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Child of a Century, entire by Alfred de Musset

Part 5 out of 5

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pardon you, that your misfortunes are involuntary, and you will implore
sleepless nights to grant you a little repose.

"But who knows? You are still young. The more you trust in your heart,
the farther astray you will be led by your pride. To-day you stand
before the first ruin you are going to leave on your route. If Brigitte
dies to-morrow you will weep on her tomb; where will you go when you
leave her? You will go away for three months perhaps, and you will
travel in Italy; you will wrap your cloak about you like a splenetic
Englishman, and you will say some beautiful morning, sitting in your inn
with your glasses before you, that it is time to forget in order to live

"You who weep too late, take care lest you weep more than one day. Who
knows? When the present which makes you shudder shall have become the
past, an old story, a confused memory, may it not happen some night of
debauchery that you will overturn your chair and recount, with a smile on
your lips, what you witnessed with tears in your eyes? It is thus that
one drinks away shame. You have begun by being good, you will become
weak, and you will become a monster.

"My poor friend," said I, from the bottom of my heart, "I have a word of
advice for you, and it is this: I believe that you must die. While there
is still some virtue left, profit by it in order that you may not become
altogether bad; while a woman you love lies there dying on that bed, and
while you have a horror of yourself, strike the decisive blow; she still
lives; that is enough; do not attend her funeral obsequies for fear that
on the morrow you will not be consoled; turn the poignard against your
own heart while that heart yet loves the God who made it. Is it your
youth that gives you pause? And would you spare those youthful locks?
Never allow them to whiten if they are not white to-night.

"And then what would you do in the world? If you go away, where will you
go? What can you hope for if you remain? Ah! in looking at that woman
you seem to have a treasure buried in your heart. It is not merely that
you lose her; it is less what has been than what might have been. When
the hands of the clock indicated such and such an hour, you might have
been happy. If you suffer why do you not open your heart? If you love,
why do you not say so? Why do you die of hunger, clasping a priceless
treasure in your hands? You have closed the door, you miser; you debate
with yourself behind locks and bolts. Shake them, for it was your hand
that forged them.

"O fool! who desired and have possessed your desire, you have not thought
of God! You play with happiness as a child plays with a rattle, and you
do not reflect how rare and fragile a thing you hold in your hands; you
treat it with disdain, you smile at it and you continue to amuse yourself
with it, forgetting how many prayers it has cost your good angel to
preserve for you that shadow of daylight! Ah! if there is in heaven one
who watches over you, what is he doing at this moment? He is seated
before an organ; his wings are half-folded, his hands extended over the
ivory keys; he begins an eternal hymn; the hymn of love and immortal
rest, but his wings droop, his head falls over the keys; the angel of
death has touched him on the shoulder, he disappears into the Nirvana.

"And you, at the age of twenty-two, when a noble and exalted passion,
when the strength of youth might perhaps have made something of you when
after so many sorrows and bitter disappointments, a youth so dissipated,
you saw a better time shining in the future; when your life, consecrated
to the object of your adoration, gave promise of new strength, at that
moment the abyss yawns before you! You no longer experience vague
desires, but real regrets; your heart is no longer hungry, it is broken!
And you hesitate? What do you expect? Since she no longer cares for
your life, it counts for nothing! Since she abandons you, abandon

"Let those who have loved you in your youth weep for you! They are not
many. If you would live, you must not only forget love, but you must
deny that it exists; not only deny what there has been of good in you,
but kill all that may be good in the future; for what will you do if you
remember? Life for you would be one ceaseless regret. No, no, you must
choose between your soul and your body; you must kill one or the other.
The memory of the good drives you to the evil, make a corpse of yourself
unless you wish to become your own spectre. O child, child! die while
you can! May tears be shed over your grave!"

I threw myself on the foot of the bed in such a frightful state of
despair that my reason fled and I no longer knew where I was or what I
was doing. Brigitte sighed.

My senses stirred within me. Was it grief or despair? I do not know.
Suddenly a horrible idea occurred to me.

"What!" I muttered, "leave that for another! Die, descend into the
ground, while that bosom heaves with the air of heaven? Just God!
another hand than mine on that fine, transparent skin! Another mouth on
those lips, another love in that heart! Brigitte happy, loving, adored,
and I in a corner of the cemetery, crumbling into dust in a ditch! How
long will it take her to forget me if I cease to exist to-morrow? How
many tears will she shed? None, perhaps! Not a friend who speaks to her
but will say that my death was a good thing, who will not hasten to
console her, who will not urge her to forget me! If she weeps, they will
seek to distract her attention from her loss; if memory haunts her, they
will take her away; if her love for me survives me, they will seek to
cure her as if she had been poisoned; and she herself, who will perhaps
at first say that she desires to follow me, will a month later turn aside
to avoid the weeping-willow planted over my grave!

