the vision of a wider and
nobler existence. And, in this way, you will go not to escape annoyance
or to please me, but as a duty towards yourself.
It was the silent hour when nature seems to be awaiting the
darkness. Not a breath, not a sound, while the colours of the day
vanish one by one before the life of the evening has yet begun to
I turned to my companion. With a great labourer's knife in her hand,
she was solemnly whittling a piece of wood. She answered my enquiring
It is to fasten to Blossom's horns; she's getting into bad
And, quickly, fearing lest she had hurt me, she added:
I was listening, you know!
Standing in the porch, we breathe the scent of the rose-trees laden
with roses. It has been raining heavily. Tiny drops drip from leaf to
leaf; the flowers, for a moment bowed down, raise their heads; the
birds resume their singing; and, in the sunbeams that now appear,
slanting and a little treacherous, the pebbles on the path glitter like
We had taken shelter, during the storm, inside the house, where we
sat eating sweets, laughing and talking without restraint. But now Rose
is uneasy; she looks at me and says, abruptly:
Do you love me?
I cannot tell you yet.
She insists, coaxingly:
Do tell me!
Darling, I have become very chary of words like that, for I know
what pain we can give if, after our lips have uttered them, they are
not borne out by all our later acts. As we grow in understanding, I
believe that it becomes more difficult for us to distinguish the exact
value of the friendship which we bestow.
For the very reason that we grow at the same time less capable of
hatred, contempt and indifference. If a fellow-creature is natural, he
interests us by the sole fact of the life which he represents; and, if
circumstances make us meet him often, it will be hard for us to be
certain whether what we are actually lavishing upon him is friendship
or only interest.
She seemed to like listening to me; and I continued in the same
A moment, therefore, comes when our understanding is like a second
heart, a heart that seems to anticipate and complete the other, by
giving perfect security to its movements....
A breath of wind passed and stripped the petals from a rose that
hung in the doorway. And our shoulders were covered with little scented
Beside the house, two old cypresses make great pools of shadow in
the bright, green garden. Motionless, they keep a pious and jealous
watch over the stone fountain whose basin seems to round itself into an
obliging mirror for their benefit. Here, amid the cool stillness, the
running water murmurs its unceasing orison.
I make Rose sit beside the fountain and slowly I begin unbinding her
Oh, the beauty of the honey-coloured waves that roll down her
shoulders and frame her face in their sweetness! Again and again I
lifted and shook out those long-imprisoned tresses, giving them life
and liberty at last. Rose, following the ancient fashion of our Norman
peasant-women, does her hair into a mass of tight little plaits,
twisted so cruelly as to forbid all freedom.
The better to efface the impress of their tyrannical past, I had to
dip them into water. They opened out, like sea-weed.
I had brought rich materials, jewels and flowers for Rose's
adornment. All her beauty, so long hidden, was at last to stand
revealed. I knew its potency, I divined its splendour; but her hair was
too barbarously done, her garments too coarse and rough for me to
discover the character of her beauty or say what constituted its
Rose, still smiling, held her head back patiently and, with closed
eyes, gave herself over to my tender mercies. Then another picture, a
similar picture, but tragic and now fading into dimness, rose in my
mind; and, almost in spite of myself, I said, softly:
Your long hair must have floated like this, I expect, on the day
when you wished to die. And it must have been its splendour that would
not suffer such a catastrophe. I wonder, dear, that you should have
wished that, you who are so faint-hearted in the presence of life!
Her forehead, bronzed by the summer suns, turned a warmer colour,
like a ripe apricot; the veins on her temples swelled a little; and she
I don't know ... I don't know....
I made fruitless efforts to find out the cause of her embarrassment;
her face clouded; and she said nothing more. Then, after doing up her
hair, I began to drape a material around her. I was thoroughly enjoying
myself. Rose noticed it and asked me why I was smiling.
Why? I cried. Why? Oh, of course, you are incapable at present of
understanding the pleasure which I feel! And how many are there who
could distinguish its true quality? People admire the new-blown flower,
they are touched by a child's first smile, they travel day and night to
stand on a mountain-top and see the dawn conquering the shadows of the
earth; and it is considered natural that, at such moments, our feminine
hearts, always ready to be poured out, should be filled with love and
incense. But it is thought strange that one of us should recognise and
greet the union of all the graces in the fairest of her sisters! And
yet one must be a woman to feel what I feel to-day, in unveiling and
adorning your beauty. For it charms me without intoxicating me, sheds
its radiance on me without dazzling me and makes my heart throb without
causing my hands to tremble.... When the lover for the first time
beholds the object of his love, longing clouds his eyes. Certainly, his
sentiment is no less noble or less great, but it is of a very different
nature! Other joys are mine, a thousand, new and glorious emotions,
emotions of the heart and of the mind, the childish and girlish joys of
dressing up, decorating and adorning, of creating form and colour, in a
word, beauty, the stuff of which happiness is made!
Rose interrupted me:
Happiness? Do you think so?
Yes, because beauty calls for love. Does not our happiness as women
lie above everything in love?
Making one of those horrible movements with her feet, hands and
shoulders of which I had done my best to correct her, Rose expressed
her disgust with such violence as to undo the brooch with which I had
just fastened the folds of a long white drapery to her shoulders:
Oh, she cried, I hate love, I hate it!
Then she covered her face with her open hands; slowly the material
slipped down to her waist; and her bust stood out against the dark
trees, white and pure as that of a marble statue.
The great calm that is born of beauty compelled me to silence. Rose
remained without moving, untroubled by the nudity which, at any other
time, she would have refused to unveil. Did her emotion make her
unconscious, or was it, on the contrary, lifting her to a plane in
which false modesty had no place? Did she, in that brief minute,
realise how our actions change their values in proportion to the
fineness of our perception?...
I threw my cloak round her and drew aside her hands: her face was
wet with tears. I cross-examined her: could she have suffered through
What is the matter, Roseline? Why are you so bitter against
something you have never experienced?
She tried to smile through her tears and said, innocently:
It's nothing.... It was like a shower: it's over now, quite
over.... You are right, I really don't know why love fills me with such
And she came quietly and sat down again beside the fountain.
For the third time, I began to coil and uncoil her hair:
You see, I was wrong just now, I said, when I uncovered your neck
and crowned your forehead. This is what suits you: the severe Roman
style! And, though that loathing which you expressed just now seems to
me unnatural, I feel almost tempted to excuse it in you, because it is
so much in keeping with your impassive loveliness.
Kneeling in front of her, I tried to make the folds of the material
follow the natural curves of her body. Meanwhile, Rose seemed to be
watching other reflections in the water than ours. Suddenly, she leant
forward and put her beautiful bronzed arms round my neck; and I felt
that she was willing me to look up. Then I raised my head and, when we
were gazing into each other's eyes, she said, laying a sort of grave
stress on every syllable:
Do you forgive everything, absolutely everything?
To answer yes is not answering half enough, I said. And, kissing
her, I added, If you had to tell me of a serious fault, I should love
to give proof of my indulgence; but are you not the best of girls?
I had an impression, for a second, that she was hesitating and that
I was about to receive the solemn confession of a childish fault. But
she at once replied, in a decisive little way:
I could not be as indulgent as you, really!
Because you are not so happy yet, my dearest.... Come, I have my
own reasons for spoiling you and coaxing you and wanting you to be
beautiful. I know what good fruits are born of those flowers of joy!...
But I have finished my work. Get up, Rose, come with me! Come and see
yourself a goddess!
And I carried her off to the drawing-room.
Straight and slender in the long white folds falling to her feet,
the girl stands before the mirror and stares with astonishment at her
glorified image. Does she grasp the importance of this hour? Does she
reflect that, at this minute, one of the great secrets of her destiny
has been revealed to me by this woman's game which has given me a
child's pleasure? Does she know that the moment is grave, unmatched and
marvellous and that, by my friendly hands, chance is to-day showing her
the power which she can wield and the realm over which she can rule?
Her everyday clothes are lying at her feet: the coarse chemise, the
barbarous bodice, the hat trimmed with faded ribbons. Ah, Roseline, why
cannot I as easily fling far from you all that imprisons your life and
fetters your soul!
You are beautiful! I say to her. You are beautiful! Do you know
what that means? Beauty is the source of happiness; and it is also the
source of goodness, forgiveness and indulgence! Your face, if you take
pleasure in looking at it, will teach you much better than I can what
you must be. It will make you kind and gentle and generous, if you have
the wish to be in perfect harmony with it. Thanks to your beauty, my
Rose, you will be able, if you have a true conception of its dignity,
to achieve one perfect moment in your life!
Alas, she does not share my enthusiasm! I take her hand, I lead her
through the house, into all the rooms which she does not know. I keep
on hoping that, in a new mirror, in a different light, she will at last
catch sight of herself as she is and that she will weep for joy!...
Meanwhile, she accompanies me, serene and smiling, pleased above all
at my delight. In this way, we come to the last mirror; and my hopes
are frustrated. But, in truth, I am too much entranced with the vision
which she offers to my eyes to grieve at anything; and soon I am very
much inclined to think her admirable for not feeling what I should have
felt in her place. After disappointing me, the very excess of her
coldness captivates my interest; and my enthusiasm does not permit me
to seek commonplace or contemptible reasons for it.
When admiration fills a woman's soul, it becomes nothing but an
immense cup brimming with light, a flower penetrated by the noon-day
sun until the heat makes its perfume overpowering.
The shadows lengthen when the sun descends in the heavens; and those
which, in the broad light, enhance the brilliancy of all things now
overspread and gradually extinguish them. Thus do our anxieties
increase when our joy lessens; and those which made us smile in the
plenitude of our happiness before long make us weep....
She has lied to me! I am sure now that she has lied! What has she
done? What can she be hiding from me? I can imagine nothing that could
kill the interest which I take in her, but she has lied! I was certain
of it yesterday, after our talk, when I remembered her blushes and her
embarrassment. I wanted to write to her then and could not. Darkness
has fallen suddenly between her and me; and I no longer know to whom I
am speaking; I no longer know what soul hears me nor at what heart I
A friend's lie hurts us even more than it humiliates us; it tells us
that we have not been understood and that we inspire distrust or fear.
I remember saying to her, one day:
I would rather know that you hate me than ever feel that you fear
me. You must hide nothing from me, unless you want to wound me deeply;
for the person to whom we feel obliged to lie is much more responsible
for our lie than even we are.
But how can I hope that every one of my words will be remembered and
understood and turned to account! I enjoy talking into the soul of this
great baby as one likes singing in an unfurnished house; and I am none
the less conscious of the illusion of it all. If we are to influence a
fellow-creature, we do so best without aiming at it too carefully.
Success comes with time, by intercourse and example.
We are now on the threshold of autumn and the days are already
short. By seven o'clock, all the farms are sleeping....
When I left Rose yesterday, it was understood that she should
sometimes come to see me in the evening, when her day's work has not
been too hard. She is to come across the downs and tap at the shutters
of the room where I sit every evening after dinner.
To-day, I was hoping that she would not come and I gave a start of
annoyance when I heard her whisper outside the window:
Mummy! Mummy, dear!
It is a name which she sometimes gives me in play. Women who have no
children and do not expect ever to have any lend to all their emotions
an extra tenderness, an extra solicitude. It is that unemployed force
in our hearts which is striving for union with others.
Still, her affection displeased me this evening and, while I was
putting on a wrap, my hands trembled with irritation. Rose, thinking
that I had not heard her, raised her voice a little and repeated:
Mummy! It's your little girl!
I go out into the moonless, starless night, with my eyes still full
of the light indoors; and our hands meet blindly before exchanging a
pressure. She says good-evening and I kiss her without answering. I am
afraid of betraying my ill-humour; I feel that I am hard and spiteful,
but I hope that the mood will pass; and my anger, because it remains
unspoken, takes a form that favours forgiveness. If she confesses of
her own accord, without being impelled to do so by my attitude, I know
that my confidence in her will revive.
We walk in silence through the sombre avenue. The night seems darker
because no sound disturbs its stillness; only the dead leaves, swept
along by our skirts, drag along, utter a cry like rending silk.
One would think the air was listening!
I could not help exclaiming:
That's rather fine, what you said then!
And silence closes in again around our two little lives, both
doubtless stirred by one and the same thought.
We go a little farther and sit down in the fields, where an
unfinished haystack offers us a couch. We can hardly distinguish the
line of the horizon between the dark earth and the dark sky. A bat
flits across our faces; and Rose says, quietly:
It's flying low. That means fine weather to-morrow. I must get in
And suddenly her voice breaks and she covers her face with her
hands. All is silent....
I feel myself brutally good. The certainty of the coming confession
encourages me in my coldness and I remain mute, while my heart is
beating with pity and excitement....
But she speaks at last and each note of that tear-filled voice, by
turns faltering, violent and plaintive, brings before my eyes, staring
into the darkness, every step of her soul's calvary. I listen in
astonishment. And yet do we not know that every woman's existence has
its secret? I see the long procession of those who have told me their
story. The weakest of them had found strength to love; to yield to
man's desire, the bravest had been cowardly, the truest had betrayed,
the most loyal and upright had lied. Everywhen and everywhere the flame
of life had found its way through rocks, thrust aside obstacles,
subjugated wills. Even the woman whom nature had most jealously
defended, the plain woman whom I saw imprisoned in a stunted shape and
condemned to live behind an ugly mask, even she, when she told me her
love-story, compelled me to believe that she had been the most beloved,
perhaps, and her passion the most heroic.
Rose, following the common law, had no strength to fulfil her own
will, but all strength to obey another's. Soon after arriving at
Sainte-Colombe, five years ago, she came to know a young man who had
since left the district. One day, when they were alone in the farmhouse
kitchen, he flung his arms around her and, without a word, overcame her
I could not help interrupting her story:
Did you love him, Rose?
No, she said, I did not!
Then, why did you yield?... Why?
I don't know, she sobbed. He had such a strange, wild look, I was
But what did you do afterwards?
He asked me to go and see him; and I went whenever he asked me....
Then your godmother didn't know?
She guessed it on the first day; and, when I refused to take
anything from him, she beat me and locked me up.
Well, what then?
I managed to get out at night, by the roof....
I would not let the subject drop:
Then you were very, very happy when you were with him?
But she exclaimed, artlessly:
Oh, not at all! But he loved me, he said; and I thought that he
would always stay here, for my sake.... He went away soon, without
letting me know. When I understood that he was not coming back, I
loathed myself and him ... and I tried to do away with myself....
She burst into fresh sobs.
I should have liked to rise and lead her away. I should have liked
Come, cease these repinings; let us walk across the silent fields
and forget all this for ever! Every one feels love differently and
looks at it in a different light. Come, waste no time in repentance and
don't go on being angry with that man! Faults that diminish our
ignorance are not faults, but almost graces which chance bestows upon
us. Come! And break away from the bitterness that is spoiling your
But, with a sigh, she leant her head on my shoulder and I sat
motionless and dumb: that little action on her part suddenly altered
the whole course of my feelings.
At moments of deep emotion, many different voices speak in our
hearts. They seem to clash, to drown and contradict one another; but
really they are hesitating and waiting. Even as human voices require
the striking of a chord before harmonising, so do these inner voices
wait for our unhappy friend to speak a word that shall unconsciously
give the note of the thoughts that will comfort and soothe him.
Oh, you do not speak! Your silence frightens me!
Don't be afraid of it, dearest. Silence nearly always means that
the words which will follow will be just. And, summoning all my
tenderness, I added, You see, I am trying to bind all my most diverse
thoughts together. I should like to hand them to you as I would a bunch
of flowers, for you to choose the one that will restore your peace of
mind. I am afraid of hurting you, I understand your wound so well.
The girl presses against my breast; and our kisses meet in a
spontaneous outburst of affection....
Sadly I think of all those who are weeping, weeping over like
sorrows. There are other wounded hearts bleeding in mine; my memory
echoes with the mournful prayers of the poor deluded victims of love.
Alas, we are all subject to the cruel and exquisite law that absorbs
the firmest wills in its indifferent strength!
I feel Roseline's hands quivering under my fingers, but I dare not
speak. The silence of the fields and the solemn darkness awe me. Do not
our least words seem to be written on the velvet of the night in
precious and lasting letters?...
At last, I wiped away her tears and long and gently tried to rally
her. But, suddenly drawing herself up, Rose cried:
I don't understand you, I no longer understand you! What you are
saying is just so much more silence and I wait for your judgment in
vain! You have, you must have, an opinion on what I have done. The
reason why I hesitated so long to confess my fault was because I knew
instinctively that you would blame me; and now I feel you so far from
me.... Please judge me, be angry with me: it will be easier for you to
forgive me afterwards!...
I do not know why this blind insistence offended me. Until then I
had remained calm; but at her words there burst from the depths of my
being the voice of instinct, that voice which I had tried to stifle,
almost unconsciously, by force of habit and training.... Oh, that
blatant, piercing voice! It seemed to me to rend the darkness, to scoff
at my heart and my sweet reasonableness! It was as though I saw all my
kindly dreams of tolerance and indulgence fly into a thousand
splinters! Never had I so clearly realised their brittleness. My anger
was all the greater because it was still trammelled by fragments of my
I placed my hands on her shoulders and shouted close to her face,
which my eyes could not distinguish:
Why, why will you rouse my instinct, my nerves, all those things
which should never interfere in our judgments and beyond which we
should try to look if we would understand the actions of others? You
give the name of silence to the words spoken by my reason and you wish
to be judged by a blind and senseless power! But that idiot power
mercilessly condemns all the faults committed in its name! That power,
which is making me tremble now with excitement, will tell you that you
could have done nothing worse! Do you understand? Nothing, nothing! And
it will overwhelm you with reproaches. For it is not your action that
revolts me; it is your apathy, your flabbiness, your cowardice!... You
gave yourself without knowing why! You did not surrender for the sake
of the joy that makes us fairer and better! You did not surrender
because love had taken your heart by storm! You did not sacrifice
yourself to an idea: had it been vile and base, I could still have
accepted it! No, you gave yourself without knowing why! You obeyed the
will of the first-comer, as the silliest and most docile of wives obeys
the recognised canons and conventions ... without knowing why!... Ah,
Rose, Rose! I wanted to help you to become strong and free. What a
character, what a disposition you bring me! And yet I did not ask so
much! I wanted your nature to have strength and flexibility, so that my
hands might have taken it and moulded it. I looked forward to shaping
it and giving it nobility and refinement....
Tears choked my words. At that moment, the disappointment appeared
to me complete and irreparable. Still, so as not to sadden her unduly,
Do not misunderstand me, my poor Rose; I am not saying that you
soiled yourself by yielding to that man. I should not care much if you
had; for, if the fairest forms could take birth from the mud in the
gutter, you would see me plunge my hands in it without reluctance. No,
what distresses me is your weakness; and I have simply likened your
nature to a substance without consistency and impossible to mould.
Rose moaned and sobbed:
To please you, I will brave everything.... Don't forsake me!... Go
on loving me!...
I divined rather than saw the body lying prone, with her head on the
ground; and the paler shadow of her hair reminded me of the dear beauty
of her. I grew calmer. The comfort of having said all that I had to say
relieved my heart and sent rippling through my veins, like a cool
stream, a more natural indulgence than that which had animated me at
first. Bending over Rose, I reflected that reason weighs heavily on a
woman's breast and that it is well to thrust it aside occasionally. I
tried to reassure her between my kisses:
I am wrong to be so irritable and despondent; forgive me! I believe
that your nature will never be vivid or strong; but your
newly-developed conscience will save you from fresh weaknesses.
Besides, in some direction we shall find what you are capable of.
Destiny asks little of us when we have little to give it; and events
pass us by of their own accord. Your life can be gentle and passive and
still be useful and good. It is my own fault if I am disappointed: I am
always more or less of a child; and I become passionately enthusiastic
on the strength of a smile, or a pure outline, or a beautiful profile.
I ought not to have looked in you for what existed only in my
Then you are no longer angry with me?
Why should I be?
I kissed her tenderly. Poor child, so she had suffered through love!
I pitied her; and yet the happiness of knowing her a little better
swallowed up my pity. Things move quickly in those who, not believing
in heaven, seek upon earth the beginning and the end of life and all
that comes between. And they come to prefer to the highest joys those
which foster a clearer vision and a truer comprehension.
And, trying to explain myself, I added:
One would think that a time comes when we judge like a traveller
looking out from the top of a tower. All the differences melt into
unity before his eyes. He turns slowly and sees, on the one side, the
forest; on the other, the sea; at his feet, the noisy town, the world;
a little farther, the calm and peace of the fields; and, overhead, the
infinite indifference of the skies. And, like him, we are engrossed in
what we discover and we no longer see the tower by which we climbed nor
feel that on which our feet stand; and we are nothing, nothing but a
thinking light that settles upon some life.
We lay stretched in the clover that was still warm from the heat of
the day; and our arms were locked and our hair intertwined. My cheek
cooled hers, which her tears had set on fire; and the sombre peace of
the sky sank into us. We were both filled with the peculiar happiness
that comes after a painful confession, a happiness whose source is a
sense of security, a joy that seems yearning to cover us with its wings
for one halcyon hour.
Rose, darling, never forget the feeling of relief which you have
now. That sense of security is infinitely precious. Let its fragrance
remain with you for ever. May it become impossible for you to do
without it. Seek it, insist upon it silently, even from the strangers
whom you may meet. Falsehood destroys the perfume and the bloom of
women: it makes them colourless and uniformly commonplace. Always have
the courage to be true. A sort of secret combat is waged between any
two persons who meet for the first time. Remember that, as a woman, you
have always the choice of weapons; and choose them frankly. In so
doing, you will gain courage and assurance and the great strength that
springs from harmony, from the perfect accord of our body, our mind and
our speech. I do not say that you will necessarily conquer with that
weapon, but I do say that, even if defeated, you will, contrary to the
general rule, feel mightier and more exultant than before!
A star appeared, a quiver ran through the trees near by and passed
over all the earth. The night was rising.
I was at my ease beside my companion; our hearts were again at one.
That love-incident, however lacking in love, had brought her nearer to
I do not know which path you will choose, my Rose; but we all have
two roads by which to reach the goal for which we are making: to be or
to seem. The real lovers of life will always choose the first. They
will arrive later; perhaps they will never arrive. But, after all, what
does arriving mean?
Rose at once retorted:
Still, why have a goal, if not to reach it?
The girl's practical logic amused me; and our laughter rang out in
unison across the fields.
Rose, morally speaking, the goal is really the means which we
employ to attain it. It is a light which we voluntarily flash in front
of our footsteps. We can neither miss it nor reach it, because it moves
with us. It becomes greater or smaller or is renewed, according to the
evolution of our strength and our life....
We had risen from the ground and, as we talked, were slowly
following the path that skirts the orchard. Rose asked:
Cannot you more or less describe your goal, the one you are
I hesitated for a moment and, almost involuntarily, murmured:
To know a little more ... to see a little farther ... to understand
a little better....
Rose repeated, slowly and earnestly:
To know a little more ... to see a little....
But I laughingly stopped her, for the words sounded too serious in
our young souls.
The orchard-gate closed between us. I was walking away, when Rose
called to me:
Come and kiss me again....
I ran back to her. She leant over the hedge and I could only just
distinguish her face. Then our lips met of themselves, like flowers
For a long time, in the still air, I heard her heavy footfall.
