Classic Lib's

to him. I was thinking of something else. Of things that were

neither correct nor playful and that had to be looked at steadily

with all the best that was in me. And that was why, in the end - I

cried - yesterday."

"I saw it yesterday and I had the weakness of being moved by those

tears for a time."

"If you want to make me cry again I warn you you won't succeed."

"No, I know. He has been here to-day and the dry season has set


"Yes, he has been here. I assure you it was perfectly unexpected.

Yesterday he was railing at the world at large, at me who certainly

have not made it, at himself and even at his mother. All this

rather in parrot language, in the words of tradition and morality

as understood by the members of that exclusive club to which he

belongs. And yet when I thought that all this, those poor

hackneyed words, expressed a sincere passion I could have found in

my heart to be sorry for him. But he ended by telling me that one

couldn't believe a single word I said, or something like that. You

were here then, you heard it yourself."

"And it cut you to the quick," I said. "It made you depart from

your dignity to the point of weeping on any shoulder that happened

to be there. And considering that it was some more parrot talk

after all (men have been saying that sort of thing to women from

the beginning of the world) this sensibility seems to me childish."

"What perspicacity," she observed, with an indulgent, mocking

smile, then changed her tone. "Therefore he wasn't expected to-day

when he turned up, whereas you, who were expected, remained subject

to the charms of conversation in that studio. It never occurred to

you . . . did it? No! What had become of your perspicacity?"

"I tell you I was weary of life," I said in a passion.

She had another faint smile of a fugitive and unrelated kind as if

she had been thinking of far-off things, then roused herself to

grave animation.

"He came in full of smiling playfulness. How well I know that

mood! Such self-command has its beauty; but it's no great help for

a man with such fateful eyes. I could see he was moved in his

correct, restrained way, and in his own way, too, he tried to move

me with something that would be very simple. He told me that ever

since we became friends, we two, he had not an hour of continuous

sleep, unless perhaps when coming back dead-tired from outpost

duty, and that he longed to get back to it and yet hadn't the

courage to tear himself away from here. He was as simple as that.

He's a tres galant homme of absolute probity, even with himself. I

said to him: The trouble is, Don Juan, that it isn't love but

mistrust that keeps you in torment. I might have said jealousy,

but I didn't like to use that word. A parrot would have added that

I had given him no right to be jealous. But I am no parrot. I

recognized the rights of his passion which I could very well see.

He is jealous. He is not jealous of my past or of the future; but

he is jealously mistrustful of me, of what I am, of my very soul.

He believes in a soul in the same way Therese does, as something

that can be touched with grace or go to perdition; and he doesn't

want to be damned with me before his own judgment seat. He is a

most noble and loyal gentleman, but I have my own Basque peasant

soul and don't want to think that every time he goes away from my

feet - yes, mon cher, on this carpet, look for the marks of

scorching - that he goes away feeling tempted to brush the dust off

his moral sleeve. That! Never!"

With brusque movements she took a cigarette out of the box, held it

in her fingers for a moment, then dropped it unconsciously.

"And then, I don't love him," she uttered slowly as if speaking to

herself and at the same time watching the very quality of that

thought. "I never did. At first he fascinated me with his fatal

aspect and his cold society smiles. But I have looked into those

eyes too often. There are too many disdains in this aristocratic

republican without a home. His fate may be cruel, but it will

always be commonplace. While he sat there trying in a worldly tone

to explain to me the problems, the scruples, of his suffering

honour, I could see right into his heart and I was sorry for him.

I was sorry enough for him to feel that if he had suddenly taken me

by the throat and strangled me slowly, avec delices, I could

forgive him while I choked. How correct he was! But bitterness

against me peeped out of every second phrase. At last I raised my

hand and said to him, 'Enough.' I believe he was shocked by my

plebeian abruptness but he was too polite to show it. His

conventions will always stand in the way of his nature. I told him

that everything that had been said and done during the last seven

or eight months was inexplicable unless on the assumption that he

was in love with me, - and yet in everything there was an

implication that he couldn't forgive me my very existence. I did

ask him whether he didn't think that it was absurd on his part . .

. "

"Didn't you say that it was exquisitely absurd?" I asked.

"Exquisitely! . . . " Dona Rita was surprised at my question. "No.

Why should I say that?"

"It would have reconciled him to your abruptness. It's their

family expression. It would have come with a familiar sound and

would have been less offensive."

"Offensive," Dona Rita repeated earnestly. "I don't think he was

offended; he suffered in another way, but I didn't care for that.

It was I that had become offended in the end, without spite, you

understand, but past bearing. I didn't spare him. I told him

plainly that to want a woman formed in mind and body, mistress of

herself, free in her choice, independent in her thoughts; to love

her apparently for what she is and at the same time to demand from

her the candour and the innocence that could be only a shocking

pretence; to know her such as life had made her and at the same

time to despise her secretly for every touch with which her life

had fashioned her - that was neither generous nor high minded; it

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