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Memoirs of My Dead Life by George Moore

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her, saying he wanted to speak to her; and they walked round the
_bal_ together. I could not understand his indifference to her
charm, and asked myself if he had always been so indifferent. In a
little while they returned.

"I'll do my best," I heard her say; and she ran back to join her
companions.

"I suppose you've seen enough of the Elysee?"

"Ah! qu'elle est jolie ce soir; et elle ferait joliment marcher le
Russe."

We walked on in silence. Octave did not notice that he had said
anything to jar my feelings; he was thinking of his portrait, and
presently he said that he was sorry she was going to Russia.

"I should like to begin another portrait, now that I have learned to
paint."

"Do you think she'll go to Russia?"

"Yes, she'll go there; but she'll come back one of these days, and
I'll get her to sit again. It is extraordinary how little is known of
the art of painting; the art is forgotten. The old masters did
perfectly in two days what we spend weeks fumbling at. In two days
Rubens finished his _grisaille_, and the glazing was done with
certainty, with skill, with ease in half an hour! He could get more
depth of colour with a glaze than any one can to-day, however much
paint is put on the canvas. The old masters had method; now there's
none. One brush as well as another, rub the paint up or down, it
doesn't matter so long as the canvas is covered. Manet began it, and
Cezanne has--well, filed the petition: painting is bankrupt."

I listened to him a little wearily, for I had heard all he was saying
many times before; but Octave always talked as he wanted to talk, and
this evening he wanted to talk of painting, not of Marie, and I was
glad when we came to the spot where our ways parted.

"You know that the Russian is coming to the studio to-morrow; I hope
he'll buy the portrait."

"I hope he will," I said. "I'd buy it myself if I could afford it."

"I'd prefer you to have something I have done since, unless it be the
woman you're after ... but one minute. You're coming to sit to me the
day after to-morrow?"

"Yes," I said, "I'll come."

"And then I'll be able to tell you if he has bought the picture."

Three days afterwards I asked Octave on the threshold if the Russian
had bought the portrait, and he told me nothing had been definitely
settled yet.

Marie had gone to St. Petersburg with the prince, and this was the
last news I had of her for many months. But a week rarely passed
without something happening to remind me of her. One day a books of
travels in Siberia opened at a passage telling how a boy belonging to
a tribe of Asiatic savages had been taken from his deserts, where he
had been found deserted and dying, and brought to Moscow. The
gentleman who had found him adopted and educated him, and the
reclaimed savage became in time a fashionable young man about town,
betraying no trace of his origin until one day he happened to meet one
of his tribe. The man had come to Moscow to sell skins; and the smell
of the skins awoke a longing for the desert. The reclaimed savage grew
melancholy; his adopted father tried in vain to overcome the original
instinct; presents of money did not soothe his homesickness. He
disappeared, and was not heard of for years until one day a caravan
came back with the news of a man among the savages who had betrayed
himself by speaking French. On being questioned, he denied any
knowledge of French; he said he had never been to St. Petersburg, nor
did he wish to go there. And what was this story but the story of
Marie Pellegrin, who, when weary of Russian princes and palaces,
returned for her holiday to the Quartier Breda?

A few days afterwards I heard in Barres's studio that she had escaped
from Russia; and that evening I went to Alphonsine's to dinner, hoping
to see her there. But she was not there. There was no one there except
Clementine and the two stockbrokers; and I waited eagerly for news of
her. I did not like to mention her name, and the dreary dinner was
nearly over before her name was mentioned. I heard that she was ill;
no, not dying, but very ill. Alphonsine gave me her address; a little
higher up on the same side as the Cirque Fernando, nearly facing the
Elysee Montmartre. The number I could inquire out, she said, and I
went away in a cab up the steep and stony Rue des Martyres, noticing
the cafe and then the _brasserie_ and a little higher up the
fruit-seller and the photographer. When the mind is at stress one
notices the casual, and mine was at stress, and too agitated to think.
The first house we stopped at happened to be the right one, and the
_concierge_ said, "The fourth floor." As I went upstairs I
thought of _La Glue_, of her untidy dress and her red hair, and
it was she who answered the bell and asked me into an unfurnished
drawing-room, and we stood by the chimneypiece.

"She's talking of going to the Elysee to-night. Won't you come in?
She'd like to see you. There are three or four of us here. You know
them. Clementine, Margaret Byron?" And she mentioned some other names
that I did not remember, and opening a door she cried: "Marie, here's
a visitor for you, a gentleman from Alphonsine's. You know, dear, the
Englishman, Octave Barres's friend."

She gave me her hand, and I held it a long while.

"Comme les Anglais sont gentils. Des qu'on est malade--"

I don't think Marie finished the sentence, if she did I did not hear
her; but I remember quite well that she spoke of my distaste for
cards.

"You didn't play that night at Alphonsine's when I lost all my money.
You preferred to look at Victorine's drawings. She has done some
better ones. Go and look at them, and let's finish our game. Then I'll
talk to you. So you heard about me at Alphonsine's? They say I'm very
ill, don't they? But now that I've come back I'll soon get well. I'm
always well at Montmartre, amn't I, Victorine?" "Nous ne sommes pas
installes encore," Marie said, referring to the scarcity of furniture,
and to the clock and candelabra which stood on the floor. But if there
were too few chairs, there was a good deal of money and jewellery
among the bed-clothes; and Marie toyed with this jewellery during the
games. She wore large lace sleeves, and the thin arms showed delicate
and slight when she raised them to change her ear-rings. Her small
beauty, fashioned like an ivory, contrasted with the coarse features
about her, and the little nose with beautifully shaped nostrils, above
all the mouth fading at the ends into faint indecisions. Every now and
then a tenderness came over her face; Octave had seen the essential in
her, whatever he might say; he had painted herself--her soul; and
Marie's soul rose up like a water-flower in her eyes, and then the
soul sank out of sight, and I saw another Marie, _une grue_,
playing cards with five others from Alphonsine's, losing her money and
her health. A bottle of absinthe stood on a beautiful Empire table
that her prince had given her, and Bijou, Clementine's little dog,
slept on an embroidered cushion. Bijou was one of those dear little
Japanese or Chinese spaniels, those dogs that are like the King
Charles. She was going to have puppies, and I was stroking her silky
coat thinking of her coming trouble, when I suddenly heard
Clementine's voice raised above the others, and looking up I saw a
great animation in her face; I heard that the cards had not been
fairly dealt, and then the women threw their cards aside, and _La
Glue_ told Clementine that she was not wanted, that _elle ferait
bien de debarrasser les planches_, that was the expression she
used. I heard further accusations, and among them the plaintive voice
of Marie begging of me not to believe what they said. The women caught
each other by the hair, and tore at each other's faces, and Marie
raised herself up in bed and implored them to cease; and then she fell
back crying. For a moment it seemed as if they were going to sit down
to cards again, but suddenly everybody snatched her own money and then
everybody snatched at the money within her reach; and, calling each
other thieves, they struggled through the door, and I heard them
quarrelling all the way down the staircase. Bijou jumped from her
chair and followed her mistress.

"Help me to look," Marie said; and looking I saw her faint hands
seeking through the bed-clothes. Some jewellery was missing, a
bracelet and some pearls, as well as all her money. Marie fell back
among the pillows unable to speak, and every moment I dreaded a flow
of blood. She began to cry, and the little lace handkerchief was soon
soaking. I had to find her another. The money that had been taken had
been paid her by a _fournisseur_ in the _Quartier_, who had
given her two thousand francs for her _garniture de cheminee_. A
few francs were found among the bed-clothes, and these few francs, she
said, were sufficient _pour passer sa soiree_, and she begged me
to go the dressmaker to inquire for the gown that had been promised
for ten o'clock.

"I shall be at the Elysee by eleven. _Au revoir, au revoir!_ Let
me rest a little now. I shall see you to-night. You know where I
always sit, in the left-hand corner; they always keep those seats for
me."

Her eyes closed, I could see that she was already asleep, and her calm
and reasonable sleep reminded me of her agitated and unreasonable
life; and I stood looking at her, at this poor butterfly who was lying
here all alone, robbed by her friends and associates. But she slept
contentedly, having found a few francs that they had overlooked amid
the bedclothes, enough to enable her to pass her evening at the
Elysee! The prince might be written to; but he, no doubt, was weary of
her inability to lead a respectable life, and knew, no doubt, that if
he were to send her money, it would go as his last gift had gone. If
she lived, Marie would one day be selling fried potatoes on the
streets. And this decadence--was it her fault? Octave would say:
"Qu'est ce que cela peut nous faire, une fille plus ou moins fichue
... si je pouvais reussir un peu dans ce sacre metier!" This was how
he talked, but he thought more profoundly in his painting; his picture
of her was something more than mere sarcasm.

She was going to the Elysee to-night. It was just six o'clock, so she
wanted her dress by ten. I must hasten away to the dressmaker at once;
it might be wiser not--she lay in bed peaceful and beautiful; at the
Elysee she would be drinking absinthe and smoking cigarettes until
three in the morning. But I had promised: she wouldn't forgive me if I
didn't, and I went.

The dressmaker said that Madame Pellegrin would have her dress by
nine, and at half-past ten I was at the Elysee waiting for her.

How many times did I walk round the gravel path, wearying of the
unnatural green of the chestnut leaves and of the high kicking in the
quadrilles? Now and then there would be a rush of people, and then the
human tide would disperse again under the trees among the zinc chairs
and tables, for the enjoyment of bocks and cigars. I noticed that
Marie's friends spent their evening in the left-hand corner; but they
did not call me to drink with them, knowing well that I knew the money
they were spending was stolen money.

I left the place discontented and weary, glad in a way that Marie had
not come. No doubt the dressmaker had disappointed her, or maybe she
had felt too ill. There was no time to go to inquire in the morning,
for I was breakfasting with Octave, and in the afternoon sitting to
him.

We were in the middle of the sitting, he had just sketched in my head,
when we heard footsteps on the stairs.

"Only some women," he said; "I've a mind not to open the door."

"But do," I said, feeling sure the women were Marie's friends bringing
news of her. And it was so. She had been found dead on her balcony
dressed in the gown that had just come home from the dressmaker.

I hoped that Octave would not try to pass the matter off with some
ribald jest, and I was surprised at his gravity. "Even Octave," I
said, "refrains, _on ne blague pas la mort_."

"But what was she doing on the balcony?" he asked. "What I don't
understand is the balcony."

We all stood looking at her picture, trying to read the face.

"I suppose she went out to look at the fireworks; they begin about
eleven."

It was one of the women who had spoken, and her remark seemed to
explain the picture.

CHAPTER V

LA BUTTE

To-morrow I shall drive to breakfast, seeing Paris continuously
unfolding, prospect after prospect, green swards, white buildings,
villas engarlanded; to-day I drive to breakfast through the white
torridities of Rue Blanche. The back of the coachman grows drowsier,
and would have rounded off into sleep long ago had it not been for the
great paving stones that swing the vehicle from side to side, and we
have to climb the Rue Lepic, and the poor little fainting animal will
never be able to draw me to the Butte. So I dismiss my carriage, half
out of pity, half out of a wish to study the Rue Lepic, so typical is
it of the upper lower classes. In the Rue Blanche there are
_portes-cocheres_, but in Rue Lepic there are narrow doors,
partially grated, open on narrow passages at the end of which,
squeezed between the wall and the stairs, are small rooms where
_concierges_ sit, eternally _en camisole_, amid vegetables
and sewing. The wooden blinds are flung back on the faded yellow
walls, revealing a portion of white bed-curtain and a heavy
middle-aged woman, _en camisole_, passing between the cooking
stove, in which a rabbit in a tin pail lies steeping, and the men
sitting at their trades in the windows. The smell of leather follows
me for several steps; a few doors farther a girl sits trimming a
bonnet, her mother beside her. The girl looks up, pale with the
exhausting heat. At the corner of the next street there is the
_marchand de vins_, and opposite the dirty little _charbonnier_,
and standing about a little hole which he calls his _boutique_
a group of women in discoloured _peignoirs_ and heavy carpet
slippers. They have baskets on their arms. Everywhere traces of
meagre and humble life, but nowhere do I see the demented wretch
common in our London streets--the man with bare feet, the furtive
and frightened creature, gnawing a crust and drawing a black,
tattered shirt about his consumptive chest.