Next day, Rose was with me early in the morning:
I could not sleep, she said. I wanted to speak to you without
tears or blushes. If I have done wrong, I have atoned for it; and it is
done with. All that remained of it was a sad memory; and, now that I
have considered it with you, even that is gone.
I look at her. Her appearance pleases me. Her step is firm, her
cheeks are pale, her eyes burning; she is living more ardently than
usual. She continues, with animation:
You said to me once that people who believe in another life seem to
sweep their sins and their remorse up to the doors of eternity. For us,
you said, who have not that illusion, everything is different: we do
not put off paying the bill for our sins. We can recognise their
consequences; and that is our expiation. And you added, proudly, It
is cowardly to look to another for it, even if that other were God!
We are walking in the orchard. The long grass is bending under the
weight of the dew, which has decked it with a thousand glittering
jewels. As we pass by a tree laden with apples, Rose pulls a branch to
her and, without plucking the fruit, bites into it. I watch the lips
part and the white teeth meet and disappear in the juicy pulp. For a
second, the soft red mouth rounds over the fruit, which seems to match
its beauty and to be questioning Rose about her pitiful love-affairs.
Then, Rose dear, you were not really happy for a moment with your
But he was young, I suppose, and more or less good-looking?
She thinks for a moment and then bends her head.
You remember it, Rose?
The girl appears astonished and answers, hesitatingly:
It is five years ago, I don't remember now....
I was surprised in my turn and looked at her. What! She didn't
remember! She had forgotten that! Her lips had not retained the impress
of the first kiss!
My eyes closed and from the background of my life a bygone moment
rose, one of those memories that linger in the hearts of women with
such fidelity and vividness that they lack not a scent, a sound, a
line, a word, a look, a gesture!
I was twelve years old and he fifteen. It was at the seaside. Our
parents were talking a few steps away, but night was falling and a
fisherman's hut hid us from their eyes. He bent over to me and our lips
met in a simple kiss, simple as a flower with petals still unopened,
for we were both of us innocent....
I can still see the colour and the shape of the drifting clouds. I
can smell the mingled breath of the sea and of his boyish mouth. I can
remember how I felt as a frightened, trembling and enraptured little
girl.... A sailor was singing some way off; and the gulls that circled
between sea and sky seemed to be keeping the last rays of daylight upon
their white wings.
Why, I know that boy's mouth by heart and shall always know it! We
often kissed again, without even dreaming that, at this game as at all
games, there might be room for progress!... And then ... and then ...
that's all I remember of him.... The next is another memory, at another
place and another age.... And then another again....
Would one not think that, in the more or less happy lives of us
women, in our more or less easily traversed roads, the sensations of
love are so many illuminated floral arches that mark the different
stages of our accomplishment? We go up to them, we pass through them
with hopes, smiles or sighs. But, whatever they may be, we come out of
them fairer and better. What should we be without that, without love?
The love which is rebuked, which we are supposed to hide and blush for!
The love that entreats both our strength and our weakness, our patience
and our fervour, our passion and our reason! The love that sets in
motion our highest faculties and our lowest instincts, that makes each
of us know her own power and her own poverty by the part which she
allows it to play in her life!
In that moment, I saw and lived my joys in the kisses of childhood
and girlhood. I travelled my road again; and the arches of light seemed
higher to me and they followed hard on one another, becoming ever more
radiant and decked with gayer flowers, until this very hour when the
desired happiness has been found, established and kept fast....
My thoughts return to Rose, who has sat down under a tree; and I
stretch myself beside her.
A herd of cows suddenly enters the orchard. White and brown, they
plunge among the apple-trees; driven by a child, who is taking them
down to the long grass, they amble heavily along in meek-eyed
resignation. A smell of cow-shed at once reaches our nostrils; and, in
the silence, we hear a noise of busy munching....
Darling, you, who have always lived in the midst of nature, should
have sounder and more accurate ideas on love than those of other women,
while mine are a little warped by my over-cultivated nerves and
feelings. If, for instance, you had said to me, yesterday, 'I gave
myself because it was natural,' you would have dominated my poor reason
from the pinnacle of an essential truth.
Without quite understanding what I say, Rose smiles in answer to my
smile and we remain silent; our eyes gaze without seeing and our idle
hands trail in the wet grass. We hear, without listening, the hoarse,
fat, cooing-voluptuous voices of the doves: in the cool air of the
morning, among the leaves, the flowers and the branches, it is an
undercurrent of joy rising and falling, suspended for a moment and then
beginning again, in unwearying repetition.
Why are you always saying that I cannot make progress without love?
It makes me unhappy when you say that. I should have liked to have
nothing in the world but your affection. You kissed me so tenderly last
night, over the hedge.
It is not the same thing, Rose darling. Certainly, there is nothing
more harmonious and purer than the kiss that joins the lips of two
friends like ourselves. But it is not the same thing as the kiss of
love, for the value of that lies not only in what it is, but in what it
promises; and it is a delight that sometimes echoes through our whole
lives.... You will have to love before you understand.
The girl folded her arms around my waist as though to bind herself
But how would you have me love any one but yourself? she asked.
Have you not given me happiness? When I am with you, I seem to be
living in a fairy-tale.
Despite the pleasure which her words gave me, I made an effort to
The character of a woman who tries to be just is full of these
little contradictions. In proportion as her heart is satisfied, she
finds her intellect becoming clearer and stronger; and what calls for
her judgment rarely leaves her heart unmoved. If Rose had not
protested, I should still have spoken, from a sense of duty, but my
words would have been without warmth or conviction. Now it seemed to me
that her charming compliment gave added force to what I was about to
utter in the interest of another's happiness.
She leant her face against my breast and my fingers played with her
sunny hair, her unbound hair, which was now waving joyously, crowning
her with a shimmer of amber and gold.
No, I replied, you must fall in love in order to develop and
expand. Our women's lives are like summer days: wisdom tells us to
follow their evolution. After the morning's waiting, we want the
noon-day splendour and rapture. As you never had that rapture, you have
not yet known love: and, at your age, is not that an absurd and
miserable ignorance? Is it not right to wish for love and even to force
its coming? Those who go on waiting for it in meek resignation appear
to me so guilty!... Life has always seemed to me to be divided into two
parts: the search for love; and love. As long as we are not in love,
let us continue the search for it; let us seek stubbornly, madly,
cruelly, if need be; let us be untiring and unrelenting. There are no
obstacles for the woman with a resolute will. Let each of us follow
that quest in her own manner, according to her strength, her means and
her courage, through every danger and every pain. When we have at last
found love, or rather our love, let us go towards it without fear,
without false modesty; and, if we are loved, let us not wait to be
entreated for what we can offer generously. Let us never be pilfered of
that which it is our privilege to give!
A tendril drops from the creeper above us and caresses our faces....
How delightful life is at this moment! The air is filled with
rejoicing, with the murmur of an infinite happiness! A tremulous haze
hovers over the fields, the insatiate doves reiterate their glad
refrain. Around us, here and there, a slender blade of grass shakes
beneath the light weight of a butterfly. But is not everything lovely
in the eyes of a woman who is talking of love? It is as though
happiness were the harbinger of her glance, flying ahead and settling
Rose, all attention and curiosity, now questioned me:
But you, what did you do?
In my case, I said, when I knew that he loved me too, I went to
his country to find him. I can still see us walking in a meadow all
bright with flowers. On the horizon, the blue sky met the sea; and,
behind us, the red roofs, the church-steeples and the tiny white houses
of a Dutch village slowly vanished from sight. He gave me his arm; and
it was a joy to me to let him feel the gladness in my heart by the
motion of my hip, on which he leant slightly. Then he said, 'You walk
like a queen for whom her subjects wait.' And I knew from his words
that he was still waiting for me, though I was by his side, and they
suddenly told me what a blissful kingdom I had to offer him!
Did you seek long before that day came?
No, once I was free, I found happiness after a few months of
trouble and difficulty; but you see, dear, I would have gone to the
other end of the world to meet my love! I had no need to journey so
far; and this makes me inclined to think that, in our search, we need
to be attentive even more than active!
Roseline murmured, pensively:
The men say that a certain amount of preliminary experience in love
is indispensable ... to them.
My whole soul revolted. Releasing myself from the girl's embrace, I
sprang to my feet and faced her:
But, Rose, isn't it the same with us? And is it right to expect
that a woman should rivet her whole existence to the first smile, to
the first look, the first word that moves her? Sensible people tell us
that marriage is a lottery! By what aberration of the intellect do they
come to admit that a being's whole life should be voluntarily subjected
to chance? Not one of us would consent to such a degradation, if women
in general were not absolutely ignorant! And that is why many, too
clear-sighted to submit to a ridiculous law and lacking the courage to
infringe it, die without having known the flavour and the goodness of
life. Oh, what injustice! Is youth not short enough as it is? Is the
circle in which our poor intelligence moves not sufficiently limited?
And is it necessary, in addition, to chain us to phantom principles,
which falsify nature, disfigure goodness and vilify the miracle of the
kiss and the innocence of the flesh?
I was standing against a tree, a few steps away from Rose; and my
hand plucked nervously at the leaves within my reach. The blue sky
seemed hypocritical to my eyes, the beauty of the flowers crafty and
mocking. I continued, in a tone of conviction:
It is right that woman should make her own experiments, it is right
that she should know men to judge which of them harmonises with her....
It is by constantly encountering alien souls that she will form an idea
of what her twin soul should be. Yes, I know that a natural law rejects
this morality; and that is why I do not think the woman should give
herself until she is quite certain of her choice. It is true that her
experiments will be incomplete; the senses will have played but a small
part in them, or none at all; but must we not accommodate ourselves to
the inevitable? In any case, that woman will indeed be enlightened who,
regardless of public opinion, lives freely in the man's company,
studying him, observing him and sometimes even loving him!
Rose listened to me without a word or a movement; only, every now
and then, her long, dark lashes, tipped with gold, would flicker for a
moment and then droop discreetly on her cool, fresh cheeks. But the
thought of her own frailty suggested an objection; and she asked:
Don't you think that what you propose is difficult for the woman?
Oh, yes, difficult and, to many of us, impossible! Through a want
of pride, through love or pity, they resign themselves to an act of
which their reason does not approve and they wake up unhappy, sometimes
for ever.... It is difficult, for the woman who resists appears to the
man a sort of monster, abominable and detestable. Ah, there must be no
desertion before possession! Because we have given him our lips, we
must make him a present of our lives! Because we have consented to
certain pleasures, we must, so that he may enjoy a greater, sacrifice
our future to him!... In fact, he goes farther and says that woman,
when she indulges in those experiments, is following the dictates of a
loathsome and mean self-interest. Self-interest, when this conduct
entails endless dangers and bitterness! Self-interest, when it demands
of us, before all, an absolute contempt of a world to which nearly all
are slaves, when it exposes us to insults and suffering and increases
the number of our enemies and multiplies the obstacles in our path!...
No, that woman is not selfish who, in all good faith, plunges boldly
into the adventure at the risk of ruining herself, comes near to a man,
thinking that she has found what she is seeking and hoping that love
may result. She feels the promptings of her senses and does not resist
her heart, but her reason is awake! She will not give herself unless
everything that she learns confirms her expectations; she will give
herself if she really believes that the happiness of both depends upon
it; and the combat that is waged enables her to judge clearly of the
quality of their love. She is judge and combatant in one. She lets
herself be carried along so that she may have fuller knowledge; and it
is not without pain, it is not without love that, at the eleventh hour,
she will, if need be, refuse herself.
Rose here interrupted me:
If she loves, if she suffers, why does she refuse herself?
There are a thousand degrees in love; and a woman of feeling always
suffers when she inflicts suffering.
I examined my mind for a moment and, as though it were uttering its
thoughts backwards, I continued, slowly:
It is sometimes our duty to inflict suffering. The man's instinct
is always more or less blinded by desire; he always, either craftily or
brutally, proposes. It is for us to dispose. We are all-powerful. Peace
or discord springs from our will. He is not as well fitted to choose as
we are, because he has not the same reasons for wishing to see
comradeship follow upon passion, to see rapture give way to security.
If we are one day to be the mother of the child, are we not first of
all the mother of love? Are we not at the same time the cradle and the
tabernacle of that god? In any happy couple, is love not cast in the
woman's image much more than in the man's? The man has a thousand
things that attract and retain him elsewhere; his temperament is more
prodigal and less considerate than ours. It is in the woman that love
dwells; her sensitive nature leads her to a higher knowledge in the art
of loving; and the infinite details of her tenderness can make her seem
perfect in her lover's eyes when they do not render her exclusive....
Struck by this last word, Rose exclaimed:
What! According to you, love should not be exclusive! And,
lowering her voice, she asked, Are you not faithful?
We do not even think of being faithful as long as we love. We
should blush to offer love the cold homage of fidelity: it is a word
devoid of meaning in the presence of a genuine love. In love fidelity
is like a chain disappearing under the flowers. If it is one day seen,
that means that the flowers are faded.
I kneel beside her and, taking her in my arms, kiss her fondly.
Through the exquisite silence of the day, the church-bell rings out the
Angelus in notes of gold. The garden is flooded with sunshine; and
the marigolds, the phlox, the jasmines, the scabious and the mallows
push their heads above their white railing. Each eager heart turns
towards the light.
You see, my Roseline: just as the great sun shines in his glory and
governs the realm of flowers, so love must be king in the lives of us
women! He reigns and is independent of any but himself. Only, I added,
laughing, though we accept him as king, we must not make a tyrant of
him. Poor love! I wonder what wretched transformation he must have
undergone through the ages for us to have managed to invest him with
the most selfish of human sentiments, the sense of property! So far
from that, we ought mutually to respect the life that goes with ours
and never seek to restrain it.
There is a pause; and Rose, with her face pressed to my cheek,
You are not jealous?
I felt myself flushing and would have liked not to answer. But,
alas, would she not by degrees have discovered all the pettiness that
is ill-concealed under my thin veneer of self-control and
determination? I tried to reveal it all in one sentence:
Know this, Rose, that it is in myself and in myself alone that I
study the women that I would not be!
I watch my great girl while she talks. This rustic beauty, in her
cotton bodice, her blue print skirt and her wooden shoes, no longer
shouts. She expresses herself better and does not gesticulate so
violently. She is quieter in her movements and her shyness is not
unattractive. Rays of light filter through the branches and cast
shifting patches of light on her face and figure. I always love to
observe the details of her beauty, but to-day my heart contracts for a
moment as my eyes follow the curve of her chin, which is charming, but
devoid of all firmness, and her whole profile, which is beautiful, but
lacking in decision....
Will Rose be one of those who accomplish themselves by means of
love, who exalt themselves by exalting it, who master and improve
themselves the better to control it?
Love is the great test by which our values are reckoned and weighed.
The fond vagaries of the body have taught the proud soul its limits;
and reason has wilted under a kiss like a flower under the scorching
sun. Every woman has known the exquisite luxury of forgetting herself,
of losing herself so utterly that no other thing at the moment appears
to her worth living for. She has heard the voice of the charmer
exhorting her to abandon pride, ambition, her own personality, to
become, in short, no more than an atom of happiness under a dark and
splendid sky which each moment of felicity seems to adorn with a new
Where the weak woman goes under, her stronger sister is never lost.
The lower she may have fallen, the higher she raises herself. She
returns from each of her strayings more fit for life. She is more
resisting, for she has known how to sway and bend without breaking;
more indulgent, because she has seen herself encompassed with weakness
and beset with longings. She knows how frail is the spring that
regulates her strength, but also how necessary that strength is to her
happiness. She has come to understand what real love means, that the
union of man and woman approaches the nearer to perfection the less the
two wills are fused. She has understood, above all, that, to contain,
glorify and keep love, we need all the energy of our respective
personalities and all the benefit of our dissimilarity!
Rose was silent.
I lay on the grass, with my arms outstretched and my eyes fixed on
the sky; and the breeze sent my hair playing over my lips. For a long
while afterwards, my thoughts continued to wander amid the fairest
things in the world.
It is typical autumn weather, a dull, dark day which seems never to
have fully dawned. Beneath the burden of the weary, oppressive clouds,
the grass is greener and the roads more distinct. The light seems to
rise to the sky instead of falling from it.
I have been in the kitchen-garden for an hour. There all the plants
are beaten down by the wind and the rain; the asparagus-fronds lie
across the paths like tangled hair; but the broad-bottomed cabbages are
a joy to the eye, with their air of comfortable middle-class
prosperity. Looking at their closely enfolded hearts, I seemed to
recover the illusion of my childhood, of the days when my eyes pictured
mystery in their depths....
How amazed we are when one of our senses happens to receive a sudden
impression, in the same way as when we were children! We behold the
same object simultaneously in the present and the past; and between
those two points, identical and yet different to our eyes, our memory
tries to stretch a thread that can help it to follow the thousand and
one intermediate transformations which have led us from the false to
the true, from the wonderful to the simple, from dreams to reality. We
should, no doubt, discover here, in the subtle history of our
sensations and the different ways in which we received them, the
gradual forming of our character, the pathetic progress of our little
knowledge, all the frail elements of our personal life; in a word, the
plastic substance of our joys and sorrows....
I think of the little girl that I was, but between her and me there
stands a long array of children, girls and women. And I can do nothing
but inwardly repeat:
How soon we lose our traces!...
I smile at the memory of myself as we smile at the unknown child
that brushes against us in passing; and I leave myself to return to
She is a never-failing source of satisfaction to me. My dreams glory
in having discovered so much hidden virtue here, at my door; and I am
surprised at the new pleasures which I am constantly finding in her.
In certain natures predisposed to happiness, such happy surprises
are prolonged and constantly renewed; and this may be one of the
innocent secrets of the intellect. Are there not a thousand ways of
interpreting a feeling, even as there are a thousand ways of
considering an object? Our mind observes it daily under a different
aspect, turns and turns it again, sees it from above and below, sees it
near and from afar and loves to show it off and place it in the most
favourable light. The mind of every woman, especially of a woman with
an artistic bias, is not without a secret harmony of colour, line and
proportion. Something intentional even enters into it; and the caprices
of her soul are often but an outcome of her desire to please. Her
natural instinct, which is always inclined to give form to the most
subtle of her sensations, enables her to find in goodness the same
clinging grace which she loves in her clothes. She likes her happiness
to be obvious and highly coloured, that it may rejoice the eyes of
those around her; and, so as not to sadden their eyes, she paints the
bitterness of her heart in neutral shades of drab and grey. By thinking
herself better, she appears prettier in her own sight; and it seems to
her, as she consults her mirror, that she is replying to her own
destiny. The soft waves of her hair teach her how frail is her will by
the side of her life. She learns to bestow her own reward on the
sympathy of her heart by crowning her forehead with her two bare arms;
and, when she sees the long folds of her dress winding around her body,
she recognises the sinuous, slow, but determined bent of her feminine
I remember once being present at a meeting between two women who
gave me a charming proof of our natural inclination to lend shape and
substance to our thoughts and feelings. They were of different
nationalities and neither of them could speak the other's language.
Both were of a warm and sensitive nature, endowed with an analytical
and artistic temperament; and, as soon as they came together amidst the
boredom of a fashionable crowd, they sat down in a corner and, with the
aid of a few ordinary words, of facial expression, of vocal intonation,
but above all by means of gesticulation, they succeeded, in a few
moments, in explaining themselves and knowing each other better than
many do after months of intercourse.
I was interested in this strange conversation, this dialogue without
a sentence, but so vivid and expressive, in the same breath childish
and profound; for they wished to show each other the inmost recesses of
their souls and they had nothing to do it with but two or three
elementary words. How pretty they were, the fair one dressed in red and
the other, who was dark, all in white, with camellias in the dusk of
her hair. They were not at all afraid of being frivolous and would
linger now and then to examine the filmy muslins and laces in which
they were arrayed.
The elder had already chosen her path, the younger was still seeking
hers; but the characters of both were alike matured and their minds
completely formed. Both of them in love and happy in their love, they
tried above all to express their tastes and ideas.
To understand each other, they employed a thousand ingenious means.
Their mobile faces eagerly questioned each other with the unconscious
boldness of children who meet for the first time. They took each
other's hands, looked at each other, read each other's features. At
times, they would make use of things around them: a light here, a
shadow there, people, objects. Once I saw the fair-haired one take up a
Gallé cup that stood near. For a minute, she held her white arm up to
the light; and through her fingers the lovely thing seemed like a flash
of crystallised mist in which precious stones were shedding their last
I forget the various images, childish and subtle, by which she was
able to show her friend all her sensitive soul in that fragile cup. A
little later, there was some music; and the dark one sang while the
fair one accompanied her on the piano. Through the sounds and harmonies
I heard the perfect concord of those two lives, which had known nothing
of each other an hour or two before....
It was an exquisite lesson for me, a wonderful proof that women's
souls are able to love and unite more easily than men's, if they wish.
And I once again regretted the unhappy distrust that severs and
disunites us, whereas all our weaknesses interwoven might be garlands
of strength and love crowning the life of men.
By a natural trend of thought, Rose appeared to me contrasted with
those two rare creatures....
Rose is not sensitive and is not artistic. No doubt, when she left
school, she could play the piano correctly and likewise draw those
still-life studies and little landscapes by means of which the
principles of art and beauty are carefully instilled into the young
mind. But she did not suspect that there could be anything else. She
saw nothing beyond the ruined mill which she drew religiously in
charcoal; twenty times over, she set an orange, a ball of worsted and a
pair of scissors together on the window-sill without seeing any of the
wonders which the garden offered her.
Later, when every Sunday she played The Young Savoyard's Prayer
on the organ, her placid soul conceived no other harmonies. She never
felt, within the convent-walls, that divine curiosity, that blessed
insubordination of the artist-child which obtains its first
understanding of beauty from its hatred of the ugliness around it and
which turns towards pretty things as flowers and plants turn towards
Ah, my poor Rose, how I should like to see you more eager and alive!
In the close attention which you give me, in the absolute faith which
you place in me, my least words are invested with a precision of
meaning that invites me to go on speaking; but how weary I am at heart!
Oh, let us pass on to other things: it is high time! Let us not sink
into slumber and call it prudence: up to now I have been content to see
you sitting patiently at my feet; but I no longer want you there.
Enough of this! I dream of roaming with you at random in the open
fields, I dream of making you laugh and cry, of feeling your young soul
fresh and sensitive as your cheeks. I dream of stirring your heart and
rousing your imagination. We will go far across the countryside;
together we shall see the light wane and the darkness begin; and, since
you love me, you must needs admire with me the rare beauty of all these
Rose was to have a holiday the next day. We arranged that she should
come with the trap from the farm, the first thing in the morning, to
We start at six o'clock. The harness-bells tinkle gaily to the heavy
trot of the big horse; and we laugh as we are jolted violently one
against the other. We drive through the villages, those happy Normandy
villages where everything seems eloquent of the richness of the soil.
They are still asleep, the white curtains are drawn and the geraniums
on the window-ledges alone are awake in all their glowing bloom. A
faint haze veils the fields and imparts to things a soft warmth of tone
that makes them more soothing to the eyes. The sun rises and we see the
breath of earth shimmer in its first rays.
We have never yet been for a whole day's outing together; everything
is new in my new pleasure. I look at Rose beside me. I had wanted her
to put on her peasant clothes; and I find her beautiful in her scanty
garb in the cool morning air.
