Part 2 out of 3
"I consoled her, I comforted her, raised her and lifted her on her feet.
Then I said:
"'Do not stay here. Come.'
"'I am unable to walk,' she murmured.
"'I will support you.'
"'Thank you, sir; you are good. Did you also come to mourn for some
"'A dead friend?'
"'One may love a friend as much as they love their wife. Love has no
"And we set off together, she leaning on my arm, while I almost carried
her along the paths of the cemetery. When we got outside she faltered:
"'I feel as if I were going to be ill.'
"'Would you like to go in anywhere, to take something?'
"I perceived a restaurant, one of those places where the mourners of the
dead go to celebrate the funeral. We went in. I made her drink a cup of
hot tea, which seemed to revive her. A faint smile came to her lips.
She began to talk about herself. It was sad, so sad to be always alone
in life, alone in one's home, night and day, to have no one on whom one
can bestow affection, confidence, intimacy.
"That sounded sincere. It sounded pretty from her mouth. I was touched.
She was very young, perhaps twenty. I paid her compliments, which she
took in good part. Then, as time was passing, I suggested taking her
home in a carriage. She accepted, and in the cab we sat so close that
our shoulders touched.
"When the cab stopped at her house she murmured: 'I do not feel equal to
going upstairs alone, for I live on the fourth floor. You have been so
good. Will you let me take your arm as far as my own door?'
"I agreed with eagerness. She ascended the stairs slowly, breathing
hard. Then, as we stood at her door, she said:
"'Come in a few moments so that I may thank you.'
"And, by Jove, I went in. Everything was modest, even rather poor, but
simple and in good taste.
"We sat down side by side on a little sofa and she began to talk again
about her loneliness. She rang for her maid, in order to offer me some
wine. The maid did not come. I was delighted, thinking that this maid
probably came in the morning only, what one calls a charwoman.
"She had taken off her hat. She was really pretty, and she gazed at me
with her clear eyes, gazed so hard and her eyes were so clear that I was
terribly tempted. I caught her in my arms and rained kisses on her
eyelids, which she closed suddenly.
"She freed herself and pushed me away, saying:
"'Have done, have done.'
"But I next kissed her on the mouth and she did not resist, and as our
glances met after thus outraging the memory of the captain killed in
Tonquin, I saw that she had a languid, resigned expression that set my
mind at rest.
"I became very attentive and, after chatting for some time, I said:
"'Where do you dine?'
"'In a little restaurant in the neighborhood:
"'Will you dine with me?'
"'In a good restaurant on the Boulevard.'
"She demurred a little. I insisted. She yielded, saying by way of
apology to herself: 'I am so lonely--so lonely.' Then she added:
"'I must put on something less sombre, and went into her bedroom. When
she reappeared she was dressed in half-mourning, charming, dainty and
slender in a very simple gray dress. She evidently had a costume for the
cemetery and one for the town.
"The dinner was very enjoyable. She drank some champagne, brightened up,
grew lively and I went home with her.
"This friendship, begun amid the tombs, lasted about three weeks. But
one gets tired of everything, especially of women. I left her under
pretext of an imperative journey. She made me promise that I would come
and see her on my return. She seemed to be really rather attached to me.
"Other things occupied my attention, and it was about a month before I
thought much about this little cemetery friend. However, I did not
forget her. The recollection of her haunted me like a mystery, like a
psychological problem, one of those inexplicable questions whose solution
"I do not know why, but one day I thought I might possibly meet her in
the Montmartre Cemetery, and I went there.
"I walked about a long time without meeting any but the ordinary visitors
to this spot, those who have not yet broken off all relations with their
dead. The grave of the captain killed at Tonquin had no mourner on its
marble slab, no flowers, no wreath.
"But as I wandered in another direction of this great city of the dead I
perceived suddenly, at the end of a narrow avenue of crosses, a couple in
deep mourning walking toward me, a man and a woman. Oh, horrors! As
they approached I recognized her. It was she!
"She saw me, blushed, and as I brushed past her she gave me a little
signal, a tiny little signal with her eye, which meant: 'Do not recognize
me!' and also seemed to say, 'Come back to see me again, my dear!'
"The man was a gentleman, distingue, chic, an officer of the Legion of
Honor, about fifty years old. He was supporting her as I had supported
her myself when we were leaving the cemetery.
"I went my way, filled with amazement, asking myself what this all meant,
to what race of beings belonged this huntress of the tombs? Was she just
a common girl, one who went to seek among the tombs for men who were in
sorrow, haunted by the recollection of some woman, a wife or a
sweetheart, and still troubled by the memory of vanished caresses? Was
she unique? Are there many such? Is it a profession? Do they parade
the cemetery as they parade the street? Or else was she only impressed
with the admirable, profoundly philosophical idea of exploiting love
recollections, which are revived in these funereal places?
"And I would have liked to know whose widow she was on that special day."
What a strange idea it was for me to choose Mademoiselle Pearl for queen
Every year I celebrate Twelfth Night with my old friend Chantal. My
father, who was his most intimate friend, used to take me round there
when I was a child. I continued the custom, and I doubtless shall
continue it as long as I live and as long as there is a Chantal in this
The Chantals lead a peculiar existence; they live in Paris as though they
were in Grasse, Evetot, or Pont-a-Mousson.
They have a house with a little garden near the observatory. They live
there as though they were in the country. Of Paris, the real Paris, they
know nothing at all, they suspect nothing; they are so far, so far away!
However, from time to time, they take a trip into it. Mademoiselle
Chantal goes to lay in her provisions, as it is called in the family.
This is how they go to purchase their provisions:
Mademoiselle Pearl, who has the keys to the kitchen closet (for the linen
closets are administered by the mistress herself), Mademoiselle Pearl
gives warning that the supply of sugar is low, that the preserves are
giving out, that there is not much left in the bottom of the coffee bag.
Thus warned against famine, Mademoiselle Chantal passes everything in
review, taking notes on a pad. Then she puts down a lot of figures and
goes through lengthy calculations and long discussions with Mademoiselle
Pearl. At last they manage to agree, and they decide upon the quantity
of each thing of which they will lay in a three months' provision; sugar,
rice, prunes, coffee, preserves, cans of peas, beans, lobster, salt or
smoked fish, etc., etc. After which the day for the purchasing is
determined on and they go in a cab with a railing round the top and drive
to a large grocery store on the other side of the river in the new
sections of the town.
Madame Chantal and Mademoiselle Pearl make this trip together,
mysteriously, and only return at dinner time, tired out, although still
excited, and shaken up by the cab, the roof of which is covered with
bundles and bags, like an express wagon.
For the Chantals all that part of Paris situated on the other side of the
Seine constitutes the new quarter, a section inhabited by a strange,
noisy population, which cares little for honor, spends its days in
dissipation, its nights in revelry, and which throws money out of the
windows. From time to time, however, the young girls are taken to the
Opera-Comique or the Theatre Francais, when the play is recommended by
the paper which is read by M. Chantal.
At present the young ladies are respectively nineteen and seventeen.
They are two pretty girls, tall and fresh, very well brought up, in fact,
too well brought up, so much so that they pass by unperceived like two
pretty dolls. Never would the idea come to me to pay the slightest
attention or to pay court to one of the young Chantal ladies; they are so
immaculate that one hardly dares speak to them; one almost feels indecent
when bowing to them.
As for the father, he is a charming man, well educated, frank, cordial,
but he likes calm and quiet above all else, and has thus contributed
greatly to the mummifying of his family in order to live as he pleased in
stagnant quiescence. He reads a lot, loves to talk and is readily
affected. Lack of contact and of elbowing with the world has made his
moral skin very tender and sensitive. The slightest thing moves him,
excites him, and makes him suffer.
The Chantals have limited connections carefully chosen in the
neighborhood. They also exchange two or three yearly visits with
relatives who live in the distance.
As for me, I take dinner with them on the fifteenth of August and on
Twelfth Night. That is as much one of my duties as Easter communion is
for a Catholic.
On the fifteenth of August a few friends are invited, but on Twelfth
Night I am the only stranger.
Well, this year, as every former year, I went to the Chantals' for my
According to my usual custom, I kissed M. Chantal, Madame Chantal and
Mademoiselle Pearl, and I made a deep bow to the Misses Louise and
Pauline. I was questioned about a thousand and one things, about what
had happened on the boulevards, about politics, about how matters stood
in Tong-King, and about our representatives in Parliament. Madame
Chantal, a fat lady, whose ideas always gave me the impression of being
carved out square like building stones, was accustomed to exclaiming at
the end of every political discussion: "All that is seed which does not
promise much for the future!" Why have I always imagined that Madame
Chantal's ideas are square? I don't know; but everything that she says
takes that shape in my head: a big square, with four symmetrical angles.
There are other people whose ideas always strike me as being round and
rolling like a hoop. As soon as they begin a sentence on any subject it
rolls on and on, coming out in ten, twenty, fifty round ideas, large and
small, which I see rolling along, one behind the other, to the end of the
horizon. Other people have pointed ideas--but enough of this.
We sat down as usual and finished our dinner without anything out of the
ordinary being said. At dessert the Twelfth Night cake was brought on.
Now, M. Chantal had been king every year. I don't know whether this was
the result of continued chance or a family convention, but he unfailingly
found the bean in his piece of cake, and he would proclaim Madame Chantal
to be queen. Therefore, I was greatly surprised to find something very
hard, which almost made me break a tooth, in a mouthful of cake. Gently
I took this thing from my mouth and I saw that it was a little porcelain
doll, no bigger than a bean. Surprise caused me to exclaim:
"Ah!" All looked at me, and Chantal clapped his hands and cried: "It's
Gaston! It's Gaston! Long live the king! Long live the king!"