The asphalt is melting, the reverberation of the stones intolerable,
my feet ache and burn. At the top of the street I enter a still poorer
neighbourhood, a still steeper street, but so narrow that the shadow
has already begun to draw out on the pavements. At the top of the
street is a stairway, and above the stairway a grassy knoll, and above
the knoll a windmill lifts its black and motionless arms. For the mill
is now a mute ornament, a sign for the _Bal du Moulin de la
Galette_.

As I ascend the street grows whiter, and at the Butte it is empty of
everything except the white rays of noon. There are some dusty
streets, and silhouetting against the dim sky a dilapidated facade of
some broken pillars. Some stand in the midst of ruined gardens,
circled by high walls crumbling and white, and looking through a
broken gateway I see a fountain splashing, but nowhere the inhabitants
that correspond to these houses--only a workwoman, a grisette, a child
crying in the dust. The Butte Montmartre is full of suggestion; grand
folk must at some time have lived there. Could it be that this place
was once country? To-day it is full of romantic idleness and
abandonment.

On my left an iron gateway, swinging on rusty hinges, leads on to a
large terrace, at the end of which is a row of houses. It is in one of
these houses that my friend lives, and as I pull the bell I think that
the pleasure of seeing him is worth the ascent, and my thoughts float
back over the long time I have known Paul. We have known each other
always, since we began to write. But Paul is not at home. The servant
comes to the door with a baby in her arms, another baby! and tells me
that Monsieur et Madame are gone out for the day. No breakfast, no
smoke, no talk about literature, only a long walk back--cabs are not
found at these heights--a long walk back through the roasting sun. And
it is no consolation to be told that I should have written and warned
them I was coming.

But I must rest, and ask leave to do so, and the servant brings me in
some claret and a siphon. The study is better to sit in than the front
room, for in the front room, although the shutters are closed, the
white rays pierce through the chinks, and lie like sword-blades along
the floor. The study is pleasant and the wine refreshing. The house
seems built on the sheer hillside. Fifty feet--more than that--a
hundred feet under me there are gardens, gardens caught somehow in the
hollow of the hill, and planted with trees, tall trees, for swings
hang out of them, otherwise I should not know they were tall. From
this window they look like shrubs, and beyond the houses that surround
these gardens Paris spreads out over the plain, an endless tide of
bricks and stone, splashed with white when the sun shines on some
railway station or great boulevard: a dim reddish mass, like a
gigantic brickfield, and far away a line of hills, and above the plain
a sky as pale and faint as the blue ash of a cigarette.

I can never look upon this city without strong emotion; it has been
all my life to me. I came here in my youth, I relinquished myself to
Paris, never extending once my adventure beyond Bas Meudon, Ville
d'Avray, Fontainebleau--and Paris has made me. How much of my mind do
I owe to Paris? And by thus acquiring a fatherland more ideal than the
one birth had arrogantly imposed, because deliberately chosen, I have
doubled my span of life. Do I not exist in two countries? Have I not
furnished myself with two sets of thoughts and sensations? Ah! the
delicate delight of owning _un pays ami_--a country where you may
go when you are weary to madness of the routine of life, sure of
finding there all the sensations of home, plus those of irresponsible
caprice. The pleasure of a literature that is yours without being
wholly your own, a literature that is like an exquisite mistress, in
whom you find consolation for all the commonplaces of life! The
comparison is perfect, for although I know these French folk better
than all else in the world, they must ever remain my pleasure, and not
my work in life. It is strange that this should be so, for in truth I
know them strangely well. I can see them living their lives from hour
to hour; I know what they would say on any given occasion.

There is Paul. I understand nothing more completely than that man's
mind. I know its habitual colour and every varying shade, and yet I
may not make him the hero of a novel when I lay the scene in
Montmartre, though I know it so well. I know when he dresses, how long
he takes to dress, and what he wears. I know the breakfast he eats,
and the streets down which he passes--their shape, their colour, their
smell. I know exactly how life has come to him, how it has affected
him. The day I met him in London! Paul in London! He was there to meet
_une petite fermiere_ with whom he had become infatuated when he
went to Normandy to finish his novel. Paul is _foncierement bon; he
married her_, and this is their abode. There is the _salle-a-manger_,
furnished with a nice sideboard in oak, and six chairs to match; on the
left is their bedroom, and there is the baby's cot, a present from
_le grand, le cher et illustre maitre_.

Paul and Mrs. Paul get up at twelve, and they loiter over breakfast;
some friends come in and they loiter over les _petits verres_.
About four Paul begins to write his article, which he finishes or
nearly finishes before dinner. They loiter over dinner until it is
time for Paul to take his article to the newspaper. He loiters in the
printing office or the cafe until his proof is ready, and when that is
corrected he loiters in the many cafes of the Faubourg Montmartre,
smoking interminable cigars, finding his way back to the Butte between
three and four in the morning. Paul is fat and of an equable
temperament. He believes in naturalism all the day, particularly after
a breakfast over _les petits verres_. He never said an unkind
word to any one, and I am sure never thought one. He used to be fond
of grisettes, but since he married he has thought of no one but his
wife. _Il ecrit des choses raides_, but no woman ever had a
better husband. And now you know him as well as I do. Here are his own
books, "The End of Lucie Pellegrin," the story that I have just
finished writing: I think I must explain how it was that I have come
to rewrite one of Paul's stories, the best he ever wrote. I remember
asking him why he called her Lucie, and he was surprised to hear her
name was Marie; he never knew her, he had never been to Alphonsine's,
and he had told the story as he had picked it up from the women who
turned into the Rat Mort at midnight for a _soupe a l'oignon_. He
said it was a pity he did not know me when he was writing it, for I
could have told him her story more sympathetically than the women in
the Rat Mort, supplying him with many pretty details that they had
never noticed or had forgotten. It would have been easy for me to have
done this, for Marie Pellegrin is enshrined in my memory like a
miniature in a case. I press a spring, and I see the beautifully
shaped little head, the pale olive face, the dark eyes, and the
blue-black hair. Marie Pellegrin is really part of my own story, so
why should I have any scruple about telling it? Merely because my
friend had written it from hearsay? Whereas I knew her; I saw her on
her death-bed. Chance made me her natural historian. Now I think that
every one will accept my excuses, and will acquit me of plagiarism.

I see the Rougon-Macquart series, each volume presented to him by the
author, Goncourt, Huysmans, Duranty, Ceard, Maupassant, Hennique,
etc.; in a word, the works of those with whom I grew up, those who
tied my first literary pinafore round my neck. But here are "Les
Moralites Legendaires" by Jules Laforgue, and "Les Illuminations" by
Rambaud. Paul has not read these books; they were sent to him, I
suppose, for review, and put away on the bookcase, all uncut; their
authors do not visit here.

And this sets me thinking that one knows very little of any generation
except one's own. True that I know a little more of the symbolists
than Paul. I am the youngest of the naturalists, the eldest of the
symbolists. The naturalists affected the art of painting, the
symbolists the art of music; and since the symbolists there has been
no artistic manifestation--the game is played out. When Huysmans and
Paul and myself are dead, it will be as impossible to write a
naturalistic novel as to revive the megatherium. Where is Hennique?
When Monet is dead it will be as impossible to paint an
impressionistic picture as to revive the ichthyosaurus. A little world
of ideas goes by every five-and-twenty years, and the next that
emerges will be incomprehensible to me, as incomprehensible as Monet
was to Corot.... Was the young generation knocking at the door of the
Opera Comique last night? If the music was the young generation, I am
sorry for it. It was the second time I had gone. I had been to hear
the music, and I left exasperated after the third act. A friend was
with me and he left, but for different reasons; he suffered in his
ears; it was my intelligence that suffered. Why did the flute play the
chromatic scale when the boy said, "Il faut que cela soit un grand
navire," and why were all the cellos in motion when the girl answered,
"Cela ou bien tout autre chose?" I suffered because of the divorce of
the orchestra and singers, uniting perhaps at the end of the scene. It
was speaking through music, no more, monotonous as the Sahara, league
after league, and I lost amid sands. A chord is heard in "Lohengrin"
to sustain Elsa's voice, and it performs its purpose; a motive is
heard to attract attention to a certain part of the story, and it
fills its purpose, when Ortrud shrieks out the motive of the secret,
and in its simplest form, at the church door, the method may be
criticised as crude, but the crudest melodrama is better than this
desert wandering. While I ponder on the music of the younger
generation, remembering the perplexity it had caused me, I hear a
vagrant singing on the other side of the terrace:

[Illustration]

Moi, je m'en fous, Je reste dans mon trou

and I say: "I hear the truth in the mouth of the vagrant minstrel, one
who possibly has no _trou_ wherein to lay his head." _Et moi
aussi, je reste dans mon trou, et mon trou est assez beau pour que j'y
reste, car mon trou est_--Richard Wagner. My _trou_ is the
Ring--the Sacrosanct Ring. Again I fall to musing. The intention of
Liszt and Wagner and Strauss was to write music. However long Wotan
might ponder on Mother Earth the moment comes when the violins begin
to sing; ah! how the spring uncloses in the orchestra, and the lovers
fly to the woods!...

The vagrant continued his wail, and forgetful of Paul, forgetful of
all things but the philosophy of the minstrel of the Butte, I picked
my way down the tortuous streets repeating:

[Illustration]

Moi, je m'en fous, Je reste dans mon trou

CHAPTER VI

SPENT LOVES

I am going to see dear and affectionate friends. The train would take
me to them, that droll little _chemin de fer de ceinture_, and it
seems a pity to miss the Gare St. Lazare, its Sunday morning tumult of
Parisians starting with their mistresses and their wives for a
favourite suburb. I never run up these wide stairways leading to the
great wide galleries full of bookstalls (charming yellow notes), and
pierced with little _guichets_ painted round with blue, without
experiencing a sensation of happy lightness--a light-headedness that I
associate with the month of May in Paris. But the tramway that passes
through the Place de la Concorde goes as far as Passy, and though I
love the droll little _chemin de fer de ceinture_ I love this
tramway better. It speeds along the quays between the Seine and the
garden of the Champs Elysees, through miles of chestnut bloom, the
roadway chequered with shadows of chestnut leaves; the branches meet
overhead, and in a faint delirium of the senses I catch at a bloom,
cherish it for a moment, and cast it away. The plucky little
steamboats are making for the landing-places, stemming the current. I
love this sprightly little river better than the melancholy Thames,
along whose banks saturnine immoralities flourish like bulrushes!
Behold the white architecture, the pillars, the balustraded steps, the
domes in the blue air, the monumented swards! Paris, like all pagan
cities, is full of statues. A little later we roll past gardens,
gaiety is in the air.... And then the streets of Passy begin to
appear, mean streets, like London streets. I like them not; but the
railway station is compensation; the little railway station like a
house of cards under toy trees, and the train steaming out into the
fanciful country. The bright wood along which it speeds is like the
season's millinery.

It is pleasant to notice everything in Paris, the flymen asleep on
their box-seats, the little horses dozing beneath the chestnut trees,
the bloused workmen leaning over a green-painted table in an arbour,
drinking wine at sixteen sous the litre, the villas of Auteuil, rich
woodwork, rich iron railings, and the summer hush about villas
engarlanded. Auteuil is so French, its symbolism enchants me. Auteuil
is like a flower, its petals opening out to the kiss of the air, its
roots feeling for way among the rich earth. Ah, the land of France,
its vineyards and orchards, its earthly life! Thoughts come unbidden,
my thoughts sing together, and I hardly knowing what they are singing.
My thoughts are singing like the sun; do not ask me their meaning;
they mean as much and as little as the sun that I am part of--the
sun of France that I shall enjoy for thirty days. May takes me to dear
and affectionate friends who await me at Auteuil, and June takes me
away from them. There is the villa! And there amid the engarlanding
trees my friend, dressed in pale yellow, sits in front of his easel.
How the sunlight plays through the foliage, leaping through the rich,
long grass; and amid the rhododendrons in bloom sits a little girl of
four, his model, her frock and cap impossibly white under the great,
gaudy greenery.