We follow the long hog's-back that commands a view of the whole
country round. Here and there, tiny villages float like islands of
green amid the wide plains. A row of poplars lines the way on either
side. Their yellow leaves quiver and rustle in the breeze. The rooks
stand out harshly against the white road. And the mist, which is
beginning to lift in places, reveals a deep-blue sky.
The keen air that enters my throat and makes my mouth cold as ice
tells me of the smile that flickers over my face; and my pleasure is
heightened by the sight of my happiness. A woman sees herself anew in
everything that she beholds; life is her perpetual looking-glass. In
our memory, the flowers in a hat often mingle with those along the
road; and sometimes the muslin of a dress enfolds the recollection of
our gravest emotions.
O femininity, sublime and ridiculous, wise and foolish! Never shall
I weary of surprising its movements and variations deep down in my
being! How it fascinates me in all its shades and forms! I let it play
with my destiny as much from reason as from love, for we know that
nothing can subdue it. I worship it in myself, I worship it in all of
us! It may exhaust us in the performance of superhuman tasks, it may
let us merely dally with the delight of being beautiful, it may chain
us to our bodies or deliver us from their tyranny, it may adorn life or
give it, enrich it or kill it: always and everywhere it arouses my
eager interest. Ever unexpected and changeful, it floats in front of
our woman's souls like a gracious veil that draws, unites and yet
The even motion of the trap lulls my dreams and we drive on, in the
midst of the plains, the fields and the woods. We pass through a dense
flock of sheep. The warm round backs, the gentle, anxious faces push
and hustle, while the thousand slender legs mingle and raise clouds of
dust along the roadside. The timid voices bleat through space; and a
pungent scent fills our nostrils. We are now going down into the
valley. The village appears, among the trees: a cluster of red and grey
roofs; little narrow gardens; white clothes hung out and fluttering in
the sunlight. Beyond are broad meadows dotted with peaceful cows and
streaked with running brooks. There, just in the middle, a factory
displays its grimy buildings. It is an eye-sore, but it leaves the mind
unscathed. Does it not represent definite and deliberate activity amid
the unconsciousness of nature?...
At this moment, Rose turns towards me; and I seem to read a sadness
in her eyes:
What are you thinking of? I ask.
I am thinking that I should like to go away altogether and that we
have to be back tonight.
I kissed her and laughed.
My darling, you must live and be happy in the present: there is
plenty of room there.
We arrived at the country-house to which I was taking her. Pretty
women in delicate morning-wraps were eagerly awaiting us on the steps,
while some of the men, attracted by the sound of our wheels, leant out
from a window to see my pretty Rose. There was a general cry of
Why, she's magnificent!
We stepped out of the trap and I pushed Rose towards the party, with
whispered words of encouragement; but, suddenly bending forward, with
her feet wide apart, her arms-swinging and her cheeks on fire, she dips
here and there in a series of awkward bows....
They were kind enough not to laugh; and I led the girl through the
great, cool echoing rooms, multiplied by the mirrors and filled with
The sun streams through the immense, wide-open windows; and the
harmony of the ancient park mingles with that of the silk hangings and
the old furniture. The fallen leaves sprinkle tears of gold upon the
deep green of the lawns. The soft-flowing river welcomes with a quiver
the perfect beauty of the skies; rare shrubs and delicate flowers set
here and there sheaves and garlands of joy; and the golden sand of the
paths accentuates the variety of the colours. On the hill opposite, a
wood gilded by the autumn seems to be lying down like some huge animal;
in the distance, the tree-tops are so close together that one could
imagine a giant hand stroking its tawny fur. On either side of the tall
bow-windows, the scarlet satin of the curtains falls in long, straight
Let us be in a palace or a hovel, in a museum or an hotel: is not
our attention always first claimed by the window? However little it
reveals, that little still means light and life, amid our admiration of
the rare or our indifference to the ordinary. The windows represent all
the independence, hope and strength of the little souls behind them;
and I believe that I love them chiefly because they were the confidants
and friends of my early years, when, as an idle, questioning little
girl, I would stand with my hands clasped in front of me and my
forehead glued to the panes. My childhood spent at those windows was a
picture of patient waiting.
Often they come back to me, the windows of that big house in a
provincial town, on one side lighted up and beautiful with the beauty
of the gay garden on which their lace-veiled casements opened, on the
other a little dark and lone, as though listening to the voice and the
dreary illusion of the church which they enframe....
The current of my life, diverted for a moment, returned to the
present and, as always, it swelled with the gladness that rises to our
hearts whenever chance conjures up a past whose chains we have
Happier and lighter at heart, I continued with Rose my visit to the
galleries, the gardens and the hot-houses. The luncheon passed off
well. Rose was quite at ease and suggested in that elegant setting a
stage shepherdess, whose beauty transfigured the simplest clothes. A
silk kerchief with a bright pattern of flowers is folded loosely round
her neck; her chemisette and skirt are freshly washed and ironed, her
hands well tended and her hair gracefully knotted. She introduces a
striking and very charming note into the Empire dining-room. More than
once, during lunch, I congratulated myself on not having yielded to the
temptation to adorn her with the thousand absurd and cunning trifles
that constitute our modern dress, for her little blunders of speech and
movement found an excuse in her peasant's costume. Nevertheless, she
answered intelligently the questions put to her on the treatment of
cattle and the cultivation of the soil; and I had every reason to be
proud of her. Her grave and reserved air charmed everybody. If she
often grieves and disappoints me, is this not due more particularly to
the absence of certain qualities which her beauty had wrongly led me to
Before taking our seats in the trap, we go for a stroll through the
village. As we pass in front of the baker's, a splendid young fellow,
naked to the waist, comes out of the house and stands in the doorway.
The flour with which his arms and his bronzed chest are sprinkled
softens their modelling very prettily. His sturdy neck, on which his
head, the head of a young Roman, looks almost small, his straight nose,
long eyes and narrow temples form a combination rarely seen in our
district. I was pointing him out to Rose, when he called to her
familiarly and congratulated her on visiting at the great house. I saw
no movement of foolish vanity in her; on the contrary, there was great
simplicity in her story of the drive and the lunch. I was pleased at
this and told her so, later, when we were back in the trap.
The poor fellow is afraid of anything that might take me from him,
she said. He must be very unhappy just now, for he has been imploring
me for the last two years to marry him.
I gave her a questioning look; and she went on:
I did not want to. I would rather end my days in poverty than
languish for ever behind a counter. Still, his love would perhaps have
overcome my resistance, if I had not met you.
She leant over to kiss me. I returned her caress, though I felt a
little troubled, as I always do when I receive a positive proof of the
way in which I have changed the course of her life. At the same time, I
realised that her nature contained a sense of pride, in which till then
I had believed her entirely deficient. I remained thoughtful, but not
astonished. We end by having opinions, on both men and things, which
are so delicately jointed that they can constantly twist and turn
without ever breaking.
Meanwhile, the horse was jogging peacefully along; we were going
towards the sea, for I wanted to finish our holiday there. The
willow-edged river followed our road; and we already saw the white
sheen of the cliffs at the far end of the valley.
Soon we are passing through the little old town, where a few
visitors are still staying for the bathing, though it is late in the
season. At the inn, where we leave our horse and trap, they seem to
think us a rather odd couple. I laugh at their amused faces, but Rose
is embarrassed and hurries me away. All the dark and winding little
streets lead to the sea. We divine its vastness and immensity beyond
the dusky lanes that give glimpses of it. In front of one of those
luminous chinks, under a rounded archway, an old woman stands
motionless; she is clad like the women of the Pays de Caux: a black
dress gathered in thick pleats around the waist, a brown apron and a
smooth, white cap flattened down over her forehead. Poor shrivelled
life, whose features seem to have been harshly carved out of wood! She
is like an interlude in the perfect harmony of things. I utter my
admiration aloud, so that my Roseline's eyes may share it; and we pass
under the archway.
We are now on the beach; the wind lashes our skirts and batters my
large hat, which flaps around my face. For a more intimate enjoyment of
the sea, we run to it through the glorious, exhilarating air which
takes away our breath. Over yonder, a few people are gathered round a
hideous building all decked out with bunting. It is the casino. We
hasten in the opposite direction. On the patch of sand which the sea
uncovers at low tide, some boys disturb the solitude; but they are
attractive in their fresh and nervous grace, with their slender legs,
their energetic gestures and their as it were beardless voices. Their
frolics stand out against the pale horizon like positive words in a
As we sat down on the shingle, the sun facing us was still blinding;
and I reflected that, when my eyes could endure its brilliancy, it
would be like our human happiness, very near its end....
The excitement of the lunch at the big house has not yet passed off;
and Rose laughs and is amused at everything. Has she to-day at last, by
the contact of those happy, care-free lives, foreseen an approaching
deliverance from hers? Of all the things that we have seen together,
how much has she really observed? Has the test to which I tried to
submit her to-day proved vain? As a guide to her impressions, I traced
the outline of my own before her eyes. I questioned her. Then it seemed
to me that, in bending my thoughts upon Rose, I saw her as we see our
image in the water, with vaguer hues and less decided lines. The girl
merely, from time to time, added a word expressing her contentment, a
thought of her own; and to me it was as though a little sunbeam had
played straight on the water and the image through the leafy
Does this mean that we see here a mere reflection, an utterly hollow
soul, into which the leavings of other souls enter naturally? If it
seems to me, at this moment, to borrow light and blood from me, is that
a reason for thinking that it possesses neither sap nor sunshine? No, a
thousand times no! True, I am the mother of her real life and she must,
so to speak, pass through my soul before reaching hers. But, though we
are of one mind, we are two distinct natures, two very different
characters. It is a question not only of one creature attaching herself
to another, but of an awakening and self-enquiring spirit, of a late
and sudden development. Rose does not wish to copy me. Honestly and
diligently, she spells and lisps to me something like a new language,
with the aid of which she will soon be able in her turn to express
herself and to feel. There are moments when she seems to understand me
perfectly, even to my inmost thoughts; and I sometimes say to her:
Where was she in the old days, the girl who understands me so well
now? What did she do? Where did she live?...
But where are all of us before the hour that reveals us to
ourselves? And what manner of being would he be who had never undergone
any influence or contact, who had never seen anything, felt anything?
All impressions, whether of persons or things, come to us from without,
but little by little and so imperceptibly that there is never a day in
our lives that may be called the day of awakening. And yet it exists
for all of us, shredded into decisive and fugitive minutes throughout
our lives. Imagine for an instant that we could gather them, put them
together and place them all in the hands of one being who, with one
movement, would scatter them all around us. Would not the change in our
character, in our thoughts, in our feelings be very remarkable? Would
we not appear actually possessed by that person, who, after all,
would have been but the instrument of a natural reaction of all our
Filled with these thoughts, I said to Roseline:
Dearest, once your life is kindled into feeling and expression, I
can no longer distinguish it, for it is absorbed in mine.... I shall
soon be going away; and all that I shall know of you will be your
beauty, your unhappiness and the tenderness of your heart.
Her great, innocent eyes, lifted to mine, asked:
Is not that enough?
And, almost ashamed of my doubts, I at once added:
You shall come where I am; whatever happens, be sure that I will
not desert you.
With an abrupt gesture, she flung her arms around me; and, as we
looked into each other's eyes, the same mist rose before them. Was she
at last about to accompany me into the depths of my soul?
My heart burns with the fire of this new and longed-for emotion; and
I feel two crystal tears, two tears of sheer delight, slowly follow the
curve of my cheeks. Rose's own sensibilities have been blunted for a
time by her rough life; she does not yet know how to weep for
happiness; and, almost frightened, she convulsively presses her clasped
hands against her breast, as though she feared lest it should burst
with the throbbing of her joy.
I placed my lips to the long golden lashes, I gathered the dear,
timorous tears that seemed still uncertain which path to take; and,
behind the veil of my kisses, they gushed forth without fear or shame.
The setting sun was no more than a thin crimson streak on the
dividing line of sky and sea; and the peaceful billows whispered
mysteriously in the dusk that rose from every side.
It was time to go. When we were both standing, so frail and
insignificant on the great empty beach, a wave of passionate gratitude
overwhelmed both our hearts; and I at last believed that all
naturethe sea, the meadows and the fieldshad wrought its work of
love and beauty in my Rose.
Immense black clouds scudded past in the darkness; a furious wind
stripped the groaning branches of their leaves; and, when the moon
suddenly pierced the night, gaunt figures appeared of almost bare trees
twisted and shaken by the wind. Behind the orchards, a few
cottage-windows showed a glimmer of light; and the watch-dogs howled as
I passed, to the accompaniment of their dragging chains.
I walked quickly, full of misgivings and yet undaunted. I asked
myself at intervals what was taking me to the farm, to probable
suffering. Was it Rose's silence: I had heard nothing of her for a
week? Was it the hope of saying good-bye to her, of letting her know at
least that I was to go away the next day? Or was it not rather the
curiosity that makes us wish to see, without being seen ourselves, the
man or woman who interests us?
We always influence in some way or other the looks or the words that
are addressed to us. The eye that rests on us becomes unconsciously
filled with our own rest; and the longing that awakens at the sight of
us is often born of the unspoken call of our soul or our blood. From
the first moment when our hands meet, an exchange takes place, and we
are no longer entirely ourselves, we exist in relation to the persons
and the things around us. Two honest lives cannot join in falsehood;
but either of them, if united to a vulgar nature, is perhaps capable of
While thus arguing, I seek to reassure myself. True, Rose could
never be at the farm, among those coarse people, what she is with me.
Still, what will she be like?
I remember something she said to me at the beginning of our
For the sake of peace with those about me, by degrees I made myself
the same as they were. After a time, I never said what I really thought
and soon I ceased to notice the difference between the two. As I
thought that it was impossible for me ever to go away, it seemed to me
a wise policy to adapt myself to the life I had to live. It was a lie
at first; later it became second nature....
But now? Now that all that existence is no more than a temporary
unpleasantness, what is her attitude?
It was striking eight when I came up to the farm. As a rule,
everybody is in bed by then. But to-day was the feast of the
patron-saint of the village; and there must have been dancing and
drinking till nightfall. At that moment, the darkness was so thick that
I could hardly see anything in front of me. I found the gate locked.
Clinging to the trees and pulling myself through the thorns and
brambles, I climbed across the bank and dropped into the orchard. I at
once called softly to the dog, so that he should recognise a friend's
voice, and, as soon as I was certain of his silence, I walked quietly
to the house, where there was a light in two of the windows at the back
of the farm-yard. Not daring to take the path that led to the door, I
made my way as best I could through the long grass. I was shivering in
my dress; and my feet were frozen. Whenever the moon peeped through two
clouds, I quickly flung myself against a tree and waited without moving
for the darkness to return. Cows were lying here and there on the
grass: at each lull in the storm, I heard the heavy breathing of the
sleeping animals; and their peacefulness soothed my troubled mind.
Some thirty yards from the house, I stopped, uncertain what to do.
It can be approached only by going a little higher, for it is built on
a mound in the centre of the yard. The whole length of the
one-storeyed, thatched buildings was without a tree or any dark corner
where I could shelter.
I was still hesitating, when suddenly a shadow passed across one of
the windows. I seemed to recognise Rose, and my rising curiosity made
me cover in a moment the distance that separated me from her. Once
there, against the window-pane, I thought of nothing else.
No, it was not fear but sorrow that oppressed me from the first
glance within: Rose was laughing at the top of her voice, her mouth
opened in a paroxysm of mirth. She was laughing a silly, brutish laugh,
lying back in her chair, with her knees wide apart and her hands on her
hips. A lamp stood near her on the long table around which the men were
eating and drinking; under its torn shade the light flared unevenly,
lighting up some things with ruthless clearness and leaving others in
complete darkness. Of the men, I could see nothing distinctly except
their heavy jaws and coarse hands and the lighter patches of their
white shirts and blue smocks. I could make out very little of the
large, low-ceilinged room. A rickety chair here; an old dresser there,
with a few battered dishes on it. At regular intervals, a brass
pendulum sends forth gleams as it catches the light; and the
smouldering fire in the tall chimney-place flickers for a moment and
illumines the strings of beans and onions drying round the hearth. On
the floor, in the middle of the room, two little cowherds are
quarrelling for the possession of a goose, no doubt won as a prize in
the village. The poor thing, lying half-dead, with its wings and legs
tied up, utters piteous sounds, which are the signal for a burst of
laughter and coarse jokes.
But suddenly all is silence. A door opens at the far end of the room
and on the threshold stands the mistress, with a candle in her hand and
some bottles under her arm. The fear inspired by the old madwoman is
obvious at once. The two urchins take refuge under the table with their
prey, Rose's laughter ceases abruptly and, through the window-panes, I
hear the steady ticking of the clock and the clatter of the spoons in
The old woman has sat down in the full light. She is eating, with
bent back, lowered head and jerky, nervous movements, while her wicked
little sunken eyes peer from under her heavy, matted brows. She speaks
some curt words in patois, too fast for me to catch their sense;
but her strident voice hurts my ears. The conversation becomes livelier
by degrees and soon everybody is speaking at once....
I wait in vain for an absent look, a gesture of annoyance, an
expression of pain on Rose's part. No, she seems at her ease among
these people, as she was at the great house, as she is and as she will
be everywhere. She follows the remarks of one and all and shows the
same attention which she vouchsafes to me when I speak to her. From
time to time, she says a word or two; and I recognise the shrill voice
and the vulgar gestures that used to hurt me so much during our early
I remained there for a long time, always waiting, always hoping.
Excited by liquor, the men began to quarrel; and I heard the old woman
hurl a torrent of vile insults at them. Rose took the part of one of
the men and interfered, using language as coarse as theirs.
It was late when I went away. The clouds had dispersed, the wind had
dropped; the moonbeams were making pools of silver on the ground
through the trees; and, when I reached the open fields, they appeared
to me cold, immense, infinite under a molten sky.
The picture which I carry away with me seems to lose its colour
before my eyes: it is harder and sadder, made up of harsh lights and
darker shadows, like an etching. I see the rough hands on the white
deal table, the bony faces brutally outlined by a crude light. I hear
the cracked voice of the old madwoman, now raised in yells of abuse,
now breaking into song ... and Rose ... my beautiful Rose....
But I have stolen this sight of a life which I was never meant to
see. The dishonesty of my invisible presence makes a gulf between my
actual vision and my perception; and it seems to me that, in this case,
I must withhold my judgment even as we hold our breath before a
PART THE SECOND
There is in love, in friendship or in the curiosity that drives us
towards a fellow-creature a period of ascendency when nothing can
quench our enthusiasm. The fire that consumes us must burn itself out;
until then, all that we see, all that we discover feeds it and
We are aware of a blemish, but we do not see it. We know the
weakness that to-morrow perhaps will blight our joy, but we do not feel
it. We hear the word that ought to deal our hopes a mortal blow; and it
does not even touch them!... And our reason, which knows, sees, hears
and foresees, remains dumb, as though it delighted in these games which
bring into play our heart and our capacity for feeling. Besides, to us
women this exercise of the emotions is something so delightful and so
salutary that our will has neither the power nor the inclination to
check it either in its soberest or its most extravagant manifestations.
The influence of the will would always be commonplace and sordid by the
side of that generous force which is created by each impulse of the
heart or mind.
Upon every person or every idea that arouses our enthusiasm we have
just so much to bestow, a definite sum of energy to expend, which
seems, like that of our body, to have its own time and season. I have
known Rose for hardly three months; her picture is still vernal in my
heart; nothing can prevent its colours from being radiant with
freshness, radiant with vigour, radiant with sunshine. I shall
therefore go away without regret. I see the childishness of all the
experiments to which I am subjecting the girl so as to know her a
little better. My interest throws such a light upon her that she
cannot, do what she will, shrink back into the shade.
She is to me the incarnation of one of my most cherished ideas.
Until I know all, I shall suspend my judgment and my intentions will
not change. I believe that every seed in the rich soil of a noble heart
has to fulfil its tender, gracious work of love and kindness.
I cannot, therefore, lay upon Rose the burden of my disappointment
last night; and my affection suggests a thousand good reasons for
absolving her. Is this wrong? And are we to consider, with the sapient
ones of the earth, that our vision is never clear until the day when we
no longer have the strength to love, believe and admire? I do not think
so. Setting aside the careful judgment which we exercise in the case of
our companion for life, it is certain that our opinions on the others,
on our chance acquaintances, are but an illusion and owe far more to
our souls than to theirs. In our brief and crowded lives, we have
barely time to catch a note of beauty here, to perceive a sign of truth
there. If, therefore, we have to pass days and years without
understanding everything and loving everything, if we have to remain
under a misapprehension, why not choose that which is on the side of
love and gladdens our hearts?
We should take care of the images that adorn our soul. Our women's
minds would possess more graciousness if we bestowed upon them a little
of the attention which we lavish on our bodies.
My beautiful Rose is kind and loving; I will deck her with my hopes
as long as I can. When enthusiasm is shared, it is easy to keep it up.
It weighs lightly in spite of its infinite preciousness. If I ever find
it a strain, the reason will be that Rose did not really bear her share
of it. It will become a burden and I shall relinquish it. All that she
will have of me will be the careless charity bestowed upon the poor.
Paris, ... 19
If you knew, Rose, how I miss the lovely autumn landscapes! The
weather was so bright on the day of my departure that, to enjoy it to
the full, I bicycled to the railway-town. After leaving the village, I
took the road through the wood and it was delightful to skim along
through the dead leaves, the softly-streaming tears of autumn.
Sometimes, when a gust of wind blew, I went faster; and little yellow
waves seemed to rise and fall and chase one another all around me. Some
of the trees, not yet bare, but only thinned, traced an exquisite
russet lacework against the blue sky; and the birds warbled, cooed and
whistled as in spring. I saw the noisy, crowded streets of Paris
waiting for me at the end of my day; and this gave a flavour of sadness
to the calm of the high roads, the pureness of the air, the dear beauty
of the lanes....
It was quite early in the morning and the fields were still bathed
in a dewy radiance. I sat down for a little while on a roadside bank;
an immense plain began at the level of my face and ended by rising
slowly towards the sky. It was a very young field of corn, which the
splendour of the day turned into pearly down. I could have looked at it
for ever, at one moment letting the full glory of it burst on my
dazzled eyes and then gradually lowering my lids down to the tiny
threads that trembled and glittered in my breath. Then my mouth formed
itself into a kiss; and I amused myself by slowly and lovingly making
the cool pearls of the morning die on my warm lips....
Paris, ... 19
I see you, my Rose, laying supper in the wretched kitchen, while
the farm-hands gather round the hearth. I like to picture you going
cautiously through the old woman's room at night, so as to write to me
by the rays of the moon, without disturbing the household with an
unwonted light. You come and sit on the ledge of the open window, to
receive the full benefit of the moonbeams, and then you write on your
knee those trembling lines which convey your emotion to me.
I see you in the wonderful setting of the silver-flooded orchard.
The golden silk of your long tresses embroiders your white night-dress.
Your eyes are filled with peace; you are beautiful like that; and there
is nothing so sweet as an orchard in the moonlight. The apple-trees
seem to lay their even shadows softly upon the pallor of the grass; and
their ordered quiet spreads a serene and simple joy over nature's
Rose, at the moving period that brought us together, how I would
that your sweet composure had been sometimes a little ruffled! It would
have appeared to me of a finer quality had I found it more variable. A
woman's reason should be less rigid; and I should loathe mine if it
were not a leaven of indulgence and forgiveness in my life....