"How could it be otherwise? Who, as beautiful as she, wastes life in
idle regrets? If she should think of dying of grief, that beautiful
bosom would urge her to live, and her mirror would persuade her; and the
day when her exhausted tears give place to the first smile, who will not
congratulate her on her recovery? When, after eight days of silence, she
consents to hear my name pronounced in her presence, then she will speak
of it herself as if to say: 'Console me;' then little by little she will
no longer refuse to think of the past but will speak of it, and she will
open her window some beautiful spring morning when the birds are singing
in the garden; she will become pensive and say: 'I have loved!' Who will
be there at her side? Who will dare to tell her that she must continue
to love?

"Ah! then I shall be no more! You will listen to him, faithless one!
You will blush as does the budding rose, and the blood of youth will
mount to your face. While saying that your heart is sealed, you will
allow it to escape through that fresh aureole of beauty, each ray of
which allures a kiss. How much they desire to be loved who say they love
no more! And why should that astonish you? You are a woman; that body,
that spotless bosom, you know what they are worth; when you conceal them
under your dress you do not believe, as do the virgins, that all are
alike, and you know the price of your modesty. How can a woman who has
been praised resolve to be praised no more? Does she think she is living
when she remains in the shadow and there is silence round about her
beauty? Her beauty itself is the admiring glance of her lover. No, no,
there can be no doubt of it; she who has loved, can not live without
love; she who has seen death clings to life. Brigitte loves me and will
perhaps die of love; I will kill myself and another will have her.

"Another, another!" I repeated, bending over her until my head touched
her shoulder. "Is she not a widow? Has she not already seen death?
Have not these little hands prepared the dead for burial? Her tears for
the second will not flow as long as those shed for the first. Ah! God
forgive me! While she sleeps why should I not kill her? If I should
awaken her now and tell her that her hour had come, and that we were
going to die with a last kiss, she would consent. What does it matter?
Is it certain that all does not end with that?"

I found a knife on the table and I picked it up.

"Fear, cowardice, superstition! What do they know about it who talk of
something else beyond? It is for the ignorant common people that a
future life has been invented, but who really believes in it? What
watcher in the cemetery has seen Death leave his tomb and hold
consultation with a priest? In olden times there were phantoms; they are
interdicted by the police in civilized cities, and no cries are now heard
issuing from the earth except from those buried in haste. Who has
silenced death, if it has ever spoken? Because funeral processions are
no longer permitted to encumber our streets, does the celestial spirit

"To die, that is the final purpose, the end. God has established it,
man discusses it; but over every door is written: 'Do what thou wilt,
thou shalt die.' What will be said if I kill Brigitte? Neither of us
will hear. In to-morrow's journal would appear the intelligence that
Octave de T----- had killed his mistress, and the day after no one would
speak of it. Who would follow us to the grave? No one who, upon
returning to his home, could not enjoy a hearty dinner; and when we were
extended side by side in our narrow, bed, the world could walk over our
graves without disturbing us.

"Is it not true, my well-beloved, is it not true that it would be well
with us? It is a soft bed, that bed of earth; no suffering can reach us
there; the occupants of the neighboring tombs will not gossip about us;
our bones will embrace in peace and without pride, for death is solace,
and that which binds does not also separate. Why should annihilation
frighten thee, poor body, destined to corruption? Every hour that
strikes drags thee on to thy doom, every step breaks the round on which
thou hast just rested; thou art nourished by the dead; the air of heaven
weighs upon and crushes thee, the earth on which thou treadest attracts
thee by the soles of thy feet.

"Down with thee! Why art thou affrighted? Dost thou tremble at a word?
Merely say: 'We will not live.' Is not life a burden that we long to lay
down? Why hesitate when it is merely a question of a little sooner or a
little later? Matter is indestructible, and the physicists, we are told,
grind to infinity the smallest speck of dust without being able to
annihilate it. If matter is the property of chance, what harm can it do
to change its form since it can not cease to be matter? Why should God
care what form I have received and with what livery I invest my grief?
Suffering lives in my brain; it belongs to me, I kill it; but my bones do
not belong to me and I return them to Him who lent them to me: may some
poet make a cup of my skull from which to drink his new wine!

