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
"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; itDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>