Oh, Rose, Rose, tell me that the coldness of your soul springs from
its wonderful purity! Tell me that your heart is so deep that the sound
of the joys which fall into it cannot be heard outside! Tell me that it
is the storm of your life that has crushed the flowers of your
sensibility for the time....
I well know that our interest cannot always be active, that it must
be suppressed; I know that indifference is essential to the happy
equilibrium of our faculties and that, beside the exaltation of our
soul, it is the untroubled lake fertilising and refreshing the earth.
And you will find, Rose, how necessary it is to be on our guard against
it in our judgments and how it can take possession of some natures and
slowly destroy them under a hateful appearance of wisdom! I would
rather discover ugly and active defects in you than that beautiful
impassiveness. Besides, as I have told you many a time, the excellence
that seems to me ideal has its weaknesses. It is rather a way of
perfection for our poor humanity, a way that is all the better because
it is adapted for our feeble and wavering steps!...
Once, at harvest-time, I met you in the little road near the
church. It was the end of the day; and you were coming back from the
fields. You were standing high on a swaying mountain of hay, you were
driving a great farm-horse, which disappeared under its load. Your tall
figure stood out against the sky ablaze with the last rays of the sun;
and I still see your look of absolute unconcern. You wore a long blue
apron that came all round you and a bodice of the same colour. In that
blue faded by the sun, with your hair a pale cloud in the gold of the
sunset, you looked like an archangel taken from some Italian fresco.
As you passed me, you timidly returned my smile; and I followed you
for a long time with my eyes. Do you still remember the trouble you had
in passing under the dark vault of the old oaks? Every now and again, a
branch, longer and lower than the others, threatened your face: you
caught it with a quick movement and lifted it over your head. At one
time, there were so many of those branches and they were so heavy that
you were obliged to lie back on the hay, holding both arms over your
face to save it from being struck. Then, when the lumbering wagon
stopped in front of the farm, my archangel stepped down humbly into the
mud, took the horse by the bridle and disappeared from sight....
The reason why this memory now comes back to me is that I find in
it some affinity with what I would ask of your reason: those simple
movements by which you will be able to thrust aside the bad habits that
disfigure you! May your reason be the beautiful archangel to guide and
sway your humble life, but may it sometimes know how to descend and
stoop in obedience to the necessities of chance. Even as, on the day
when I saw you, you could not alter the road which you had to follow,
so you cannot alter your real nature; but you must 'know the way,' you
must guide and control.
I am longing to have you here so that I may watch carefully over
the slightest details of your life and put your temperament incessantly
to the test. They say that enthusiasm cannot be acquired. But how can
they tell that it is not merely sleeping, unless they try to awaken it?
Those around us have sometimes, quite unconsciously, an unhappy way of
subduing and oppressing us.
Even the most emotional have often to struggle lest their souls
should shrink in the presence of certain people, like the flowers whose
petals exposed to the light timidly hide their hearts as soon as day
declines. You, whom a placid humour reserves for gentle emotions, must
try not to let that very beautiful nature exceed its rights, or cast an
unnecessary shadow over your feelings, or ever check your finest bursts
of admiration with doubt and misgiving. Circumstances have failed to
form your taste; and at first you will pass marvels by and prefer to
marvel at some hideous thing. Never mind! I like to think that, after
all, the best part of a noble work is the enthusiasm which it arouses
and that the greatest dignity of art lies in the flame which it
Time was when I wept in front of things that now leave me unmoved;
but, in captivating my childish heart, did they not accomplish their
task even as those do now which quicken the beating of my woman's
Learn to appreciate life and to look upon all that does not enhance
it as vain and wearisome. As there is nothing in this world which has
not its relation to life, in loving it, my Roseline, you will
understand everything and accept everything.
I want your eyes, when presenting to your mind whatever is best in
a great work, to learn the luxury of lingering on it; I want your ears
to perceive the wonderful, voluptuous charm of sounds, your hands to
rejoice in things soft to the touch; I want you to learn how to breathe
with delight and how to eat with pleasure. Don't smile. None of all
this is childish; it is made up of tiny joyous movements which the
simplest existence can command when it knows how to recognise them. And
yet ... and yet I feel a selfish wish to leave you still in your
prison, so that your desire to escape from it may keep on growing! I
love that desire, I love your actual distress, I love the wretchedness
of your past, the wretchedness of your present, I love you to see
difficulties in the way of your deliverance....
Oh, if those obstacles could give you, as they do me, that sort of
intoxication for which I cherish them! When at last I see the goal
beyond them, my heart leaps for joy. But hardly is the goal attained
when I rejoice in it only because it brings me to another, higher and
more distant; and my imagination resumes its course, never looking back
except to measure the road already traversed.... In this way, never
satisfied and yet happy in the mere fact that I am advancing and in the
knowledge that no more can be asked of a poor human will, I have the
feeling that my life never stops.
Dearest, it is evening; it is cold and wet out of doors; but peace
and gaiety shed their radiance in the great drawing-room which you will
soon know, white and bare as a convent-parlour, living and bright as
joy itself. Chance gave me to-day a long day of solitude, like those at
Sainte-Colombe. And yet the hours passed before me and I could not make
them fruitful. When such favours come to me in the midst of excitement,
I am too glad of them to be able to profit by them; I can but feel
them; and they control me without leaving me time to control them in my
turn. I listen to my life, I contemplate it. It has too many opposing
voices, too many absolutely different shapes; my consciousness is lost
in it as a precious stone is swallowed up by the sea. I blush at such
chaos. My soul appears to me only fit to compare with one of those
wretched table-cloths which country dressmakers patch together, at the
end of the year, out of the thousand scraps of the thousand different
materials which they have cut during the season. But is not this the
natural result of the diversity of our feminine souls?
Antagonistic elements have long been at war in me; and the violence
of their blows has sometimes torn my life asunder. I no longer have
cause to complain of it now, because time and love have helped me to
reconcile them. Our powers are injurious to us so long as we do not
know how to use them. I have suffered, I still suffer from my creeping
knowledge. I would like to increase the pace of yours. Is it
And so I dreamed all day and, of course, I dreamed of you, the Rose
whom I am always picturing. I imagined that we had arranged to see each
other this evening. You walked into the drawing-room, drenched with the
rain, pink-cheeked with the cold. You looked very pretty, in a frock
that suited your face and your figure. You knew how to hold yourself!
You knew how to walk! Your movements were graceful! After talking for a
little while by the fire, we both sat down at the table, under the
lamp-light, and there began our usual work. What work it was I cannot
tell; but it will be easy for us to choose: we have everything to
learn; and I feel that both our minds must follow the same path for
some time to come. By placing the same objects before them, we shall
succeed in discovering what you really feel and what you really wish.
That is the only way of delivering your mind from my involuntary
dominion and of distinguishing your image from mine. I have no other
ideal than to feel myself actually moving, even though the movement be
an inconsistent one. How could I invite you to a similarity which is
nothing but a perpetual dissimilarity?
You must cease to be an echo. I shall map out no course for you;
and we do not know what will become of you. Let us first walk at
random. The goal is not always visible; but very often the road
travelled tells us which road to take next. It matters little what work
we do, provided that it gives a sort of tone to our meetings and that
it regulates our hours. The freaks of chance and the youthfulness of
our minds will always furnish colour and fancy in plenty....
Understand me, Roseline: it is not a friend that I am seeking, not
one of those uncertain, light-hearted, capricious relations which
encumber life without adding to it. I am dreaming like a child, of a
woman who should realise the greatest possible amount of beauty in her
mind and person and who should add her strength to mine in the service
of the same ideals. Rose, are you that woman? Will you help me to
deliver other women still who are oppressed by circumstances or people,
to deliver those who are shackled by prejudice or fear, to deliver the
beauty that is unable to show itself and the will that dares not act?
To deliver! What a magic word! Rose, does it ring in your heart as it
rings in mine?...
But, as you see, my dreams are carrying me too far; and I blush at
my audacity. When I look at you and judge myself, it often seems to me
that what I have done for you is only a form of vanity, that all my
generous aspirations are but vanity!... Is it true?
And, if it were! Is it not still greater and more foolish vanity to
require that all our actions should spring from pure and sublime
motives? If, in contributing to your development, I am conscious that I
am assisting my own, will yours be any the less complete for that? If I
no longer know which is dearer, you, who represent my dreams, or my
dreams, which have become embodied in yourself, will you on that
account be less fondly and less nobly loved?
And, if it be true that vanity there is, is the vanity vain that
sheds happiness and joy?
A long month has passed since my return to Paris. Twice Rose has
written to announce her arrival: I waited for her at the station and
she did not come. Poor child! We all know how difficult it is to break
one's bonds, even the most detested. A thousand invisible ties keep us
in the place where chance has set us; and, when we are about to rend
them, they become so many unsuspected pangs. Instinct blindly resists
all change, as though it were unable to distinguish what reason dimly
descries beyond the trials and dangers of the moment. Rose is leaving
nothing but wretchedness; in front of her is a fair and pleasant
prospect. Nevertheless, she hesitates and she is unhappy.
In my present restless state, I no longer know what I wish. If she
came to-morrow, should I be glad or not? I cannot tell. I can no longer
tell. Those who do not suffer from this absurd mania for action escape
those painful moments when we are at the mercy of a distracted will
that no longer knows exactly what it ought to want. In absence, our
feelings pass through so many contradictory phases! When the hour of
return comes, finding it impossible to collect so many conflicting
sentiments or to bring back to one point so many different desires, we
surrender ourselves to the impression of the moment; and this
impression often has nothing in common with what we had previously felt
I have done my utmost to make her come. Lately, I have been sending
her urgent and encouraging letters daily. Now, the hour is approaching;
and my only feeling is one of anguish.
I have told her twenty times that the talk about responsibility
which I hear all around me brings a smile to my lips. I have told her
how, by making my conduct depend on hers, I relieved myself of all
personal anxiety. And to-day my task appears to me so heavy that I can
only laugh at my presumption.
It was foolish of me to write to her:
What are your faults? Teach me to know you. Tell me what you are.
In reality, our faults arise from our circumstances. Events alone
set us the questions to which our actions give a definite answer. Up to
the present, Rose has not lived; she has been accumulating forces that
are now about to come into being. What will they be? Whither will they
tend? We can assume nothing in a life that is but beginning; and is it
not just this that encourages us to seek and to help? Each of us has
only to look back in order to know that, in the shifting soil of
characters, we can fix or establish nothing. I found her acquiescing in
a shameful servitude; and yet I have faith in the nobility of her soul.
She was untruthful; there was no relation between her wishes and her
actions, her thoughts and her words. Nevertheless, I do not doubt her
The atmosphere that surrounds us is so often treacherous to our
pliant natures! We women are obliged to lie. So long as we have not
found our love, we look in vain for a little confidence. No one
believes us, no one receives the best part of our soul. One would think
that, for those who listen to us, our sincerest words are poisoned as
they pass through our fairest smiles. And, when nature has made us
beautiful and gifted, people take pleasure in judging us severely, as
they might look at the summer days through dark-tinted window-panes.
We are always refused recognition. The first feeling which any work
that we perform arouses is one of doubt. Its merit is disputed. And yet
we have devoted a part of our youth to it; we have left with it a
little of our freshness and our bloom. Very often, it is the ransom of
our sorrow. Our love is written upon it; and it bears the imprint alike
of our smiles and of our tears. Do we not know that woman, for all her
culture, remains closer than man to her instinct and her soil? She is
less purely intellectual but more sensitive than man; and, while he can
create everything in the silence of his imagination, she has to live
and suffer everything that she brings into the world. She conceives and
realises with her flesh and with her blood.
A woman said to me, one day:
If I had to begin life over again, I should not have the courage to
avoid a single danger, pain or disappointment. In surmounting them, I
have gained a power of resistance which forms the framework of my
present and my future. I can see the sparkle of my happiness better
when I keep in the shadow of my sad memories; and all that I
accomplish, all that I write seems to me to flow from my past tears.
To refuse recognition to a woman's work is to refuse to recognise
her soul, her existence and every throb of her heart!...
Man does not know that torture which every true woman suffers when
she feels that those who are listening to her do not hear her real
words, that those who are looking at her do not see what she is making
every effort to show. Even when she is obeying the simplest impulses of
her nature, people distrust what she says and what she does; and in
some women, good and kind and beautiful, we see repeated the artless
miracle of the flowers that exhaust themselves in giving too much
fragrance and too much blossom. How fearful and timid this moral
isolation makes us! And how thrice courageous we must be in the hour of
realisation! If effort sometimes seems useless to men, what about
women, who see themselves ever confronted by a blank wall of
A man is valued by the weight of the forces which he stirs up for
and against himself. The forces which woman encounters are nearly all
I was close upon sixteen. One day, I heard some one say, speaking of
some trifling thing of which I was wrongly suspected:
She is no longer a child. She's a woman now and she's lying.
That was a cruel speech, the sort of speech that influences a whole
life. My eyes were gradually opened to the dreary injustice that casts
its shadow over the fairest destinies of women. Nothing around them
seems clear and natural. Doubt lies in wait for them, calumny rends
them. Now my hour was coming: my skirts, touching the ground for the
first time, had suggested the suspicion of deceit and hypocrisy.
It was perhaps this wound, inflicted on the soul of the growing
girl, that left the most serious mark on my soul as a woman. Thanks to
a strange prick of conscience, to a singular need to give to others
what I did not obtain, I wanted to trust and I did trust! I gave my
confidence passionately, utterly, rapturously! And this made wells of
such deep and impetuous joy spring up in me that I felt no bitterness
when I saw my confidence marred as it passed through others, even as a
clear stream is muddied in following its course.
Still, I wanted more; I sought to concentrate in one person, herself
generous and confiding, the happiness which I lacked and whose infinite
value I suspected. Ah, what a blessed relief when I found her! I was as
one who has never seen his face save in distorting mirrors and who
suddenly sees himself as he hoped to be. It seems to me that my
happiness dates from that day. Before then, I suffered, I was all
astray, an ill wind hovered round me; and, on the sands of other lives,
there was never a trace of my footsteps where I believed that I had
passed. Henceforth, another soul would read mine! Another's eyes would
own the candour of my eyes!
It was little more than a child that introduced me to love and
kindness. She was treated with iron severity, she was unhappy; I was
alone: she became my daily companion. Alas! too early ripe, too
intelligent, she was of those who cannot stay. Is it a presentiment
that makes them hurry so, or is it rather their eagerness to live,
their over-sharpened senses that wear out their strength?
She was not fifteen; but, already matured in body and mind, she
attracted immediate attention. Her walk was so superb that I cannot
think of her without seeing her come swiftly to me, with that dear
smile of hers and with her lovely arms outstretched in greeting. Her
limpid eyes obeyed the light, the light of her heart and the light of
the sky, whereas her dark hair, always tangled and rebellious, bore
witness to the protest of her dauntless spirit. In her company I tasted
for the first time the delight of souls that join and blend and unite
in mutual trust. In an ecstasy of sincerity, for hours I imagined
myself baptising her whole life with my faith. I said to her, over and
I believe in you.... I believe in you.... Do you understand what
that means? It is something greater and better than 'I love you:' it
means that one can never be alone again!
She died a few months later; and for years I was to seek in vain in
others' hearts and eyes the pure and limpid faith which reflects
everything that bends over it.
One can love people without knowing them fully; one cannot believe
in them without mingling one's soul with theirs; and the moral luxury
of it is so great that, when we have once known it, if only for a
moment, we demand it from all with whom we come in contact.
Roseline, all that I then wished for, that charming bond of
tenderness and confidence which should link women together, that
difficult and precious happiness which I knew for one hour through that
child-soul: that is what I am trying to offer you.
And perhaps you will have something better still, because the
assistance which you receive is deliberate and has stood the test. In
the place of that artless faith rushing to meet life, you find a soul
that has been steeped in it. Rose, may my faith and my soul be your two
mirrors. In one, you will see your forces rise even as we catch the
first swell of a cornfield at dawn. In the other, they will appear to
you enlarged, multiplied, transformed according to nature's laws,
ripened by the dazzling suns of noon, utilised by the intellect, ready
at last to nourish you and nourish others.
Then I met men, I met other women, without ever attaining the wish
of my heart. They came and went. But, at each soul that I lost, I found
my own a little more and I remember most gratefully those who were the
most cruel. This man was ill and unconscious of his actions; that woman
was wicked; that man too frivolous; and another was a liar....
A liar! Even to-day, among those withered attachments which it
pleases me to evoke, this last arrests my thoughts. For it was heO
singular contrast!who, by his lying and duplicity, finished the work
begun by the frank confidence of the child.
He was a liar.Lying came to him so easily and naturally that he
himself did not discriminate between what he had done and what he had
said, between what he had actually experienced and the life which he
pretended to have lived. His was a strange nature, which, in its
eagerness to seem, forgot to be, a nature which, no longer
distinguishing its frontiers from another's, lost in the end its own
domain! A strange example of a strayed consciousness which, knowing no
dividing line, attributed the acts of others to itself, spoke from
their hearts and led their existences! He walked through life as one
walks through a gallery whose walls are panelled with mirrors. He could
not take a step without thinking that he was taking a thousand; and his
vanity enhanced his least actions to such a degree that he actually
believed himself the lover of a woman if he merely kissed her hand. It
was thus that he boasted of making innumerable conquests at every hour
of the day; and, to hear him talk, always tired and exhausted with
love, he was a wreck at twenty, as the price of his inordinate
exploits. Enamoured of his appearance, he saw nothing beyond the
blankness of his little soul, or rather he made it the origin and the
end of everything. Poor empty head! Wretched puppet, whose spring was
the vanity which every passer-by could set in motion at will!
At a time when I myself did not know it, he had cleverly discovered
what he must appear to be in order to arouse my enthusiasm, thus
offering me the illusion of that faith which I aspire to awaken in you,
my Roseline. Certainly, I owe him much! If an exact copy of a
masterpiece can stir us as deeply as the original, the perfect
impersonation of a fine intellect and a noble character can influence
us very happily. How grateful I am to him for the trouble which he took
to give me a representation of virtues which he did not possess! They
were painted on his soul in such relief, a relief which no reality
gives, as I was afterwards to learn! The artificial lilies that
decorate the chapel of the church hard by have an assurance that is
absent from those which will soon fade over there, on the table. The
false boasts an unvarying brilliance, an imposing emphasis which we
never find in the true. And, no doubt, the qualities of which he
vouchsafed me the sight would never have had such value in my eyes, if
his fatuousness had not displayed them to my youthful admiration as one
shows an object behind a magnifying-glass.
And what does it matter to me now that they were false, those gifts
with which that soul seemed laden, if for a moment I pictured them as
real! After the error was dispelled, the image which I once thought
true remained in me. It had determined my tastes, fixed my opinions,
set my mind at rest. Subsequently, I was to try and refashion the
perfection of which I had beheld the mirage and, with still greater
ardour, I was to pursue in others and conquer at last the reality of
the once-known happiness which I thought that I had found in him.
We are none the poorer when a sad truth takes the place of a
beautiful dream. Knowledge has already filled the void which the lost
illusion leaves behind it....
Let us seek then, Rose, let us seek even after we have found!
Whether we be denied or heard, let us go on seeking! When we have
lovingly performed the little things necessary that a flower may
peradventure blossom, if it does not give us what we hoped for, does
that prevent us from loving another exactly like it and from tending it
with all the greater skill and care?
Our ignorance must be renewed in the presence of each life that
touches ours. May the quest suffice to keep our faith eternally young,
that wonderful, childlike faith which alone encourages, finds and sets
It was eleven o'clock when I went to meet Rose this morning; but the
day was so dark and the fog so dense that the street-lamps were still
It was gloomy and depressing. Wrapped in a long cloak and huddled in
a corner of the cab, I shivered with cold and nervousness. I reread her
telegram, dispatched from a railway-station before daybreak; and the
pathos of those few words went to my heart:
Am starting. Ran away yesterday.
Yesterday? Then she had spent the night at an inn? Why?
Alas, in such circumstances, do not we women usually behave like
that, blindly and illogically? We prepare everything, we look out the
trains and choose the most favourable time for flight; we announce the
minute of our arrival to those expecting us; everything is ready,
everything is decided.... Then the appointed day arrives. The hour
strikes, the hour passes and we do not stir. We have been kept by some
meaningless trifle which is magnified in our excitement and acquires an
importance which it never had before: a word, a look from those whom we
are going to desert. We forgive them when we are on the point of
leaving them for ever. We invest them with a little of our own
gentleness and kindness. Even as the colour of things blurs and fades
when our eyes are dim with tears, so the hardest people do not appear
so to the anxious heart of a woman. And pity gains the upper hand, time
slips by and we put off to the morrow and, on the morrow, we put off
Then, one day, we depart all at once, for no definite reason, depart
empty-handed, with an impassive face and without looking round. We
perform the most energetic action almost without knowing it, for even
our will shirks the too-heavy task. It dreads the preparations, it
would like to be able to tell us feebly that nothing is done, that
nothing is decided, that we can still go back to the past; and this is
enough to hurry our steps towards the future. We go, we walk on and on,
we walk till we are tired. Then does it not seem as if each minute
shifted the problem of our destiny a little more? And in a few hours
would it not need more courage to return than to continue our road?
But it is nearly always so, by little unforeseen acts, by fear as
much as by weakness, that we perform the inaugural act of our
enfranchisement. We flee bewildered, like poor beasts that have broken
loose; and the first movements of our liberty echo in our hearts with a
melancholy sound of dangling chains.
My dear Rose!... As I go through the damp, dark station, I am
already picturing her fright....
The train arrives, full of passengers, who hurry towards the exit in
surging black masses. How shall I recognise her in this crowd, in the
fog? I do not know what she will look like. A lady? A servant? A
servant, I expect, because she will have had nothing ready. I hope so;
and I look out eagerly for a black knitted hood on a head of golden
hair. I am afraid lest she should not see me in her excitement and
nervousness. The flood of passengers separates on either side of the
ticket-collector; and I keep close to him, standing desperately on
The crowd has passed and I have not caught sight of her. There are
still a few people coming from the far end of the train; it is so dark
that I can hardly see.... There is a tall figure all over feathers in
the distance, but it cannot be ... And yet ... yes, yes, it is she!
Gracious goodness, what a sight!... I feel that it would be better to
laugh, but I can't; and I am furious with myself for keeping a grave
face. It is Rose! Rose dressed like a Sainte-Colombe lady!
She comes along, calmly, smiling and self-possessed; and I am now
able to distinguish the painful hues of that appalling garb: the little
red-velvet hat, studded with glass stones of every imaginable colour
and trimmed with green feathers of the most aggressive shade and style;
the serge skirt, too short in front; the black jacket, quite simple, it
is true, but so badly cut that it murders the figure of the lovely
girl! She has a large basket, carefully corded, on her arm. I really
suffer tortures while she kisses me effusively and says, gaily:
You are looking very well, dearest; but you're upset: what's the
matter? And, before I have time to answer, she adds in a triumphant
tone, I have a great surprise for you. Look in the basket, look!
I need not trouble: at that moment there comes from the basket a
pandemonium of terrified quacks and flapping wings.
