By Alphonse Daudet
Translated by Laura Ensor
Illustrated by De Bieler, Myrbach; And Rossi
Stretched at full length, on the great divan of a studio, cigar in mouth, two friends—a poet and a painter—were talking together one evening after dinner.
It was the hour of confidences and effusion. The lamp burned softly beneath its shade, limiting its circle of light to the intimacy of the conversation, leaving scarcely distinct the capricious luxury of the vast walls, cumbered with canvases, hangings, panoplies, surmounted by a glass roof through which the sombre blue shades of the night penetrated unhindered. The portrait of a woman, leaning slightly forward, as if to listen, alone stood out a little from the shadow; young with intelligent eyes, a grave and sweet mouth and a spirituel smile which seemed to defend the husband's easel from fools and disparagers. A low chair pushed away from the fire, two little blue shoes lying on the carpet, indicated also the presence of a child in the house; and indeed from the next room, within which mother and child had but just disappeared, came occasional bursts of soft laughter, of childish babble; the pretty flutterings of a nest going off to sleep. All this shed over the artistic interior a vague perfume of family happiness which the poet breathed in with delight:
"Decidedly, my dear fellow?" he said to his friend, "you were in the right. There are no two ways of being happy. Happiness lies in this and in nothing else. You must find me a wife!"
Good Heavens, no! not on any account. Find one for yourself, if you are bent upon it. As for me, I will have nothing to do with it.
Because—because artists ought never to marry.
That's rather too good. You dare to say that, and the lamp does not go out suddenly, and the walls don't fall down upon your head! But just think, wretch, that for two hours past, you have been setting before me the enviable spectacle of the very happiness you forbid me. Are you by chance like those odious millionaires whose well-being is in-creased by the sufferings of others, and who better enjoy their own fireside when they reflect that it is raining out of doors, and that there are plenty of poor devils without a shelter?
Think of me what you will. I have too much affection for you to help you to commit a folly—an irreparable folly.
Come! what is it? You are not satisfied? And yet it seems to me that one breathes in happiness here, just as freely as one does the air of heaven at a country window.
You are right, I am happy, completely happy, I love my wife with all my heart. When I think of my child, I laugh aloud to myself with pleasure. Marriage for me has been a harbour of calm and safe waters, not one in which you make fast to a ring on the shore, at the risk of rusting there for ever, but one of those blue creeks where sails and masts are repaired for fresh excursions into unknown countries, I never worked as well as I have since my marriage. All my best pictures date from then.
My dear fellow, at the risk of seeming a coxcomb, I will say that I look upon my happiness as a kind of miracle, something abnormal and exceptional. Yes! the more I see what marriage is, the more I look back with terror at the risk I ran. I am like those who, ignorant of the dangers they have unwittingly gone through, turn pale when all is over, amazed at their own audacity.
But what then are these terrible dangers?
The first and greatest of all, is the loss or degradation of one's talent. This should count, I think, with an artist. For observe that at this moment, I am not speaking of the ordinary conditions of life. I grant you, that in general marriage is an excellent thing, and that the majority of men only begin to be of some account when the family circle completes them or makes them greater. Often, indeed, it is necessary to a profession. A bachelor lawyer cannot even be imagined. He would not have the needful air of weight and gravity. But for all of us, painters, poets, sculptors, musicians, who live outside of life, wholly occupied in studying it, in reproducing it, holding ourselves always a little remote from it, as one steps back from a picture the better to see it, I say that marriage can only be the exception. To that nervous, exacting, impressionable being, that child-man that we call an artist, a special type of woman, almost impossible to find, is needful, and the safest thing to do is not to look for her. Ah! how well our great Delacroix, whom you admire so much, understood that! What a fine existence was his, bounded by his studio wall, devoted exclusively to Art! I was looking the other day at his cottage at Champrosay and the prim little garden full of roses, where he sauntered alone for twenty years! It has the calm and the narrowness of celibacy. Well now! think for a moment of Delacroix married, father of a family, with all the preoccupations of children to bring up, of money matters, of illnesses; do you believe his work would have been the same?
You cite Delacroix, I reply Victor Hugo. Do you think that marriage hampered him for instance, while writing so many admirable books?
I think as a matter of fact, that marriage did not hamper him in anything. But all husbands have not the genius that obtains pardon, nor a halo of glory with which to dry the tears they cause to flow. It cannot be very amusing to be the wife of a genius. There are plenty of labourers' wives who are happier.
A curious thing, all the same, this special pleading against marriage, by a married man, who is happy in being so.
