the mind to analyze the liberty to
indulge in certain loves; once begin
to reflect on those deep and troublesome
matters which are called passion and
duty, the soul which naturally delights
in the investigation of every truth, is
unable to stop in its exploration.”
When Marcel had gone away, Suzanne, when she had quietly shut the street-door, by which she had gone out, went upstairs to her room and sat down on the side of her bed.
She asked herself if she had not just been the sport of an hallucination, if it was really true that a man had gone out of the house, who had held her in his arms, to whom she had yielded herself.
Everything had happened so rapidly, that she had had no time to think, to reflect, to say to herself: “What does he want with me?” no time even to recover herself.
A kiss, a violent emotion, a transient indignation, a struggle for a few seconds, a sharp pain, and that was all; the crime was consummated, she had lost her honour, and that was love!
She wished not to believe it, but her disordered corsage, her dishevelled hair upon her bare shoulders, her crumpled dressing-gown, and more than all that, the violent leaping of her heart, told her that she was not dreaming.
He was gone, the priest; he had fled away into the night, happy and light of heart, leaving her alone with her shame, and the ulcer of remorse in her soul.
And then big tears rolled down her cheeks and fell upon her breasts, still burning with his feverish caresses. “It is all over! it is all over. Where is my virginity?”
Weep, poor girl, weep, for that virginity is already far away, and nothing, it is said, flees faster than the illusion which departs, if it be not a virginity which flies away.
And a vague terror was mingled with her remorse.
The first apprehension which strikes brutally against the edifice of illusions of the woman who has committed a fault, is the anxiety regarding the opinion of the man who has incited her to that fault; I am speaking, be it understood, of one in whom there remains the feeling of modesty, without which she is not a woman, but an unclean female.
When she awakes from her short delirium, she says to herself:
—What will he think of me? What will he believe? Will he not despise me?
And she has good grounds for apprehension; for often (I believe I have said so already) the contempt of her accomplice is all that remains to her.
And then, what man is there who, after having at length possessed illegitimately the wife or the maiden so long pursued and desired, does not say to himself in the morning, when his fever is dissipated, when the bandage which hitherto has covered the eyes of love suppliant, is unbound from the eyes of love satisfied, when the unknown which has so many charms, has become the known that we despise, when of the rosy, inflated illusion there remains but a yellow skeleton: “She has given herself to me trustingly and artlessly; but might she not have given herself with equal facility to another, if I had not been there? for in fact ... what devil...?”
A strange question, but one which unavoidably takes up its abode in the heart, and waits to come forth and be present one day on the lips, at the time when Satiety gives the last kick to the last house of cards erected by Pleasure.
And it is thus that after doing everything to draw a woman into our own fall, we are discontented with her for her sacrifice and for her love.
For there comes a moment when the angel for whom one would have given one's life, the divinity for whom one would have sacrificed country, family, fortune, future, is no more than a common mistress, ranked in the ordinary lot with the rest, and for whom one would hesitate to spend half-a-sovereign.
Have you not chanced sometimes to follow with an envious eye, on some fresh morning in spring or on a lovely autumn evening, the solitary walk of a loving couple? They go slowly, hand in hand, avoiding notice, selecting the shady and secret paths, or the darkest walks in the woods. He is handsome, young and strong; she is pretty and charming, pale with emotion, or blushing with modesty. What things they murmur as they lean one towards another, what sweet projects of an endless future, what oaths which ought to be eternal, sworn untiringly, lip on lip.
“One of those noble loves which have no end.”
Happy egotists. They think but of themselves; all, except themselves, is insupportable to them, all but themselves wearies and weighs upon them. The universe is themselves, life is the present which glides along, and in order to delay the present and enjoy it at their ease, they have no scruple in mortgaging the future. And they go on, listening to the divine harmony, the mysterious poem which sings in their own heart, of youth and love.
You have envied them; who would not envy them? It is happiness which passes by. Make way respectfully. What! you smiled sorrowfully! Ah, it is because like me, you have seen behind these poor trustful children, following them as the insultores used to follow the triumphal chariot of old, a demon with sinister countenance who with his brutal hands will soon roughly tear the veil woven of fancies; the Reality, who is there with his rags, getting ready to cast them upon their bright tinsels of gauze and spangles.
Wait a few years, a few months, perhaps only a few weeks. What has become of those handsome lovers so tenderly entwined? They swore mouth to mouth an endless love. Where are they? Where are their loves?
As well would it be worth to ask where are the leaves of autumn which the evening breeze carried away last year.
“But where are the snows of yesteryear?”
What! already, it is finished! And yet he had sworn to love her always. Yes, but she also had sworn to be always amiable. Which of the two first forfeited the oath?
There has been then a tragedy, a drama, despair, tears? Nonsense! Those who had sworn to die one for the other, one fine day parted as strangers.
The charming young girl whom you saw passing by, proud and radiant on the arm of that artless stripling, see, here she comes, a little weary, a little faded, but still charming, on the arm of that cynical Bohemian.
That poetical school-girl, who smiled and scattered daisies on the head of her lover, as he knelt before her, has become the adored wife of a dull tallow-chandler; and the other one, who took the ivy for her emblem, and who said to her sweetheart: “I cling till death!” has clung to and separated from half-a-dozen others without dying, and has finished by fastening herself to a rheumatical old churchwarden, peevish but substantial.
And the lover? He is no better: he has loved twenty since; the deep sea of oblivion has passed between them, and among so many vanished mistresses, can he precisely remember her name?
Suzanne did not say all this to herself, she was ignorant of the whirlpools of life, but she felt instinctively that she was about to be precipitated into an abyss.
She was not perverse, she was merely frivolous and coquettish, but she had received a vicious education. Her imagination only had been corrupted, her heart had remained till then untainted. It was a good ear of corn which somehow or another had made its way into the field of tares.
She reproached herself bitterly therefore for the shameful facility with which she had yielded herself to the priest, and she sought for an excuse to try and palliate her fault in her own eyes.
But she was unable to discover any genuine excuses. A young girl is pardoned for yielding herself to her lover in a moment of forgetfulness and excitement, because she hopes that marriage will atone for her fault.
But what had she to claim? What could she expect from this Cure?
Again a young wife is pardoned for deceiving an old husband, or a husband who is worthless, debauched and brutal, and for seeking a friend abroad whom she cannot find at her fire-side; but she? Whom had she deceived? Her father, who though severe, adored her. Whom had she dishonoured? The white hairs of that worthy, brave old man.
She saw clearly that she could find no excuse, and she was compelled to confess that she ought to feel ashamed of herself; but what affected her most was the thought that her lover, the priest, must have been extremely surprised at his victory himself, and that if he too were to attempt to find an excuse for her conduct, he could discover none either. But in proportion as she felt astonished at her shame, as she saw into what a corner she had been driven, as she dreaded the man's scorn, for whom she had fallen so low, did she feel her love grow greater.