Yes, Rose continues, laughing merrily, I stole the old woman's
best two ducks and that's why I'm here.... But first I must tell you, I
have been looking after them for a month, fattening them for your
benefit; I would not go before they were just right. And what do you
think? All of a sudden, she said, at dinner, that she was going to
market to-day to sell them! It gave me an awful turn. As soon as I
could leave the kitchen, I flew to the poultry-yard and I took the
train to and slept there. Luckily, I had already sent my trunk to
I looked at Rose in stupefaction:
She went on, with her eyes full of cunning:
Oh, your baby was rather clever!... As the old woman never paid me
during the whole of the four years, I worked out what a farm-servant
gets a year and I decided that I was justified in opening an account in
her name with one of our customers who keeps a big drapery-store. And
so I now have a trunk and a complete outfit, as well as these pretty
things which I have on. It was only fair, wasn't it?
I turned away my head without a word. It was certainly quite fair;
but I felt my cheeks flushing scarlet.
Rose gave a yawn which ended in a groan:
I'm starving. Suppose we had some lunch; we could come back for the
I eagerly agreed and hurried her to the exit. From the top of the
stairs, I saw that the fog had lifted at last; the gas-lamps had been
put out and the street lay before us in a melancholy, wan light. The
pavements were covered with mud and the houses showed yellow and
smoke-grimed. Then I looked at Rose and my torture suddenly became more
than I could bear. I placed her in front of me and feverishly
unbuttoned the clumsy jacket, which was too tight at the neck, too
narrow across the shoulders and gave her no waist at all. It fell away
on either side; her bust showed full and uncompressed in a
light-coloured blouse; and I breathed more freely.
Now, take off your hat.
She slowly obeyed; and the gloomy station and the wretched, grimy
day were suddenly illuminated. Oh, those lovely fair curls, which had
been crushed and pushed away under the hideous hat with its too narrow
brim, what bliss it was to see them again full of life and laughter!
There they were in their graceful, natural clusters, some drooping over
her forehead, some brushing her cheeks, others kissing her neck and
ears! How pretty she was! I recognised my Rose at last in her soft,
golden, shimmering, impalpable, incredible tresses. I passed my fingers
lightly over that silk for love's loom, while my eyes feasted on its
delicate colour. No, indeed, nothing was lost. Rose was beautiful, more
beautiful than ever; and the glad words came crowding to my lips. I
forgave her and was angry with myself for my coldness.
Poor child, she did not know! She had thought, no doubt, that, to go
to Paris, she must absolutely have a hat; and how was she to choose one
in a village-shop? And I told her over and over again how fond I was of
Rose, a little uncomfortable, with crimson cheeks and downcast eyes,
stood awkwardly turning the unfortunate object in her hands. I looked
round: a few people, intent on their business, were hurrying this way
and that; there was no one on the staircase. Then, bursting with
laughter, I dashed the hat to the floor and, with the tip of my shoe,
precipitated it into space....
Come over to the other side, I said to Rose. Quick!... Suppose
they brought it back!
Good-natured as always and pleased at my amusement, she laughed
because I laughed; and, while we ran to the other exit, the masterpiece
of Sainte-Colombe millinery rolled and rolled and hopped from stair to
The bustle of the restaurant and the noise of the street outside
affected me tremendously. I was nervous and excited, with a wild desire
to laugh at everything and nothing. I asked Rose all sorts of
questions; and, whenever any one passed:
Look! I said. Do look!... You're not looking!... There, that's a
pretty dress, a regular Parisienne!... And, over there, by the door:
don't you see that queer woman?
The girl looked and then turned to me and, before I could prevent
her, bent down and kissed my hand. I wanted to say:
You mustn't do that, Rose!
But it was the first charming impulse she had shown: how could I
scold her? Oh, what a miserable thing our education is; and how often
should I not find myself in some ridiculous dilemma!
Besides, I wished this first day of hers to be all happiness and
expectation! And, while we gaily discussed plans for the future, I
tried to guess what she must be feeling, I scrutinised her movements, I
interpreted her words. But it appeared too soon yet; and it was I,
alas, I who had the best part of her happiness! My eyes fell on her
chapped and swollen hands. She noticed it and murmured, sadly:
It's the beetroots. You understand, it's the hard season now.
But the beetroot-days are past, my Roseline! The bad seasons are
over, over for good, over for good and all!
And I laid stress on every syllable; and, though I was whispering in
her ear, I heard the words for good and all bursting from my lips
like a triumphant shout.
She smiled and went on eating, doing her best to eat nicely, with
her elbows close to her sides and her hands by her plate. Heaven above,
did she understand what I said?
There are some people who seem detached from themselves. They do
something; and the whole flood of their life does not surge into the
action! They draw near to the object of their love; and their whole
soul does not fill their eyes! Their soul is not on their lips, to
breathe love; it is not at their finger-tips, to seize upon happiness;
it is not there to watch life, to attract all that passes, eagerly,
greedily and rapturously! Then where is it and what is it doing outside
this dear, delightful earth?...
And yet woman, the creature who learns through love the admirable
gift of life, knows better than man how to throw the whole of herself
into fleeting moments. She lives nearer to the edge of her actions. Her
mind, which rarely attaches itself to abstract things, seems to float
around her in search of every sensation. Woman passes and has seen
everything; she remembers and she quivers as though the caressing touch
were still upon her. Her light and charming soul drinks eternity
straight out of the present; and through a man's kisses she has known
the art of absolute oblivion.
I am afraid that Rose is not much of a woman. Ah, were I in her
place, I should be wild with excitement, out of my mind with joy, as
though I were hearing my own name spoken for the first time!
After lunch, our shopping was a difficult matter. Rose, with her
uncommon figure, could hardly find anything ready-made to suit her. I
had to hunt about and to contrive with thought, for I would not wait a
single day. I was careful to select the quietest and most usual things
for her, so as to conceal her rusticity as far as possible. The neat
dark-velvet toque could have its position altered on her head without
much harm. The black veil would tone down the vividness of a complexion
too long exposed to the open air; and its fine plain net would set off
the admirable regularity of her features. Lastly, the deep leather belt
to her tailor-made frock and the well-starched collar and cuffs would
more or less hide the effort which it cost her to hold herself upright.
Two hours later, I introduced Rose to her new home. We climbed a
dark, interminable staircase. I held a flickering candle in my hand;
and, all out of breath, I explained to her the advantages of this
boarding-house, a quiet place where her privacy would not be invaded
and where she could make useful acquaintances if she wished....
At last, we reached the fifth floor. The daylight had faded. A sea
of roofs was beneath us; and, through the panes above our heads, a
great red sky cast lurid gleams over our faces and hands. The girl gave
a start of pleasure as she entered her room. It was peaceful and white;
but the flaming fire and sky at that moment turned it quite rosy,
smiling and aglow. From the rather high window we could see nothing but
space. I had placed a writing-table underneath it, with some books and
a few flowers in a dainty crystal bowl. On the walls, several
photographs of Italian masterpieces disguised the ugliness of the
typical boarding-house paper. The chimney-mantel was bare and the
furniture very simple.
We were both happy, both talking at once, Rose exclaiming:
It's really too lovely, too beautiful!
And I was saying:
I should have liked to have a room for you arranged after my own
taste, but I had to keep within bounds. So I brought a few little
things, as you see, and bundled the ugly pictures, the tin clock and
the plush flowers into the cupboards. But come and see the best part of
I threw open the window; and, leaning out, we beheld a great expanse
beyond the enormous gutter that edged the roof. Unfortunately, the last
glow of the sunset was swiftly dying away in the mist rising from the
Seine. Opposite us, on the other bank, the Louvre became a heavy,
shapeless mass; on the right, Notre-Dame was nothing but a shadowy
spectre; here and there, in a chance, lingering gleam, we could just
distinguish a steeple, a turret, a house standing out above the rest.
We came in too late, Rose; we can see nothing; but how wonderful it
all is! The sound of the quays and bridges hardly reaches us, the city
might be veiled; at this height, its activity is like a dream and I
seem to be living over again those quiet moments which we used to spend
side by side at Sainte-Colombe. Are you happy?
Smiling and with her eyes still fixed on the sky, she says:
You are not afraid of the future?
Not for my sake, but I am for yours.
I question her with my eyes; and she adds:
I am afraid that I shall never be what you want.
I put my hand on her shoulder and said:
You will be what you are to be; and that is the main thing. It
seems to me at this moment that the greatest ideas are nothing, that
the fairest dreams are childish compared with the simple reality of a
human being's first taste of happiness. You were hidden; and I bring
you to the light. You were a prisoner; and I set you free. I see
nothing to fetter you; and that is all I ask. The life of a beautiful
woman should be like a star whose every beam is the source of a
possible joy.... I am glad, for this is the day of your first
What will the second be, then?
I hesitated for a moment. Then I replied:
It is difficult to say, dear; you will come to know gradually. I
might answer, that of your mental or moral life; but I do not wish to
lay down any rule. You are about to start on life's journey; I do not
wish to trace your road with words. How much more precious your
smallest actions are to me!
I closed the window and went and sat in a chair by the fire-place.
Rose, standing with uplifted arms in front of the glass, took off her
hat and veil, then undid her mantle and her scarf and put everything
carefully away in the wardrobe. My eyes followed her quiet movements
and my heart rested on each of them. I spoke her name and she came and
sat at my feet, against my knees, with her soft, fair head waiting for
It was now night; the fire lit our faces, but the room was dark
wherever the flames did not cast their gleams. A chrysanthemum on a
longer stalk than the others bent its petals into the light. Opposite
the fire-place, within the shade of the bed-curtains, stood a white
figure from the Venice Accademia, an allegory representing Truth. We could not see the mirror which she holds nor the details that
surround her. The pedestal that raises her above mankind was also
invisible; only the nude body of the woman invited and retained the
I called Rose's attention to her:
Look, she is more interesting like that. In the doubt which the
shadow casts around her, I see in her a more human and a truer truth.
After a moment's contemplation, Rose said, gravely:
I will never hide one of my thoughts from you.
Her statement makes me smile; but why disappoint her? She did not
yet know that those who are most sincere find it more difficult than
the others to say what they think. Words, in their souls, are like
climbing plants which, sown by chance in the middle of a roadway, waver
and grope, send out tendrils here and there in despair and end by
entangling themselves with one another. Whereas most people, just as we
provide supports for flowers, bestow certainties and truths upon their
words to which they cling, the sincere refuse to yield to any such
illusions. They hesitate, stammer and contradict themselves without
I drew her head down on my knees; and, softly, in little sentences
interrupted by long pauses, we spoke of the new life that was opening
before her. Soon she said nothing more. The fire went out, the room
became dark and a clock outside struck six. I whispered:
I am going, darling....
She did not move and I saw that she was asleep. Then I gently
released myself, put a pillow under her head and a wrap over her
shoulders and was almost at the door, when suddenly I pictured her
awakening. It would not do for her to open her eyes in the dark, to
feel lost and alone in an unknown house. I lit the lamp, drew the
blinds and made up the fire.
Roseline was sleeping soundly. Her breathing was hardly perceptible.
At times, a deep sigh sent a quiver through her placid beauty, even as
a keener breath of air ripples the surface of a pool.
What would she do if she should soon awake?... I looked around.
Everything was peaceful and smiling; the flowers looked fresh and
radiant in the light; the books on the table seemed to be waiting.... I
searched among them for some page to charm her imagination and guide
her first dreams along pleasant paths....
Rose is sitting by the fire with her bare feet in slippers and a
dressing-wrap flung loosely round her.
Are you ill?
No, she says, smiling.
And her cool hands, pressing mine, and her gay kisses on my cheeks
are no less reassuring than the actual reply.
But why are you not dressed?
I don't know; time passed and I let them bring my lunch up to me.
I look round the darkened bedroom. Through the blind which I lowered
yesterday, the light enters timidly, in a thousand broken little
shafts; on the table, the books still lie as I placed them; on the
chimney-shelf, the flowers, withered by the heat of the fire, are
fading and drooping.
All these things which had been left untouched were evidence of a
lethargy that hurt me. All the emotions which I had been picturing Rose
as experiencing since the day before had not so much as brushed against
her. One by one, they dropped back sadly upon my heart.
I rose, moved the flowers, opened the window; and the bright
sunshine restored my confidence.
Come, darling, dress and let's go out.
A thousand questions come crowding to my lips while I help her do
Do they look after you well? Do you feel very lonely? What are the
other boarders like? Are any of them interesting?
Her answers, sensible and placid as usual, did not tell me much,
except that the food was good, that she had slept well and that she was
I resolved to wait a few days before asking her any more.
Roseline throws off her wrap and begins dressing. The water trickles
from the sponge which she squeezes over her shoulders, runs down,
lingers here and there and disappears along the flowing lines of her
body, which, in the broad daylight, looks as though it were flooded
with diamonds. A cool fragrance mingles with the scent of the roses.
The room is filled with beauty.
It snowed last night for the first time; then it froze; and the
trees in the Tuileries are now showing the white lines of their
branches against a dreary sky. The daylight seems all the duller by
comparison with the glitter of the snow-covered ground.... I slowly
follow the little black path made by the sweepers; I receive an
impression of solitude; the streets are very still; it is as though
sick people lay behind the closed windows; and the voices of the
children playing as I pass seem to come to me through invisible
Rose is walking beside me. A keen wind plasters our dresses against
us and raises them behind into dark, waving banners. The icy air
whitens the fine pattern of our veils against our mouth.
Where are we going? asks Rose.
I hesitate a little before replying:
We are going to the Louvre.
And to put her at her ease and also to guard against a probable
disappointment, I hasten to add:
It is a picture-book which we will look at together. You will turn
first to what is bright and attractive to the eye; later on, you will
perceive the shades in the colour, the lines in the form and the
expression in the subject. And, if at first our admiration is given to
what is poor and unworthy, what does it matter, so long as it is
aroused at all?
We had reached the foot of the stairs that lead to the Victory of
Samothrace. After staring at it for a minute, Rose remarked, in a
voice heavy with indifference:
It's beautiful, very beautiful.
I felt that she had no other object than that of pleasing me; but
her natural honesty soon prevailed when I asked her what she admired;
and she answered, simply:
I don't know.
It is in this way, by never utterly and altogether disappointing me,
that she keeps her hold on me. She sees and feels nothing of what we
call beautiful; on the other hand, she is cheerfully oblivious to the
necessity of assuming what she does not feel; she has no idea of posing
either to herself or to others; and the strange coldness of her soul
makes my affection all the warmer. By not trying to appear what she is
not, she constantly keeps alive in me the illusion of what she may be
or of what she will become.
We walked quickly through a number of rooms and sat down in a quiet
corner. I was already under the spell of that deep, reposeful life
which emanates from some of the Primitives; but Roseline, who had
stopped on the way in order to have a better view of various ugly
things, was talking and laughing loudly.
This annoyed me; and I was on the point of telling her so. However,
I restrained myself: I should have felt ashamed to be angry with her.
Was she not gay and lively, as I had wished to see her? What right have
we to let ourselves be swayed by the vagaries of our instinct and
expect our companion to feel the same obligation of silence or speech
at any given moment? Our emotion should strike chords so strong and
true that no minor dissonances of varying temperaments can make them
Rose chattered away for a long time, speaking all in the same breath
of her convent days, of her terrible godmother, of the scandal which
her sudden disappearance must be creating in the village. Then she
stopped; and I felt her eyes resting vacantly by turns upon myself and
upon the square in the ceiling which at that moment framed a patch of
grey sky studded with whirling snow-flakes. At last, she raised her
veil with an indolent movement, put her hand on my shoulder and, with a
long yawn that revealed all the pearly freshness of her mouth, asked:
But what do you see in it?
I slipped my arm under hers and led her away through the deserted
rooms. I ought to have spoken. But how empty are our most pregnant
words, when we try to express one iota of our admiration!
Why should you mind what I see, my Roseline? It is you and you
alone who can discover what you like and what interests you.
We were passing in front of Titian's Laura de' Dianti. I was
struck with the relationship that existed between her and my companion.
Although Rose was different in colouring, fairer, with lighter eyes,
she had the same purity of feature, the thin, straight nose, the very
small mouth and, above all, the same vague look that lends itself to
the most diverse interpretations. She squeezed my arm:
Speak to me, speak to me!
I glanced at her. Must it always be so, would she never feel
anything except when my own emotion found utterance? Impressions
reached her soul only after filtering through mine. Love, I thought to
myself, love alone would perhaps one day set free all the raptures now
jealously hidden in those too-chaste nerves. And, in spite of myself, I
Don't you think that admiration in a woman is only another form of
But when she is no longer young? Rose retorted, with a laugh.
When she is no longer young, nature doubtless suggests other means
of enthusiasm. Her heart is no longer a bond of union between her and
things. Then her calmer eyes are perhaps able to look at beauty itself,
without having all the joys of a woman's love-filled life to kindle
The Rubens pictures were around us, in all their brilliancy and in
all their glory, uttering cries of passion and luxury with voices of
flesh and blood and youth. They were another proof of what I had just
said; and I confessed to my companion:
It is not so long ago, Rose, that I used to pass unmoved through
this dazzling room where the Rubens flourish in their luscious beauty.
I used to look at them: now, I see them; I used to brush by them: now,
I grasp them. I enter into all this riot of happiness around us, which
is a thousand miles away from you, Rose; and it adds to my own joy in
But then what has come to you? exclaimed the girl.
I could not help smiling, for, when I tried to explain myself, it
seemed to me that, in the depths of my heart, I was playing with words:
All that hurt me yesterday has become a source of admiration to me
to-day. Excess appears riches and plenty, tumult becomes orderly; and I
seem to see in these works the glorification of all that we are bound
to hold supreme in life: health, beauty, strength, love. Is not the
exaggerated splendour of these pictures a triumphant challenge, the
expression of a magnificent principle?
We stood silent for a moment; then I added:
We never actually realise all that we have in our minds; but one
would think that this man's life and work reached the farthest bounds
of his visions. Or else we are unable even to catch a glimpse of what
And, musing upon that mystery, our frail feminine imagination seemed
to us like a landscape fading into the mist: when the day is clear, we
can distinguish the chain of blue mountains whose summits touch the
sky, but our imagination, if it would not be lost in the haze, must
keep to the foreground, in the avenues laid out by man.
We are very far, Rose, from the parsimony of the Primitives, each
of whose works contains almost a human life. In their room and in this,
you will find all the contradictory and complementary instruction which
one would like to give you. Over there, sobriety, patience, assiduous
effort, absolute conscientiousness in the smallest detail; life bowed
in all humility, but yet steadfast and fervent; imagination and beauty
that do not strive to shine: if you want a proof, look at the great
number that remained anonymous! Here, on the contrary, prodigality,
exultant love, blood coursing triumphantly through conquered veins.
Rubens is the apostle of wholehearted happiness. The biggest things
seem easy when you are in his presence. If ever you feel tired and
ready to be discouraged, you should come and look at him. Oh, I wonder,
yes, I wonder to what, to whom I owe this new enthusiasm? What have I
seen, what have I learnt? Through what chance acquaintance, what casual
word, what gesture or action, doubtless far removed from Rubens and his
works, did I suddenly enter into that wonderful kingdom?
And, in fact, that is how it had happened. An unknown treasure falls
into the cup of emotion; and the level is raised. Oh, to feel the
long-slumbering sensation rise within one's self; to see that which was
obscure to us yesterday become crystal-clear to-day; to love more
passionately, to understand a little better, to know a little more:
that is, to us women, the real progress, the only progress which we
must desire and seek after! But how can I hope that Rose will progress
if she never feels?
In vain I roamed about with her for an hour, not among the pictures,
whose value she could not yet appreciate, but among the dreams that
were born of them, among the most moving and delectable visions; vain
my emotion, vain my rapture: no answering spark lit her indifferent
eyes. True, there was no question of failure or success; I was putting
nothing to the test: that would have been insanity. But why this weight
of oppression on my spirits? I could not get rid of disturbing
memories: memories of childish raptures finding utterance by chance;
memories of those first loves which fasten upon anything in their haste
to live; memories of virgin hearts nurtured on dreams!
O enthusiasm, admiration, love, if you were not at first wanderers,
neither seeking nor choosing, if you did not blaze fiercely and
foolishly like a flame burning in the noon-day sun, will you ever be
able to light the darkness with all the splendours that are awaiting
your spark in order to burst into life?
O sweet eyes of my Roseline, sweet eyes that shine under your soft,
fair lashes like two opals set in pure gold, will you close for all
time without having gazed for a moment upon the wonders of the earth,
upon the real sky of our human life? Is it true that your beams
extinguish life and beauty wherever they rest?
It is six o'clock in the evening; I am taking Rose along the
boulevards, which are so interesting at this time of the year. As
usual, I am astonished at everything that does not astonish her. I look
at her as she walks, beautiful and impassive; I keep step with her
stride; and my thoughts hover to and fro between this life of hers
which refuses to take form and my ideals which are gradually fading out
Alas, the days pass over her without arousing either desire or
weariness! From time to time, I suggest some simple, trifling work for
her. But, whether the task be mental or material, whether the duty be
light or complex, she acquiesces in the suggestion only to make it
easier for her to put it aside later, gently and as a matter of course,
like tired arms laying down a burden too heavy for them.
This evening, I am merciful to her indolence. Going through the hall
of her boarding-house just now, I saw the long table laid, at which the
boarders meet. And I think of those destinies which have been linked
with Rose's during the past fortnight, while I am still unable to
obtain a clear idea of any one of them from her involved and incoherent
The house, which is in the old-fashioned style, has at the back a
sort of glass-covered balcony overhanging the garden of the house next
door. Here the boarders take their coffee after meals, while the
proprietress, a gentle, amiable creature, strives to establish some
sort of intimacy among them, to create an imaginary family out of these
strangers who have come from all parts of the world with varying
objects and for diverse reasons.
I know from experience the surprises latent in people like these. To
look at them, one would set them down as belonging to stereotyped
models: invalids, travellers, globe-trotters, runaways or students, as
the case may be. I call up figures from my own recollection and
describe them to Rose to encourage her to tell me her impressions.
Stray reminiscences marshal themselves, images rise before my eyes,
obliterating the things and people around me, and a vision appears over
which my memory plays like a reflection in a sheet of water. I see a
long house and its white-and-green front mirrored in a clear lake. A
man and a woman arrive there at the same time; and I tell Rose the
story of the two old wanderers:
It was very curious. Imagine those two people unknown to each
other, leaving the same country at about the same age and making the
same journeys in opposite directions. When I met them, they were two
grey-haired, wizened figures, with the same short-sighted eyes blinking
behind the same kind of spectacles. It amused me from the first to look
at them as one and united beforehand, at a time when they were still
unacquainted. I watched them at the meals which brought them closer
together daily, as it were perusing each other with the pleasure of
finding themselves to be alike, as though they were two copies of the
same guide-book. In their equally commonplace minds, recollections took
the place of ideas. To them, life was a sort of long classification;
they recognised no other duty but that of taking notes and cataloguing.
I don't know if they saw some advantage one day in uniting for good, or
if they began at last to think that there are other roads to follow in
the world beside those which lead to lakes, cities, waterfalls and
mountains. At any rate, after a few weeks, they were sharing the same
room; and we learnt that in future they meant to live side by side.
Had they got married?
No. And, though they performed a very natural action with the
utmost simplicity, this was certainly not due to loftiness of soul or
breadth of mind. But one felt that their knowledge of the manners and
morals of other civilizations had simplified their moral outlook, just
as their actual physical outlook had been dimmed through seeing nature
under so many aspects.
Rose began to laugh:
There is nothing of that kind at the boarding-house, she said.
For the moment, we have no old people: nothing but students, two
American women, a Spanish lady....