"What reproach can I incur and what harm can that reproach do me? What
stern judge will tell me that I have done wrong? What does he know about

"Was he such as I? If every creature has his task to perform, and if it
is a crime to shirk it, what culprits are the babes who die on the
nurse's breast! Why should they be spared? Who will be instructed by
the lessons which are taught after death? Must heaven be a desert in
order that man may be punished for having lived? Is it not enough to
have lived? I do not know who asked that question, unless it were
Voltaire on his death-bed; it is a cry of despair worthy of the helpless
old atheist.

"But to what purpose? Why so many struggles? Who is there above us who
delights in so much agony? Who amuses himself and wiles away an idle
hour watching this spectacle of creation, always renewed and always
dying, seeing the work of man's hands rising, the grass growing; looking
upon the planting of the seed and the fall of the thunderbolt; beholding
man walking about upon his earth until he meets the beckoning finger of
death; counting tears and watching them dry upon the cheek of pain;
noting the pure profile of love and the wrinkled face of age; seeing
hands stretched up to him in supplication, bodies prostrate before him,
and not a blade of wheat more in the harvest!

"Who is it, then, that has made so much for the pleasure of knowing that
it all amounts to nothing! The earth is dying--Herschel says it is of
cold; who holds in his hand the drop of condensed vapor and watches it as
it dries up, as a fisher watches a grain of sand in his hand? That
mighty law of attraction that suspends the world in space, torments it--
and consumes it in endless desire--every planet that carries its load of
misery and groans on its axle--calls to each other across the abyss, and
each wonders which will stop first. God controls them; they accomplish
assiduously and eternally their appointed and useless task; they whirl
about, they suffer, they burn, they become extinct and they light up with
new flame; they descend and they reascend, they follow and yet they avoid
one another, they interlace like rings; they carry on their surface
thousands of beings who are ceaselessly renewed; the beings move about,
cross one another's paths, clasp one another for an hour, and then fall,
and others rise in their place.

"Where life fails, life hastens to the spot; where air is wanting, air
rushes; no disorder, everything is regulated, marked out, written down in
lines of gold and parables of fire; everything keeps step with the
celestial music along the pitiless paths of life; and all for nothing!
And we, poor nameless dreams, pale and sorrowful apparitions, helpless
ephemera, we who are animated by the breath of a second in order that
death may exist, we exhaust ourselves with fatigue in order to prove that
we are living for a purpose, and that something indefinable is stirring
within us.

"We hesitate to turn against our breasts a little piece of steel, or to
blow out our brains with a little instrument no larger than our hands; it
seems to us that chaos would return again; we have written and revised
the laws both human and divine, and we are afraid of our catechisms; we
suffer thirty years without murmuring and imagine that we are struggling;
finally suffering becomes the stronger, we send a pinch of powder into
the sanctuary of intelligence, and a flower pierces the soil above our

As I finished these words I directed the knife I held in my hand against
Brigitte's bosom. I was no longer master of myself, and in my delirious
condition I know not what might have happened; I threw back the bed-
clothing to uncover the heart, when I discovered on her white bosom a
little ebony crucifix.

I recoiled, seized with sudden fear; my hand relaxed, my weapon fell to
the floor. It was Brigitte's aunt who had given her that little crucifix
on her deathbed. I did not remember ever having seen it before;
doubtless, at the moment of setting out, she had suspended it about her
neck as a preserving charm against the dangers of the journey. Suddenly
I joined my hands and knelt on the floor.

"O Lord, my God," I said, in trembling tones, "Lord, my God, thou art

Let those who do not believe in Christ read this page; I no longer
believed in Him. Neither as a child, nor at school, nor as a man, have I
frequented churches; my religion, if I had any, had neither rite nor
symbol, and I believed in a God without form, without a cult, and without
revelation. Poisoned, from youth, by all the writings of the last
century, I had sucked, at an early hour, the sterile milk of impiety.
Human pride, that God of the egoist, closed my mouth against prayer,
while my affrighted soul took refuge in the hope of nothingness. I was
as if drunken or insensate when I saw that effigy of Christ on Brigitte's
bosom; while not believing in Him myself, I recoiled, knowing that she
believed in Him.

It was not vain terror that arrested my hand. Who saw me? I was alone
and it was night. Was it prejudice? What prevented me from hurling out
of my sight that little piece of black wood? I could have thrown it into
the fire, but it was my weapon I threw there. Ah! what an experience
that was and still is for my soul! What miserable wretches are men who
mock at that which can save a human being! What matters the name, the
form, the belief? Is not all that is good sacred? How dare any one
touch God?

As at a glance from the sun the snows descend the mountains, and the
glaciers that threatened heaven melt into streams in the valley, so there
descended into my heart a stream that overflowed its banks. Repentance
is a pure incense; it exhaled from all my suffering. Although I had
almost committed a crime when my hand was arrested, I felt that my heart
was innocent. In an instant, calm, self-possession, reason returned; I
again approached the bed; I leaned over my idol and kissed the crucifix.