All took up the chorus: "Long live the king!" And I blushed to the tip of
my ears, as one often does, without any reason at all, in situations
which are a little foolish. I sat there looking at my plate, with this
absurd little bit of pottery in my fingers, forcing myself to laugh and
not knowing what to do or say, when Chantal once more cried out: "Now,
you must choose a queen!"
Then I was thunderstruck. In a second a thousand thoughts and
suppositions flashed through my mind. Did they expect me to pick out one
of the young Chantal ladies? Was that a trick to make me say which one I
prefer? Was it a gentle, light, direct hint of the parents toward a
possible marriage? The idea of marriage roams continually in houses with
grown-up girls, and takes every shape and disguise, and employs every
subterfuge. A dread of compromising myself took hold of me as well as an
extreme timidity before the obstinately correct and reserved attitude of
the Misses Louise and Pauline. To choose one of them in preference to
the other seemed to me as difficult as choosing between two drops of
water; and then the fear of launching myself into an affair which might,
in spite of me, lead me gently into matrimonial ties, by means as wary
and imperceptible and as calm as this insignificant royalty--the fear of
all this haunted me.
Suddenly I had an inspiration, and I held out to Mademoiselle Pearl the
symbolical emblem. At first every one was surprised, then they doubtless
appreciated my delicacy and discretion, for they applauded furiously.
Everybody was crying: "Long live the queen! Long live the queen!"
As for herself, poor old maid, she was so amazed that she completely lost
control of herself; she was trembling and stammering: "No--no--oh! no--
not me--please--not me--I beg of you----"
Then for the first time in my life I looked at Mademoiselle Pearl and
wondered what she was.
I was accustomed to seeing her in this house, just as one sees old
upholstered armchairs on which one has been sitting since childhood
without ever noticing them. One day, with no reason at all, because a
ray of sunshine happens to strike the seat, you suddenly think: "Why,
that chair is very curious"; and then you discover that the wood has been
worked by a real artist and that the material is remarkable. I had never
taken any notice of Mademoiselle Pearl.
She was a part of the Chantal family, that was all. But how? By what
right? She was a tall, thin person who tried to remain in the
background, but who was by no means insignificant. She was treated in a
friendly manner, better than a housekeeper, not so well as a relative.
I suddenly observed several shades of distinction which I had never
noticed before. Madame Chantal said: "Pearl." The young ladies:
"Mademoiselle Pearl," and Chantal only addressed her as "Mademoiselle,"
with an air of greater respect, perhaps.
I began to observe her. How old could she be? Forty? Yes, forty. She
was not old, she made herself old. I was suddenly struck by this fact.
She fixed her hair and dressed in a ridiculous manner, and,
notwithstanding all that, she was not in the least ridiculous, she had
such simple, natural gracefulness, veiled and hidden. Truly, what a
strange creature! How was it I had never observed her before? She
dressed her hair in a grotesque manner with little old maid curls, most
absurd; but beneath this one could see a large, calm brow, cut by two
deep lines, two wrinkles of long sadness, then two blue eyes, large and
tender, so timid, so bashful, so humble, two beautiful eyes which had
kept the expression of naive wonder of a young girl, of youthful
sensations, and also of sorrow, which had softened without spoiling them.
Her whole face was refined and discreet, a face the expression of which
seemed to have gone out without being used up or faded by the fatigues
and great emotions of life.
What a dainty mouth! and such pretty teeth! But one would have thought
that she did not dare smile.
Suddenly I compared her to Madame Chantal! Undoubtedly Mademoiselle
Pearl was the better of the two, a hundred times better, daintier,
prouder, more noble. I was surprised at my observation. They were
pouring out champagne. I held my glass up to the queen and, with a well-
turned compliment, I drank to her health. I could see that she felt
inclined to hide her head in her napkin. Then, as she was dipping her
lips in the clear wine, everybody cried: "The queen drinks! the queen
drinks!" She almost turned purple and choked. Everybody was laughing;
but I could see that all loved her.
As soon as dinner was over Chantal took me by the arm. It was time for
his cigar, a sacred hour. When alone he would smoke it out in the
street; when guests came to dinner he would take them to the billiard
room and smoke while playing. That evening they had built a fire to
celebrate Twelfth Night; my old friend took his cue, a very fine one, and
chalked it with great care; then he said:
"You break, my boy!"
He called me "my boy," although I was twenty-five, but he had known me as
a young child.
I started the game and made a few carroms. I missed some others, but as
the thought of Mademoiselle Pearl kept returning to my mind, I suddenly
"By the way, Monsieur Chantal, is Mademoiselle Pearl a relative of
Greatly surprised, he stopped playing and looked at me:
"What! Don't you know? Haven't you heard about Mademoiselle Pearl?"
"Didn't your father ever tell you?"
"Well, well, that's funny! That certainly is funny! Why, it's a regular
He paused, and then continued:
"And if you only knew how peculiar it is that you should ask me that to-
day, on Twelfth Night!"
"Why? Well, listen. Forty-one years ago to day, the day of the
Epiphany, the following events occurred: We were then living at Roiiy-le-
Tors, on the ramparts; but in order that you may understand, I must first
explain the house. Roily is built on a hill, or, rather, on a mound
which overlooks a great stretch of prairie. We had a house there with a
beautiful hanging garden supported by the old battlemented wall; so that
the house was in the town on the streets, while the garden overlooked the
plain. There was a door leading from the garden to the open country, at
the bottom of a secret stairway in the thick wall--the kind you read
about in novels. A road passed in front of this door, which was provided
with a big bell; for the peasants, in order to avoid the roundabout way,
would bring their provisions up this way.
"You now understand the place, don't you? Well, this year, at Epiphany,
it had been snowing for a week. One might have thought that the world
was coming to an end. When we went to the ramparts to look over the
plain, this immense white, frozen country, which shone like varnish,
would chill our very souls. One might have thought that the Lord had
packed the world in cotton to put it away in the storeroom for old
worlds. I can assure you that it was dreary looking.
"We were a very numerous family at that time my father, my mother, my
uncle and aunt, my two brothers and four cousins; they were pretty little
girls; I married the youngest. Of all that crowd, there are only three
of us left: my wife, I, and my sister-in-law, who lives in Marseilles.
Zounds! how quickly a family like that dwindles away! I tremble when I
think of it! I was fifteen years old then, since I am fifty-six now.
"We were going to celebrate the Epiphany, and we were all happy, very
happy! Everybody was in the parlor, awaiting dinner, and my oldest
brother, Jacques, said: 'There has been a dog howling out in the plain
for about ten minutes; the poor beast must be lost.'
"He had hardly stopped talking when the garden bell began to ring. It
had the deep sound of a church bell, which made one think of death. A
shiver ran through everybody. My father called the servant and told him
to go outside and look. We waited in complete silence; we were thinking
of the snow which covered the ground. When the man returned he declared
that he had seen nothing. The dog kept up its ceaseless howling, and
always from the same spot.
"We sat down to dinner; but we were all uneasy, especially the young
people. Everything went well up to the roast, then the bell began to
ring again, three times in succession, three heavy, long strokes which
vibrated to the tips of our fingers and which stopped our conversation
short. We sat there looking at each other, fork in the air, still
listening, and shaken by a kind of supernatural fear.
"At last my mother spoke: 'It's surprising that they should have waited
so long to come back. Do not go alone, Baptiste; one of these gentlemen
will accompany you.'
"My Uncle Francois arose. He was a kind of Hercules, very proud of his
strength, and feared nothing in the world. My father said to him: 'Take
a gun. There is no telling what it might be.'
"But my uncle only took a cane and went out with the servant.
"We others remained there trembling with fear and apprehension, without
eating or speaking. My father tried to reassure us: 'Just wait and see,'
he said; 'it will be some beggar or some traveller lost in the snow.
After ringing once, seeing that the door was not immediately opened, he
attempted again to find his way, and being unable to, he has returned to
"Our uncle seemed to stay away an hour. At last he came back, furious,
swearing: 'Nothing at all; it's some practical joker! There is nothing
but that damned dog howling away at about a hundred yards from the walls.
If I had taken a gun I would have killed him to make him keep quiet.'
"We sat down to dinner again, but every one was excited; we felt that all
was not over, that something was going to happen, that the bell would
soon ring again.
"It rang just as the Twelfth Night cake was being cut. All the men
jumped up together. My Uncle, Francois, who had been drinking champagne,
swore so furiously that he would murder it, whatever it might be, that my
mother and my aunt threw themselves on him to prevent his going. My
father, although very calm and a little helpless (he limped ever since he
had broken his leg when thrown by a horse), declared, in turn, that he
wished to find out what was the matter and that he was going. My
brothers, aged eighteen and twenty, ran to get their guns; and as no one
was paying any attention to me I snatched up a little rifle that was used
in the garden and got ready to accompany the expedition.
"It started out immediately. My father and uncle were walking ahead with
Baptiste, who was carrying a lantern. My brothers, Jacques and Paul,
followed, and I trailed on behind in spite of the prayers of my mother,
who stood in front of the house with her sister and my cousins.