Then she hesitated a little and added:
There's an artist, too, an artist who has begun to paint my
Your portrait! And you never told me?
I am interrupted by a violent movement from Rose. She has turned
round and, in the gathering dusk, her whirling umbrella comes down
furiously on a man's hat, smashing it in and knocking it off his head.
A gentleman is standing before us, very well-dressed and looking very
uncomfortable. He stammers out a vague excuse and tries to escape, but
the indignant girl addresses him noisily. An altercation follows; the
loafers stop to listen; a crowd gathers round us; and a policeman
hurries towards us from the other side of the road. Fortunately, an
empty cab passes; and I just have time to jump in, followed by Rose,
who continues to brandish a threatening umbrella through the window.
Then at last I obtain an explanation of the disturbance. It appears
that, without my noticing it, the man had been following us for an
hour; and his silent homage had ended by incensing the girl.
I kiss her at the door of the boarding-house and walk back
thoughtfully through the streets, reflecting on the surprises which
that uncivilised character holds in store for me.
Rose had perhaps insulted a man who was simply taking pleasure in
admiring her, I thought to myself. What did she know of his intentions?
In any case, is not a silent look enough to keep importunity at a
Generally speaking, those who go after us in this way because of the
swing of our hips, or the mass of hair gleaming on our neck, or a
shapely shoe under a lifted skirt, are uninteresting; and among all the
coarse, silly or timid admirers whom a woman can encounter in the
street there are perhaps one or two at most who will leave an
ineffaceable mark on her memory. But why not always admit the most
I had been wandering a long time at random. Feeling a little tired,
I turned into the Parc Monceau, at the time when it was too late for
the mothers and babies and too early for the lovers' invasion. I sat
down by the transparent lake which so prettily reflects its diadem of
arbours. A young willow drooped in gentle sadness over the face of the
water; and white ducks glided past me in the evening mist. The waning
blue light mingled with the pale vapour that rises over Paris at
nightfall; and all this made a mauve sky behind the dark trees. It was
soft and melancholy, but not grave; and I lingered on, amid the beauty
of the scene, rapt in some woman's reverie. Then a lamp was lighted
behind the bench on which I sat; and on the ground before me I saw a
shadow beside my own. I understood and did not turn my head.
A man had followed me. I felt his eyes resting heavily on my
profile, on my cheek and on my ungloved hands. He was evidently going
to speak. Annoyed at this, I took a little volume from my pocket and,
to protect my solitude, began to read.
But soon I guessed that he was reading with me; and my mind thus
mingling with a stranger's passed over the words without quite
following them. His persistency angered me; and I closed the book.
Then he said to me:
Yes, you are very beautiful.
The words fell into my soul with a disquieting resonance. I rose
with a flushed face and then hesitated. It was certainly one of those
gross and lying pieces of flattery which we all of us hear at times.
Nevertheless, I resisted the instinctive impulse that would have made
me move away. Is not modesty in such a case merely another stratagem of
our coquetry? We flee, the man pursues and the wrong impression is
Standing in front of him, I frankly turned my eyes on his. Then he
softly repeated the same words.
Was it the exquisite modulation of his voice? Or again were the
gentle, friendly words the sudden revelation of a troubled life, a
sensitive soul ready to pour itself out in a single phrase and longing
to crystallise itself in one unparalleled second? They surprised me,
those words of his, they seemed to me new words, grave words, because I
had not believed that it was possible to speak them in that way to a
stranger, to speak them in a voice that asked for nothing.
My whole attitude must have betrayed my twofold astonishment. My
eyes questioned his. Their expression underwent no change. He was
really asking for nothing. Then I smiled and answered, simply:
I thank you. A woman is always glad to be told that.
Taking off his hat, he rose and bowed. I moved away with a slight
feeling of discomfort: would he commit the stupidity of following me?
Had I made a mistake? No, he resumed his seat. He had not blundered
When two people do not know each other and will not meet again, the
words exchanged between them, if they are not mere commonplaces, become
fraught with a strange significance and leave behind them a trail of
melancholy like a mourning-veil; it is the surprise of those voices
which speak to each other and will never be heard again, the fleeting
encounter between glance and glance, the smile which knows not where to
rest and yet would fain enrich the remembrance with a ray of kindness.
The essential image of a human life is contained in a moment like
that. It awakens, hesitates, seeks, thinks that it has found, speaks a
word and relapses into nothingness.
Rose's profile stands out in relief against the dark velvet of the
box. Her soft, fair hair parts into two waves that are like two streams
of honey following the curve of her cheek. Her long neck is very white
in the black gown that frames it; and her gloved hands rest near the
fan that lies opened on her knees like a swan's wing. She is sitting
straight up, with her eyes fixed in front of her. Her attitude is as
dignified and cold as a circlet of brilliants on a beautiful forehead.
I am alone, at the back of the box. I prefer to listen like that, in
the shadow, unseen. Is not the attention of a woman who is anything of
a coquette, that slight, fitful attention, always affected a little by
the thought, however unconscious, of the effect which she is producing?
I am struck by the general attitude of reverence. In the great
silence through which the music swells, the lives of all those present
seem penetrated with harmony.
I look at them as at so many open temples, which their thoughts have
deserted in order to join one another in an invisible communion. There
is a kind of homage in the bent heads and lowered eyes of the men. The
women are silent. The fans cease fluttering. The souls of the audience
are uplifted like the silent instruments of a human symphony that
mysteriously rises and rises till it mingles with the other and is
absorbed in it. If some part of us exists beyond words and forms, if
our thought sometimes floats in regions of pure mentality, is it not
this principle deprived of consciousness which bathes in the tremulous
waves of sound?
And Rose is also listening. But Rose listens without hearing. She,
whom the most beautiful things leave unmoved, here preserves an
appearance of absolute attention better than any one else in the
audience. She listens in that passive manner which is characteristic of
her nature. She lives a waking sleep. There is no consciousness, no
effort, but neither any desire.
When the orchestra fills the house with a song of gladness, I forget
my anxiety and let my imagination soar into its heights and weave
romances around that strange, cold beauty; but, if the music stops, if
Rose moves or speaks, then it comes to earth again with some simple
little plan, quite practical and quite ordinary.
She leant forward and I saw glittering under the electric lamp the
little silver chain which she wore round her neck on the day when I saw
her first, in the Normandy cornfields, standing amid the tall golden
sheaves; and, as I recalled that first impression, the difference
between then and now came like a blinding flash. In the cool morning
breeze, the sickles advance with the sound and the surge of waves; and
the golden expanse bows before the oncoming death. The sky is blue, the
village steeple shimmers in the sunlight, a great calm reigns ... and a
woman stands there, bending over the ground. What have I done? What
have I done? Was not everything better so?
It looks like snowing, says Rose.
The words falling upon an absolute silence distract me from my work.
It is a dull, drab winter's day. There is no colour, no light in the
sky that shows through the muslin blinds. On the branches of the bare
trees, a few dead leaves, which the wind has left behind, shiver
miserably at some passing gust. There is just enough noise for us to
enjoy the peace that enfolds the house. From time to time,
carriage-wheels roll by and the crack of a whip cuts into our silence;
then the dog wakes, sits up, looks questioningly at me and quietly puts
his nose back between his paws and begins to snore again. Rose is
sitting opposite him, on the other side of the fire-place. She is
holding a book in her hands without reading it. Her beautiful eyes are
staring dreamily at the fitful flames.
I rose and went upstairs to fetch a volume which I wanted. Both of
them, the dog and she, accompanied me, yawning and stretching
themselves as they went. They stood beside the book-case, like two
witnesses, equally useless and equally indispensable, and watched me
searching. I shivered in the cold room. Rose gave a little cough; and
the dog tried to curl himself up in the folds of my skirt.
Then we all three went down again; and, when I had gone back to my
place, they docilely resumed theirs on either side of the chimney.
The dog, before settling down, turned several times on his cushion,
arching his back, with his tail between his legs and his critical nose
quivering with satisfaction. Rose also has seen that her armchair is as
comfortable as it can be made. Now, lying back luxuriously, with her
elbows on the rests and her head on a soft cushion, she is evidently
not much troubled at the thought of a long day indoors.
In the two months since Rose left Sainte-Colombe, I have drilled her
into an intermittent attempt at style which is the utmost that she will
ever achieve, I fear; for her will, unhappily, is incapable of
sustained effort. When she has to hold herself upright for several
hours at a time, I see her gradually stooping as though invisible
forces were dragging her down.
Certainly, it is no longer the Rose of Sainte-Colombe who is here
beside me. How much of her remains? Her general appearance is
transformed by her clothes and the way in which she wears her hair; her
voice and gestures are softer; but all this minute and complex change
is but the subtle effect of events, the disconcerting effect of an
influence that has laid itself upon her nature without altering it in
any way. And this is what really causes my uneasiness. She is changed,
but she has not changed.
I take her with me wherever I have to go. She accompanies me on my
walks and drives, in my shopping, to the play. Men consider her
beautiful, but her indifference keeps love at a distance: love, the
passion in which I placed, in which I still place the hopes that remain
As for Rose herself, she is always pleased, without being
enthusiastic, and never expresses a wish or a desire.
I sometimes laugh and say:
You have a weatherproof soul; and your common sense is as starched
as your Sunday cap used to be!
But at heart she saddens me. To keep my interest in her alive, I
find myself wishing that she had some glaring fault. And at the same
time I am angry with myself for not appreciating the exclusiveness of
her affection better. I am actually beginning to think that this
extravagant sentiment is fatal to her. I look upon it in her heart as I
look upon the great tree in my garden, which interferes with the growth
of everything around it: fond as I am of that tree, I consider it
something of an enemy.
This afternoon, the whole atmosphere of the house is changed. There
is no silence, no work. The maid fusses about, spreading out my dresses
before Rose and me. We cannot settle upon anything.
We shall have to try them on you, I say.
But at the very first our choice is made.
A cry of admiration escapes me at the sight of Rose sheathed from
head to foot in a long green-velvet tunic that falls heavily around
her, without ornament or jewellery. From the high velvet collar, her
head rises like a flower from its calyx; and I have never beheld a
richer harmony than that of her golden hair streaming over the emerald
While I finish dressing her, we talk:
You are having all your friends, she says.
Some of them, those who live in Paris at this season. I have done
for you to-day what I seldom care to do: I have asked them all
together. But I have made a point of insisting that the strictest
isolation shall be maintained.
Rose laughed as she asked me what I meant.
It's quite simple, I answered. We shall throw open all the doors;
and there will be no crowding permitted! No general conversation, no
loud talking ...
In short, she exclaimed, the exact opposite to the convent, where
we were forbidden to talk in twos.
That is to say, where you were forbidden to talk at all; for there
is no real conversation with more than one. As long as you have not
spoken to a person alone, can you say that you have ever seen her?
She did not appear convinced; and I continued:
But just think! Conversation in pairs, when two people are in
sympathyand they are nearly always in sympathy when they are face to
facecan be as sincere as lonely meditations.
I felt that she shared my sentiment; but her reasonable nature makes
her always steer a middle course, never leaning to either side.
The pale winter sun is beginning to wane, but there is still plenty
of daylight in the white drawing-room. And I look at my friends, who
have formed little groups in harmony with my wishes and their own. When
an increased intimacy brings us all closer together, the party will
gain by that earlier informality. Each life will have been given its
normal pitch and will try at least to keep it. For our souls are such
sensitive instruments that they can rarely strike as much as a true
Blanche, with the agate eyes and the cloud of chestnut hair, is a
picture of autumn in the brown and red of her frock, with its bands of
sable. She is listening attentively to Marcienne. The fair Marcienne
herself, whom I love for her passionate pride, is sitting near the
fire-place; and her wonderful profile stands out against the flames.
Her mouth is a fierce red; but the figure which shows through the
pale-coloured tailor-made dress is full of tender childish curves. The
swansdown toque makes her black hair seem blacker still. She is talking
seriously and holding out to the flames her fingers covered with rings.
The wide-open door reveals the darker bedroom, in which the lights
are already turned on. A young married woman is sitting with her elbows
on the table. She is reading a poem in a low voice; and from time to
time a few words, spoken more loudly, mingle with the semi-silence of
the other rooms. Bending under the lamp-shade, her brown hair is bathed
in the light, while her profile is veiled by her hand and the lines of
her body are lost in the dark dress which melts into the shadow. Near
her, leaning against the white wall, two white figures listen and
I see Rose. She is standing, all emerald and gold, in the middle of
the next room. Behind her, a mirror reflects the copper candelabra
whose lighted branches surround her with stars. A placidly-smiling
Madonna, chaste and cold, dazzling and glorious, she talks to the
inseparables, Aurélie and Renée.
Renée, clad in deep mourning, is a delicious little princess of jet,
with lint-white hair and flax-blue irises. Her companion, crowned with
glowing tresses, knows the splendour of her green eyes and, with a
cunning fan-like play of her long eyelids, amuses herself by making
them appear and disappear.
My attention is recalled to the visitor by my side, a young
Dutchwoman not yet quite at home in France. She is shy in speaking and
she does not know my friends. I look at her. Her fair round face is
quaintly framed in the smooth coils of her golden hair. Her eyes are a
cloudless blue. Her nose, which is a little heavy and serious, belies
the smiling mouth, with its corners that turn up so readily. The very
long and very lovely neck makes one follow in thought the hollow of the
nape and the slope of the shoulders vanishing in a snowy cloud of
Mechlin lace. On the deliberately antiquated black-silk dress, a gold
chain and a miniature set in brilliants give the finishing touch to a
style classic in its chastity. Seated in a grandfather's chair in the
embrasure of the window, she reminds one of Mme. de Mortsauf in
Balzac's Lys dans la vallée.
But she is also the very embodiment of Zealand. You can picture her
head covered with a lace cap and her temples adorned with gold
corkscrews. Behind her you conjure up flat horizons, slow-turning
wind-mills, little red-and-green houses in which the inmates seem to
play at living. How charming she looks in the last rays of light, at
once childish and dignified, passive and romantic ... and so different
from the rest!
But has not each her particular interest, her special grace? When my
eyes go from one to another, they tell a rosary of precious beads, each
with its own peculiar beauty, neither greater nor less than its
fellows! What a glad and wondrous thing it is to be women, to be
delicate, pretty things, infinitely sensitive and infinitely varied,
living works of art, matter for kisses, the realised stuff of dreams!
When you look at them like that, solely in the decorative sense, you
are ready to condemn those who work, who think and who concentrate upon
an aim of some sort, for these superfine creatures carry the reason for
their existence within themselves, so great is the perfection which
they achieve with a gesture, an attitude, a glance. And then you
reflect upon what they too often are in the privacy of their lives:
narrow and domineering, attached to petty, useless duties, their minds
lacking dignity, their souls lacking horizon; and you are sorry that
they have not grown, through the sheer consciousness of their beauty,
into ways that are kindly and generous.
I let my hand rest lightly on Cecilia's hands; and in the sweetness
of the gathering dusk we both dream. Like the scent of flowers, the
different natures seem to find a more precise expression as their
shapes fade. I explain them to Cecilia, who does not know them.
Aurélie and Renée draw my eyes with their laughter; and I begin with
them. They are the careless lovers, idle for the exquisite pleasure of
idleness. They live a dream-life, the life of a child that sleeps,
dresses itself, goes for a walk, eats sweets and plays with its dolls.
They are good-natured as well as frivolous, lissom of mind as well as
of body, indulgent to others and charming in themselves. Love, resting
on their young and tender lives, makes them more tender yet, like the
light that lingers long and fondly upon a soft-tinted pastel.
Next comes the turn of Marcienne, who, greatly daring, has broken
with her family and given up worldly luxury, to work and live freely
with the man of her choice.
Beside her is Blanche, still restless and undecided, attracted by
love and irritated by her sister Hermione, who pursues a vision of
charity and redemption.
Here my friend's fine profile turns to the other groups; and I
The one whom we call Sister Hermione you can see in the dark
bedroom, reading under the light of the lamp, with her face hidden in
Is she good-looking?
Very, but tries not to seem so. That is why she is always so simply
Cecilia interrupts me:
But her dress isn't simple!
You are quite right. It is made complex by a thousand superfluous
fripperies. Hermione has not been slow to understand that, to
counteract perfect beauty, you must read simplicity to mean commonplace
A flutter of silk, a gleam of a silver-white skirt in the waning
light, a whiff of orris-root; and Marcienne glides down to our feet
with a lithe, cat-like movement. In a curt, passionate tone, she says:
You are speaking of Hermione. Oh, do try and persuade her sister
not to go the same way: is not one enough? Must more loveliness be
Sitting on a cushion on the floor, she raises her glowing face, her
eyes dark as night, her scarlet mouth, her dazzling pallor.
I shall do nothing of the sort, I answer with a laugh, for I
rather like Hermione's folly; besides, her reason will soon conquer it!
The dangers we run depend on chance; the first roads we take depend on
influences. The way in which we bear those dangers and return from
those roads: that is where the interest begins!
But, tell me, murmurs Cecilia, what does your Hermione want?
Here is her story, in a couple of words, says Marcienne. She is
rich, beautiful and talented; and she belongs to an aristocratic
English family. At twenty, she yielded to an impulse and went on the
stage; in a few months, she was a really successful actress; then she
made the acquaintance of a Hindu high-priest. He came and went; and she
followed him. During the last two years, she has been his faithful
But what does she preach?
Marcienne made a vague gesture:
Buddhist doctrines! She believes that she possesses the true faith
and tries to hand it on to others. In the few days which she has spent
in Paris, she has already made two converts, those two innocents who
are hanging on her words. It would all be charming, you know, if her
creed did not enjoin chastity and if, by holding those views, she did
not risk the awful fate of never knowing love!
Marcienne continued, still addressing herself to my new friend:
Do you see those pretty creatures in white, standing close to
Hermione? They are two orphans, two girls who fell in love with the
same man. I don't know the details of the romance, nor can I say
whether it was fancy or passion that guided the man's choice. All I
know is that he loved one of them and had a child by her. A little
while after, he deserted her. Thereupon their unhappy love reunited
those two hearts which happy love, as always, had divided. The same
devotion and kindness made them both bend over the one cradle. Oh, the
adorable pity that prompted Anne's heart on the day when, hearing her
baby call her mamma for the first time, she sent for her sister Marie
and, holding towards her those little outstretched arms, those eyes in
which consciousness was dawning, that little fluttering life seeking a
resting-place, she offered the maid, in the exquisite mystery of that
first smile, the first name of love! From that time onward, the baby
grew up between its two mammas as one treads a sunny path between two
Marcienne had a gift for pretty phrases of this kind, which she
would let fall not without a certain affectation. She liked talking and
I liked listening to her. I asked her what she thought of Rose. She
praised her beauty highly and even said the occasional awkwardness of
her movements made it more uncommon:
For that matter, she added, if it were not so, I should try to be
blind to it. A woman must understand that she lowers herself by
belittling her sisters. How immensely we increase man's ascendancy by
never praising one another!
I began to laugh:
Alas, I would not dare to say that the wisest among us, in
extolling our own sex, are not once more seeking the admiration of some
And Marcienne, who has been to such pains to release herself from
the worldly surroundings amid which she suffered, goes on speaking long
and passionately. There is a note of pain in her voice as she says:
Everything separates us and removes us one from the other,
education even more than instinct. If woman only knew how she lessens
her power by blindly respecting the petty social laws of which she is
nevertheless the sole judge and dictator! Whereas she hands them down
meekly, from mother to daughter, with all their wearisome restrictions,
and grows indignant if some one bolder ventures to transgress them. And
yet it is in this domain, which is hers, that she might extend her
power by gradually overthrowing the old idols.
And she also says:
Almost always, in defending a woman, we have occasion to strike a
mortal blow at some ancient prejudice. For my part, I must confess that
I take a mischievous delight in bestowing special indulgence on things
which often are too severe a test for that indulgence in others; for,
rather than be suspected of impugning ever so lightly some worn-out
principle, they will wound and wound again the most innocent of their
It is almost dark. I leave my companions in order to call for the
lamps and I stop near Rose as I pass through the next room. Here, all
the girls are clustered round Hermione, who is telling them a story of
Anne and Marie are listening respectfully, while the two
inseparables, only half-attentive, are sharing a box of sweets.
Roseline throws her arms round me and, shrugging her shoulders,
All this strikes me as such utter nonsense!
She is certainly right, with her Normandy common sense; but does she
not need just a touch of this same nonsense to bring her faculties into
play, her powers into action?
When I return to the drawing-room, Blanche calls me with a laugh of
Oh, look! she cries. I've found a book with a portrait of my
beloved Elizabeth Browning. Look at that sweet, gentle face, surrounded
with ringlets: it's just as I imagined her. I love her all the better
They had opened other books written by women and, leaning over the
table, were comparing the frontispiece portraits of the authors,
interesting or handsome, grave or smiling, young or old. Even so do
certain little volumes of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries open
nearly always with an engraving faded by time and representing charming
faces all of the same class and often with similar expressions and
features: a delicate nose, a bow-shaped, smiling mouth, intelligent
eyes with no mysterious depths, dimpled cheeks, a string of pearls
round the neck, a loosely-tied kerchief just revealing a swelling
bosom, wanton curls dancing against a dark background in a frame of
roses upheld by Cupids. And the quiver and the arrows and the flying
ribbons and the turtle-doves: all this, joined to the letters, the
maxims or the verses, often grave or even sad, sometimes calm and
reasonable, sometimes passionate, brings before us in a few strokes the
harmonious picture of woman's life.
It is no longer the fashion in these days, murmured Blanche. And
yet is there not an intimate relation between a woman's work and her
That is the reason, no doubt, replied Marcienne, why it seems,
unlike man's, to grow smaller as it passes out of the present. We see
the immortal pages disappear like the fallen petals of a flower. It's
sad, don't you think?
Struck with the beauty of her closing words, we listened to her in
silence. She continued to turn the leaves at random and resumed:
But, oh, the exquisite art which a woman's work can show when she
is not only beautiful, but truly wise, when a lovely hand indites
stately verse, when a life holds or breathes nothing but high romance
... and love! For it is love and love alone that makes a woman's brain
Cecilia, who was gradually losing her shyness, made a gesture to
silence us and said, slowly:
I'll tell you something!
A general peal of laughter greeted this phrase with which the young
Dutchwoman, according to the custom of her country, always ushers in
her least words. To make yourself better understood by slow and absent
minds, is it not well to give a warning? It is a sort of little spring
that goes off first and arouses people's attention. Then the thought is
there, ready for utterance. And sometimes, amid the silence, an
announcement is made that it will be fine to-morrow, or that it is hot
and that a storm is threatening.
But Cecilia is much too clever to cast aside those little mannerisms
of her native race which so charmingly accentuate her special type of
beauty. So she joined in our laughter with a good grace and, after
repeating her warning, observed, in her hesitating language, that, by
thus admitting ourselves to be the mere creatures of love, we were
justifying the opinion of the men who treat us as looking-glasses.
Looking-glasses? Men's looking-glasses? And why not? I exclaimed.
It is not for us women to decry that looking-glass side of us. It is
serious, more serious than you think, for on the beauty of our
reflection often depend our ardour, our courage, our very character and
all the energies that create or affect our actions. Besides, whether
men or women, we can only reflect one another and we ourselves do not
become conscious of our powers until the day of the supreme love, as
if, till then, we had only seen ourselves in pocket-mirrors which never
reflect more than a morsel of our lives, a movement, a gesture ... and
which always distort it!