Year after year the same affectionate welcome, the same spontaneous
welcome in this garden of rhododendrons and chestnut bloom. I would
linger in the garden, but I may not, for breakfast is ready _et il
ne faut pas faire manquer la messe a Madame. La messe_! How gentle
the word is, much gentler than our word, mass, and it shocks us hardly
at all to see an old lady going away in her carriage _pour entendre
la messe_. Religion purged of faith is a pleasant, almost a pretty
thing. Some fruits are better dried than fresh; religion is such a
one, and religion, when nothing is left of it but the pleasant,
familiar habit, may be defended, for were it not for our habits life
would be unrecorded, it would be all on the flat, as we would say if
we were talking about a picture without perspective. Our habits are
our stories, and tell whence we have come and how we came to be what
we are. This is quite a pretty reflection, but there is no time to
think the matter out--here is the doctor! He lifts his skull-cap, and
how beautiful is the gesture; his dignity is the dignity that only
goodness gives; and his goodness is a pure gift, existing independent
of formula, a thing in itself, like Manet's painting. It was Degas who
said, "A man whose profile no one ever saw," and the aphorism reminds
us of the beautiful goodness that floats over his face, a light from
Paradise. But why from Paradise? Paradise is an ugly ecclesiastical
invention, and angels are an ugly Hebrew invention. It is unpardonable
to think of angels in Auteuil; an angel is a prig compared to the dear
doctor, and an angel has wings. Well, so had this admirable chicken, a
bird that was grown for the use of the table, produced like a
vegetable. A dear bird that was never allowed to run about and weary
itself as our helpless English chicken is; it lived to get fat without
acquiring any useless knowledge or desire of life; it became a capon
in tender years, and then a pipe was introduced into its mouth and it
was fed by machinery until it could hardly walk, until it could only
stagger to its bed, and there it lay in happy digestion until the hour
came for it to be crammed again. So did it grow up without knowledge
or sensation or feeling of life, moving gradually, peacefully towards
its predestined end--a delicious repast! What better end, what greater
glory than to be a fat chicken? The carcasses of sheep that hang in
butchers' shops are beginning to horrify the conscience of Europe. To
cut a sheep's throat is an offensive act, but to clip out a bird's
tongue with a long pair of scissors made for the purpose is genteel.
It is true that it beats its wings for a few moments, but we must not
allow ourselves to be disturbed by a mere flutter of feathers. Man is
merciful, and saved it from life. It grew like an asparagus! And
talking of asparagus, here are some from Argenteuil thick as umbrellas
and so succulent! A word about the wine. French red wines in England
always seem to taste like ink, but in France they taste of the sun.
Melons are better in June--that one comes, no doubt, from Algeria. It
is, however, the kind I like best, the rich, red melon that one eats
only in France; a thing of the moment, unrememberable; but the chicken
will never be forgotten; twenty years hence I shall be talking of a
chicken, that in becoming a fat chicken acquired twenty years of
immortality--which of us will acquire as many?

As we rise from table the doctor calls me into his studio: for he
would give me an excellent cigar before he bids me good-bye, and
having lighted it I follow my friend to the studio at the end of the
garden, to that airy drawing-room which he has furnished in pale
yellow and dark blue. On the walls are examples of the great modern
masters--Manet and Monet. That view of a plain by Monet--is it not
facile? It flows like a Japanese water-colour: the low horizon
evaporating in the low light, the spire of the town visible in the
haze. And look at the celebrated "Lecon de Danse" by Degas--that
dancer descending the spiral staircase, only her legs are visible, the
staircase cutting the picture in twain. On the right is the dancing
class and the dancing master; something has gone wrong, and he holds
out his hands in entreaty; a group of dancers are seated on chairs in
the foreground, and their mothers are covering their shoulders with
shawls--good mothers anxious for their daughters' welfare, for their
advancement in life.

This picture betrays a mind curious, inquisitive and mordant; and that
plaid shawl is as unexpected as an adjective of Flaubert's. A portrait
by Manet hangs close by, large, permanent and mysterious as nature.
Degas is more intellectual, but how little is intellect compared with
a gift like Manet's! Yesterday I was in the Louvre, and when wearied
with examination and debate--I had gone there on a special errand--I
turned into the Salle Carree for relaxation, and there wandered about,
waiting to be attracted. Long ago the Mona Liza was my adventure, and
I remember how Titian's "Entombment" enchanted me; another year I
delighted in the smooth impartiality of a Terbourg interior; but this
year Rembrandt's portrait of his wife held me at gaze. The face tells
of her woman's life, her woman's weakness, and she seems conscious of
the burden of her sex, and of the burden of her own special lot--she
is Rembrandt's wife, a servant, a satellite, a watcher. The emotion
that this picture awakens is an almost physical emotion. It gets at
you like music, like a sudden breath of perfume. When I approach, her
eyes fade into brown shadow, but when I withdraw they begin telling
her story. The mouth is no more than a little shadow, but what wistful
tenderness there is in it! and the colour of the face is white,
faintly tinted with bitumen, and in the cheeks some rose madder comes
through the yellow. She wears a fur jacket, but the fur was no trouble
to Rembrandt; he did not strive for realism. It is fur, that is
sufficient. Grey pearls hang in her ears, there is a brooch upon her
breast, and a hand at the bottom of the picture passing out of the
frame, and that hand reminds one, as the chin does, of the old story
that God took a little clay and made man out of it. That chin and that
hand and arm are moulded without display of knowledge, as Nature
moulds. The picture seems as if it had been breathed upon the canvas.
Did not a great poet once say that God breathed into Adam? and here it
is even so.

The other pictures seem dry, insignificant; the Mona Liza, celebrated
in literature, hanging a few feet away, seems factitious when compared
with this portrait; I have heard that tedious smile excused on the
ground that she is smiling at the nonsense she hears talked about her;
that hesitating smile which held my youth in tether has come to seem
but a grimace; and the pale mountains no more mysterious than a globe
or map seen from a little distance. The Mona Liza is a sort of riddle,
an acrostic, a poetical decoction, a ballade, a rondel, a villanelle
or ballade with double burden, a sestina, that is what it is like, a
sestina or chant royal. The Mona Liza, being literature in intention
rather than painting, has drawn round her many poets. We must forgive
her many mediocre verses for the sake of one incomparable prose
passage. She has passed out of that mysterious misuse of oil paint,
that arid glazing of _terre verte_, and has come into her
possession of eternal life, into the immortality of Pater's prose.
Degas is wilting already; year after year he will wither, until one
day some great prose writer will arise and transfer his spirit into
its proper medium--literature. The Mona Liza and the "Lecon de Danse"
are intellectual pictures; they were painted with the brains rather
than with the temperaments; and what is any intellect compared with a
gift like Manet's! Leonardo made roads; Degas makes witticisms.
Yesterday I heard one that delighted me far more than any road would,
for I have given up bicycling. Somebody was saying he did not like
Daumier, and Degas preserved silence for a long while. "If you were to
show Raphael," he said at last, "a Daumier, he would admire it, he
would take off his hat; but if you were to show him a Cabanel he would
say with a sigh 'That is my fault!'"

My reverie is broken by the piano; my friend is playing, and it is
pleasant to listen to music in this airy studio. But there are women I
must see, women whom I see every time I go to Paris, and too much time
has been spent in the studio--I must go.

But where shall I go? My thoughts strike through the little streets of
Passy, measuring the distance between Passy and the Arc de Triomphe.
For a moment I think that I might sit under the trees and watch the
people returning from the races. Were she not dead I might stop at her
little house in the fortifications among the lilac trees. There is her
portrait by Manet on the wall, the very toque she used to wear. How
wonderful the touch is; the beads--how well they are rendered! And
while thinking of the extraordinary handicraft I remember his studio,
and the tall fair woman like a tea-rose coming into it: Mary Laurant!
The daughter of a peasant, and the mistress of all the great
men--perhaps I should have said of all the distinguished men. I used
to call her _toute la lyre_.

The last time I saw her we talked about Manet. She said that every
year she took the first lilac to lay upon his grave. Is there one of
her many lovers who brings flowers to her grave? What was so
rememberable about her was her pleasure in life, and her desire to get
all the pleasure, and her consciousness of her desire to enjoy every
moment of her life. Evans, the great dentist, settled two thousand a
year upon her, and how angry he was one night on meeting Manet on the
staircase! In order to rid herself of her lover she invited him to
dinner, intending to plead a sick headache after dinner.... She must
go and lie down. But as soon as her guest was gone she took off the
_peignoir_ which hid her ball dress and signed to Manet, who was
waiting at the street corner, with her handkerchief. But as they went
downstairs together whom should they meet but the dentist _qui a
oublie ses carnets_. And he was so disappointed at meeting his
beautiful but deceitful mistress that he didn't visit her again for
three or four days. His anger mattered very little to Mary. Someone
else settled two thousand a year more upon her; and having four
thousand a year or thereabouts, she dedicated herself to the love and
conversation of those who wrote books and music and painted pictures.

We humans are more complicated than animals, and we love through the
imagination, at least the imagination stimulates the senses, acting as
a sort of adjuvant. The barmaid falls in love with No. 1 because he
wipes a glass better than No. 2, and Mary fell in love with Coppee on
account of his sonnet "Le Lys," and she grew indifferent when he wrote
poems like "La Nourrice" or "Le petit epicier de Montrouge qui cassait
le sucre avec melancolie." And it was at this time when their love
story was at wane that I became a competitor. But one day Madame
Albazi came to Manet's studio, a splendid creature in a carriage drawn
by Russian horses from the Steppes, so she said; but who can tell
whether a horse comes from the Steppes or from the horse-dealers? Nor
does it matter when the lady is extraordinarily attractive, when she
inspires the thought--a mistress for Attila! That is not exactly how
Manet saw her: but she looks like that in his pastel. In it she holds
a tortoiseshell fan widespread across her bosom, and it was on one of
the sticks of the fan that he signed his name. A great painter always
knows where to sign his pictures, and he never signs twice in the same
place. The merit of these Russians is that they never leave one in
doubt. She could not sit that day, she was going to the Bois, and
asked me and a young man who happened to be in Manet's studio at the
time to go there with her, and we went there drawn by the Russian
horses, the young man and I wondering all the while which was going to
be the countess's lover; we played hard for her; but that day I was
wiser than he; I let him talk and recite poetry and jingle out all the
aphorisms that he had been collecting for years, feeling his
witticisms were in vain, for she was dark as a raven and I was as gold
as a sunflower. It was at the corner of the Rue Pontiere that we got
rid of him. Some days afterwards she sat to Manet. The pastel now
hangs in the room of a friend of mine; I bought it for him.

The picture of a woman one knows is never so agreeable a companion as
the picture of a woman one has never seen. One's memory and the
painter's vision are in conflict, and I like to think better of the
long delicate nose, and the sparkling eyes, and a mouth like red
fruit. The pastel once belonged to me; it used to hang in my rooms;
for with that grace of mind which never left him, Manet said one day,
"I always promised you a picture," and searching among the pastels
that lined the wall he turned to me saying, "Now I think that this
comes to you by right." When I left Paris hurriedly, and left my
things to be sold, the countess came to the sale and bought her
picture, and then she sold it years afterwards to a picture-dealer,
tempted by the price that Manet's pictures were fetching. Hearing that
it was for sale, I bought it, as I have said, for a friend. And now I
have told the whole story, forgetting nothing except that it was years
afterwards, when I had written "Les Confessions d'un jeune Anglais" in
the _Revue Independante_, that Mary Laurant asked me--oh! she was
very enterprising; she sent the editor of the _Revue_ to me; an
appointment was made. She was wonderful in the garden. She said the
moment I arrived, "Now, my dear ----, you must go," and we walked
about, I listening to her aphorisms. Mary was beautiful, but she liked
one to love her for her wit, to admire her wit; and when I asked her
why she did not leave Evans, the great dentist, she said, "That would
be a base thing to do. I content myself by deceiving him," and
then--this confidence seemed to have a particular significance--"I am
not a woman," she said, "that is made love to in a garden." Her garden
was a nook at the fortifications, hidden among lilac bushes. She
wished to show me her house, and we talked for a long time in her
boudoir. But I knew she was Mallarme's mistress at the time, so
nothing came of this _caprice litteraire_.

My thoughts run upon women, and why not? On what would you have them
run? on copper mines? Woman is the legitimate subject of all men's
thoughts. We pretend to be interested in other things. In the
smoking-rooms I have listened to men talking about hunting, and I have
said to myself, "Your interest is a pretence: of what woman are you
thinking?" We forget women for a little while when we are thinking
about art, but only for a while. The legitimate occupation of man's
mind is woman; and listening to my friend who is playing music--music
I do not care to hear, Brahms--I fall to thinking which of the women I
have known in years past would interest me most to visit.