"It had been snowing again for the last hour, and the trees were weighted
down. The pines were bending under this heavy, white garment, and looked
like white pyramids or enormous sugar cones, and through the gray
curtains of small hurrying flakes could be seen the lighter bushes which
stood out pale in the shadow. The snow was falling so thick that we
could hardly see ten feet ahead of us. But the lantern threw a bright
light around us. When we began to go down the winding stairway in the
wall I really grew frightened. I felt as though some one were walking
behind me, were going to grab me by the shoulders and carry me away, and
I felt a strong desire to return; but, as I would have had to cross the
garden all alone, I did not dare. I heard some one opening the door
leading to the plain; my uncle began to swear again, exclaiming: 'By ---!
He has gone again! If I can catch sight of even his shadow, I'll take
care not to miss him, the swine!'
"It was a discouraging thing to see this great expanse of plain, or,
rather, to feel it before us, for we could not see it; we could only see
a thick, endless veil of snow, above, below, opposite us, to the right,
to the left, everywhere. My uncle continued:
"'Listen! There is the dog howling again; I will teach him how I shoot.
That will be something gained, anyhow.'
"But my father, who was kind-hearted, went on:
"'It will be much better to go on and get the poor animal, who is crying
for hunger. The poor fellow is barking for help; he is calling like a
man in distress. Let us go to him.'
"So we started out through this mist, through this thick continuous fall
of snow, which filled the air, which moved, floated, fell, and chilled
the skin with a burning sensation like a sharp, rapid pain as each flake
melted. We were sinking in up to our knees in this soft, cold mass, and
we had to lift our feet very high in order to walk. As we advanced the
dog's voice became clearer and stronger. My uncle cried: 'Here he is!'
We stopped to observe him as one does when he meets an enemy at night.
"I could see nothing, so I ran up to the others, and I caught sight of
him; he was frightful and weird-looking; he was a big black shepherd's
dog with long hair and a wolf's head, standing just within the gleam of
light cast by our lantern on the snow. He did not move; he was silently
"My uncle said: 'That's peculiar, he is neither advancing nor retreating.
I feel like taking a shot at him.'
"My father answered in a firm voice: 'No, we must capture him.'
"Then my brother Jacques added: 'But he is not alone. There is something
"There was indeed something behind him, something gray, impossible to
distinguish. We started out again cautiously. When he saw us
approaching the dog sat down. He did not look wicked. Instead, he
seemed pleased at having been able to attract the attention of some one.
"My father went straight to him and petted him. The dog licked his
hands. We saw that he was tied to the wheel of a little carriage, a sort
of toy carriage entirely wrapped up in three or four woolen blankets.
We carefully took off these coverings, and as Baptiste approached his
lantern to the front of this little vehicle, which looked like a rolling
kennel, we saw in it a little baby sleeping peacefully.
"We were so astonished that we couldn't speak.
"My father was the first to collect his wits, and as he had a warm heart
and a broad mind, he stretched his hand over the roof of the carriage and
said: 'Poor little waif, you shall be one of us!' And he ordered my
brother Jacques to roll the foundling ahead of us. Thinking out loud, my
"'Some child of love whose poor mother rang at my door on this night of
Epiphany in memory of the Child of God.'
"He once more stopped and called at the top of his lungs through the
night to the four corners of the heavens: 'We have found it!' Then,
putting his hand on his brother's shoulder, he murmured: 'What if you had
shot the dog, Francois?'
"My uncle did not answer, but in the darkness he crossed himself, for,
notwithstanding his blustering manner, he was very religious.
"The dog, which had been untied, was following us.
"Ah! But you should have seen us when we got to the house! At first we
had a lot of trouble in getting the carriage up through the winding
stairway; but we succeeded and even rolled it into the vestibule.
"How funny mamma was! How happy and astonished! And my four little
cousins (the youngest was only six), they looked like four chickens
around a nest. At last we took the child from the carriage. It was
still sleeping. It was a girl about six weeks old. In its clothes we
found ten thousand francs in gold, yes, my boy, ten thousand francs!--
which papa saved for her dowry. Therefore, it was not a child of poor
people, but, perhaps, the child of some nobleman and a little bourgeoise
of the town--or again--we made a thousand suppositions, but we never
found out anything-never the slightest clue. The dog himself was
recognized by no one. He was a stranger in the country. At any rate,
the person who rang three times at our door must have known my parents
well, to have chosen them thus.
"That is how, at the age of six weeks, Mademoiselle Pearl entered the
"It was not until later that she was called Mademoiselle Pearl. She was
at first baptized 'Marie Simonne Claire,' Claire being intended, for her
"I can assure you that our return to the diningroom was amusing, with
this baby now awake and looking round her at these people and these
lights with her vague blue questioning eyes.
"We sat down to dinner again and the cake was cut. I was king, and for
queen I took Mademoiselle Pearl, just as you did to-day. On that day she
did not appreciate the honor that was being shown her.
"Well, the child was adopted and brought up in the family. She grew, and
the years flew by. She was so gentle and loving and minded so well that
every one would have spoiled her abominably had not my mother prevented
"My mother was an orderly woman with a great respect for class
distinctions. She consented to treat little Claire as she did her own
sons, but, nevertheless, she wished the distance which separated us to be
well marked, and our positions well established. Therefore, as soon as
the child could understand, she acquainted her with her story and gently,
even tenderly, impressed on the little one's mind that, for the Chantals,
she was an adopted daughter, taken in, but, nevertheless, a stranger.
Claire understood the situation with peculiar intelligence and with
surprising instinct; she knew how to take the place which was allotted
her, and to keep it with so much tact, gracefulness and gentleness that
she often brought tears to my father's eyes. My mother herself was often
moved by the passionate gratitude and timid devotion of this dainty and
loving little creature that she began calling her: 'My daughter.' At
times, when the little one had done something kind and good, my mother
would raise her spectacles on her forehead, a thing which always
indicated emotion with her, and she would repeat: 'This child is a pearl,
a perfect pearl!' This name stuck to the little Claire, who became and
remained for us Mademoiselle Pearl."
M. Chantal stopped. He was sitting on the edge of the billiard table,
his feet hanging, and was playing with a ball with his left hand, while
with his right he crumpled a rag which served to rub the chalk marks from
the slate. A little red in the face, his voice thick, he was talking
away to himself now, lost in his memories, gently drifting through the
old scenes and events which awoke in his mind, just as we walk through
old family gardens where we were brought up and where each tree, each
walk, each hedge reminds us of some occurrence.
I stood opposite him leaning against the wall, my hands resting on my
After a slight pause he continued:
"By Jove! She was pretty at eighteen--and graceful--and perfect. Ah!
She was so sweet--and good and true--and charming! She had such eyes-
blue-transparent--clear--such eyes as I have never seen since!"
He was once more silent. I asked: "Why did she never marry?"
He answered, not to me, but to the word "marry" which had caught his ear:
"Why? why? She never would--she never would! She had a dowry of thirty
thousand francs, and she received several offers--but she never would!
She seemed sad at that time. That was when I married my cousin, little
Charlotte, my wife, to whom I had been engaged for six years."
I looked at M. Chantal, and it seemed to me that I was looking into his
very soul, and I was suddenly witnessing one of those humble and cruel
tragedies of honest, straightforward, blameless hearts, one of those
secret tragedies known to no one, not even the silent and resigned
victims. A rash curiosity suddenly impelled me to exclaim:
"You should have married her, Monsieur Chantal!"
He started, looked at me, and said:
"I? Marry whom?"
"Because you loved her more than your cousin."
He stared at me with strange, round, bewildered eyes and stammered:
"I loved her--I? How? Who told you that?"
"Why, anyone can see that--and it's even on account of her that you
delayed for so long your marriage to your cousin who had been waiting for
you for six years."
He dropped the ball which he was holding in his left hand, and, seizing
the chalk rag in both hands, he buried his face in it and began to sob.
He was weeping with his eyes, nose and mouth in a heartbreaking yet
ridiculous manner, like a sponge which one squeezes. He was coughing,
spitting and blowing his nose in the chalk rag, wiping his eyes and
sneezing; then the tears would again begin to flow down the wrinkles on
his face and he would make a strange gurgling noise in his throat.
I felt bewildered, ashamed; I wanted to run away, and I no longer knew
what to say, do, or attempt.
Suddenly Madame Chantal's voice sounded on the stairs. "Haven't you men
almost finished smoking your cigars?"
I opened the door and cried: "Yes, madame, we are coming right down."
Then I rushed to her husband, and, seizing him by the shoulders, I cried:
"Monsieur Chantal, my friend Chantal, listen to me; your wife is calling;
pull yourself together, we must go downstairs."
He stammered: "Yes--yes--I am coming--poor girl! I am coming--tell her
that I am coming."
He began conscientiously to wipe his face on the cloth which, for the
last two or three years, had been used for marking off the chalk from the
slate; then he appeared, half white and half red, his forehead, nose,
cheeks and chin covered with chalk, and his eyes swollen, still full of
I caught him by the hands and dragged him into his bedroom, muttering: "I
beg your pardon, I beg your pardon, Monsieur Chantal, for having caused
you such sorrow--but--I did not know--you--you understand."
He squeezed my hand, saying: "Yes--yes--there are difficult moments."
Then he plunged his face into a bowl of water. When he emerged from it
he did not yet seem to me to be presentable; but I thought of a little
stratagem. As he was growing worried, looking at himself in the mirror,
I said to him: "All you have to do is to say that a little dust flew into
your eye and you can cry before everybody to your heart's content."
He went downstairs rubbing his eyes with his handkerchief. All were
worried; each one wished to look for the speck, which could not be found;
and stories were told of similar cases where it had been necessary to
call in a physician.