Every mouth quivered with laughter. I insisted:
If women often have so much difficulty in learning to know their
own characters, it is because most men are scornful mirrors, occupied
with nothing smaller than the universe and never dreaming of reflecting
women except in a grudging and imperfect fashion.
It is true, said Marcienne, thinking of her lover, a man whose
domineering temper often made him unjust to her. Men's lives would be
less serenely confident if our amiable and accommodating souls did not
afford them a vision incessantly embellished by love ... and always
having infinity for a background!
And, with a satirical smile, she added:
Let us accept the part of looking-glasses, but let us place our
gods in a still higher light! They will not complain; and we shall at
least have the advantage of seeing beyond them a little space and
The conversation then assumed a more personal character, each of us
thinking of the well-beloved: Marcienne, ever mournful and passionate;
the gentle Blanche, anxious, secretly plighted to an absent lover; and
Cecilia, all absorbed in her young happiness with the husband of her
Hermione and her cluster of girls had gradually come nearer. She
dresses badly, she does her hair with uncompromising severity, but, in
spite of it all, Hermione is very beautiful; and her loveliness
triumphs over her commonplace clothes, even as her generous heart and
the noble restlessness of her mind keep her on a plane which is loftier
than the narrow dogmas of her creed.
During a moment's silence, I hear her answer a question put by Rose:
Oh, what does it matter if I am wrong, as long as I make others
And all my friends, like a sheaf of glowing flowers, seemed to be
bound together by that word of loving-kindness. Were they not all,
these bestowers of joy, living in a world into which neither sin nor
error entered, their lives obeying the same eternal principles of love,
following the sacred law of nature which fills our hearts with
tenderness and our bodies with longing?
They were now able to talk together. Their remarks would not be
vain, ordinary or frivolous. During the first moments of isolation,
each of them had pursued her own thoughts and continued her own life.
Each had reached that perfect diapason at which the most antagonistic
spirits are in supreme unison. Heedless of different objects or of
diverse aims, the same yearning for generosity, the same thirst after
graciousness and beauty united their hearts; and their minds, leaping
all barriers, came to an understanding of one another in a region
beyond opinions. All these young and beautiful creatures, all these
forms fashioned for delight exhaled an atmosphere of love. Were they
not all alike its votaries?
One alone, in a fiercer glow of enthusiasm and with a doubtless
finer sensualism, one alone attempts to offer up her life to a God! The
glorious folly of her! How I love to see her, vainly tormenting her
beauty, seeking infinity, aspiring to bear peace across the world. I
see her soul like a walled garden in which all the flowers lift
themselves higher and higher, struggling to offer themselves to a
moment of light. But, in a day of greater discontent and in an hour of
maturity, the illusory fence will fall and the fair life will stand in
open space. Then, drunk with boundless earth and boundless sky, the
woman, restored to nature, will doubtless find herself more attuned to
pleasure than were the others and more responsive to joy.
I looked at all those bowed heads, dark or fair, dusky or golden,
those lovely forms revealed by their clinging robes, those delicate
profiles bent over the portraits and writings of their sisters, far-off
friends, vanished, unknown or absent, whose power of love still lives
for all men and for all time ... immortal tears, petals dropped from
Then my glistening eyes turned towards my Roseline. She was there,
indifferent, unmoved, perhaps secretly bored.
And my thoughts wept in my heart.
The most beautiful things cannot be given.
I had been out of town for a time. Returning to Paris a day sooner
than I intended, I wished to give Rose the pleasure of an unexpected
arrival and I went to see her that same evening. Though it was not more
than ten o'clock, the lights were already out in the strictly-managed
boarding-house. There was a row of brass candlesticks on the
hall-table. The man-servant wanted to give me one; but I was impatient,
thanked him hurriedly and ran upstairs in the dark.
I could not have told why I was so happy; for, though I should not
have been willing to confess it, I had long lost all my illusions about
the girl. But she was so beautiful; and her passive temperament left so
much room for my fancy! I never made any headway; but at the moment it
always seemed to me as if I were heard and understood. I used to write
on that unresisting life as one writes on the sand; and, the easier I
found it to make the impress of my will, the faster was it obliterated.
When I reached the floor on which Rose's bedroom was, I stopped in
the dark passage. A narrow streak of light showed me that her door was
not quite shut. Then, gathering up my skirts to deaden their sound, I
felt along the wall and crept softly, on tip-toe, so as to take her by
surprise. With infinite precautions, I slowly pushed the door open. I
first caught sight of a corner of the empty bed, with its white
curtains still closed; then of a candle-end burning on the table and of
flowers and a broken vase lying on the ground. What could she be doing?
I was so far from imagining the truth that I do not know how I
beheld it without betraying my presence by a movement or a sound. There
was a young man in the room.
I saw his face, straight opposite me, near the guttering candle. A
man in Rose's bedroom! A friend, no doubt; a lover, perhaps! But why
had she never mentioned him to me? I had been away a month; and in not
one of her letters had she ever spoken of him. A friend? A lover? Could
she have a whole existence of which I knew nothing? Could her quiet
life be feigned? But why?
At the risk of revealing my presence, I opened the door still
farther; and then I saw her profile bending forward. Thus posed, it
stood out against the black marble of the mantel-piece like a cameo.
Rose had let down her hair, as she did every evening. Her bodice was
unfastened; and the two golden tresses brought forward over her breast
meekly followed the curve of her half-exposed bosom. She was not
astonished, she was not even excited. She seemed to acquiesce in the
man's presence in her room; it was no doubt customary.
And suddenly, amid the thousand details that engaged my attention, a
light flashed across me: was not Rose's companion one of the boarders
in the house, perhaps that painter of whom she had told me, the one who
made a sketch of her head which she brought to me a few days after her
arrival in Paris?
His eyes never left her. He watched and followed her every movement,
whereas she, in her perfect composure, did not seem even to heed his
presence. And that was what struck me: Rose's impassiveness in the face
of that anxious and silent prayer. Did she not see? Could she not
understand? I almost longed to rush at her and cry:
But look, open your eyes; that man is entreating you!... If you do
not share his emotions, at least be touched by his suffering; if not
your lips, give him a glance or a smile!
Oh, how like her it all is! And how the anxious pleading of the
wooer resembles the vain waiting of the friend! But, alas, what in my
case is but a disappointment of the heart, a tiresome obstacle to the
evolution of an idea, is perhaps in his case a cruel and lasting
Suddenly, he falls on his knees before the girl. With his shaking
hands, he touches her breast; then he kisses it gently. She does not
repel him, but her bored and absent expression discourages any amorous
action and withers the kisses at the very moment when they alight upon
her flesh. Then he half-raises himself to gaze at her from head to
foot; and with all his ardour he silently asks for the consenting smile
and the word that gives permission.
I shall never forget his look, the superb animal look, brilliant,
glowing and empty as a ball-room deserted by the dancers, the superb,
outspoken look that accompanies the gift of life and seems to flee its
mystery at the moment when it approaches.
He stammered a few tender words. His voice thrilled me. It was grave
and clear as a bronze and silver bell. It rang true, for the most
ephemeral desire is not false. I knew, by the sense of his words, that
Rose had not yet given herself.
Sullenly and as though annoyed by the soft words, she brought the
dark stuff of her bodice over her white bosom. To the young man it was
like a cloud passing over the sky; and, whether or not because the
girl's resistance exasperated him, he suddenly pressed her to him,
sought her lips and made her bend for a moment under the violence of
his embrace. But, with an abrupt movement, with a sort of vindictive
rage, she succeeded in releasing herself.
Then I fled from the house.
I did not recover myself until I was on the quay outside and felt
the cold night-air against my face. My skirt was trailing on the
ground; my hands made no movement to hold it up.
With my disgust and resentment there was mingled a vague feeling of
remorse. Was it not I who had taught the girl the shamelessness that
admits desire and the prudence that refuses to submit to it? Had I not
wished for her, above all other treasures, the power of judging,
Yes, but when I had talked of choosing, I had never imagined that
the choice could be made in cold blood! So far from that, it had seemed
to me that no more dangerous or painful experience could visit a
woman's heart. The victory of mind over instinct and of will over
desire is the price of a hideous, abnormal struggle opposed to the very
law of our nature. A sad victory baptised with tears, a sacred
preparation for the noble defeat that is to crown a woman's life!
Besides, it was not her refusal that revolted me, for we cannot
judge an action of which we do not know the reasons; it was her
demeanour, her horrible indifference. The ugliness of the scene would
not have offended me, I reflected, if the woman had been in any way
troubled by it; if I had seen her resist her own desire or at least
deplore that which she was unable to share; if I had seen her struggle
for a sentiment or suffer for an idea, however absurd or wild! But Rose
had had neither tears nor compassion; and the blind instinct that
always prompts us to give our lives had not tempted her.
I continued to see that face of marble. I heard those impassive
words. I pictured that body which felt no thrill, that mouth which
abandoned itself without giving itself. No, I had never taught her
anything of that kind; for, however light the pain which we cause and
whatever its nature, we are forgiven only if our own heart feels a
deeper wound. I did not understand her conduct. What had prompted it?
To what chains of weakness had her soul stealthily attached itself,
that soul which I had jealously protected against all principles and
prejudices? What secret limits had she assigned herself despite my
watchful care to give her none?
I felt grieved and disappointed; and yet ... and yet I walked along
with a certain gladness in my step. The tears trembling on my lashes
were not tears of helplessness, but of a too-insistent energy, for they
came above all from my overwrought nerves. My mind saw clear and rent
my remorse like a superfluous veil.
No, I was not responsible! Our thought, once expressed, no longer
belongs to us. Whether it leave us when scarce ripe, because an
accident has gathered it, or whether it fall in its season, like the
leaf falling from the tree, we know nothing of what it will become; and
it is at once the wretchedness and the greatness of human thought to be
subjected to the infinite forms of every mind and of every existence.
I walked for a long time without heeding the hour. The sky was clear
and the stars glowed in its depths like live things; in the distance,
the Trocadéro decked the night with brilliants.
And, little by little, hope returned to me. I was persuaded that
over there, in the little room which my care had provided for Rose,
love would yet be the conqueror. She would awaken under those kisses.
My Roseline should yet know passion and rapture. Love would triumph. It
would do what I had been unable to do, it would breathe life into
beauty! And, in the dead stillness, I kept hearing the kisses falling,
falling heavily, like the first drops of a storm.
We are talking like old friends, he and I, in the little white
bedroom. Through the two curtains of the window high up in the wall a
great ray of sunshine falls, a column of dancing light that dies on the
table between us. I sit drumming absent-mindedly with my fingers in the
shimmering motes. He looks at me and I feel no need to speak or to turn
my head. The novelty of his presence makes no impression on me beyond a
feeling of surprise that I do not find it strange. When by chance we do
not hold the same view, the difference of opinion lasts only long
enough to shift the thought which we are considering, even as one
shifts an object to see its different aspects one after the other.
I came to the boarding-house this morning to see Rose. Her room was
empty. I was on the point of going, when the young man passed. He
recognised me, doubtless from the portraits which Rose had shown him;
and he came up to me of his own accord. His greeting was frank and
natural. There were breadth and spaciousness in his eyes and his smile
as well as in his manner. To justify my friendly interest, I pretended
to have heard about him from Rose as he himself had heard about me:
that is to say, with the most circumstantial details regarding
position, occupations and all the externals of life. He did not
therefore enter into explanations about things of which I was ignorant
and we at once began to talk without any formality.
What a strange and delightful sensation it was! I remembered all
that I had noticed about him the night before; I knew his character
from admiring its gentleness and patience under the supreme test of
unrequited love, of desire that awakened no response. And he was now
talking to me from the very depths of his soul, while I knew nothing of
who or what he was, nor of what he was doing here. I was really seeing
him from the inside, as we see ourselves behind the scenes of our own
existence, without ever knowing exactly the spectacle which we present
to others. I was observing the inner working of his life before I had
seen the outward presentment.
Speaking to me of his profession, he told me, with a smile, how
little importance he attached to his painting:
It is only a favourable pretext for the life I have chosen. As you
know, my greatest passion is nature; and I cannot but like the work
which trained my eyes to a clearer vision and my nerves to a finer
He told me of the years which he had wasted in seeking in the
customary amusements the joys which are ordinarily found there. He told
me of the life of luxury and idleness which he had led until the day
came when adverse fate reduced him to living on the income from a small
estate which he owned in the country: a thrice-fortunate day, he added,
for from that moment he had understood that he was made for solitude,
meditation and all the quiet pleasures of nature. Then he
enthusiastically described to me the peaceful charm of his little house
and he employed the words of a lover to extol the charm of his
willow-swept river and the wonders of his flowers and bees.
Then I wanted to know what he thought of Rose. He judged her not
inaccurately; but, with a lover's partiality, he applied the words
balance, gentleness, equanimity to qualities which one day, when the
scales had fallen from his eyes, he would call lack of heart and
feeling. Deep-seated differences, perhaps, but yet not of a nature to
affect the very sound principles that ensured his tranquillity.
He had no illusions as to the quality of her mind. But to him, as to
most men, a woman's intellectual value was but a relative factor; and
he did not pause to estimate it with any attempt at accuracy,
preferring to repeat:
She will not disturb the silence of my life; and her beauty will
adorn it marvellously.
He had a way of speaking which I liked. He knew how to refine his
words by means of his expression. If they were very positive, his voice
would hesitate; if too grave, a faint smile would lighten their
sombreness. If he spoke ironically, his boyish eyes softened any touch
of bitterness in the wisdom of the satirist.
I did not like to think that the success of his wooing would mean
the end of his labours. Rose would never become the independent,
perfect woman of my dreams, capable of preserving her personal life in
the midst of love and in all circumstances. Alas, my ambition had
soared too high! Henceforth, I must wish nothing better for her than
this purely ornamental fate.
Do you love her? I asked.
I was taken captive at once by her beauty, he answered. She
objected that this sudden love must be an illusion; and I tried for a
time to think the same. But, before long, suffering taught me the
sincerity of my love. I dare not say whether it is senseless or right
or usual; but, as long as a feeling gives us nothing but joy, we are
unable to recognise it, we doubt it, we smile at it as a light and
fleeting thing. Let anguish come, however, with tears and dread; and it
is as though the seal of reality were placed on our heart. Then we
believe in our love.
I repeated, pensively and happily:
Do you really love her?
Yes, I can say so honestly.
He hesitated a little and, speaking very slowly, as though picking
his words from amid his memories, said:
When we are sincere, we are bound to confess that the love which
encircles all the movements of our body follows the movements of its
strength or its weakness equally. It has its hours of exasperation, it
is sometimes a tide that rises and floods everything: the past, the
present, the future, the will, the spirit, the flesh. Then all becomes
peaceful; the waves subside and we think that we love no more. We do
love, however, but with a more detached joy. We have stepped outside
love, as it were, and we contemplate its extent.
My breath came quickly and my hands, clasped on the table, were
pressed close together. My heart was bursting with gladness for my
Roseline. He saw my emotion and questioned me with deeper interest.
I replied without hesitation:
I am happy in this love which comes to Rose so simply and
He pressed my hand as he said:
Sometimes, on reading certain passages in your letters, I used to
fear that you might be opposed to my intentions....
I began to laugh:
Yes, you will have read fine views concerning independence; and a
tirade against the women who surrender too easily; and any number of
things more or less contrary to your hopes. But do you not agree with
me that our principles are at their soundest when they are least rigid
and that our noblest convictions are those of which we see both sides
at once? Woman even more than man must not be afraid of handling her
morality a little roughly when occasion demands it, just as she
sometimes ruffles her laces for the pleasure of the eyes, easily and
naturally and without attaching too much importance to the matter.
He listens to my words as I listen to his, with surprised delight.
We feel as if we were playing with the same thought, for it flashes
from one life to the other without undergoing any alteration.
In point of fact, the human beings whom we see for the first time
are not always new to us. True, we have never seen each other before,
but our sympathies, our enthusiasms, inasmuch as they are common to
both of us, have met more than once; and, now that we are talking, the
form of our thoughts also corresponds, for, without intending it, we
often look at the most abstract things objectively, because he is a
painter and I a woman.
Oh, I know no more exquisite surprises than those chance meetings
which suddenly bring you a friend at a turning in life's road! It is
like a charming landscape which one has seen in a dream and which one
now finds in reality, without even having hoped for it. You speak,
laugh, recognise each other and above all you are astonished and go on
being astonished, adorably and shamelessly, like children.
What we had to say was all interwoven, as though we were both
drawing on the same memories. We were speaking of those friends of a
day whom accident sometimes gives us and whom the very briefness of the
emotion impresses deeply on our heart. They are there for ever, in a
few clear, sharp strokes, like sketches:
For instance, you go on a matter of business to see somebody whom
you don't know. You chafe with annoyance as you cross the threshold. In
spite of the material duty which you are performing, you consider that
it is so much time wasted. Then, for some unknown reason, the
atmosphere seems kindly. You find familiar things in the room where you
are waiting: a picture which you might have chosen yourself, books
which you know and like, things which look as if your own hand had
arranged them. And you forget everything. With your forehead against
the pane, you look at the roofs of the houses, at the streets, at all
that little scene which is the constant companion of an existence which
you do not know and with which you are about to come into touch; and
your heart beats very fast, for a sort of foresight tells you that a
friend is going to enter the room.
That's quite true; and sometimes even we have already met him at
some house or other; but then his mind displayed itself in a special
attitude, inaccessible, motionless, lifeless, like a thing in a glass
case. Now, we see him before us, in his own surroundings; and
everything is changed. He has a smile which is made of just the same
quality of affection as our own, a look instinct with the same sort of
experience, a laugh that cheerfully faces like dangers, a mind
responding to the same springs. And we talk and are contented and
happy; and, when the sun enters at the window or when the fire flickers
merrily in the hearth, we can easily picture spending the rest of our
life there, in gladness and comfort. Anything that the one says is
received by the other with an exclamation of delight. Yes, we have felt
and seen things in the same way; and this little fact, natural though
it may seem, is so rare that it appears extraordinary!
With an abrupt movement that must be customary with him, my
companion shook his head to fling back his thick hair, which darkened
his forehead whenever he leant forward:
And very often, he said, you don't see each other again, or at
least you don't see each other like that, because time is too swift and
because everybody has to go his own road.
The bright shaft of sunlight was still between us. It came now from
a higher point of the little window. In the shimmering dust, I conjured
up the faces of scarce-seen friends. There were some whose features had
become almost obliterated; but beyond them, as one sees an image in a
crystal, I clearly perceived the ideas, the life, the soul that had for
a moment throbbed on exactly the same level as my own.
I replied, in a very low voice:
We remain infinitely grateful to people who have given us such
minutes as those!
And then, certain of hearing myself echoed, I cried, delightedly:
Egoists should always be grateful and responsive, for gratitude is
nothing but happiness prolonged by thought....
Yes, that is the whole secret of the responsive soul: to have
sufficient impetus not to stop the sensation at the place where the joy
To have simply, like the runner, an impetus that carries us beyond
Thus were our remarks unrolled like the links of one and the same
chain; and yet how different were our two existences! His was devoid of
all restlessness and agitation; and mine was still in need of it. His
intelligence was active, but not at all anxious to appear so. For him,
meditation was the great object; and, when I expressed my admiration of
a modesty impossible to my own undisciplined pride, he replied, in all
Do not look upon this as modesty. The over-modest are often those
whose pride is too great to find room on the surface.
If I were a man or an older woman than I am, I said, laughingly,
I would choose your destiny; but, for the time being, I feel a genuine
need to satisfy my youth and to give it a few of the little pleasures
that suit it.
He tried to jest, like most men who disapprove of the trouble which
we take to please them by making ourselves prettier or more brilliant;
but at heart he was as fond as myself of feminine cajolery and
You are full of pride, I exclaimed, when you have accomplished
some noble action or produced some rare work of art; then why should
not women be happy at realising in their persons consummate beauty and
grace? It is very probable that, if Plato or Socrates had suddenly been
turned into beautiful young creatures, their destiny would have been
different from what it was; it is even exceedingly probable that wisdom
would have prompted them very often to lay aside their writings and
come and contemplate their charms in the admiration of men!
I quoted the words uttered by a woman who had known and loved
admiration in her day:
If life were longer, I would devote as many hours to my body as I
now do to my mind; and I should be right. Unfortunately, I have to make
a choice; and my very love of beauty makes me turn to that which does
We should certainly have gone on talking for hours and without
tiring; but suddenly we both together remembered that Rose must be
waiting for me at my house and I rose to go.
As I did so, I said:
I happen not to know your Christian name. What is it?
Floris! That name, so little known in France but very frequent in
Holland, surprised me; and I had some difficulty in not saying:
Then you are not a Frenchman?
But all that I said was:
Floris, you shall have your Rose!
Going down the stairs, I laughed to myself and said:
It is really one of love's miracles, that that man should be
interested in Rose. And yet, to a philosopher, does not that beautiful
girl offer a very unusual sense of security? From the point of view of
the life which I had planned for her, she is a failure; but will she
not be perfect in the eyes of a lover, of a man who expects nothing
from her but an occasion for dreams and pleasure?
Filled with gladness, I hastened my steps. Although it was the end
of winter, it was still freezing; and it was pleasant to hear the sound
of my feet on the hard ground. I also noticed the noises of the street:
they were sharp and distinct; and in the crisp air things were all
black and white, as though etched in dry-point.
For a moment, my dream vanished; then suddenly I became aware of it
and I rifled a shop of its flowers and jumped into a cab in order to be
with my Roseline the sooner.
Rose and Floris! The delicious combination filled my heart to
bursting-point. Is it not always some insignificant little accident
that sets our impressions overflowing? Like a child, at the last
minute, I had felt a wish to know what he was called; and I was
delighted to find that it was a name full of grace and colour. Now all
my thoughts clustered around those harmonious syllables. Those
remarkable eyes, that dark hair with its faint wave, that sensitive
heart, that profound intellect, powerful and yet a little tired, like a
tree bowed down with fruit: all this went through life under the name
Then I saw once more his face, his gentleness, his profound charm;
and I never doubted the girl's secret assent. In my fond hope, I went
to the length of imagining that she had wished to choose her life for
herself, independent of my influence; that she had at last understood
that, in order to please me, she must first assert her liberty, without
fear of hurting or vexing me. It was an illusion, certainly; but there
are times when joy thrusts aside reason in order to burst into full
blossom, even as in moments of sorrow our despair often goes beyond
reality to drain itself to the last drop in one passionate outpouring.
Rose was sitting in the drawing-room, waiting for me. I rushed in
like a mad thing, without knowing what I was doing. My laughter, my
flowers, my words all came together and fell upon her like a shower of
joy. In one breath I told her of my indiscretion of the night before,
of those stolen sensations, of my anguish, of my life at a standstill,
waiting on theirs, of my delightful talk with Floris, of the sympathy
between us and lastly of my conviction that happiness was being offered
to her here and now.
Then I noticed that she said nothing; and, begging her pardon for my
incoherence, I tried to express in serious words the future that
awaited her. But all those glad impressions had dazzled me; I was like
some one who comes suddenly from the bright sunshine into a room.
Shadows fell and rose before my brain as before eyes that have looked
too long at the light; and I could do nothing but kiss her and repeat:
Believe me, happiness lies there! Seize it, seize it!
At last she murmured, wearily:
No, I can't do it.