In the spring weather the walk from Passy to the Champs Elysees would
be pleasant and not too far; I like to see the swards and the poplars
and the villas, the tall iron railings, and the flower vases hidden in
bouquets of trees. These things are Paris; the mind of the country,
that mind which comes out of a long past, and which may be defined as
a sort of ancestral beauty and energy is manifested everywhere in
Paris; and a more beautiful day for seeing the tall, white houses and
the villas and the trees and the swards can hardly be imagined. I
should be interested in all these things, but my real interest would
be in one little hillside, a line of houses, eight or nine, close by
the Arc de Triomphe, the most ordinary in the avenue. She liked the
ordinary, and I have often wondered what was the link of association?
Was it no more than her blonde hair drawn up from the neck, her
fragrant skin, or her perverse subtle senses? It was something more,
but you must not ask me to explain further. I like to remember the
rustle of a flowered dress she wore as she moved, drifting like a
perfume, passing from her frivolous bedroom into the drawing-room. A
room without taste, stiff and middle-class, notwithstanding the crowns
placed over the tall portraits. I see a picture of two children; but
she is the fairer, and in her pale eyes and thinly-curved lips there
is a mixture of yearning and restlessness. As the child was, so is the
woman, and Georgette has lived to paper one entire wall of her bedroom
with trophies won in the battlefields of ardently danced cotillons.
The other child is of a stricter nature, and even in the picture her
slightly darkened ringlets are less wanton than her sister's. Her eyes
are more pensive, and any one could have predicted children for one
and cotillon favours for the other.

We often sat on her bedroom balcony reading, talking, or watching the
sky growing pale beyond Mount Valerian, the shadow drifting and
defining and shaping the hill. In hours like the present, dreaming in
a studio, we remember those who deceived us, those who made us suffer,
and in these hours faces, fragments of faces, rise out of a past, the
line of a bent neck, the whiteness of a hand, and the eyes. I remember
her eyes; one day in an orchard, in the lush and luxuriance of June,
her husband was walking in front with a friend, and I was pleading.
"Well," she said, raising her eyes, "you can kiss me now." But her
husband was in front, and he was a thick-set man, and there was a
stream, and I foresaw a struggle--and an unpleasant one: confess and
be done with it!--I didn't dare to kiss her, and I don't think she
ever forgave me that lack of courage. All this is twenty years ago,
and is it not silly to spend the afternoon thinking of such rubbish?
But it is of such rubbish that our lives are made. Shall I go to her
now and see her in her decadence? Grey hair has not begun to appear
yet in the blonde, it will never turn grey, but she was shrivelling a
little the last time I saw her. And next year she will be older. At
her age a year counts for double. Others are more worthy of a visit.
If I do not go to her this year, shall I go next?

In imagination I go past her house, thinking of a man she used to talk
about, "the man she left her 'ome for"; that is how the London street
girl would word it. He had been the centre of a disgraceful scandal in
his old age, a sordid but characteristic end for the Don Juan of the
nineteenth century. Perhaps she loved the big, bearded man whose
photograph she had once shown me. He killed himself for not having
enough money to live as he wished to live. That was her explanation. I
think there was some blackmail; she had to pay some money to the dead
man's relations for letters. These sensual American women are like
orchids, and who would hesitate between an orchid and a rose? It was
twenty years ago since she turned round on me in the gloom of her
brougham unexpectedly, and it was as if some sensual spirit had come
out of a world of perfume and lace.

* * * * *

In imagination I have descended the Champs Elysees, and have crossed
the Place de la Concorde, and the Seine is flowing past just as it
flowed when the workmen were building Notre Dame, just as it will flow
a thousand years hence. A thousand years hence men will stand watching
its current, thinking of little blonde women, and the shudder they can
send through the flesh; they can, but not twenty years afterwards. The
Reverend Donne has it that certain ghosts do not raise the hair but
the flesh; mine do no more than to set me thinking that rivers were
not created to bear ships to the sea, but to set our memories flowing.
Full many a time have I crossed the Pont Neuf on my way to see another
woman--an American! The time comes when desire wilts and dies, but the
sexual interest never dies, and we take pleasure in thinking in middle
life of those we enjoyed in youth. She, of whom I am thinking, lives
far away in the Latin Quarter, in an ill-paven street. How it used to
throw my carriage from side to side! I have been there so often that I
know all the shops, and where the shops end, and there is a
whitewashed wall opposite her house; the street bends there. The
_concierge_ is the same, a little thicker, a little heavier; she
always used to have a baby in her arms, now there are no more babies;
her children, I suppose, have grown up and have gone away. There used
to be a darkness at the foot of the stairs, and I used to slip on
those stairs, so great was my haste; the very tinkle of the bell I
remember, and the trepidation with which I waited.

Her rooms looked as if they had never been sat in; even the studio was
formal, and the richly-bound volumes on the tables looked as if they
had never been opened. She only kept one servant, a little, redheaded
girl, and seeing this girl back again after an absence of many years,
I spoke to Lizzie of the old days. Lizzie told me her servant's story.
She had gone away to be married, and after ten years of misfortune she
had returned to her old mistress, this demure, discreet and sly New
Englander, who concealed a fierce sensuality under a homely
appearance. Lizzie must have had many lovers, but I knew nothing of
her except her sensuality, for she had to let me into that secret.

She was a religious woman, a devout Protestant, and thinking of her my
thoughts are carried across the sea, and I am in the National Gallery
looking at Van Eyke's picture, studying the grave sensuality of the
man's face--he speaks with uplifted hand like one in a pulpit, and the
gesture and expression tell us as plainly as if we heard him that he
is admonishing his wife (he is given to admonition), informing her
that her condition--her new pregnancy--is an act of the Divine Will.
She listens, but how curiously! with a sort of partial comprehension
afloat upon her face, more of the guinea-pig than of the rabbit type.
The twain are sharply differentiated, and one of the objects of the
painter seems to have been to show us how far one human being may be
removed from another. The husband is painfully clear to himself, the
wife is happily unconscious of herself. Now everything in the picture
suggests order; the man's face tells a mind the same from day to day,
from year to year, the same passions, the same prayers; his apparel,
the wide-brimmed hat, the cloak falling in long straight folds, the
peaked shoon, are an habitual part of him. We see little of the room,
but every one remembers the chandelier hanging from the ceiling
reflected in the mirror opposite. These reflections have lasted for
three hundred years; they are the same to-day as the day they were
painted, and so is the man; he lives again, he is a type that Nature
never wearies of reproducing, for I suppose he is essential to life.
This sober Flemish interior expresses my mistress's character almost
as well as her own apartment used to do. I always experienced a chill,
a sense of formality, when the door was opened, and while I stood
waiting for her in the prim drawing-room. Every chair was in its
appointed place, large, gilt-edged, illustrated books lay upon the
tables.... There was not much light in her rooms; heavy curtains clung
about the windows, and tapestries covered the walls. In the passage
there were oak chests, and you can imagine, reader, this woman waiting
for me by an oak table, a little ashamed of her thoughts, but unable
to overcome them. Once I heard her playing the piano, and it struck me
as an affectation. As I let my thoughts run back things forgotten
emerge; here comes one of her gowns! a dark-green gown, the very same
olive green as the man's cloak. She wore her hair short like a boy's,
and though it ran all over her head in little curls, it did not
detract at all from the New England type, the woman in whose speech
Biblical phraseology still lingers. Lizzie was a miraculous survival
of the Puritans who crossed the Atlantic in the _Mayflower_ and
settled in New England. Paris had not changed her. She was _le grave
Puritan du tableau_. The reader will notice that I write _le
grave Puritan_, for of his submissive, childlike wife there was
nothing in Lizzie except her sex. As her instinct was in conflict with
her ideals, her manner was studied, and she affected a certain
cheerfulness which she dared not allow to subside. She never
relinquished her soul, never fell into confidence, so in a sense we
always remained strangers, for it is when lovers tell their illusions
and lonelinesses that they know each other, the fiercest spasm tells
us little, and it is forgotten, whereas the moment when a woman sighs
and breaks into a simple confidence is remembered years afterwards,
and brings her before us though she be underground or a thousand miles
away. These intimacies she had not, but there was something true and
real in her, something which I cannot find words to express to-day;
she was a clever woman, that was it, and that is why I pay her the
homage of an annual visit. These courteous visits began twenty years
ago; they are not always pleasant, yet I endure them. Our conversation
is often laboured, there are awkward and painful pauses, and during
these pauses we sit looking at each other, thinking no doubt of the
changes that time has wrought. One of her chief charms was her
figure--one of the prettiest I have ever seen--and she still retains a
good deal of its grace. But she shows her age in her hands; they have
thickened at the joints, and they were such beautiful hands. Last year
she spoke of herself as an old woman, and the remark seemed to me
disgraceful and useless, for no man cares to hear a woman whom he has
loved call herself old; why call attention to one's age, especially
when one does not look it? and last year she looked astonishingly
young for fifty-five; that was her age, she said. She asked me my age;
the question was unpleasant, and before I was aware of it I had told
her a lie, and I hate those who force me to tell lies. The interview
grew painful, and to bring it to a close she asked me if I would care
to see her husband.

We found the old man alone in his studio, looking at an engraving
under the light of the lamp, much more like a picture than any of his
paintings. She asked him if he remembered me, and he got up muttering
something, and to help him I mentioned that I had been one of his
pupils. The dear old man said of course he remembered, and that he
would like to show me his pictures, but Lizzie said--I suppose it was
nervousness that made her say it, but it was a strangely tactless
remark--"I don't think, dear, that Mr. ---- cares for your pictures."
However celebrated one may be, it is always mortifying to hear that
some one, however humble the person may be, does not care for one's
art. But I saved the situation, and I think my remarks were judicious
and witty. It is not always that one thinks of the right words at the
right moment, but it would be hard to improve on the admonition that
she did me a wrong, that, like every one who liked art, I had changed
my opinion many times, but after many wanderings had come back to the
truth, and in order to deceive the old man I spoke of Ingres. I had
never failed in that love, and how could I love Ingres without loving
him? The contrary was the truth, but the old man's answer was very
sweet. Forgetful of his own high position, he answered, "We may both
like Ingres, but it is not probable that we like the same Ingres." I
said I did not know any Ingres I did not admire, and asked him which
he admired, and we had a pleasant conversation about the Apotheosis of
Homer, and the pictures in the Musee de Montauban. Then the old man
said, "I must show Mr. ---- my pictures." No doubt he had been
thinking of them all through the conversation about the Musee de
Montauban. "I must show you my Virgin," and he explained that the face
of the Infant Jesus was not yet finished.

It was wonderful to see this old man, who must have been nearly
eighty, taking the same interest in his pictures as he took fifty
years ago. Some stupid reader will think, perchance, that it mattered
that I had once loved his wife. But how could such a thing matter?
Think for a moment, dear reader, for all readers are dear, even the
stupidest, and you will see that you are still entangled in
conventions and prejudices. Perhaps, dear reader, you think she and I
should have dropped on our knees and confessed. Had we done so, he
would have thought us two rude people, and nothing more.

What will happen to her when he dies? Will she return to Boston? Shall
I ever see her again? Last year I vowed that I would not, and I think
it would please her as well if I stayed away.... And she is right, for
so long as I am not by her she is with me. But in the same room, amid
the familiar furniture, we are divided by the insuperable past, and to
retain her I must send her away. The idea is an amusing one; I think I
have read it somewhere, it seems to me like something I have read. Did
I ever read of a man who sent his mistress away so that his possession
might be more complete? Whether I did or didn't matters little, the
idea is true to me to-day--in order to possess her I must never see
her again. A pretty adventure it would be, nevertheless, to spend a
week paying visits to those whom I loved about that time; and I can
imagine a sort of Beau Brummel of the emotions going every year to
Paris to spend a day with each of his mistresses.