I went over to Mademoiselle Pearl and watched her, tormented by an ardent
curiosity, which was turning to positive suffering. She must indeed have
been pretty, with her gentle, calm eyes, so large that it looked as
though she never closed them like other mortals. Her gown was a little
ridiculous, a real old maid's gown, which was unbecoming without
It seemed to me as though I were looking into her soul, just as I had
into Monsieur Chantal's; that I was looking right from one end to the
other of this humble life, so simple and devoted. I felt an irresistible
longing to question her, to find out whether she, too, had loved him;
whether she also had suffered, as he had, from this long, secret,
poignant grief, which one cannot see, know, or guess, but which breaks
forth at night in the loneliness of the dark room. I was watching her,
and I could observe her heart beating under her waist, and I wondered
whether this sweet, candid face had wept on the soft pillow and she had
sobbed, her whole body shaken by the violence of her anguish.
I said to her in a low voice, like a child who is breaking a toy to see
what is inside: "If you could have seen Monsieur Chantal crying a while
ago it would have moved you."
She started, asking: "What? He was weeping?"
"Ah, yes, he was indeed weeping!"
She seemed deeply moved. I answered:
"On your account."
"On my account?"
"Yes. He was telling me how much he had loved you in the days gone by;
and what a pang it had given him to marry his cousin instead of you."
Her pale face seemed to grow a little longer; her calm eyes, which always
remained open, suddenly closed so quickly that they seemed shut forever.
She slipped from her chair to the floor, and slowly, gently sank down as
would a fallen garment.
I cried: "Help! help! Mademoiselle Pearl is ill."
Madame Chantal and her daughters rushed forward, and while they were
looking for towels, water and vinegar, I grabbed my hat and ran away.
I walked away with rapid strides, my heart heavy, my mind full of remorse
and regret. And yet sometimes I felt pleased; I felt as though I had
done a praiseworthy and necessary act. I was asking myself: "Did I do
wrong or right?" They had that shut up in their hearts, just as some
people carry a bullet in a closed wound. Will they not be happier now?
It was too late for their torture to begin over again and early enough
for them to remember it with tenderness.
And perhaps some evening next spring, moved by a beam of moonlight
falling through the branches on the grass at their feet, they will join
and press their hands in memory of all this cruel and suppressed
suffering; and, perhaps, also this short embrace may infuse in their
veins a little of this thrill which they would not have known without it,
and will give to those two dead souls, brought to life in a second, the
rapid and divine sensation of this intoxication, of this madness which
gives to lovers more happiness in an instant than other men can gather
during a whole lifetime!
While apparently thinking of something else, Dr. Sorbier had been
listening quietly to those amazing accounts of burglaries and daring
deeds that might have been taken from the trial of Cartouche.
"Assuredly," he exclaimed, "assuredly, I know of no viler fault nor any
meaner action than to attack a girl's innocence, to corrupt her, to
profit by a moment of unconscious weakness and of madness, when her heart
is beating like that of a frightened fawn, and her pure lips seek those
of her tempter; when she abandons herself without thinking of the
irremediable stain, nor of her fall, nor of the morrow.
"The man who has brought this about slowly, viciously, who can tell with
what science of evil, and who, in such a case, has not steadiness and
self-restraint enough to quench that flame by some icy words, who has not
sense enough for two, who cannot recover his self-possession and master
the runaway brute within him, and who loses his head on the edge of the
precipice over which she is going to fall, is as contemptible as any man
who breaks open a lock, or as any rascal on the lookout for a house left
defenceless and unprotected or for some easy and dishonest stroke of
business, or as that thief whose various exploits you have just related
"I, for my part, utterly refuse to absolve him, even when extenuating
circumstances plead in his favor, even when he is carrying on a dangerous
flirtation, in which a man tries in vain to keep his balance, not to
exceed the limits of the game, any more than at lawn tennis; even when
the parts are inverted and a man's adversary is some precocious, curious,
seductive girl, who shows you immediately that she has nothing to learn
and nothing to experience, except the last chapter of love, one of those
girls from whom may fate always preserve our sons, and whom a
psychological novel writer has christened 'The Semi-Virgins.'
"It is, of course, difficult and painful for that coarse and unfathomable
vanity which is characteristic of every man, and which might be called
'malism', not to stir such a charming fire, difficult to act the Joseph
and the fool, to turn away his eyes, and, as it were, to put wax into his
ears, like the companions of Ulysses when they were attracted by the
divine, seductive songs of the Sirens, difficult only to touch that
pretty table covered with a perfectly new cloth, at which you are invited
to take a seat before any one else, in such a suggestive voice, and are
requested to quench your thirst and to taste that new wine, whose fresh
and strange flavor you will never forget. But who would hesitate to
exercise such self-restraint if, when he rapidly examines his conscience,
in one of those instinctive returns to his sober self in which a man
thinks clearly and recovers his head, he were to measure the gravity of
his fault, consider it, think of its consequences, of the reprisals, of
the uneasiness which he would always feel in the future, and which would
destroy the repose and happiness of his life?
"You may guess that behind all these moral reflections, such as a
graybeard like myself may indulge in, there is a story hidden, and, sad
as it is, I am sure it will interest you on account of the strange
heroism it shows."
He was silent for a few moments, as if to classify his recollections,
and, with his elbows resting on the arms of his easy-chair and his eyes
looking into space, he continued in the slow voice of a hospital
professor who is explaining a case to his class of medical students, at a
"He was one of those men who, as our grandfathers used to say, never met
with a cruel woman, the type of the adventurous knight who was always
foraging, who had something of the scamp about him, but who despised
danger and was bold even to rashness. He was ardent in the pursuit of
pleasure, and had an irresistible charm about him, one of those men in
whom we excuse the greatest excesses as the most natural things in the
world. He had run through all his money at gambling and with pretty
girls, and so became, as it were, a soldier of fortune. He amused
himself whenever and however he could, and was at that time quartered at
"I knew him to the very depths of his childlike heart, which was only too
easily seen through and sounded, and I loved him as some old bachelor
uncle loves a nephew who plays him tricks, but who knows how to coax him.
He had made me his confidant rather than his adviser, kept me informed of
his slightest pranks, though he always pretended to be speaking about one
of his friends, and not about himself; and I must confess that his
youthful impetuosity, his careless gaiety, and his amorous ardor
sometimes distracted my thoughts and made me envy the handsome, vigorous
young fellow who was so happy at being alive, that I had not the courage
to check him, to show him the right road, and to call out to him: 'Take
care!' as children do at blind man's buff.
"And one day, after one of those interminable cotillons, where the
couples do not leave each other for hours, and can disappear together
without anybody thinking of noticing them, the poor fellow at last
discovered what love was, that real love which takes up its abode in the
very centre of the heart and in the brain, and is proud of being there,
and which rules like a sovereign and a tyrannous master, and he became
desperately enamored of a pretty but badly brought up girl, who was as
disquieting and wayward as she was pretty.
"She loved him, however, or rather she idolized him despotically, madly,
with all her enraptured soul and all her being. Left to do as she
pleased by imprudent and frivolous parents, suffering from neurosis, in
consequence of the unwholesome friendships which she contracted at the
convent school, instructed by what she saw and heard and knew was going
on around her, in spite of her deceitful and artificial conduct, knowing
that neither her father nor her mother, who were very proud of their race
as well as avaricious, would ever agree to let her marry the man whom she
had taken a liking to, that handsome fellow who had little besides
vision, ideas and debts, and who belonged to the middle-class, she laid
aside all scruples, thought of nothing but of becoming his, no matter
what might be the cost.
"By degrees, the unfortunate man's strength gave way, his heart softened,
and he allowed himself to be carried away by that current which buffeted
him, surrounded him, and left him on the shore like a waif and a stray.
"They wrote letters full of madness to each other, and not a day passed
without their meeting, either accidentally, as it seemed, or at parties
and balls. She had yielded her lips to him in long, ardent caresses,
which had sealed their compact of mutual passion."
The doctor stopped, and his eyes suddenly filled with tears, as these
former troubles came back to his mind; and then, in a hoarse voice, he
went on, full of the horror of what he was going to relate:
"For months he scaled the garden wall, and, holding his breath and
listening for the slightest noise, like a burglar who is going to break
into a house, he went in by the servants' entrance, which she had left
open, slunk barefoot down a long passage and up the broad staircase,
which creaked occasionally, to the second story, where his sweetheart's
room was, and stayed there for hours.
"One night, when it was darker than usual, and he was hurrying lest he
should be later than the time agreed on, he knocked up against a piece of
furniture in the anteroom and upset it. It so happened that the girl's
mother had not gone to sleep, either because she had a sick headache, or
else be cause she had sat up late over some novel, and, frightened at
that unusual noise which disturbed the silence of the house, she jumped
out of bed, opened the door, saw some one indistinctly running away and
keeping close to the wall, and, immediately thinking that there were
burglars in the house, she aroused her husband and the servants by her
frantic screams. The unfortunate man understood the situation; and,
seeing what a terrible fix he was in, and preferring to be taken for a
common thief to dishonoring his adored one's name, he ran into the
drawing-room, felt on the tables and what-nots, filled his pockets at
random with valuable bric-a-brac, and then cowered down behind the grand
piano, which barred the corner of a large room.
"The servants, who had run in with lighted candles, found him, and,
overwhelming him with abuse, seized him by the collar and dragged him,
panting and apparently half dead with shame and terror, to the nearest
police station. He defended himself with intentional awkwardness when he
was brought up for trial, kept up his part with the most perfect self-
possession and without any signs of the despair and anguish that he felt
in his heart, and, condemned and degraded and made to suffer martyrdom in
his honor as a man and a soldier--he was an officer--he did not protest,
but went to prison as one of those criminals whom society gets rid of
like noxious vermin.