"Sleep in peace," I said to her, "God watches over you! While your lips
were parting in a smile, you were in greater danger than you have ever
known before. But the hand that threatened you will harm no one; I swear
by the faith you profess I will not kill either you or myself! I am a
fool, a madman, a child who thinks himself a man. God be praised! You
are young and beautiful. You live and you will forget me. You will
recover from the evil I have done you, if you can forgive me. Sleep in
peace until day, Brigitte, and then decide our fate; to whatever sentence
you pronounce I will submit without complaint.

"And thou, Lord, who hast saved me, grant me pardon. I was born in an
impious century, and I have many crimes to expiate. Thou Son of God,
whom men forget, I have not been taught to love Thee. I have never
worshipped in Thy temples, but I thank heaven that where I find Thee,
I tremble and bow in reverence. I have at least kissed with my lips a
heart that is full of Thee. Protect that heart so long as life lasts;
dwell within it, Thou Holy One; a poor unfortunate has been brave enough
to defy death at the sight of Thy suffering and Thy death; though
impious, Thou hast saved him from evil; if he had believed, Thou wouldst
have consoled him.

"Pardon those who have made him incredulous since Thou hast made him
repentant; pardon those who blaspheme! When they were in despair they
did not see Thee! Human joys are a mockery; they are scornful and
pitiless; O Lord! the happy of this world think they have no need of
Thee! Pardon them. Although their pride may outrage Thee, they will be,
sooner or later, baptized in tears; grant that they may cease to believe
in any other shelter from the tempest than Thy love, and spare them the
severe lessons of unhappiness. Our wisdom and scepticism are in our
hands but children's toys; forgive us for dreaming that we can defy Thee,
Thou who smilest at Golgotha. The worst result of all our vain misery is
that it tempts us to forget Thee.

"But Thou knowest that it is all but a shadow which a glance from Thee
can dissipate. Hast not Thou Thyself been a man? It was sorrow that
made Thee God; sorrow is an instrument of torture by which Thou hast
mounted to the very throne of God, Thy Father, and it is sorrow that
leads us to Thee with our crown of thorns to kneel before Thy mercy-seat;
we touch Thy bleeding feet with our bloodstained hands, for Thou hast
suffered martyrdom to be loved by the unfortunate."

The first rays of dawn began to appear: man and nature were rousing
themselves from sleep and the air. was filled with the confusion of
distant sounds. Weak and exhausted, I was about to leave Brigitte, and
seek a little repose. As I was passing out of the room, a dress thrown
on a chair slipped to the floor near me, and in its folds I spied a piece
of paper. I picked it up; it was a letter, and I recognized Brigitte's
hand. The envelope was not sealed. I opened it and read as follows:

23 December, 18--

"When you receive this letter I shall be far away from you, and
shall perhaps never see you again. My destiny is bound up with that
of a man for whom I have sacrificed everything; he can not live
without me, and I am going to try to die for him. I love you;
adieu, and pity us."

I turned the letter over when I had read it, and saw that it was
addressed to "M. Henri Smith, N------, poste restante."

On the morrow, a clear December day, a young man and a woman who rested
on his arm, passed through the garden of the Palais-Royal. They entered
a jeweler's store where they chose two similar rings which they smilingly
exchanged. After a short walk they took breakfast at the Freres-
Provencaux, in one of those little rooms which are, all things
considered, the most beautiful spots in the world. There, when the
garcon had left them, they sat near the windows hand in hand.

The young man was in travelling dress; to see the joy which shone on his
face, one would have taken him for a young husband showing his young wife
the beauties and pleasures of Parisian life. His happiness was calm and
subdued, as true happiness always is. The experienced would have
recognized in him the youth who merges into manhood. From time to time
he looked up at the sky, then at his companion, and tears glittered in
his eyes, but he heeded them not, but smiled as he wept. The woman was
pale and thoughtful, her eyes were fixed on the man. On her face were
traces of sorrow which she could not conceal, although evidently touched
by the exalted joy of her companion.

When he smiled, she smiled too, but never alone; when he spoke, she
replied, and she ate what he served her; but there was about her a
silence which was only broken at his instance. In her languor could be
clearly distinguished that gentleness of soul, that lethargy of the
weaker of two beings who love, one of whom exists only in the other and
responds to him as does the echo. The young man was conscious of it, and
seemed proud of it and grateful for it; but it could be seen even by his
pride that his happiness was new to him.