There were others about that time. There was Madame ----. The name is
in itself beautiful, characteristically French, and it takes me back
to the middle centuries, to the middle of France. I always imagined
that tall woman, who thought so quickly and spoke so sincerely,
dealing out her soul rapidly, as one might cards, must have been born
near Tours. She was so French that she must have come from the very
heart of France; she was French as the wine of France; as Balzac, who
also came from Tours; and her voice, and her thoughts, and her words
transported one; by her side one was really in France; and, as her
lover, one lived through every circumstance of a French love story.
She lived in what is called in Paris an hotel; it had its own
_concierge_, and it was nice to hear the man say, "Oui, monsieur,
Madame la Marquise est chez elle," to walk across a courtyard and wait
in a boudoir stretched with blue silk, to sit under a Louis XVI. rock
crystal chandelier. She said one day, "I'm afraid you're thinking of
me a great deal," and she leaned her hands on the back of the chair,
making it easy for me to take them. She said her hands had not done
any kitchen work for five hundred years, and at the time that seemed a
very witty thing to say. The drawing-room opened onto a conservatory
twenty feet high; it nearly filled the garden, and the marquise used
to receive her visitors there. I do not remember who was the
marquise's lover when the last fete was given, nor what play was
acted; only that the ordinary guests lingered over their light
refreshments, scenting the supper, and that to get rid of them we had
to bid the marquise ostentatiously goodnight. Creeping round by the
back of the house, we gained the bedrooms by the servants' staircase,
and hid there until the ordinary guests in decency could delay no
longer. As soon as the last one was gone the stage was removed, and
the supper tables were laid out. Shall I ever forget the moment when
the glass roof of the conservatory began to turn blue, and the
shrilling of awakening sparrows! How haggard we all were, but we
remained till eight in the morning. That fete was paid for with the
last remnant of the poor marquise's fortune. Afterwards she was very
poor, and Suzanne, her daughter, went on the stage and discovered a
certain talent for acting which has been her fortune to this day. I
will go to the Vaudeville to-night to see her; we might arrange to go
together to see her mother's grave. To visit the grave, and to strew
azaleas upon it, would be a pretty piece of sentimental mockery. But
for my adventure there should be seven visits; Madame ---- would make
a fourth; I hear that she is losing her sight, and lives in a chateau
about fifty miles from Paris, a chateau built in the time of Louis
XIII., with high-pitched roofs and many shutters, and formal gardens
with balustrades and fish-ponds, yes _et des charmilles--charmilles_
--what is that in English?--avenues of clipped limes. To walk in an avenue
of clipped limes with a woman who is nearly blind, and talk to her of the
past, would be indeed an adventure far "beyond the range of formal man's
emotion."

Madame ---- interrupted our love story. She would be another--that
would be five--and I shall think of two more during dinner. But now I
must be moving on; the day has ended; Paris is defining itself upon a
straw-coloured sky. I must go, the day is done; and hearing the last
notes trickle out--somebody has been playing the prelude to
"Tristan"--I say: "Another pretty day passed, a day of meditation on
art and women--and what else is there to meditate about? To-morrow
will happily be the same as to-day, and to-morrow I shall again
meditate on art and women, and the day after I shall be occupied with
what I once heard dear old M'Cormac, Bishop of Galway, describe in his
sermon as 'the degrading passion of "loave."'"

CHAPTER VII

NINON'S TABLE D'HOTE

The day dies in sultry languor. A warm night breathes upon the town,
and in the exhaustion of light and hush of sound, life strikes sharply
on the ear and brain.

It was early in the evening when I returned home, and, sitting in the
window, I read till surprised by the dusk; and when my eyes could no
longer follow the printed page, holding the book between finger and
thumb, my face resting on the other hand, I looked out on the garden,
allowing my heart to fill with dreams. The book that had interested me
dealt with the complex technique of the art of the Low Countries--a
book written by a painter. It has awakened in me memories of all
kinds, heartrending struggles, youthful passion, bitter
disappointments; it has called into mind a multitude of thoughts and
things, and, wearied with admiring many pictures and arguing with
myself, I am now glad to exchange my book for the gentle
hallucinations of the twilight.

I see a line of leafage drawn across the Thames, but the line dips,
revealing a slip of grey water with no gleam upon it. Warehouses and a
factory chimney rise ghostly and grey, and so cold is that grey tint
that it might be obtained with black and white; hardly is the warmth
of umber needed. Behind the warehouses and the factory chimney the sky
is murky and motionless, but higher up it is creamy white, and there
is some cloud movement. Four lamps, two on either side of the factory
chimney, look across the river; one constantly goes out--always the
same lamp--and a moment after it springs into its place again. Across
my window a beautiful branch waves like a feather fan. It is the only
part of the picture worked out in detail. I watch its soft and almost
imperceptible swaying, and am tempted to count the leaves. Below it,
and a little beyond it, between it and the river, night gathers in the
gardens; and there, amid serious greens, passes the black stain of a
man's coat, and, in a line with the coat, in the beautifully swaying
branch, a belated sparrow is hopping from twig to twig, awakening his
mates in search for a satisfactory resting-place. In the sharp towers
of Temple Gardens the pigeons have gone to sleep. I can see the cots
under the conical caps of slate.

The gross, jaded, uncouth present has slipped from me as a garment
might, and I see the past like a little show, struggles and
heartbreakings of long ago, and watch it with the same indifferent
curiosity as I would the regulated mimicry of a stage play. Pictures
from the past come and go without an effort of will; many are habitual
memories, but the one before me rises for the first time--for fifteen
years it has lain submerged, and now like a water weed or flower it
rises--the Countess Ninon de Calvador's boudoir! Her boudoir or her
drawing-room, be that as it may, the room into which I was ushered
many years ago when I went to see her. I was then a young man, very
thin, with sloping shoulders, and that pale gold hair that Manet
used to like to paint. I had come with a great bouquet for Ninon,
for it was _son jour de fete_, and was surprised and somewhat
disappointed to meet a large brunette with many creases in her neck, a
loose and unstayed bosom; one could hardly imagine Ninon dressed
otherwise than in a _peignoir_--a blue _peignoir_ seemed inevitable.
She was sitting by a dark, broad-shouldered young man when I came
in; they were sitting close together; he rose out of a corner and
showed me an impressionistic picture of a railway station. He was
one of the many young men who at that time thought the substitution of
dots of pink and yellow for the grey and slate and square brushwork of
Bastien Lepage was the certain way to paint well. I learned
afterwards, during the course of the evening, that he was looked at
askance, for even in Montmartre it was regarded as a dishonour to
allow the lady with whom you lived to pay for your dinner. Villiers de
L'Isle Adam, who had once been Ninon's lover, answered the reproaches
levelled against him for having accepted too largely of her
hospitality with, "Que de bruit pour quelques cotelettes!" and his
transgressions were forgiven him for the sake of the _mot_ which
seemed to summarise the moral endeavour and difficulties of the entire
quarter. When Villiers was her lover Villiers was middle-aged, and
Ninon was a young woman; but when I knew her she was interested in the
young generation, yet she kept friends with all her old lovers, never
denying them her board. How funny was the impressionist's indignation
against Villiers! He charged him with having squandered a great part
of Ninon's fortune, but Villiers's answer to the young man was, "He
talks like the _concierge_ in my story of 'Les Demoiselles de
Bienfillatre.'"

Poor Villiers was not much to blame; it was part of Ninon's
temperament to waste her money, and the canvases round the room
testified that she spent a great deal on modern art. She certainly had
been a rich woman; rumour credited her with spending fifty thousand
francs a year, and in her case rumour said no more than the truth, for
it would require that at least to live as she lived, keeping open
house to all the literature, music, painting, and sculpture done in
Montmartre. At first sight her hospitality seems unreasonable, but
when one thinks one sees that it conforms to the rules of all
hospitality. There must be a principle of selection, and were the
_rates_ she entertained less amusing than the people one meets in
Grosvenor Square or the Champs Elysees? Any friend could introduce
another, that is common practice, but at Ninon's there was a
restriction which I never met elsewhere--no friend could bring another
unless the newcomer was a _rate_--in other words, unless he had
written music or verse, or painted or carved, in a way that did not
appeal to the taste of the ordinary public; inability to reach the
taste of the general public was the criterion that obtained there.

The windows of Ninon's boudoir opened upon the garden, and on my
expressing surprise at its size and at the large trees that grew
there, she gave me permission to admire and investigate; and I walked
about the pond, interested in the numerous ducks, in the cats, in the
companies of macaws and cockatoos that climbed down from their perches
and strutted across the swards. I came upon a badger and her brood,
and at my approach they disappeared into an enormous excavation, and
behind the summer-house I happened upon a bear asleep and retreated
hurriedly. But on going towards the house I heard a well-known voice.
"That is Augusta Holmes singing her opera," I said; "she sings all the
different parts--soprano, contralto, tenor, and bass." At this time we
were all talking about her, and I stood by the window listening until
suddenly a well-known smell interrupted her. It was Ninon's cat that
had misconducted herself. A window was thrown open, but the
ventilation did not prove sufficient. Augusta and her admirers had to
leave the piano, and they came from the house glad to breathe the
evening air. How dear to me are flowered gowns and evening skies and
women with scarfs about their shoulders. Ah! what a beautiful evening
it was! And how well do I remember the poet comparing the darkening
sky to a blue veil with the moon like a gold beetle upon it. One of
the women had brought a guitar with her, and again Augusta's voice
streamed up through the stillness, till, compelled by the beauty of
the singing, we drew nearer; as the composer sang her songs attitudes
grew more abandoned, and hands fell pensively. Among the half-seen
faces I caught sight of a woman of exceeding fairness; her hair had
only a faint tinge of gold in it; and Ninon remembered that she was a
cousin of hers, one whom she had not seen for many years. How Clare
had discovered her in the Rue la Moine she could not tell. It was
whispered that she was the wife of a rich _commercant_ at Tours.
This added to the mystery, and later in the evening the lady told me
she had never been in artistic society before, and begged me to point
out to her the celebrities present, and to tell her why they were
celebrated.

"Who is he--that one slouching towards the pond, that one wearing grey
trousers and a black jacket?--oh!"

My companion's exclamation was caused by a new sight of Verlaine; at
that moment he had lifted off his hat (the evening was still warm),
and the great bald skull, hanging like a cliff over the shaggy
eyebrows, shaggy as furze bushes, frightened her. The poet continued
his walk round the pond, and, turning suddenly towards us, he stopped
to speak to me. I was but a pretext; he clearly wished to speak to my
companion. But how strangely did he suit his conversation to her, yet
how characteristic of his genius were the words I heard as I turned
away, thinking to leave them together--"If I were in love with a young
girl or with a young man?" My companion ran forward quickly and seized
my arm. "You must not leave me with him," she said. On account of his
genius Verlaine was a little slow to see things outside of
himself--all that was within him was clear, all without him obscure;
so we had some difficulty in getting rid of him, and as soon as he was
out of hearing my companion inquired eagerly who he was, and I was
astonished at the perception she showed. "Is he a priest? I mean, was
he ever a priest?" "A sort of cross between a thieves' kitchen and a
presbytery. He is the poet Verlaine. The singer of the sweetest verses
in the French language--a sort of ambling song like a robin's. You
have heard the robin singing on a coral hedge in autumn-tide; the
robin confesses his little soul from the topmost twig; his song is but
a tracery of his soul, and so is Verlaine's. His gift is a vision of
his own soul, and he makes a tracery as you might of a drawing with a
lead pencil, never troubling himself to inquire if what he traces is
good or ill. He knows that society regards him as an outcast, but
society's point of view is not the only one, that he knows too, and
also, though he be a lecher, a crapulous and bestial fellow at times,
at other times he is a poet, a visionary, the only poet that
Catholicism has produced since Dante. Huysmans, the apologist of
Gilles de Rais,--there he is over yonder, talking to the impressionist
painter, that small thin man with hair growing thickly, low down on
his forehead--Huysmans somewhere in his description of the trial of
the fifteenth-century monster, the prototype, so it is said, of the
nursery tale of Blue Beard, speaks of the white soul of the Middle
Ages; he must have had Verlaine on his mind, for Verlaine has spoken
of himself as a mediaeval Catholic, that is to say a Catholic in whom
sinning and repentance alternates regularly as night and day. Verlaine
has not cut the throats of so many little boys as Gilles de Rais, but
Gilles de Rais always declared himself to be a good Catholic. Verlaine
abandons himself to the Church as a child to a fairy tale; he does
trouble to argue whether the Conception of the Virgin was Immaculate;
the mediaeval sculptors have represented her attired very prettily in
cloaks with long folds, they have put graceful crowns upon her head,
and Verlaine likes these things; they inspire him to write, he feels
that belief in the Church is part of himself, and his poetical genius
is to tell his own story; he is one of the great soul-tellers. From a
literary point of view there is a good deal to be said in favour of
faith when it is not joined with practice; acceptation of dogma
shields one from controversy; it allows Verlaine to concentrate
himself entirely upon things; it weans him away from ideas--the curse
of modern literature--and makes him a sort of divine vagrant living
his life in the tavern and in the hospital. It is only those who have
freed themselves from all prejudice that get close to life, who get
the real taste of life--the aroma as from a wine that has been many
years in bottle. And Verlaine is aware that this is so. Sometimes he
thinks he might have written a little more poetry, and he sighs, but
he quickly recovers. 'After all, I have written a good many volumes.'
'And what would art be without life, without love?' He has a verse on
that subject; I wish I could remember it for you. His verse is always
so winsome, so delicate, slender as the birch tree, elegiac like it; a
birch bending over a lake's edge reminds me of Verlaine. He is a lake
poet, but the lake is in a suburb not far from a casino. What makes me
speak about the lake is that for a long time I thought these verses,

Ton ame est un lac d'amour
Dont mes pensees sont les cygnes.
Vois comme ils font le tour....

were Verlaine's, but they are much less original; their beauty, for
they are beautiful, is conventional; numbers of poets might have
written them, whereas nobody but Verlaine could have written any of
his, really his own, poetry. His desires go sometimes as high as the
crucifix; very often they are in the gutter, hardly poetry at all,
having hardly any beauty except that of truth, and of course the
beauty of a versification that haunts in his ear, for he hears a song
in French verse that no French poet has ever heard before, and a song
so fluent, ranging from the ecstasy of the nightingale to the robin's
little homily.