"He died there of misery and of bitterness of spirit, with the name of
the fair-haired idol, for whom he had sacrificed himself, on his lips, as
if it had been an ecstatic prayer, and he intrusted his will 'to the
priest who administered extreme unction to him, and requested him to give
it to me. In it, without mentioning anybody, and without in the least
lifting the veil, he at last explained the enigma, and cleared himself of
those accusations the terrible burden of which he had borne until his
"I have always thought myself, though I do not know why, that the girl
married and had several charming children, whom she brought up with the
austere strictness and in the serious piety of former days!"
CLAIR DE LUNE
Abbe Marignan's martial name suited him well. He was a tall, thin
priest, fanatic, excitable, yet upright. All his beliefs were fixed,
never varying. He believed sincerely that he knew his God, understood
His plans, desires and intentions.
When he walked with long strides along the garden walk of his little
country parsonage, he would sometimes ask himself the question: "Why has
God done this?" And he would dwell on this continually, putting himself
in the place of God, and he almost invariably found an answer. He would
never have cried out in an outburst of pious humility: "Thy ways, O Lord,
are past finding out."
He said to himself: "I am the servant of God; it is right for me to know
the reason of His deeds, or to guess it if I do not know it."
Everything in nature seemed to him to have been created in accordance
with an admirable and absolute logic. The "whys" and "becauses" always
balanced. Dawn was given to make our awakening pleasant, the days to
ripen the harvest, the rains to moisten it, the evenings for preparation
for slumber, and the dark nights for sleep.
The four seasons corresponded perfectly to the needs of agriculture, and
no suspicion had ever come to the priest of the fact that nature has no
intentions; that, on the contrary, everything which exists must conform
to the hard demands of seasons, climates and matter.
But he hated woman--hated her unconsciously, and despised her by
instinct. He often repeated the words of Christ: "Woman, what have I to
do with thee?" and he would add: "It seems as though God, Himself, were
dissatisfied with this work of His." She was the tempter who led the
first man astray, and who since then had ever been busy with her work of
damnation, the feeble creature, dangerous and mysteriously affecting one.
And even more than their sinful bodies, he hated their loving hearts.
He had often felt their tenderness directed toward himself, and though he
knew that he was invulnerable, he grew angry at this need of love that is
always vibrating in them.
According to his belief, God had created woman for the sole purpose of
tempting and testing man. One must not approach her without defensive
precautions and fear of possible snares. She was, indeed, just like a
snare, with her lips open and her arms stretched out to man.
He had no indulgence except for nuns, whom their vows had rendered
inoffensive; but he was stern with them, nevertheless, because he felt
that at the bottom of their fettered and humble hearts the everlasting
tenderness was burning brightly--that tenderness which was shown even to
him, a priest.
He felt this cursed tenderness, even in their docility, in the low tones
of their voices when speaking to him, in their lowered eyes, and in their
resigned tears when he reproved them roughly. And he would shake his
cassock on leaving the convent doors, and walk off, lengthening his
stride as though flying from danger.
He had a niece who lived with her mother in a little house near him. He
was bent upon making a sister of charity of her.
She was a pretty, brainless madcap. When the abbe preached she laughed,
and when he was angry with her she would give him a hug, drawing him to
her heart, while he sought unconsciously to release himself from this
embrace which nevertheless filled him with a sweet pleasure, awakening in
his depths the sensation of paternity which slumbers in every man.
Often, when walking by her side, along the country road, he would speak
to her of God, of his God. She never listened to him, but looked about
her at the sky, the grass and flowers, and one could see the joy of life
sparkling in her eyes. Sometimes she would dart forward to catch some
flying creature, crying out as she brought it back: "Look, uncle, how
pretty it is! I want to hug it!" And this desire to "hug" flies or
lilac blossoms disquieted, angered, and roused the priest, who saw, even
in this, the ineradicable tenderness that is always budding in women's
Then there came a day when the sexton's wife, who kept house for Abbe
Marignan, told him, with caution, that his niece had a lover.
Almost suffocated by the fearful emotion this news roused in him, he
stood there, his face covered with soap, for he was in the act of
When he had sufficiently recovered to think and speak he cried: "It is
not true; you lie, Melanie!"
But the peasant woman put her hand on her heart, saying: "May our Lord
judge me if I lie, Monsieur le Cure! I tell you, she goes there every
night when your sister has gone to bed. They meet by the river side; you
have only to go there and see, between ten o'clock and midnight."
He ceased scraping his chin, and began to walk up and down impetuously,
as he always did when he was in deep thought. When he began shaving
again he cut himself three times from his nose to his ear.
All day long he was silent, full of anger and indignation. To his
priestly hatred of this invincible love was added the exasperation of her
spiritual father, of her guardian and pastor, deceived and tricked by a
child, and the selfish emotion shown by parents when their daughter
announces that she has chosen a husband without them, and in spite of
After dinner he tried to read a little, but could not, growing more and,
more angry. When ten o'clock struck he seized his cane, a formidable oak
stick, which he was accustomed to carry in his nocturnal walks when
visiting the sick. And he smiled at the enormous club which he twirled
in a threatening manner in his strong, country fist. Then he raised it
suddenly and, gritting his teeth, brought it down on a chair, the broken
back of which fell over on the floor.
He opened the door to go out, but stopped on the sill, surprised by the
splendid moonlight, of such brilliance as is seldom seen.
And, as he was gifted with an emotional nature, one such as had all those
poetic dreamers, the Fathers of the Church, he felt suddenly distracted
and moved by all the grand and serene beauty of this pale night.
In his little garden, all bathed in soft light, his fruit trees in a row
cast on the ground the shadow of their slender branches, scarcely in full
leaf, while the giant honeysuckle, clinging to the wall of his house,
exhaled a delicious sweetness, filling the warm moonlit atmosphere with a
kind of perfumed soul.
He began to take long breaths, drinking in the air as drunkards drink
wine, and he walked along slowly, delighted, marveling, almost forgetting
As soon as he was outside of the garden, he stopped to gaze upon the
plain all flooded with the caressing light, bathed in that tender,
languishing charm of serene nights. At each moment was heard the short,
metallic note of the cricket, and distant nightingales shook out their
scattered notes--their light, vibrant music that sets one dreaming,
without thinking, a music made for kisses, for the seduction of
The abbe walked on again, his heart failing, though he knew not why. He
seemed weakened, suddenly exhausted; he wanted to sit down, to rest
there, to think, to admire God in His works.
Down yonder, following the undulations of the little river, a great line
of poplars wound in and out. A fine mist, a white haze through which the
moonbeams passed, silvering it and making it gleam, hung around and above
the mountains, covering all the tortuous course of the water with a kind
of light and transparent cotton.
The priest stopped once again, his soul filled with a growing and
And a doubt, a vague feeling of disquiet came over him; he was asking one
of those questions that he sometimes put to himself.
"Why did God make this? Since the night is destined for sleep,
unconsciousness, repose, forgetfulness of everything, why make it more
charming than day, softer than dawn or evening? And does why this
seductive planet, more poetic than the sun, that seems destined, so
discreet is it, to illuminate things too delicate and mysterious for the
light of day, make the darkness so transparent?
"Why does not the greatest of feathered songsters sleep like the others?
Why does it pour forth its voice in the mysterious night?
"Why this half-veil cast over the world? Why these tremblings of the
heart, this emotion of the spirit, this enervation of the body? Why this
display of enchantments that human beings do not see, since they are
lying in their beds? For whom is destined this sublime spectacle, this
abundance of poetry cast from heaven to earth?"
And the abbe could not understand.
But see, out there, on the edge of the meadow, under the arch of trees
bathed in a shining mist, two figures are walking side by side.
The man was the taller, and held his arm about his sweetheart's neck and
kissed her brow every little while. They imparted life, all at once, to
the placid landscape in which they were framed as by a heavenly hand.
The two seemed but a single being, the being for whom was destined this
calm and silent night, and they came toward the priest as a living
answer, the response his Master sent to his questionings.
He stood still, his heart beating, all upset; and it seemed to him that
he saw before him some biblical scene, like the loves of Ruth and Boaz,
the accomplishment of the will of the Lord, in some of those glorious
stories of which the sacred books tell. The verses of the Song of Songs
began to ring in his ears, the appeal of passion, all the poetry of this
poem replete with tenderness.
And he said unto himself: "Perhaps God has made such nights as these to
idealize the love of men."
He shrank back from this couple that still advanced with arms
intertwined. Yet it was his niece. But he asked himself now if he would
not be disobeying God. And does not God permit love, since He surrounds
it with such visible splendor?
And he went back musing, almost ashamed, as if he had intruded into a
temple where he had, no right to enter.
WAITER, A "BOCK"
Why did I go into that beer hall on that particular evening? I do not
know. It was cold; a fine rain, a flying mist, veiled the gas lamps with
a transparent fog, made the side walks reflect the light that streamed
from the shop windows--lighting up the soft slush and the muddy feet of
I was going nowhere in particular; was simply having a short walk after
dinner. I had passed the Credit Lyonnais, the Rue Vivienne, and several
other streets. I suddenly descried a large beer hall which was more than
half full. I walked inside, with no object in view. I was not the least
I glanced round to find a place that was not too crowded, and went and
sat down by the side of a man who seemed to me to be old, and who was
smoking a two-sous clay pipe, which was as black as coal. From six to
eight glasses piled up on the table in front of him indicated the number
of "bocks" he had already absorbed. At a glance I recognized a
"regular," one of those frequenters of beer houses who come in the
morning when the place opens, and do not leave till evening when it is
about to close. He was dirty, bald on top of his head, with a fringe of
iron-gray hair falling on the collar of his frock coat. His clothes,
much too large for him, appeared to have been made for him at a time when
he was corpulent. One could guess that he did not wear suspenders, for
he could not take ten steps without having to stop to pull up his
trousers. Did he wear a vest? The mere thought of his boots and of that
which they covered filled me with horror. The frayed cuffs were
perfectly black at the edges, as were his nails.