When the woman became sad and her eyes fell, he cheered her with his
glance; but he could not always succeed, and seemed troubled himself.
That mingling of strength and weakness, of joy and sorrow, of anxiety
and serenity, could not have been understood by an indifferent spectator;
at times they appeared the most happy of living creatures, and the next
moment the most unhappy; but, although ignorant of their secret, one
would have felt that they were suffering together, and, whatever their
mysterious trouble, it could be seen that they had placed on their sorrow
a seal more powerful than love itself-friendship. While their hands were
clasped their glances were chaste; although they were alone they spoke in
low tones. As if overcome by their feelings, they sat face to face,
although their lips did not touch. They looked at each other tenderly
and solemnly. When the clock struck one, the woman heaved a sigh and

"Octave, are you sure of yourself?"

"Yes, my friend, I am resolved. I shall suffer much, a long time,
perhaps forever; but we will cure ourselves, you with time, I with God."

"Octave, Octave," repeated the woman, "are you sure you are not deceiving

"I do not believe we can forget each other; but I believe that we can
forgive, and that is what I desire even at the price of separation."

"Why could we not meet again? Why not some day--you are so young!"

Then she added, with a smile:

"We could see each other without danger."

"No, my friend, for you must know that I could never see you again
without loving you. May he to whom I bequeath you be worthy of you!
Smith is brave, good, and honest, but however much you may love him, you
see very well that you still love me, for if I should decide to remain,
or to take you away with me, you would consent."

"It is true," replied the woman.

"True! true!" repeated the young man, looking into her eyes with all
his soul. "Is it true that if I wished it you would go with me?"

Then he continued, softly:

"That is the reason why I must never see you again. There are certain
loves in life that overturn the head, the senses, the mind, the heart;
there is among them all but one that does not disturb, that penetrates,
and that dies only with the being in which it has taken root."

"But you will write to me?"

"Yes, at first, for what I have to suffer is so keen that the absence of
the habitual object of my love would kill me. When I was unknown to you,
I gradually approached closer and closer to you, until--but let us not go
into the past. Little by little my letters will become less frequent
until they cease altogether. I shall thus descend the hill that I have
been climbing for the past year. When one stands before a fresh grave,
over which are engraved two cherished names, one experiences a mysterious
sense of grief, which causes tears to trickle down one's cheeks; it is
thus that I wish to remember having once lived."

At these words the woman threw herself on the couch and burst into tears.
The young man wept with her, but he did not move and seemed anxious to
appear unconscious of her emotion. When her tears ceased to flow, he
approached her, took her hand in his and kissed it.

"Believe me," said he, "to be loved by you, whatever the name of the
place I occupy in your heart, will give me strength and courage. Rest
assured, Brigitte, no one will ever understand you better than I; another
will love you more worthily, no one will love you more truly. Another
will be considerate of those feelings that I offend, he will surround you
with his love; you will have a better lover, you will not have a better
brother. Give me your hand and let the world laugh at a sentence that it
does not understand: Let us be friends, and part forever. Before we
became such intimate friends there was something within that told us we
were destined to mingle our lives. Let our souls never know that we have
parted upon earth; let not the paltry chance of a moment undo our eternal

He held the woman's hand; she arose, tears streaming from her eyes, and,
stepping up to the mirror with a strange smile on her face, she cut from
her head a long tress of hair; then she looked at herself thus disfigured
and deprived of a part of her beautiful crown, and gave it to her lover.

The clock struck again; it was time to go; when they passed out they
seemed as joyful as when they entered.

"What a beautiful sun!" said the young man.

"And a beautiful day," said Brigitte, "the memory of which shall never

They hastened away and disappeared in the crowd.

Some time later a carriage passed over a little hill behind
Fontainebleau. The young man was the only occupant; he looked for the
last time upon his native town as it disappeared in the distance, and
thanked God that, of the three beings who had suffered through his fault,
there remained but one of them still unhappy.


Because you weep, you fondly imagine yourself innocent
Cold silence, that negative force
Contrive to use proud disdain as a shield
Fool who destroys his own happiness
Funeral processions are no longer permitted
How much they desire to be loved who say they love no more
I can not be near you and separated from you at the same moment
Is it not enough to have lived?
Make a shroud of your virtue in which to bury your crimes
Reading the Memoirs of Constant
Sometimes we seem to enjoy unhappiness
Speak to me of your love, she said, "not of your grief
Suffered, and yet took pleasure in it
Suspicions that are ever born anew
"Unhappy man!" she cried, "you will never know how to love"
Who has told you that tears can wash away the stains of guilt
You play with happiness as a child plays with a rattle
Your great weapon is silence

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