I repeat that I don't give myself as an example. My opinion is formed by all the sad things I have seen elsewhere; all the misunderstandings so frequent in the households of artists, and caused solely by their abnormal life. Look at that sculptor who, in full maturity of age and talent, has just exiled himself, leaving wife and children behind him. Public opinion condemns him, and certainly I offer no excuse for him. And, nevertheless, I can well understand how he arrived at such a point! Here was a fellow who adored his art, and had a horror of the world, and society. The wife, though amiable and intelligent, instead of shielding him from the social obligations he loathed, condemned him for some ten years to all the exactions they involved. Thus she induced him to undertake a lot of official busts, horrible respectabilities in velvet skull caps, frights of women utterly devoid of grace; she disturbed him ten times a day with importunate visitors, and then every evening laid out for him a dress suit and light gloves, and dragged him from drawing-room to drawing-room. You will tell me he could have rebelled, could have replied point-blank: "No!" But don't you know that the very fact of our sedentary existences leaves us more than other men dependent on domestic influence? The atmosphere of the home envelopes us, and if some touch of the ideal does not lighten it, soon wearies and drags us down. Moreover, the artist as a rule puts what force and energy he has into his work, and after his solitary and patient struggles, finds himself left with no will to oppose to the petty importunities of life. With him, feminine tyrannies have free play. No one is more easily conquered and subdued. Only, beware! He must not be made to feel the yoke too heavily. If one day the invisible bonds with which he is surreptitiously fettered are drawn too tight and arrest the artistic effort, he will all at once tear them asunder, and, mistrusting his own weakness, will fly like our sculptor, over the hills and far away.
The wife of this sculptor was astounded at his flight. The unhappy creature is still wondering: "What can I have done to him?" Nothing. She simply did not understand him. For it is not enough to be good and intelligent to be the true helpmate of an artist, A woman must also possess infinite tact, smiling abnegation; and all this is found only by a miracle in a young creature, curious though ignorant as regards life. She is pretty, she has married a well-known man, received everywhere; why should she not wish to show herself a little on his arm? Is it not quite natural? The husband, on the contrary, growing intolerant of society as his talent progresses, finding time short, and art engrossing, refuses to be exhibited. Behold them both miserable, and whether the man gives in or resists, his life is henceforward turned from its course, and from its tranquillity. Ah! how many of these ill-matched couples have I known, where the wife was sometimes executioner, sometimes victim, but more often executioner, and nearly always unwittingly so! The other evening I was at Dargenty's, the musician. There were but a few guests, and he was asked to play. Hardly had he begun one off those pretty mazurkas with a Polish rhythm, which make him the successor of Chopin, when his wife began to talk, quite low at first, then a little louder. By degrees the fire of conversation spread. At the end of a minute I was the only listener. Then he shut the piano, and said to me with a heart-rent smile: "It is always like this here—my wife does not care for music." Can you imagine anything more terrible than to marry a woman who does not care for your art? Take my word for it, my friend, and don't marry. You are alone, you are free; keep as precious things, your liberty and your loneliness.
That is all very well! You talk at your ease of solitude. Presently, when I am gone, if some idea occurs to you, you will gently follow it by the side of your dying embers, without feeling around you that atmosphere of isolation, so vast, so empty, that in it inspiration evaporates and disperses. And one may yet fear to be alone in the hours of work; but there are moments of discouragement and weariness, when one doubts oneself ones art even. That is the moment when it must be happiness to find a faithful and loving heart, ever ready to sympathize with one's depression, to which one may appeal without fearing to disconcert a confidence and enthusiasm that are, in fact, unalterable. And then the child. That sweet unconscious baby smile, is not that the best moral rejuvenescence one can have? Ah! I have often thought over that. For us artists, vain as all must be who live by success, by that superficial esteem, capricious and fleeting, that we call the vogue; for us, above all others, children are indispensable. They alone can console us for growing old. All that we lose, the child gains. The success we have missed, we think: "He will have it" and in proportion as our hair grows thin, we have the joy of seeing it grow again, curly, golden, full of life, on a little fair head at our side.
Ah, poet! poet! have you thought also of all the mouthfuls by which with the end of pen or brush we must nourish a brood?
Well! say what you like, the artist is made for family life, and that is so true, that those among us who do not marry, take refuge in temporary companionships, like travellers who, tired of being always home-less, end by settling in a room in some hotel, and pass their lives under the hackneyed notice of the signboard: "Apartments by the month or night?"
Such are all in the wrong. They accept the worries of wedlock and will never know its joys.
"You acknowledge then that there are some joys?"
Here the painter, instead of replying, rose, searched out from among drawings and sketches a much-thumbed manuscript, and returning to his companion:
"We might argue like this," said he, "for ever so long without either convincing the other. But since, notwithstanding my observations, you seem determined to try marriage, here is a little work I beg you to read. It is written—I would have you note—by a married man, much in love with his wife, very happy in his home, an observer who, spending his life among artists, amused himself by sketching one or two such households as I spoke of just now. From the first to the last line of this book, all is true, so true that the author would never publish it. Read it, and come to me when you have read it. I think you will have changed your mind."
The poet took the manuscript and carried it home with him; but he did not keep the little book with all the needful care, for I have been able to detach a few leaves from it and boldly offer them to the public.