As soon as I had seated myself beside him, this individual said to me in
a quiet tone of voice:
"How goes it?"
I turned sharply round and closely scanned his features, whereupon he
"I see you do not recognize me."
"No, I do not."
I was stupefied. It was Count Jean des Barrets, my old college chum.
I seized him by the hand, and was so dumbfounded that I could find
nothing to say. At length I managed to stammer out:
"And you, how goes it with you?"
He responded placidly:
"I get along as I can."
"What are you doing now?" I asked.
"You see what I am doing," he answered quit resignedly.
I felt my face getting red. I insisted:
"But every day?"
"Every day it is the same thing," was his reply, accompanied with a thick
puff of tobacco smoke.
He then tapped with a sou on the top of the marble table, to attract the
attention of the waiter, and called out:
"Waiter, two 'bocks.'"
A voice in the distance repeated:
"Two bocks for the fourth table."
Another voice, more distant still, shouted out:
"Here they are!"
Immediately a man with a white apron appeared, carrying two "bocks,"
which he set down, foaming, on the table, spilling some of the yellow
liquid on the sandy floor in his haste.
Des Barrets emptied his glass at a single draught and replaced it on the
table, while he sucked in the foam that had been left on his mustache.
He next asked:
"What is there new?"
I really had nothing new to tell him. I stammered:
"Nothing, old man. I am a business man."
In his monotonous tone of voice he said:
"Indeed, does it amuse you?"
"No, but what can I do? One must do something!"
"Why should one?"
"So as to have occupation."
"What's the use of an occupation? For my part, I do nothing at all, as
you see, never anything. When one has not a sou I can understand why one
should work. But when one has enough to live on, what's the use? What
is the good of working? Do you work for yourself, or for others? If you
work for yourself, you do it for your own amusement, which is all right;
if you work for others, you are a fool."
Then, laying his pipe on the marble table, he called out anew:
"Waiter, a 'bock.'" And continued: "It makes me thirsty to keep calling
so. I am not accustomed to that sort of thing. Yes, yes, I do nothing.
I let things slide, and I am growing old. In dying I shall have nothing
to regret. My only remembrance will be this beer hall. No wife, no
children, no cares, no sorrows, nothing. That is best."
He then emptied the glass which had been brought him, passed his tongue
over his lips, and resumed his pipe.
I looked at him in astonishment, and said:
"But you have not always been like that?"
"Pardon me; ever since I left college."
"That is not a proper life to lead, my dear fellow; it is simply
horrible. Come, you must have something to do, you must love something,
you must have friends."
"No, I get up at noon, I come here, I have my breakfast, I drink my beer,
I remain until the evening, I have my dinner, I drink beer. Then about
half-past one in the morning, I go home to bed, because the place closes
up; that annoys me more than anything. In the last ten years I have
passed fully six years on this bench, in my corner; and the other four in
my bed, nowhere else. I sometimes chat with the regular customers."
"But when you came to Paris what did you do at first?"
"I paid my devoirs to the Cafe de Medicis."
"Next I crossed the water and came here."
"Why did you take that trouble?"
"What do you mean? One cannot remain all one's life in the Latin
Quarter. The students make too much noise. Now I shall not move again.
Waiter, a 'bock.'"
I began to think that he was making fun of me, and I continued:
"Come now, be frank. You have been the victim of some great sorrow; some
disappointment in love, no doubt! It is easy to see that you are a man
who has had some trouble. What age are you?"
"I am thirty, but I look forty-five, at least."
I looked him straight in the face. His wrinkled, ill-shaven face gave
one the impression that he was an old man. On the top of his head a few
long hairs waved over a skin of doubtful cleanliness. He had enormous
eyelashes, a heavy mustache, and a thick beard. Suddenly I had a kind of
vision, I know not why, of a basin filled with dirty water in which all
that hair had been washed. I said to him:
"You certainly look older than your age. You surely must have
experienced some great sorrow."
"I tell you that I have not. I am old because I never go out into the
air. Nothing makes a man deteriorate more than the life of a cafe."
I still could not believe him.
"You must surely also have been married? One could not get as bald-
headed as you are without having been in love."
He shook his head, shaking dandruff down on his coat as he did so.
"No, I have always been virtuous."
And, raising his eyes toward the chandelier which heated our heads, he
"If I am bald, it is the fault of the gas. It destroys the hair.
Waiter, a 'bock.' Are you not thirsty?"
"No, thank you. But you really interest me. Since when have you been so
morbid? Your life is not normal, it is not natural. There is something
beneath it all."
"Yes, and it dates from my infancy. I received a great shock when I was
very young, and that turned my life into darkness which will last to the
"What was it?"
"You wish to know about it? Well, then, listen. You recall, of course,
the castle in which I was brought up, for you used to spend five or six
months there during vacation. You remember that large gray building, in
the middle of a great park, and the long avenues of oaks which opened to
the four points of the compass. You remember my father and mother, both
of whom were ceremonious, solemn, and severe.
"I worshipped my mother; I was afraid of my father; but I respected both,
accustomed always as I was to see every one bow before them. They were
Monsieur le Comte and Madame la Comtesse to all the country round, and
our neighbors, the Tannemares, the Ravelets, the Brennevilles, showed
them the utmost consideration.
"I was then thirteen years old. I was happy, pleased with everything, as
one is at that age, full of the joy of life.
"Well, toward the end of September, a few days before returning to
college, as I was playing about in the shrubbery of the park, among the
branches and leaves, as I was crossing a path, I saw my father and
mother, who were walking along.
"I recall it as though it were yesterday. It was a very windy day. The
whole line of trees swayed beneath the gusts of wind, groaning, and
seeming to utter cries-those dull, deep cries that forests give out
during a tempest.
"The falling leaves, turning yellow, flew away like birds, circling and
falling, and then running along the path like swift animals.
"Evening came on. It was dark in the thickets. The motion of the wind
and of the branches excited me, made me tear about as if I were crazy,
and howl in imitation of the wolves.
"As soon as I perceived my parents, I crept furtively toward them, under
the branches, in order to surprise them, as though I had been a veritable
prowler. But I stopped in fear a few paces from them. My father, who
was in a terrible passion, cried:
"'Your mother is a fool; moreover, it is not a question of your mother.
It is you. I tell you that I need this money, and I want you to sign
"My mother replied in a firm voice:
"'I will not sign it. It is Jean's fortune. I shall guard it for him
and I will not allow you to squander it with strange women, as you have
your own heritage.'
"Then my father, trembling with rage, wheeled round and, seizing his wife
by the throat, began to slap her with all his might full in the face with
his disengaged hand.
"My mother's hat fell off, her hair became loosened and fell over her
shoulders; she tried to parry the blows, but she could not do so. And my
father, like a madman, kept on striking her. My mother rolled over on
the ground, covering her face with her hands. Then he turned her over on
her back in order to slap her still more, pulling away her hands, which
were covering her face.
"As for me, my friend, it seemed as though the world was coming to an
end, that the eternal laws had changed. I experienced the overwhelming
dread that one has in presence of things supernatural, in presence of
irreparable disasters. My childish mind was bewildered, distracted.
I began to cry with all my might, without knowing why; a prey to a
fearful dread, sorrow, and astonishment. My father heard me, turned
round, and, on seeing me, started toward me. I believe that he wanted to
kill me, and I fled like a hunted animal, running straight ahead into the
"I ran perhaps for an hour, perhaps for two. I know not. Darkness set
in. I sank on the grass, exhausted, and lay there dismayed, frantic with
fear, and devoured by a sorrow capable of breaking forever the heart of a
poor child. I was cold, hungry, perhaps. At length day broke. I was
afraid to get up, to walk, to return home, to run farther, fearing to
encounter my father, whom I did not wish to see again.
"I should probably have died of misery and of hunger at the foot of a
tree if the park guard had not discovered me and led me home by force.
"I found my parents looking as usual. My mother alone spoke to me
"'How you frightened me, you naughty boy. I lay awake the whole night.'
"I did not answer, but began to weep. My father did not utter a single
"Eight days later I returned to school.
"Well, my friend, it was all over with me. I had witnessed the other
side of things, the bad side. I have not been able to perceive the good
side since that day. What has taken place in my mind, what strange
phenomenon has warped my ideas, I do not know. But I no longer had a
taste for anything, a wish for anything, a love for anybody, a desire for
anything whatever, any ambition, or any hope. And I always see my poor
mother on the ground, in the park, my father beating her. My mother died
some years later; my, father still lives. I have not seen him since.
Waiter, a 'bock.'"
A waiter brought him his "bock," which he swallowed at a gulp. But, in
taking up his pipe again, trembling as he was, he broke it. "Confound
it!" he said, with a gesture of annoyance. "That is a real sorrow. It
will take me a month to color another!"
And he called out across the vast hall, now reeking with smoke and full
of men drinking, his everlasting: "Garcon, un 'bock'--and a new pipe."
"My darlings," said the comtesse, "you might go to bed."