Oui, c'etait par un soir joyeux de cabaret,
Un de ces soirs plutot trop chauds ou l'on dirait
Que le gaz du plafond conspire a notre perte
Avec le vin du zinc, saveur naive et verte.
On s'amusait beaucoup dans la boutique et on
Entendait des soupirs voisins d'accordeon
Que ponctuaient des pieds frappant presque en cadence.
Quand la porte s'ouvrit de la salle de danse
Vomissant tout un flot dont toi, vers ou j'etais,
Et de ta voix fait que soudain je me tais,
S'il te plait de me donner un ordre peremptoire.
Tu t'ecrias 'Dieu, qu'il fait chaud! Patron, a boire!'

"She was from Picardy; and he tells of her horrible accent, and in
elegy number five he continues the confession, telling how his well
beloved used to get drunk.

"Tu fis le saut de ... Seine et, depuis morte-vive,
Tu gardes le vertige et le gout du neant."

"But how can a man confess such things?" my companion asked me, and we
stood looking at each other in the midst of the gardens until an ape,
cattling prettily, ran towards me and jumped into my arms, and looking
at the curious little wizened face, the long arms covered with hair, I
said:

"Verlaine has an extraordinary power of expression, and to be ashamed
of nothing; but to be ashamed is his genius, just as it was Manet's.
It is to his shamelessness that we owe his most beautiful poems, all
written in garrets, in taverns, in hospitals--yes, and in prison."

"In prison! But he didn't steal, did he?" and the _commercant's_
wife looked at me with a frightened air, and I think her hand went
towards her pocket.

"No, no; a mere love story, a dispute with Rambaud in some haunt of
vice, a knife flashed, Rambaud was stabbed, and Verlaine spent three
years in prison. As for Rambaud, it was said that he repented and
renounced love, entered a monastery, and was digging the soil
somewhere on the shores of the Red Sea for the grace of God. But these
hopes proved illusory; only Verlaine knows where he is, and he will
not tell. The last certain news we had of him was that he had joined a
caravan of Arabs, and had wandered somewhere into the desert with
these wanderers, preferring savagery to civilization. Verlaine
preferred civilized savagery, and so he remained in Paris; and so he
drags on, living in thieves' quarters, getting drunk, writing
beautiful poems in the hospitals, coming out of hospitals and falling
in love with drabs."

Dans ces femmes d'ailleurs je n'ai pas trouve l'ange
Qu'il eut fallu pour remplacer ce diable, toi!
L'une, fille du Nord, native d'un Crotoy,
Etait rousse, mal grasse et de prestance molle;
Elle ne m'adressa guere qu'une parole
Et c'etait d'un petit cadeau qu'il s'agissait,
En revanche, dans son accent d'ail et de poivre,
Une troisieme, recemment chanteuse au Havre,
Affectait de dandinement des matelots
Et m'... enguelait comme un gabier tancant les flots,
Mais portrait beau vraiment, sacredie, quel dommage
La quatrieme etait sage comme une image,
Chatain clair, peu de gorge et priait Dieu parfois:
Le diantre soit de ses sacres signes de croix!
Les seize autres, autant du moins que ma memoire
Surnage en ce vortex, contaient toutes l'histoire
Connue, un amant chic, puis des vieux, puis "l'ilot"
Tantot bien, tantot moins, le clair cafe falot
Les terasses l'ete, l'hiver les brasseries
Et par degres l'humble trottoir en theories
En attendant les bons messieurs compatissants
Capables d'un louis et pas trop repoussants
_Qutorum ego parva pars erim_, me disais-je.
Mais toutes, comme la premiere du cortege,
Des avant la bougie eteinte et le rideau
Tire, n'oubliaient pas le "mon petit cadeau."

"In the verses I have just quoted, you remember, he says that the
fourth was chaste as an image, her hair was pale brown, she had
scarcely any bosom, and prayed to God sometimes. He always hated piety
when it interfered with his pleasure, and in the next verse he says,
'The devil take those sacred signs of the Cross!'"

"But do you know any of these women?"

"Oh, yes; we all know the terrible Sara. She beats him."

The _commercante's_ wife asked if she were here.

"He wanted to bring her here, in fact he did bring her once, only she
was so drunk that she could not get beyond the threshold, and Ninon's
lover, the painter you saw painting the steam engines, was charged to
explain to the poet that Sara's intemperance rendered her impossible
in respectable society. 'I know Sara has her faults,' he murmured in
reply to all argument, and it was impossible to make him see that
others did not see Sara with his eyes. 'I know she has her faults,' he
repeated, 'and so have others. We all have our faults.' And it was a
long time before he could be induced to come back: hunger has brought
him."

"And who is that hollow-chested man? How pathetic he looks with his
goat-like beard."

"That is the celebrated Cabaner. He will tell you, if you speak to
him, that his father was a man like Napoleon, only more so. He is the
author of many aphorisms; 'that three military bands would be
necessary to give the impression of silence in music' is one. He comes
every night to the Nouvelle Athenes, and is a sort of rallying-point;
he will tell you that his ballad of 'The Salt Herring' is written in a
way that perhaps Wagner would not, but which Liszt certainly would
understand."

"Is his music ever played? Does it sell? How does he live? Not by his
music, I suppose?"

"Yes, by his music, by playing waltzes and polkas in the Avenue de la
Motte Piquet. His earnings are five francs a day, and for thirty-five
francs a month he has a room where many of the disinherited ones of
art, many of those you see here, sleep. His room is furnished--ah, you
should see it! If Cabaner wants a chest of drawers he buys a fountain,
and he broke off the head of the Venus de Milo, saying that now she no
longer reminded him of the people he met in the streets; he could
henceforth admire her without being troubled by any sordid
recollection. I could talk to you for hours about his unselfishness,
his love of art, his strange music, and his stranger poems, for his
music accompanies his own verses."

"Is he too clever for the public, or not clever enough?"

"Now you're asking me the question we've been asking ourselves for the
last ten years.... The man fumbling at his shirt collar over yonder is
the celebrated Villiers de L'Isle Adam."

And I remember how it pleased me to tell this simple-minded woman all
I knew about Villiers.

"He has no talent whatever, only genius, and that is why he is a
rate," I said.

But the woman was not so simple as I had imagined, and one or two
questions she put to me led me to tell her that Villiers's genius only
appeared in streaks, like gold in quartz.

"The comparison is an old one, but there is no better one to explain
Villiers, for when he is not inspired his writing is very like
quartz."

"His great name----"

"His name is part of his genius. He chose it, and it has influenced
his writings. Have I not heard him say, 'Car je porte en moi les
richesses steriles d'un grand nombre de rois oublies.'"

"But is he a legitimate descendant?"

"Legitimate in the sense that he desired the name more than any of
those who ever bore it legitimately."

At that moment Villiers passed by me, and I introduced him to her, and
very soon he began to tell us that his _Eve_ had just been
published, and the success of it was great.

"On m'a dit hier de passer a la caisse ... l'edition etait epuisee,
vous voyez--il parait, la fortune est venue ... meme a moi."

But Villiers was often tiresomely talkative about trifles, and as soon
as I got the chance I asked him if he were going to tell us one of his
stories, reminding him of one I had heard he had been telling lately
in the _brasseries_ about a man in quest of a quiet village where
he could get rest, a tired composer, something of that kind. Had he
written it? No, he had not written it yet, but now that he knew I
liked it he would get up earlier to-morrow. Some one took him away
from us, and I had to tell my companion the story.

"Better," I said, "he should never write it, for half of it exists in
his voice, and in his gestures, and every year he gets less and less
of himself onto the paper. One has to hear him tell his stories in the
cafe--how well he tells them! You must hear him tell how a man,
recovering from a long illness, is advised by his doctor to seek rest
in the country, and how, seeing the name of a village on the map that
touches his imagination, he takes the train, feeling convinced he will
find there an Arcadian simplicity. But the village he catches sight of
from the carriage window is a morose and lonely village, in the midst
of desolate plains. And worse than Nature are the human beings he sees
at the station; they lurk in corners, they scrutinise his luggage, and
gradually he believes them all to be robbers and assassins.

"He would escape but he dare not, for he is being followed, so turning
on his pursuers he asks them if they can direct him to a lodging. The
point of Villiers's story is how a suspicion begins in the man's mind,
how it grows like a cancer, and very soon the villagers are convinced
he is an anarchist, and that his trunks are full of material for the
manufacture of bombs. And this is why they dare not touch them. So
they follow him to the farmhouse whither they have directed him, and
tell their fears to the farmer and his wife. Villiers can improvise
the consultations in the kitchen; at midnight in the cafe, but when
morning comes he cannot write, his brain is empty. You must come some
night to the Nouvelle Athenes to hear him; leaning across the table he
will tell the terror of the hinds and farmer, how they are sure the
house is going to be blown up. The sound of their feet on the
staircase inspires terror in the wretched convalescent. He sits up in
bed, listening, great drops of sweat collected on his forehead. He
dare not get out of bed, but he must; and Villiers can suggest the
sound of feet on the creaking stairs--yes, and the madness of the man
piling furniture against the door, and the agony of those outside
hearing the noise within. When they break into the room they find a
dead man; for terror has killed him. You must come to the Nouvelle
Athenes to hear Villiers tell his story. I'll meet you there to-morrow
night.... Will you dine with me? The dinner there is not really too
bad; perhaps you'll be able to bear with it."

The _commercant's_ wife hesitated. She promised to come, and she
came; but she did not prove an interesting mistress; why, I cannot
remember, and I am glad to put her out of my mind, for I want to think
of the strange poet whom we heard reciting verses, under the aspen, in
which one of the apes had taken refuge. Through the dimness of the
years I can see his fair hair floating about his shoulders, his blue
eyes and his thin nose. Didn't somebody once describe him as a sort of
sensual Christ? He, too, was after the _commercant's_ wife. And
didn't he select her as the subject of his licentious verses--reassure
yourself, reader, licentious merely from the point of view of prosody.

"Ta nuque est de santal sur les vifs frissons d'or.
Mais c'est une autre, que j'adore."

The _commercant's_ wife, forgetful of me, charmed by the poet, by
the excitement of hearing herself made a subject of a poem, drew
nearer. Strange, is it not, that I should remember a few words here
and there?

"Il m'aime, il m'aime pas, et selon l'antique rite
Elle effleurait la Marguerite."

The women still sit, circlewise, as if enchanted, the night inspires
him, and he improvises trifle after trifle. One remembers fragments.
Some time afterwards Cabaner was singing the song of "The Salt
Herring."

"He came along holding in his hands dirty, dirty, dirty,
A big nail pointed, pointed, pointed,
And a hammer heavy, heavy, heavy.
He placed the ladder high, high, high,
Against the wall white, white, white.
He went up the ladder high, high, high,
Placed the nail pointed, pointed, pointed
Against the wall--toc! toc! toc!
He tied to the nail a string long, long, long,
And at the end of it a salt herring, dry, dry, dry,
And letting fall the hammer heavy, heavy, heavy,
He got down from the ladder high, high, high,
And went away, away, away.
Since then at the end of the string long, long, long,
A salt herring dry, dry, dry,
Has been swinging slowly, slowly, slowly.
Now I have composed this story simple, simple, simple,
To make all serious men mad, mad, mad,
And to amuse children, little, little, little."