I questioned her, anxiously:
Perhaps there is some obstacle that separates you? Do you dislike
No, I know his whole life and I have nothing against him.
Well, then ...?
I tried in vain to obtain a definite reply. Her soul was shut,
walled in, almost hostile. Was she refusing herself, as she had once
given herself, without knowing why? Or else was my vague intuition
correct and was a latent energy escaping from that little low, square
forehead, white and pure as a camellia, a force of which she herself
was unaware and which no doubt would one day reveal to me the final
choice of her life?
I made her sit down and, kneeling beside her, questioned her
patiently and gently as one asks a sick child to describe the pain
which one is anxious to relieve. Silently, gazing vaguely into space,
she let herself rest on my shoulder. The flowers fell from her listless
hands. Some still hung to her dress, with tangled stalks. Red
carnations, mimosa, tuberose, narcissus, hyacinths drunk with perfume,
guelder-roses and white lilac wept at her feet.
I rose slowly and looked at her, my heart aching for the heedless
one who dropped the joys which chance laid in her arms!
PART THE THIRD
The reason why we judge people better after a lapse of time is that,
when we look at them from a distance, there is no confusion of detail.
The main lines of their character stand out, relieved of the thousand
little alterations and erasures which the scrupulous hand of truth is
constantly making as it passes hither and thither, now rubbing out, now
redrawing, until at last the impression is no longer a very clear one.
From the day when I separated my life completely from the life of
Rose, her character appeared to me distinctly; and at the same time,
now that it was free to come down to its own level, it asserted itself
in its turn. Until that moment, while I had been careful to put no
pressure upon her, I had nevertheless been asking her to choose her
tastes and occupations on a plane that was unsuitable for her.
Her moral outlook was good, true and not at all silly, but it was
limited; and, in trying to make her see life swiftly and from above, as
though in a bird's-eye view, I had made it impossible for her to
Her fault was that she had not been able to change, mine was that I
had had too much faith in her possibilities. My optimism had wound
itself around her immobility and fastened to it, even as ivy coils
around a stone statue, without communicating to it the smallest portion
of its sturdy and luxuriant little life.
And now it is six months since we parted; and I am going to-day to
see her for the first time in her new existence.
I look out of the window of the railway-carriage; and my mind calls
up memories which glide past with the autumn fields. First comes the
departure of Floris, wearied by the incomprehensible attitude of the
girl. He went away shortly after our meeting, still philosophical and
cheerful, in spite of his disappointment. And the part which he played
in my experiment taught me something that guided my efforts into a
fresh direction: if Rose's beauty was to him sufficient compensation
for her commonplace character, could not I also accept the girl as
something out of which to weave romance and beauty? Does not everything
lie in the mere fact of consent? Passive and silent, would she not
become a rare object in my life, a precious stone?
Woman blossoms into fullest flower by doing nothing, some one has
said. Women who do not work form the beauty of the world.
I took Rose to live with me and for weeks devoted myself exclusively
to her appearance and her manners. I sought if possible to perfect the
exterior. It was all in vain. This beautiful creature was so totally
ignorant of what beauty meant that she was constantly deforming
herself; and I at last gave up the struggle.
Sadly I remember the last pulsation of my will. It happened in the
silence of my heart; and life went on for a little while longer. Would
it not have been hateful to send Rose away, as one dismisses a servant?
And what act, what fault had she committed to deserve such treatment?
When it would have been so sweet to me to give her everything, for no
reason at all, how could I find a solid reason for taking everything
So I said nothing to her; we had none of those horrible explanations
which set bristling spikes on the barriersinevitable barriers,
alas!which dissimilarities in taste or character raise between
people. There are certain persons who cannot bear to make any change
without a preliminary explanation. They seem to carry a sort of map in
their heads: on the far side of the frontier that borders the friendly
territory lies the enemy; and it needs but a word, a gesture, a
difference of opinion for you to find yourself in exile. Alas, have we
not enough with all the limits, demarcations, laws and judgments that
are perhaps necessary to the world at large? And must we lay upon
ourselves still others in the intimate relations of life?
I had no right to set myself up as a judge and I could not have
pronounced sentence. I waited. And, my will being no longer in the way,
circumstances gradually led my companion to her true destiny better
than I could have done.
She was bored. She was not really made to be a purely decorative
object. In spite of her trailing silk or velvet dresses, twenty times a
day I would find her in the larder, with a loaf under her arm and a
knife in her hand, contentedly buttering thick slices of bread, which
she would eat slowly in huge mouthfuls, looking straight before her as
she did so.
She was bored; and I was powerless to cure this unfamiliar ill. I
looked out some work for her in my busy life. She wrote letters, kept
my accounts, hemmed the maids' aprons. Soon she was running the
errands. One day she answered the front-door.
I still remember that moment when she came and told me, in her
pretty, gentle way, that there was some one to see me in the
drawing-room. I do not know why, but that insignificant incident
suddenly revealed the truth to me. I was ashamed of myself and turned
away my head so that she should not see me blush. Poor child, she was
unconsciously lowering herself more and more daily. She was becoming my
property. I was making use of her.
Without saying anything, I at once began to search for something for
her. I hesitated between first one thing and then another; but at last
chance came to my aid. Country-bred as she was, the girl was losing her
colour in the Paris air; she was ordered to leave town. She knew a
family at Neufchâtel, in Normandy, who were willing to take her as a
boarder for a few weeks. She went and did not come back.
What did she do there, how did she spend her time? She wrote to me
before long that she was quite happy, that she was earning her
livelihood without difficulty. There was a little linen-draper's shop,
it seemed, kept by an old maid, who, having no relations of her own,
had taken Rose to assist her at first and perhaps to succeed her in
I was not at all surprised. For that matter, when we follow the
natural evolution of things, their conclusion comes so softly that we
hardly notice it. It is the descent which we are approaching: it
becomes less steep at every step and, when we reach it, it is only a
faint depression in the ground.
Strange temperament! The more I think of it, the more it appears to
me as an instance of the dangers of virtue, or at least of what we
understand by the word. Does it not look as though, in the charts of
our characters, the virtues are the ultimate goals which can be reached
only by the way of our faults? Each virtue stands like a golden statue
in the centre of a cross-roads. We can hardly know every side of it
unless we have beheld it from the various paths that lead to it. It
shines in a different manner at the end of each road.
Rose never became conscious of her good qualities, because she
possessed them too naturally; and she remained poor in the midst of all
the riches which she was unable to discern.
Oh, if only she had been less wise and had had that ardour, that
flame which feeds on all that is thrown upon it to extinguish it; if
she had had that inordinate prodigality which teaches us by making us
commit a thousand acts of folly; if, in short, she had had faults,
vices, impulses of curiosity, how different her fate would have been!
The equilibrium of a person's character may be compared with that of a
pair of scales; and it is safe to say that, by weighing more heavily
upon one of these, our defects raise our good qualities to their
But every minute is now bringing me nearer to this life which I am
at last to know; and I gaze absent-mindedly at the Bray country, that
lovely country red with the gold of autumn. By force of habit, my
nerves spell out a few sensations which my thoughts do not put into
words. My heart is beating. Now, with no idea or purpose in my mind, I
am speeding with a full heart towards the girl who was at least the
inspiration of a splendid hope and above all an incentive to action.
I arrived at Neufchâtel at the gracious hour when the sun is paling;
and I was at once charmed with the kindly aspect of this little Norman
The house-fronts gleaming with fresh paint, the pigeons picking
their way across the streets, the grass growing between the
cobble-stones, the flowers outside the windows and doors, a cleanliness
that adorns the smallest details: all this is so calm and so empty that
our life at once settles there as in a frame that takes with equal ease
the happy or the sad picture which we propose to fit into it.
It reminds me of Bruges, whose infinite, patient calm is a clean
page on which the visitor's life is printed, happy or distressful at
will, since there is nothing to define its character. It also has the
silence of the little Flemish towns, with their streets without
carriages or wayfarers. The gardens look as though they were
artificial; and in the frame of the open windows we see interiors which
are as sharp as pictures.
Leading out of the main street is a mysterious little alley, dark
and badly paved. It runs upwards and ends in a clump of trees arching
against the blue of the sky. There is no visible gate or doorway. I
turn up it. All along a high wall hang old fire-backs, bas-reliefs of
cracked, rusty-red iron, once licked by the flames, now washed by the
I loiter to examine the subjects: coats of arms, trophies of
weapons, or allegories and half-obliterated love-scenes. It is curious
to see these homely relics thus exposed in the street, conjuring up the
peaceful soul of families gathered round the hearth. From over the
wall, the air reaches me laden with hallowed fragrance. I picture the
box-bordered walks on the other side.
Then I climb higher; and, when I come to the trees, I find a
charming surprise. The public gardens lie in front of me. In the shade
of the public gardens we seem to find the very spirit of a town; it is
to the gardens or to the church that our curiosity always turns in the
first place. Here is the walk edged with stone benches on which old men
and old women sit coughing and gossiping; here mothers bring their
work, while their children run about; and in the centre, at the
junction of the paths, is the platform where the regimental band plays
The Neufchâtel gardens are in no way elaborate: a number of avenues
have been cut out of an ancient wood; and that is all. There are no
shrubs; just a patch of dahlias, with a ridiculous little iron railing
round them. But its whole charm lies in its picturesque situation up
above the town. In between the tall trees with their interlacing
boughs, one can see the slopes of the hills, the plains, the meadows,
the gleaming roofs and the church with its twin spires piercing the
blue of the sky. Then, in the foreground, I see, behind the houses, the
little gardens whose breath reached me just now. They are there,
divided into small plots of equal size, simple or pretentious,
sometimes humble kitchen-gardens, but sometimes also a patchwork
adorned with grottoes, arbours and glass bells.
Rose mentioned a garden which brightens her little home. Suppose it
were one of these!... A woman appears over there: she is tall and
fair-haired. She stoops over a well; I cannot make out her features.
She draws herself up again. Oh, no, her figure is clumsy, her hair
looks dull and colourless and her clothes vulgar. Rose would never
dress like that, in two colours that clash! Rose would never ...
I wander into a delicious reverie. How infinitely superior Rose is
to all these people whose lives I can picture around me. Two women sit
cackling beside me on the bench: they are at once guileless and bad,
with their mania for eternally wagging tongues that know no rest. A
little farther on, a good housewife is shaking her troublesome child; a
stout, overdressed woman of the shop-keeping class is flaunting her
finery down one of the walks; a priest passes and, while his lips
mumble prayers, his eyes, held in leash by fear, prowl around me; one
of his flock curtseys to the ground as she meets him.
A protest rises in my heart at each of the little incidents: is not
Rose rid of all that? Rose long ago gave up going to mass and
confession. She has lost the hypocritical sense of shame, knows neither
envy nor malice and is a stranger to all ostentation.
I often used to reproach her with her extreme humility. How wrong I
was! I now think that this humility can achieve the same result as
pride itself. One looks too high, the other too low; but both pass by
the petty vanities of life and either of them can keep us equally
indifferent to those vanities.
I rose from my seat with a happy heart. The time had come for me to
go in search of her. I would kiss her in all gratitude. Had she not
enlarged my will to the extent of making it admit her little existence?
I went through the silent streets, in search of the charming,
old-world name that was to tell me where the aged spinster lived. Rose
had said that I should see it written over the door in blue letters and
that it was opposite a place where they sold sportsmen's and anglers'
requisites, a shop with a sign that would be certain to attract my
I therefore walked along with a sure step and suddenly, at a
street-corner, saw a great silver fish flashing to and fro in the
breeze at the end of a long line. Soon I was in a quiet backwater of
the town. There it was! Opposite me, the last gleams of the setting sun
shed their radiance on a very bright little house covered with a
luxuriant vine. On one side, in the same golden light, the name of
Isaline Coquet smiled in sky-blue letters.
The shop was white, with pearl-grey shutters; and on the ledges were
bunchy plants gay with pink, starry flowers. In the window, a few
starched caps looked as if they were talking scandal on their
I walked in. The opening of the door roused the tongue of a little
rusty bell, but nobody came. On a big grandfather's chair, near the
counter, were a pair of spectacles and a book. Perhaps Mlle. Coquet had
run away when she caught sight of me through the panes; Rose said that
she was shy and a little frightened at the thought of my coming visit.
And I had the pleasure of looking for my Rose as I followed the
mysterious turns of a primitive passage.
The walls were spotless and the red-tiled floor shone in the
half-light. I crossed a neat little kitchen, just as a cuckoo-clock was
chiming five, and found myself on the threshold of a small room opening
on a garden. Rose was sitting in the wide, low window.
The noise of the clock no doubt deadened the sound of my steps, for
the girl did not turn her head. The room exhaled a faint perfume as of
incense and musk; and I seemed to hold all her peaceful little life in
my breath and in that swift glance. All that I could see of her face
was one cheek and the tips of her long eyelashes. Placed as she was in
front of the light, a golden haze shaded the colours of her beautiful
hair; and I lingered in contemplation of the long and graceful curve of
her figure bending over her work. She was sewing in the midst of floods
of stiff white muslin, which formed a chain of snow-clad peaks with
blue reflections around her. I looked at the low-ceilinged room with
its whitewashed wall and its rows of bodices, petticoats and shiny caps
hanging on lines stretched from one side to the other. A grey tom-cat
lay purring on a corner of the table; and, near it, in a well-scrubbed
pot, a pink geranium displayed its sombre leaves and its bright
Rose was sewing. At regular intervals, her right arm rose, drew out
the thread and returned to the spot whence it started: an even and
captive movement symbolical of the amount of activity permitted to
women! But was she not to choose that movement among all others?
We dine in her bedroom. What a surprise her room held in store for
me! Rose had arranged it herself, in harmony with the simplicity which
Brightly-painted wooden shelves make patches of colour on the white
walls; the furniture is rustic; and the curtains of white muslin with
mauve spots complete the frank and artless harmony of the room. How
little this was to be expected from Mlle. Coquet's shop!
Then, on Rose's table, the books I gave her fill the place of
honour. I dare say that she never reads them; and yet I am glad to see
Rose goes to and fro between our little table and the kitchen. She
looks pretty, she smiles. The slowness of her movements is no longer
lethargic; it simply exhales an air of repose, a perfume of peace that
suits her beauty. Her eyes have fastened on me at once and, as in the
old days, never leave me.
Is it the tyranny of habit that used to prevent me from reading
anything in them? Now, those eyes that ingenuously drink in my life as
the flowers do the light, those eyes not veiled by any shadow,
constantly bring the tears to mine. She sees this and fondly lays her
head on my shoulder, whispering:
I did nothing but expect you, darling, only I had given up
This term of endearment, which she addresses to me for the first
time, as if, being no longer subject to any effort, she were at last
yielding to the sweets of friendship, this expression and my Christian
name, which she utters lovingly, complete the pleasantness of the
I feel happy amid it all. We who were brought up in the country
never lose our appreciation of its peaceful charm. It bows down our
lives as we bow our forehead in our hands to think beyond our immediate
surroundings; and from its narrow circle we are better able to judge
the expanse which has become necessary to us.
The night rises, things fade away. The sky is a deep blue in the
frame of the open window. Rose brings the lamp:
It was the first companion of my solitude, she says,
reminiscently; then, laughing, the companion of my boredom, the
companion of those long, long evenings....
But now, dearest?...
Ah, now, the days are too short: I have a thousand duties to
perform, my dear little old woman to look after, my customers, my
flowers, my animals; then, in the evening, we often have a caller: the
priest, the notary, the neighbours....
Then, suddenly fearing that she has hurt me, she adds, in a
When I am with them, I am always talking about you, so as to
comfort myself for the loss of you; for that is my only sorrow.
An hour or two later, sitting in the garden, we watched the stars
appearing one by one. Our arms were round each other; our fair tresses
were intermingled. We were at the far end of the town. We heard the
sounds of the country ringing in the transparent air; and the crystal
voice of the frogs, that small, clear note falling steadily and marking
time to our thoughts. We were quiet, like everything around us,
unstirred by a breath of wind.
Rose spoke of her happiness; and I never wearied of inhaling that
delicious tranquillity. I had been thinking of settling her future for
her. And what an inestimable lesson I was learning from her! Rose was
one of those whose road must be marked from hour to hour by a little
duty of some kind or another. It is thus, by limiting themselves, that
these characters arrive at knowing and asserting themselves. She said,
blithely, my room, my garden, my house; and I smiled as I
reflected that I had once struggled to rid that mind of all useless
What a mistake I had made! In order to find her life, she had had to
earn it and to recognise it in the very things that now belonged to it,
to mark every hour of it with humdrum tasks, to create for herself
little troubles on her own level, difficulties which her good sense
could easily overcome. There was nothing unexpected, nothing
far-reaching in her life, never an event beyond the tinkle of the
shop-bell announcing a customer, a little bell with a short, sharp,
cracked ring, stopping on a single note without vibration, as though it
were the very voice of the little souls which it excited.
In contrast with this humble destiny, I considered my own full of
difficulty and agitation, so crowded and yet doubtless equally empty; I
followed in my mind's eye the lives of my friends; and I reflected that
the nature of us women, alike of the most wayward and the most direct,
is too delicate and too complex for us easily to keep our balance in a
state of complete liberty.
When we achieve it, I said to Rose, it is thanks to a close and
constant observation of ourselves; for woman never has any real moral
strength. Self-sacrifice and kindness alone lend us some, because our
capacity for loving knows no limit: our strength is then a loan which
we make to ourselves at difficult moments by a miracle of love. Once
the crisis is over, we have to pay ... with interest!
In Paris, said Rose, even from the very first, I had a feeling
that I should never dare to move in the absolute liberty that was
offered me. You are not angry with me?
How could I be? We were both wanderers, you and I, where
circumstances led us, both of us with a passion for sincerity, both of
us with the best of intentions. A cleverer mind than mine would
doubtless have saved you from going out of your way. It had many
unnecessary turnings. But perhaps they had their uses....
Yes, replied my friend, wisely, for without them, I should not
have been so certain that my choice was right....
Around us the mysterious life of the night was gradually awaking.
All the animals that shun the daylight were beginning to stir. A
hedgehog brushed against my skirt. In the grass, two glowworms summoned
love with all their fires. The smell of the garden became overpowering.
Our movements and our words throbbed in a scented air. Rose leant
There is one thought that troubles me, she said. Have I
discouraged you? Will others better equipped than I still find you
ready to lend them a helping hand?
Why not, Roseline? And I would have liked to put my very soul into
the kiss which I gave her. No, you have not discouraged me. The only
thing that matters is to have the power to choose what suits us. Then
alone is it possible for us to develop ourselves without restraint.
With your limited horizon, you are freer, darling, than when you were
living with me, at the mercy of all the fancies which you did not know
how to use. Everything is relative; and instinct makes no mistakes.
Yours, by placing you here among the lives which I can imagine, gives
you the opportunity of excelling. You felt that you needed to live
under conditions in which the effort and the merit would lie in not
changing, in which action would be immobility. You know, Rose, there is
always some common ground in human beings; to reach it, if you do not
stoop, the others will raise themselves. With your beauty which is the
wonder of every one you meet, with that gentleness which wins all
hearts and with your soul which no longer knows either malice or
prayer, you will be a new example of life to all around you.
Rose was sitting on a higher chair than mine; and this allowed me to
let my head sink into her lap. I no longer dreamt of looking at the
splendour of the night, for was it not throbbing in my heart, where a
star woke every moment? And I thought out loud:
You were always asking me the object of my efforts. Do you now
understand that I could not explain what I myself did not understand
perfectly until you revealed it to me?
I reflected for a moment and continued:
We can wish nothing for others nor force anything on them: we can
only help them to clear the field before and within themselves....
And I cried:
Ah, my dearest, how grateful I am to you! In looking for you, I
have found myself a little more; and it is always so; and that, you
see, is why we must love action. However tiny, however humble, it may
be, it brings us at the same time the knowledge of others and of
ourselves. We appear to fling ourselves stout-heartedly into the stream
whose currents we cannot foresee; we are hurt, we are wounded, we
struggle; but, when we return to the bank, we feel invigorated and
Roseline stroked my forehead lightly with her hands and softly
There was nothing lacking to my peace of mind but your approval.
Now I am happy and I can begin my life without anxiety.
Rose was still asleep when I entered the drowsy bedroom to bid her
good-bye. A small, heart-shaped opening in the middle of the shutters
allowed the first ray of daylight to penetrate. Sleeping happily and
trustfully, with streaming hair and hands out-flung, she lay strewn
like the petals of a flower. I laid my lips on hers and softly went
As I climb the slope that leads out of Neufchâtel, I turn and look
down once more on the little town that slumbers everlastingly in its
rich peace. Just there, by the church, I picture the house with its
grey shutters, its white front and its starched caps behind the
flower-pots. Beyond, the green horizons and the blue hill-sides stand
clearly marked in the dawning sun; and I gaze and gaze as far as my
eyes can see, through my lashes sparkling with tears.
For all her lethargy, her slumber as of a beautiful plant, the soul
of my Rose is wholesome, wholesome as those meadows, those fields, all
that good Norman earth which gave her to me miserable only to take her
back happy and free. Certainly, Rose has not been able to achieve the
strength that makes use of liberty: in that life, still so young, the
will is a dead branch through which the sap no longer flows. At any
rate, what she does possess she will not lose; she is one of those who
instinctively hold in their breath so as not to tarnish the pane
through which a glimpse of infinity stands revealed to them. Her soul
could not take in unlimited happiness, it had to feel a touch of sorrow
in order to taste a little joy. There are many like her, people who
perceive that the light is good when they come out of the darkness, but
who are not able to recognise the light in the radiant beauty of the
The sun rises as I slowly make my way up-hill; the wood along the
road is still wet with the dawn. It offers me its autumnal fragrance; I
breathe it in, I gaze at its golden tints, I think of Rose, of her past
and her future. But, beyond my dreams, an unformed idea seems to spread
like a clear sky, without outline, without colour, without beginning or
end; and I have a secret feeling that I shall try again.
I shall go towards other strangers. I shall seek at random among
hearts and souls! Fearlessly, in spite of censure and derision, I shall
lavish my confidence in order to win that of others. I shall not linger
over the vain pleasure of discovering the traces of my power. We can
pour out our influence boldly: it is a wine that excites no two souls
in a like manner; and we are always ignorant what the nature of the
intoxication will be, whether fruitful or barren, blithe or cheerless.
I shall go towards other strangers; I understand now that my sole
ambition is to bring life within their reach. What matter what their
thoughts, their loves, their wishes, if at least they have acquired the
taste and the means of thinking, loving and wishing?
Shall I ever succeed in evolving from this passion of mine a method,
a system that will make my action less blind and uncertain? I think
In a life that never offers us anything logical or foreseen, our
moral nature must needs resemble a drapery that is folded backwards and
forwards over events, souls or circumstances. Let us ask no more than
that it be beautiful and soft, strong and light, submissive to the
least breath and ready to be transformed at its command. Nothing but an
essential principle of humanity and loving-kindness can serve as a
foundation for our actions, without ever confining them.
On the one hand, we have effort, nearly always vain; on the other,
knowledge, which is the second look that makes us discern the ordinary,
the commonplace, where at first we beheld beauty and charm.
Nevertheless, let us worship effort and knowledge above all things.
Let us act as simply as the little wave that lifts itself and breaks
against the rock. Others come after it; and it is their light kisses
which, all unseen, end by biting into the granite.