The three children, two girls and a boy, rose and kissed their
grandmother. Then they said good-night to M. le Cure, who had dined at
the chateau, as was his custom every Thursday.
The Abbe Mauduit lifted two of the children on his knees, passing his
long arms clad in black round their necks, and kissing them tenderly on
the forehead as he drew their heads toward him as a father might.
Then he set them down on the ground, and the little beings went off, the
boy ahead, and the girls following.
"You are fond of children, M. le Cure," said the comtesse.
"Very fond, madame."
The old woman raised her bright eyes toward the priest.
"And--has your solitude never weighed too heavily on you?"
He became silent, hesitated, and then added: "But I was never made for
"What do you know about it?"
"Oh! I know very well. I was made to be a priest; I followed my
The comtesse kept staring at him:
"Come now, M. le Cure, tell me this--tell me how it was you resolved to
renounce forever all that makes the rest of us love life--all that
consoles and sustains us? What is it that drove you, impelled you, to
separate yourself from the great natural path of marriage and the family?
You are neither an enthusiast nor a fanatic, neither a gloomy person nor
a sad person. Was it some incident, some sorrow, that led you to take
The Abbe Mauduit rose and approached the fire, then, holding toward the
flame his big shoes, such as country priests generally wear, he seemed
still hesitating as to what reply he should make.
He was a tall old man with white hair, and for the last twenty years had
been pastor of the parish of Saint-Antoine-du-Rocher. The peasants said
of him: "There's a good man for you!" And indeed he was a good man,
benevolent, friendly to all, gentle, and, to crown all, generous. Like
Saint Martin, he would have cut his cloak in two. He laughed readily,
and wept also, on slight provocation, just like a woman--which prejudiced
him more or less in the hard minds of the country folk.
The old Comtesse de Saville, living in retirement in her chateau of
Rocher, in order to bring up her grandchildren, after the successive
deaths of her son and her daughter-in-law, was very much attached to her
cure, and used to say of him: "What a heart he has!"
He came every Thursday to spend the evening with the comtesse, and they
were close friends, with the frank and honest friendship of old people.
"Look here, M. le Cure! it is your turn now to make a confession!"
He repeated: "I was not made for ordinary life. I saw it fortunately in
time, and I have had many proofs since that I made no mistake on the
"My parents, who were mercers in Verdiers, and were quite well to do, had
great ambitions for me. They sent me to a boarding school while I was
very young. No one knows what a boy may suffer at school through the
mere fact of separation, of isolation. This monotonous life without
affection is good for some, and detestable for others. Young people are
often more sensitive than one supposes, and by shutting them up thus too
soon, far from those they love, we may develop to an exaggerated extent a
sensitiveness which is overwrought and may become sickly and dangerous.
"I scarcely ever played; I had no companions; I passed my hours in
homesickness; I spent the whole night weeping in my bed. I sought to
bring before my mind recollections of home, trifling memories of little
things, little events. I thought incessantly of all I had left behind
there. I became almost imperceptibly an over-sensitive youth to whom the
slightest annoyances were terrible griefs.
"In this way I remained taciturn, self-absorbed, without expansion,
without confidants. This mental excitement was going on secretly and
surely. The nerves of children are quickly affected, and one should see
to it that they live a tranquil life until they are almost fully
developed. But who ever reflects that, for certain boys, an unjust
imposition may be as great a pang as the death of a friend in later
years? Who can explain why certain young temperaments are liable to
terrible emotions for the slightest cause, and may eventually become
morbid and incurable?
"This was my case. This faculty of regret developed in me to such an
extent that my existence became a martyrdom.
"I did not speak about it; I said nothing about it; but gradually I
became so sensitive that my soul resembled an open wound. Everything
that affected me gave me painful twitchings, frightful shocks, and
consequently impaired my health. Happy are the men whom nature has
buttressed with indifference and armed with stoicism.
"I reached my sixteenth year. An excessive timidity had arisen from this
abnormal sensitiveness. Feeling myself unprotected from all the attacks
of chance or fate, I feared every contact, every approach, every current.
I lived as though I were threatened by an unknown and always expected
misfortune. I did not venture either to speak or do anything in public.
I had, indeed, the feeling that life, is a battle, a dreadful conflict in
which one receives terrible blows, grievous, mortal wounds. In place of
cherishing, like all men, a cheerful anticipation of the morrow, I had
only a confused fear of it, and felt in my own mind a desire to conceal
myself to avoid that combat in which I would be vanquished and slain.
"As soon as my studies were finished, they gave me six months' time to
choose a career. A very simple occurrence showed me clearly, all of a
sudden, the diseased condition of my mind, made me understand the danger,
and determined me to flee from it.
"Verdiers is a little town surrounded with plains and woods. In the
central street stands my parents' house. I now passed my days far from
this dwelling which I had so much regretted, so much desired. Dreams had
reawakened in me, and I walked alone in the fields in order to let them
escape and fly away. My father and mother, quite occupied with business,
and anxious about my future, talked to me only about their profits or
about my possible plans. They were fond of me after the manner of
hardheaded, practical people; they had more reason than heart in their
affection for me. I lived imprisoned in my thoughts, and vibrating with
my eternal sensitiveness.
"Now, one evening, after a long walk, as I was making my way home with
great strides so as not to be late, I saw a dog trotting toward me. He
was a species of red spaniel, very lean, with long curly ears.
"When he was ten paces away from me he stopped. I did the same. Then he
began wagging his tail, and came over to me with short steps and nervous
movements of his whole body, bending down on his paws as if appealing to
me, and softly shaking his head. I spoke to him. He then began to crawl
along in such a sad, humble, suppliant manner that I felt the tears
coming into my eyes. I approached him; he ran away, then he came back
again; and I bent down on one knee trying to coax him to approach me,
with soft words. At last, he was within reach of my hands, and I gently
and very carefully stroked him.
"He gained courage, gradually rose and, placing his paws on my shoulders,
began to lick my face. He followed me to the house.
"This was really the first being I had passionately loved, because he
returned my affection. My attachment to this animal was certainly
exaggerated and ridiculous. It seemed to me in a confused sort of way
that we were two brothers, lost on this earth, and therefore isolated and
without defense, one as well as the other. He never again quitted my
side. He slept at the foot of my bed, ate at the table in spite of the
objections of my parents, and followed me in my solitary walks.
"I often stopped at the side of a ditch, and sat down in the grass. Sam
immediately rushed up, lay down at my feet, and lifted up my hand with
his muzzle that I might caress him.
"One day toward the end of June, as we were on the road from Saint-Pierre
de Chavrol, I saw the diligence from Pavereau coming along. Its four
horses were going at a gallop, with its yellow body, and its imperial
with the black leather hood. The coachman cracked his whip; a cloud of
dust rose up under the wheels of the heavy vehicle, then floated behind,
just as a cloud would do.
"Suddenly, as the vehicle came close to me, Sam, perhaps frightened by
the noise and wishing to join me, jumped in front of it. A horse's hoof
knocked him down. I saw him roll over, turn round, fall back again
beneath the horses' feet, then the coach gave two jolts, and behind it I
saw something quivering in the dust on the road. He was nearly cut in
two; all his intestines were hanging out and blood was spurting from the
wound. He tried to get up, to walk, but he could only move his two front
paws, and scratch the ground with them, as if to make a hole. The two
others were already dead. And he howled dreadfully, mad with pain.
"He died in a few minutes. I cannot describe how much I felt and
suffered. I was confined to my room for a month.
"One night, my father, enraged at seeing me so affected by such a
trifling occurrence, exclaimed:
"'How will it be when you have real griefs--if you lose your wife or
"His words haunted me and I began to see my condition clearly. I
understood why all the small miseries of each day assumed in my eyes the
importance of a catastrophe; I saw that I was organized in such a way
that I suffered dreadfully from everything, that every painful impression
was multiplied by my diseased sensibility, and an atrocious fear of life
took possession of me. I was without passions, without ambitions; I
resolved to sacrifice possible joys in order to avoid sure sorrows.
Existence is short, but I made up my mind to spend it in the service of
others, in relieving their troubles and enjoying their happiness. Having
no direct experience of either one or the other, I should only experience
a milder form of emotion.
"And if you only knew how, in spite of this, misery tortures me, ravages
me! But what would formerly have been an intolerable affliction has
become commiseration, pity.
"These sorrows which cross my path at every moment, I could not endure if
they affected me directly. I could not have seen one of my children die
without dying myself. And I have, in spite of everything, preserved such
a mysterious, overwhelming fear of events that the sight of the postman
entering my house makes a shiver pass every day through my veins, and yet
I have nothing to be afraid of now."
The Abbe Mauduit ceased speaking. He stared into the fire in the huge
grate, as if he saw there mysterious things, all the unknown of the
existence he might have passed had he been more fearless in the face of
He added, then, in a subdued tone:
"I was right. I was not made for this world."
The comtesse said nothing at first; but at length, after a long silence,
"For my part, if I had not my grandchildren, I believe I would not have
the courage to live."
And the cure rose up without saying another word.
As the servants were asleep in the kitchen, she accompanied him herself
to the door, which looked out on the garden, and she saw his tall shadow,
lit up by the reflection of the lamp, disappearing through the gloom of
Then she came back and sat down before the fire, and pondered over many
things we never think of when we are young.
She had been brought up in one of those families who live entirely to
themselves, apart from all the rest of the world. Such families know
nothing of political events, although they are discussed at table; for
changes in the Government take place at such a distance from them that
they are spoken of as one speaks of a historical event, such as the death
of Louis XVI or the landing of Napoleon.