This was the libretto on which Cabaner wrote music "that Wagner would
not understand, but which Liszt certainly would." Dear, dear Cabaner,
how well I can see thee with thy goat-like beard, and the ape in the
tree interrupting thee; he was not like Liszt, he chattered all night.
Poor ape, he broke his chain earlier in the evening, and it was found
impossible to persuade him to come down. The brute seemed somehow
determined that we should not hear Cabaner. Soon after the cocks began
answering each other, though it was but midnight; and so loud was
their shrilling that I awoke, surprised to find myself sitting at my
window in King's Bench Walk. A moment ago I was in Madame Ninon de
Calvador's garden, and every whit as much as I am now in King's Bench
Walk. Madame Ninon de Calvador--what has become of her?

Is the rest of her story unknown? As I sit looking into the darkness,
a memory suddenly springs upon me. Villiers, who came in when dinner
was half over, brought a young man with him. Fumbling at his shirt
collar, apologising for being late, assuring us that he had dined, he
introduced his friend to the company as a young man of genius, of
extraordinary genius. Don't I remember Villiers's nervous, hysterical
voice! Don't I remember the journalist's voice when he asked Ninon's
lover if he sold his pictures, creating at once a bad impression? By
some accident a plate was given to him, out of which one of the cats
had been fed. The plate might have been given to any one else:
Villiers would not have minded, and as for Cabaner, he never knew what
he was eating; but it was given to the journalist. Now I remember the
young man misconducted himself badly; he struck the table with his
fist, and said, "Et bien, je casse tout." Yes, it was he who wrote the
article entitled "Ninon's Table d'hote" in the _Gil Blas_, and
from it she learned for the first time how the world viewed her
hospitality, how misinterpreted were her efforts to benefit the arts
and the artists. Somebody told me this story: who I cannot tell; it is
all so long ago. But it seems to me that I remember hearing that it
was this article that killed her.

The passing of things is always a moving subject for meditation, and
it is strange how accident will bring back a scene, explicit in every
detail--a tree taking shape upon the dawning sky, the hairy ugliness
of the ape in its branches, and along the grey grass a waddling squad
of the ducks betaking themselves to the pond, a poet talking to a
_commercant's_ wife, Madame de Calvador leaning on a lover's arm.

Had I a palette I could match the blue of the _peignoir_ with the
faint grey sky. I could make a picture out of that dusky suburb. Had I
a pen I could write verses about these people of old time, but the
picture would be a shrivelled thing compared with the dream, and the
verses would limp. The moment I sought a pen the pleasure of the
meditation, which is still with me, which still endures, would vanish.
Better to sit by my window and enjoy what remains of the mood and the
memory. The mood has nearly passed, the desire of action is
approaching.... I would give much for another memory, but memory may
not be beckoned, and my mind is dark now, dark as that garden; the
swaying, fan-like bough by my window is nearly one mass of green; the
last sparrow has fallen asleep. I hear nothing.... I hear a horse
trotting in the Strand.

CHAPTER VIII

THE LOVERS OF ORELAY

I had come a thousand miles--rather more, nearly fifteen hundred--in
the hope of picking up the thread of a love story that had got
entangled some years before and had been broken off abruptly. A
strange misadventure our love story had been; for Doris had given a
great deal of herself while denying me much, so much that at last, in
despair, I fled from a one-sided love affair; too one-sided to be
borne any longer, at least by me. And it was difficult to fly from her
pretty, inveigling face, delightful and winsome as the faces one finds
on the panels of the early German masters. One may look for her face
and find it on an oak panel in the Frankfort Gallery, painted in pale
tints, the cheeks faintly touched with carmine. In the background of
these pictures there are all sorts of curious things; very often a
gold bower with roses clambering up everywhere. Who was that master
who painted cunning virgins in rose bowers? The master of Cologne, was
it not? I have forgotten. No matter. Doris's hair was darker than the
hair of those virgins, a rich gold hair, a mane of hair growing as
luxuriously as the meadows in June. And the golden note was continued
everywhere, in the eyebrows, in the pupils of the eyes, in the
freckles along her little nose so firmly and beautifully modelled
about the nostrils; never was there a more lovely or affectionate
mouth, weak and beautiful as a flower; and the long hands were curved
like lilies.

There is her portrait, dear reader, prettily and truthfully and
faithfully painted by me, the portrait of a girl I left one afternoon
in London more than seventeen years ago, and whom I had lost sight of,
I feared for ever. Thought of her? Yes, I thought of her occasionally.
Time went by, and I wondered if she were married. What her husband was
like, and why I never wrote. It were surely unkind not to write....
Reader, you know those little regrets. Perhaps life would be all on
the flat without regret. Regret is like a mountaintop from which we
survey our dead life, a mountaintop on which we pause and ponder, and
very often looking into the twilight we ask ourselves whether it would
be well to send a letter or some token. Now we had agreed upon one
which should be used in case of an estrangement--a few bars of
Schumann's melody, "The Nut Bush," should be sent, and the one who
received it should at once hurry to the side of the other and all
difference should be healed. But this token was never sent by me,
perhaps because I did not know how to scribble the musical phrase:
pride perhaps kept her from sending it; in any case five years are a
long while, and she seemed to have died out of my life altogether; but
one day the sight of a woman who had known her, brought her before my
eyes, and I asked if Doris married. The woman could not tell me; she
had not seen her for many years; they, too, were estranged, and I went
home saying to myself: "Doris must be married. What sort of a husband
has she chosen? Is she happy? Has she a baby? Oh, shameful thought!"

Do you remember, dear reader, how Balzac, when he had come to the last
page of "Massimilla Doni," declares that he dare not tell you the end
of this adventure. One word, he says, will suffice for the worshippers
of the ideal: "Massimilla Doni was expecting." Then in a passage that
is pleasanter to think about than to read--for Balzac when he spoke
about art was something of a sciolist, and I am not sure that the
passage is altogether grammatical--he tells how the ideas of all the
great artists, painters, and sculptors--the ideas they have wrought on
panels and in stone--escaped from their niches and their frames--all
these disembodied maidens gathered round Massimilla's bed and wept. It
would be as disgraceful for Doris to be "expecting" as it was for
Massimilla Doni, and I like to think of all the peris, the nymphs, the
sylphs, the fairies of ancient legend, all her kinsfolk gathering
about her bed, deploring her condition, regarding her as lost to
them--were such a thing to happen I should certainly kneel there in
spirit with them. And feeling just as Balzac did about Massimilla
Doni, that it was a sacrilege that Doris should be "expecting" or even
married, I wrote, omitting, however, to tell her why I had suddenly
resolved to break silence; I sent her a little note, only a few words,
that I was sorry not to have heard of her for so long a time; but
though we had been estranged she had not been forgotten; a little
commonplace note, relieved perhaps by a touch of wistfulness, of
regret. And this note was sent by a messenger duly instructed to ask
for an answer. The news the messenger brought back was somewhat
disappointing. The lady was away, but the letter would be forwarded to
her. "She is not married," I thought; "were she married her name would
be sent to me.... Perhaps not." Other thoughts came into my mind, and
I did not think of her again for the next two days, not till a long
telegram was put into my hand. Doris! It had come from her. It had
come more than a thousand miles, "regardless of expense." I said,
"This telegram must have cost her ten or twelve shillings at the
least." She was delighted to hear from me; she had been ill, but was
better now, and the telegram concluded with the usual "Am writing."
The letter that arrived, two days afterwards, was like herself, full
of impulse and affection; but it contained one phrase which put black
misgiving into my heart. In her description of her illness and her
health, which was returning, and how she had come to be staying in
this far-away Southern town, she alluded to its dulness, saying that
if I came there virtue must be its own reward. "Stupid of her to speak
to me of virtue," I muttered, "for she must know well enough that it
was her partial virtue that had separated us and caused this long
estrangement." And I sat pondering, trying to discover if she applied
the phrase to herself or to the place where she was staying. How could
it apply to the place? All places would be a paradise if----

At the close of a long December evening I wrote a letter, the answer
to which would decide whether I should go to her, whether I should
undertake the long journey. "The journey back will be detestable," I
muttered, and taking up the pen again I wrote: "Your letter contains a
phrase which fills me with dismay: you say, 'Virtue must be its own
reward,' and this would seem that you are determined to be more
aggressively Platonic than ever. Doris, this is ill news indeed; you
would not have me consider it good news, would you?"

Other letters followed, but I doubt if I knew more of Doris's
intentions when I got into the train than I did when I sat pondering
by my fireside, trying to discover her meaning when she wrote that
vile phrase, "Virtue must be its own reward." But somehow I seemed to
have come to a decision, and that was the main thing. We act obeying a
law deep down in our being, a law which in normal circumstances we are
not aware of. I asked myself as I drove to the station, if it were
possible that I was going to undertake a journey of more than a
thousand miles in quest--of what? Doris's pretty face! It might be
pretty no longer; yet she could not have changed much. She had said
she was sure that in ten minutes we should be talking just as in old
times. Even so, none but madmen travel a thousand miles in search of a
pretty face. And it was the madman that is in us all that was
propelling me, or was it the primitive man who crouches in some jungle
of our being? Of one thing I was sure, that I was no longer a
conventional citizen of the nineteenth century; I had gone back two or
three thousand years, for all characteristic traits, everything
whereby I knew myself, had disappeared! Yet I seemed to have met
myself somewhere, in some book or poem or opera.... I could not
remember at first, but after some time I began to perceive a shadowy
similarity between myself and--dare I mention the names?--the heroes
of ancient legend--Menelaus or Jason--which? Both had gone a thousand
miles on Beauty's quest. The colour of Helen's hair isn't mentioned in
either the "Iliad" or the "Odyssey." Jason's quest was a golden
fleece, and so was mine. And it was the primitive hero that I had
discovered in myself that helped me to face the idea of the journey,
for there is nothing that wearies me so much as a long journey in the
train.

When I was twenty I started with the intention of long travel, but the
train journey from Calais to Paris wearied me so much that I had
rested in Paris for eight years, to return home then on account of
some financial embarrassments. During those eight years I thought
often of Italy and the south of France, but the train journey of
sixteen or seventeen or eighteen hours to the Italian frontier always
seemed so much like what purgatory must be, that the heaven of Italy
on the other side never tempted me sufficiently to undertake it. A
companion would be of no use; one cannot talk for fifteen or sixteen
hours, and while debating with myself whether I should go to Plessy, I
often glanced down the long perspective of hours. Everything, pleasure
and pain alike, are greater in imagination than in reality--there is
always a reaction, and having anticipated more than mortal weariness,
I was surprised to find that the first two hours in the train passed
very pleasantly. It seemed that I had only been in the train quite a
little while when it stopped, yet Laroche is more than an hour from
Paris, quite a countryside station, and it seems strange that the
_Cote d'Azur_ should stop there. That was the grand name of the
train that I was travelling by. Think of any English company running a
train and calling it "The Azure Shore"! Think of going to Euston or to
Charing Cross, saying you are going by "The Azure Shore"! So long as
the name of this train endures, it is impossible to doubt that the
French mind is more picturesque than the English, and one no longer
wonders why the French school of painting, etc.

A fruit seller was crying his wares along the platform, and just
before we started from Laroche breakfast was preparing on board the
train; I thought a basket of French grapes--the grapes that grow in
the open air, not the leathery hot-house grapes filled with lumps of
glue that we eat in England--would pass the time. I got out and bought
a basket from him. On journeys like these one has to resort to many
various little expedients. Alas! The grapes were decaying; only the
bunch on the top was eatable; nor was that one worth eating, and I
began to think that the railway company's attention should be directed
to the fraud, for in my case a deliberate fraud had been effected. The
directors of the railway would probably think that passengers should
exercise some discrimination; it were surely easy for the passenger to
examine the quality of a basket of grapes before purchasing--that
would be the company's answer to my letter. The question of a letter
to the newspaper did not arise, for French papers are not like
ours--they do not print all the letters that are sent to them. The
French public has no means of ventilating its grievances; a misfortune
no doubt, but not such a misfortune as it seems, when one reflects on
how little good a letter addressed to the public press does in the way
of remedying abuses.