Customs are modified in course of time, fashions succeed one another, but
such variations are taken no account of in the placid family circle where
traditional usages prevail year after year. And if some scandalous
episode or other occurs in the neighborhood, the disreputable story dies
a natural death when it reaches the threshold of the house. The father
and mother may, perhaps, exchange a few words on the subject when alone
together some evening, but they speak in hushed tones--for even walls
have ears. The father says, with bated breath:
"You've heard of that terrible affair in the Rivoil family?"
And the mother answers:
"Who would have dreamed of such a thing? It's dreadful."
The children suspected nothing, and arrive in their turn at years of
discretion with eyes and mind blindfolded, ignorant of the real side of
life, not knowing that people do not think as they speak, and do not
speak as they act; or aware that they should live at war, or at all
events, in a state of armed peace, with the rest of mankind; not
suspecting the fact that the simple are always deceived, the sincere made
sport of, the good maltreated.
Some go on till the day of their death in this blind probity and loyalty
and honor, so pure-minded that nothing can open their eyes.
Others, undeceived, but without fully understanding, make mistakes, are
dismayed, and become desperate, believing themselves the playthings of a
cruel fate, the wretched victims of adverse circumstances, and
exceptionally wicked men.
The Savignols married their daughter Bertha at the age of eighteen. She
wedded a young Parisian, George Baron by name, who had dealings on the
Stock Exchange. He was handsome, well-mannered, and apparently all that
could be desired. But in the depths of his heart he somewhat despised
his old-fashioned parents-in-law, whom he spoke of among his intimates as
"my dear old fossils."
He belonged to a good family, and the girl was rich. They settled down
She became one of those provincial Parisians whose name is legion. She
remained in complete ignorance of the great city, of its social side, its
pleasures and its customs--just as she remained ignorant also of life,
its perfidy and its mysteries.
Devoted to her house, she knew scarcely anything beyond her own street;
and when she ventured into another part of Paris it seemed to her that
she had accomplished a long and arduous journey into some unknown,
unexplored city. She would then say to her husband in the evening:
"I have been through the boulevards to-day."
Two or three times a year her husband took her to the theatre. These
were events the remembrance of which never grew dim; they provided
subjects of conversation for long afterward.
Sometimes three months afterward she would suddenly burst into laughter,
"Do you remember that actor dressed up as a general, who crowed like a
Her friends were limited to two families related to her own. She spoke
of them as "the Martinets" and "the Michelins."
Her husband lived as he pleased, coming home when it suited him--
sometimes not until dawn--alleging business, but not putting himself out
overmuch to account for his movements, well aware that no suspicion would
ever enter his wife's guileless soul.
But one morning she received an anonymous letter.
She was thunderstruck--too simple-minded to understand the infamy of
unsigned information and to despise the letter, the writer of which
declared himself inspired by interest in her happiness, hatred of evil,
and love of truth.
This missive told her that her husband had had for two years past, a
sweetheart, a young widow named Madame Rosset, with whom he spent all his
Bertha knew neither how to dissemble her grief nor how to spy on her
husband. When he came in for lunch she threw the letter down before him,
burst into tears, and fled to her room.
He had time to take in the situation and to prepare his reply. He
knocked at his wife's door. She opened it at once, but dared not look at
him. He smiled, sat down, drew her to his knee, and in a tone of light
"My dear child, as a matter of fact, I have a friend named Madame Rosset,
whom I have known for the last ten years, and of whom I have a very high
opinion. I may add that I know scores of other people whose names I have
never mentioned to you, seeing that you do not care for society, or fresh
acquaintances, or functions of any sort. But, to make short work of such
vile accusations as this, I want you to put on your things after lunch,
and we'll go together and call on this lady, who will very soon become a
friend of yours, too, I am quite sure."
She embraced her husband warmly, and, moved by that feminine spirit of
curiosity which will not be lulled once it is aroused, consented to go
and see this unknown widow, of whom she was, in spite of everything, just
the least bit jealous. She felt instinctively that to know a danger is
to be already armed against it.
She entered a small, tastefully furnished flat on the fourth floor of an
attractive house. After waiting five minutes in a drawing-room rendered
somewhat dark by its many curtains and hangings, a door opened, and a
very dark, short, rather plump young woman appeared, surprised and
George introduced them:
"My wife--Madame Julie Rosset."
The young widow uttered a half-suppressed cry of astonishment and joy,
and ran forward with hands outstretched. She had not hoped, she said, to
have this pleasure, knowing that Madame Baron never saw any one, but she
was delighted to make her acquaintance. She was so fond of George (she
said "George" in a familiar, sisterly sort of way) that, she had been
most anxious to know his young wife and to make friends with her, too.
By the end of a month the two new friends were inseparable. They saw
each other every day, sometimes twice a day, and dined together every
evening, sometimes at one house, sometimes at the other. George no
longer deserted his home, no longer talked of pressing business. He
adored his own fireside, he said.
When, after a time, a flat in the house where Madame Rosset lived became
vacant Madame Baron hastened to take it, in order to be near her friend
and spend even more time with her than hitherto.
And for two whole years their friendship was without a cloud, a
friendship of heart and mind--absolute, tender, devoted. Bertha could
hardly speak without bringing in Julie's name. To her Madame Rosset
She was utterly happy, calm and contented.
But Madame Rosset fell ill. Bertha hardly left her side. She spent her
nights with her, distracted with grief; even her husband seemed
One morning the doctor, after leaving the invalid's bedside, took George
and his wife aside, and told them that he considered Julie's condition
As soon as he had gone the grief-stricken husband and wife sat down
opposite each other and gave way to tears. That night they both sat up
with the patient. Bertha tenderly kissed her friend from time to time,
while George stood at the foot of the bed, his eyes gazing steadfastly on
the invalid's face.
The next day she was worse.
But toward evening she declared she felt better, and insisted that her
friends should go back to their own apartment to dinner.
They were sitting sadly in the dining-room, scarcely even attempting to
eat, when the maid gave George a note. He opened it, turned pale as
death, and, rising from the table, said to his wife in a constrained
"Wait for me. I must leave you a moment. I shall be back in ten
minutes. Don't go away on any account."
And he hurried to his room to get his hat.
Bertha waited for him, a prey to fresh anxiety. But, docile in
everything, she would not go back to her friend till he returned.
At length, as he did not reappear, it occurred to her to visit his room
and see if he had taken his gloves. This would show whether or not he
had had a call to make.
She saw them at the first glance. Beside them lay a crumpled paper,
evidently thrown down in haste.
She recognized it at once as the note George had received.
And a burning temptation, the first that had ever assailed her urged her
to read it and discover the cause of her husband's abrupt departure. Her
rebellious conscience protester' but a devouring and fearful curiosity
prevailed. She seized the paper, smoothed it out, recognized the
tremulous, penciled writing as Julie's, and read:
"Come alone and kiss me, my poor dear. I am dying."
At first she did not understand, the idea of Julie's death being her
uppermost thought. But all at once the true meaning of what she read
burst in a flash upon her; this penciled note threw a lurid light upon
her whole existence, revealed the whole infamous truth, all the treachery
and perfidy of which she had been the victim. She understood the long
years of deceit, the way in which she had been made their puppet. She
saw them again, sitting side by side in the evening, reading by lamplight
out of the same book, glancing at each other at the end of each page.
And her poor, indignant, suffering, bleeding heart was cast into the
depths of a despair which knew no bounds.
Footsteps drew near; she fled, and shut herself in her own room.
Presently her husband called her:
"Come quickly! Madame Rosset is dying."
Bertha appeared at her door, and with trembling lips replied:
"Go back to her alone; she does not need me."
He looked at her stupidly, dazed with grief, and repeated:
"Come at once! She's dying, I tell you!"
"You would rather it were I."
Then at last he understood, and returned alone to the dying woman's
He mourned her openly, shamelessly, indifferent to the sorrow of the wife
who no longer spoke to him, no longer looked at him; who passed her life
in solitude, hedged round with disgust, with indignant anger, and praying
night and day to God.
They still lived in the same house, however, and sat opposite each other
at table, in silence and despair.
Gradually his sorrow grew less acute; but she did not forgive him.
And so their life went on, hard and bitter for them both.
For a whole year they remained as complete strangers to each other as if
they had never met. Bertha nearly lost her reason.
At last one morning she went out very early, and returned about eight
o'clock bearing in her hands an enormous bouquet of white roses.
And she sent word to her husband that she wanted to speak to him.
He came-anxious and uneasy.
"We are going out together," she said. "Please carry these flowers; they
are too heavy for me."
A carriage took them to the gate of the cemetery, where they alighted.
Then, her eyes filling with tears, she said to George:
"Take me to her grave."
He trembled, and could not understand her motive; but he led the way,
still carrying the flowers. At last he stopped before a white marble
slab, to which he pointed without a word.
She took the bouquet from him, and, kneeling down, placed it on the
grave. Then she offered up a silent, heartfelt prayer.
Behind her stood her husband, overcome by recollections of the past.
She rose, and held out her hands to him.
"If you wish it, we will be friends," she said.
IN THE SPRING
With the first day of spring, when the awakening earth puts on its
garment of green, and the warm, fragrant air fans our faces and fills our
lungs and appears even to penetrate to our hearts, we experience a vague,
undefined longing for freedom, for happiness, a desire to run, to wander
aimlessly, to breathe in the spring. The previous winter having been
unusually severe, this spring feeling was like a form of intoxication in
May, as if there were an overabundant supply of sap.