I don't think we stopped again till we got to Lyons, and all the way
there I sat at the window looking at the landscape--the long, long
plain that the French peasant cultivates unceasingly. Out of that long
plain came all the money that was lost in Panama, and all the money
invested in Russian bonds--fine milliards came out of the French
peasants' stockings. We passed through La Beauce. I believe it was
there that Zola went to study the French peasant before he wrote "La
Terre." Huysmans, with that benevolent malice so characteristic of
him, used to say that Zola's investigation was limited to going out
once for a drive in a carriage with Madame Zola. The primitive man
that had risen out of some jungle of my being did not view this
immense and highly cultivated plain sympathetically. It seemed to him
to differ little from the town, so utterly was nature dominated by man
and portioned out. On a subject like this one can meditate for a long
time, and I meditated till my meditation was broken by the stopping of
the train. We were at Lyons. The tall white-painted houses reminded me
of Paris--Lyons, as seen from the windows of _La Cote d'Azur_ at
the end of a grey December day might be Paris. The climate seemed the
same; the sky was as sloppy and as grey. At last the train stopped at
a place from which I could look down a side street, and I decided that
Lyons wore a more provincial look than Paris, and I thought of the
great silk trade and the dull minds of the merchants ... their dinner
parties, etc. I noticed everything there was to notice in order to
pass the time; but there was so little of interest that I wrote out a
telegram and ran with it to the office, for Doris did not know what
train I was coming by, and it is pleasant to be met at a station, to
meet one familiar face, not to find oneself amid a crowd of strangers.
Very nearly did I miss the train; my foot was on the footboard when
the guard blew his whistle. "Just fancy if I had missed the train," I
said, and settling myself in my seat I added, "now, let us study the
landscape; such an opportunity as this may never occur again."

The long plain cultivated with tedious regularity that we had been
passing through before we came to Lyons, flowed on field after field;
it seemed as if we should never reach the end of it, and looking on
those same fields, for they were the same, I said to myself: "If I
were an economist that plain would interest me, but since I got
Doris's letter I am primitive man, and he abhors the brown and the
waving field, and 'the spirit in his feet' leads him to some grassy
glen where he follows his flocks, listening to the song of the wilding
bee that sings as it labours amid the gorse. What a soulless race that
plain must breed," I thought; "what soulless days are lived there;
peasants going forth at dusk to plough, and turning home at dusk to
eat, procreate and sleep." At last a river appeared flowing amid
sparse and stunted trees and reeds, a great wide sluggish river with
low banks, flowing so slowly that it hardly seemed to flow at all.
Rooks flew past, but they are hardly wilding birds; a crow--yes, we
saw one; and I thought of a heron rising slowly out of one of the
reedy islands; maybe an otter or two survives the persecution of the
peasant, and I liked to think of a poacher picking up a rabbit here
and there; hares must have almost disappeared, even the flock and the
shepherd. France is not as picturesque a country as England; only
Normandy seems to have pasturage, there alone the shepherd survives
along the banks of the Seine. Picardy, though a swamp, never conveys
an idea of the wild; and the middle of France, which I looked at then
for the first time, shocked me, for primitive man, as I have said, was
uppermost in me, and I turned away from the long plain, "Dreary," I
said, "uneventful as a boarding-house."

But it is a long plain that has no hill in it, and when I looked out
again a whole range showed so picturesquely that I could not refrain,
but turned to a travelling companion to ask its name. It was the
Esterelles; and never shall I forget the picturesqueness of one
moment--the jagged end of the Esterelles projecting over the valley,
showing against what remained of the sunset, one or two bars of dusky
red, disappearing rapidly amid heavy clouds massing themselves as if
for a storm, and soon after night closed over the landscape.

"Henceforth," I said, "I shall have to look to my own thoughts for
amusement," and in my circumstances there was nothing reasonable for me
to think of but Doris. Some time before midnight I should catch sight
of her on the platform. It seemed to me wonderful that it should be
so, and I must have been dreaming, for the voice of the guard, crying
out that dinner was served awoke me with a start.

It is said to be the habit of my countrymen never to get into
conversation with strangers in the train, but I doubt if that be so.
Everything depends on the tact of him who first breaks silence; if his
manner inspires confidence in his fellow-traveller he will receive
such answers as will carry the conversation on for a minute or two,
and in that time both will have come to a conclusion whether the
conversation should be continued or dropped. A pleasant little book
might be written about train acquaintances. If I were writing such a
book I would tell of the Americans I once met at Nuremberg, and with
whom I travelled to Paris; it was such a pleasant journey. I should
have liked to keep up their acquaintance, but it is not the etiquette
of the road to do so. But I am writing no such book; I am writing the
quest of a golden fleece, and may allow myself no further deflection
in the narrative; I may tell, however, of the two very interesting
people I met at dinner on board _La Cote d'Azur_, though some
readers will doubt if it be any integral part of my story. The woman
was a typical French woman, pleasant and agreeable, a woman of the
upper middle classes, so she seemed to me, but as I knew all her ideas
the moment I looked at her, conversation with her did not flourish; or
would it be more true to say that her husband interested me more,
being less familiar? His accent told me he was French; but when he
took off his hat I could see that he had come from the tropics--
Algeria I thought; not unlikely a soldier. His talk was less
stilted than a soldier's, and I began to notice that he did not look
like a Frenchman, and when he told me that he lived in an oasis in the
desert, and was on his way home, his Oriental appearance I explained
by his long residence among the Arabs. He had lived in the desert
since he was fourteen. "Almost a Saharian," I said to him. And during
dinner, and long after dinner we sat talking of the difference
between the Oriental races and the European; of the various Arab
_patois_. He spoke the Tunisean _patois_ and wrote the language
of the Koran, which is understood all over the Sahara and the
Soudan, as well as in Mecca. What interested me, perhaps even more
than the language question, was the wilding's enterprise in attempting
to cultivate the desert. He had already enlarged his estate by the
discovery of two ancient Roman wells, and he had no doubt that all
that part of the desert lying between the three oases could be brought
into cultivation. In ancient times there were not three oases but one;
the wells had been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of acres had
been laid waste by the Numidians in order, I think he told me, to save
themselves from the Saracens who were following them. He spent eight
months of every year in his oasis, and begged of me, as soon as I had
wearied of Cannes, to take the boat from Marseilles--I suppose it was
from Marseilles--and spend some time with him in the wild.

"Visitors," he said, "are rare. You'll be very welcome. The railway
will take you within a hundred miles; the last hundred miles will be
accomplished on the back of a dromedary; I shall send you a fleet one
and an escort."

"Splendid," I answered. "I see myself arriving sitting high up on the
hump gathering dates--I suppose there are date palms where you are?
Yes?--and wearing a turban and a bournous."

"Would you like to see my bournous?" he said, and opening his valise
he showed me a splendid one which filled me with admiration, and only
shame forbade me to ask him to allow me to try it on. Ideas haunt one.
When I was a little child I insisted on wearing a turban and going out
for a ride on the pony, flourishing a Damascus blade which my father
had brought home from the East. Nothing else would have satisfied me;
my father led the pony, and I have always thought this fantasy
exceedingly characteristic; it must be so, for it awoke in me twenty
years afterwards; and fanciful and absurd as it may appear, I
certainly should have liked to have worn my travelling companion's
bournous in the train if only for a few minutes. All this is twelve
years ago, and I have not yet gone to visit him in his oasis, but how
many times have I done so in my imagination, seeing myself arriving on
the back of a dromedary crying out, "Allah! Allah! And Mohammed is his
prophet!" But though one can go on thinking year after year about a
bournous, one cannot talk for more than two or three hours about one;
and though I looked forward to spending at least a fortnight with my
friends, and making excursions in the desert, finding summer, as
Fromentin says, _chez lui_, I was glad to say good-bye to my
friends at Marseilles.

I was still quite far from the end of my journey, and so weary of talk
that at first I was doubtful whether or not it would be worth while to
engage again in conversation, but a pleasant gentleman had got into my
carriage, and he required little encouragement to tell me his story.
His beginnings were very humble, but he was now a rich merchant. It is
always interesting to hear how the office boy gets his first chance;
the first steps are the interesting ones, and I should be able to tell
his story here if we had not been interrupted in the middle of it by
his little girl. She had wearied of her mother, who was in the next
carriage, and had come in to sit on her father's knee. Her hair hung
about her shoulders just as Doris's had done five years ago, taking
the date from the day that I journeyed in quest of the golden fleece.
She was a winsome child, with a little fluttering smile about her lips
and a curious intelligence in her eyes. She admitted that she was
tired, but had not been ill, and her father told me that long train
journeys produced the same effect on her as a sea journey. She spoke
with a pretty abruptness, and went away suddenly, I thought for good,
but she returned half an hour afterwards looking a little faint, I
thought, green about the mouth, and smiling less frequently. One
cannot remember everything, and I have forgotten at what station these
people got out; they bade me a kindly farewell, telling me that in
about two hours and a half I should be at Plessy, and that I should
have to change at the next station, and this lag end of my journey
dragged itself out very wearily.

Plessy is difficult to get at; one has to change, and while waiting
for the train I seemed to lose heart; nothing seemed to matter, not
even Doris. But these are momentary capitulations of the intellect and
the senses, and when I saw her pretty face on the platform I
congratulated myself again on my wisdom in having sent her the
telegram. How much pleasanter it was to walk with her to the hotel
than to walk there alone! "She is," I said to myself, "still the same
pretty girl whom I so bitterly reproached for selfishness in
Cumberland Place five years ago." To compliment her on her looks, to
tell her that she did not look a day older, a little thinner, a little
paler, that was all, but the same enchanting Doris, was the facile
inspiration of the returned lover. And we walked down the platform
talking, my talk full of gentle reproof--why had she waited up? There
was a reason.... My hopes, till now buoyant as corks, began to sink.
"She is going to tell me that I cannot come to her hotel. Why did I
send that telegram from Lyons?" Had it not been for that telegram I
could have gone straight to her hotel. It was just the telegram that
had brought her to the station, and she had come to tell me that it
was impossible for me to stay at her hotel.

After thirty hours of travel it mattered little which hotel I stayed
at, but to-morrow and the next day, the long week we were to spend
together passed before my eyes, the tedium of the afternoons, the
irritation and emptiness of Platonic evenings--"Heavens! what have I
let myself in for," I thought, and my mind went back over the long
journey and the prospect of returning _bredouille_, as the
sportsmen say. But to argue about details with a woman, to get angry,
is a thing that no one versed in the arts of love ever does. We are in
the hands of women always; it is they who decide, and our best plan is
to accept the different hotel without betraying disappointment, or as
little as possible. But we had not seen each other for so long that we
could not part at once. Doris said that I must come to her hotel and
eat some supper. No; I had dined on board the train, and all she could
persuade me to have was a cup of chocolate. Over that cup of chocolate
we talked for an hour, and then I had to bid her good-night. The moon
looked down the street coldly; I crossed from shadow to light, feeling
very weary in all my body, and there was a little melancholy in my
heart, for after all I might not win Doris. There was sleep, however,
and sleep is at times a good thing, and that night it must have come
quickly, so great was the refreshment I experienced in the morning
when my eyes opened and, looking through mosquito curtains (themselves
symbols of the South), were delighted by the play of the sunlight
flickering along the flower-papered wall. The impulse in me was to
jump out of bed at once and to throw open _les croisees_. And
what did I see? Tall palm trees in the garden, and above them a dim,
alluring sky, and beyond them a blue sea in almost the same tone as
the sky. And what did I feel? Soft perfumed airs moving everywhere.
And what was the image that rose up in my mind? The sensuous
gratification of a vision of a woman bathing at the edge of a summer
wood, the intoxication of the odour of her breasts.... Why should I
think of a woman bathing at the edge of a summer wood? Because the
morning seemed the very one that Venus should choose to rise from the
sea.

Forgive my sensuousness, dear reader; remember it was the first time I
breathed the soft Southern air, the first time I saw orange trees;
remember I am a poet, a modern Jason in search of a golden fleece. "Is
this the garden of the Hesperides?" I asked myself, for nothing seemed
more unreal than the golden fruit hanging like balls of yellow worsted
among dark and sleek leaves; it reminded me of the fruit I used to see
when I was a child under glass shades in lodging-houses, but I knew,
nevertheless, that I was looking upon orange trees, and that the
golden fruit growing amid the green leaves was the fruit I used to
pick from the barrows when I was a boy; the fruit of which I ate so
much in boyhood that I cannot eat it any longer; the fruit whose smell
we associate with the pit of a theatre; the fruit that women never
grow weary of, high and low. It seemed to me a wonderful thing that at
last I should see oranges growing on trees; I so happy, so singularly
happy, that I am nearly sure that happiness is, after all, no more
than a faculty for being surprised. Since I was a boy I never felt so
surprised as I did that morning. The _valet de chambre_ brought
in my bath, and while I bathed and dressed I reflected on the luck of

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