She was certainly not intended for an artist's wife, above all for such an artist as this outrageous fellow, impassioned, uproarious and exuberant, who, with his nose in the air and bristling moustaches, rushed through life defiantly flaunting the eccentric and whirlwind-like name of Heurtebise,* like a challenge thrown down to all the absurd conventionalities and prejudices of the bourgeois class. How, and by what strange charm had the little woman, brought up in a jeweller's shop, behind rows of watch chains and strings of rings, found the means of captivating this poet?
* Hit the blast (literally).
Picture to yourself the affected graces of a shopwoman with insignificant features, cold and ever-smiling eyes, complacent and placid physiognomy, devoid of real elegance, but having a certain love for glitter and tinsel, no doubt caught at her father's shopwindow, making her take pleasure in many-coloured satin bows, sashes and buckles; and her hair glossy with cosmetic, stiffly arranged by the hairdresser over a small, obstinate, narrow forehead, where the total absence of wrinkles told less of youth than of complete lack of thought. Such as she was, however, Heurtebise loved and wooed her, and as he happened to possess a small income, found no difficulty in winning her.
What pleased her in this marriage was the idea of wedding an author, a well-known man, who would take her to the theatre as often as she wished. As for him, I verily believe that her sham elegance born of the shop, her pretentious manners, pursed up mouth, and affectedly uplifted little finger, fascinated him and appeared to him the height, of Parisian refinement; for he was born a peasant and in spite of his intelligence remained one to the end of his days.
Tempted by a quiet happiness and the family life of which he had been so long deprived, Heurtebise spent two years far from his friends, buried in the country, or in out-of-way suburban nooks, within easy distance of that great city Paris, which overexcited him even while he yet sought its attenuated atmosphere, just like those invalids who are recommended sea air, but who, too delicate to bear it in all its strength, are compelled to inhale it from a distance of some miles. From time to time, his name appeared in a newspaper or magazine at the end of an article; but already the freshness of style, the bursts of eloquence, were lacking by which he had been formerly known. We thought: "He is too happy! his happiness has spoilt him."
However, one day he returned amongst us, and we immediately saw that he was not happy. His pallid countenance, drawn features contracted by a perpetual irritability, the violent manners degenerated into a nervous rage, the hollow sound of his once fine ringing laugh, all showed that he was an altered man. Too proud to admit that he had made a mistake, he would, not complain, but the old friends who gathered round him were soon convinced that he had made a most foolish marriage, and that henceforth his life must prove a failure. On the other hand, Madame Heurtebise appeared to us, after two years of married life, exactly the same as we had beheld her in the vestry on her wedding day. She wore the same calm and simpering smile, she had as much as ever the air of a shopwoman in her Sunday clothes, only she had gained self-possession. She talked now. In the midst of artistic discussions into which Heurtebise passionately threw himself, with arbitrary assertions, brutal contempt, or blind enthusiasm, the false and honeyed voice of his wife would suddenly make irruption, forcing him to listen to some idle reasoning or foolish observation invariably outside of the subject of discussion. Embarrassed and worried, he would cast us an imploring glance, and strive to resume the interrupted conversation. Then at last, wearied out by her familiar and constant contradiction, by the silliness of her birdlike brain, inflated and empty as any cracknel, he held his tongue, and silently resigned himself to let her go on to the bitter end. But this determined silence exasperated Madame, seemed to her more insulting, more disdainful than anything. Her sharp voice became discordant, and growing higher and shriller, stung and buzzed, like the ceaseless teasing of a fly, till at last her enraged husband in his turn, burst out brutal and terrific.
She emerged from these incessant quarrels, which always ended in tears, rested and refreshed, as a lawn after a watering, but he remained broken, fevered, incapable of work, Little by little his very violence was worn out One evening when I was present at one of these odious scenes, as Madame Heurtebise triumphantly left the table, I saw on her husband's face bent downwards during the quarrel and now upraised, an expression of scorn and anger that no words could any longer express. The little woman went off shutting the door with a sharp snap, and he, flushed, with his eyes full of tears, and his mouth distorted by an ironical and despairing smile, made like any school-boy behind his master's back, an atrocious gesture of mingled rage and pain. After a few moments, I heard him murmur, in a voice strangled by emotion: "Ah, if it were not for the child, how I would be off at once!"
For they had a child, a poor little fellow, handsome and dirty, who crawled all over the place, played with dogs bigger than himself, with the spiders in the garden, and made mud-pies. His mother only noticed him to declare him "disgusting" and that she had not put him out to nurse.
She clung in fact to all the little shopkeeper traditions of her youth, and the untidy home in which she went about from early morn in elaborate costumes and astonishingly dressed hair, recalled the back-shops so dear to her heart, rooms black with filth and want of air, where in the short intervals of rest from commercial life, badly cooked meals were hurriedly eaten, at a bare wooden table, listening all the while for the tinkle of the shop-bell. With this class, nothing has importance but the street, the street with its passing purchasers and idlers, and its overflowing holiday crowd, that on Sundays throng the side walks and pavements. And how bored she was, wretched creature, in the country, how she regretted the Paris life! Heurtebise, on the contrary, required the country for his mental health. Paris still bewildered him like some countrified boor on his first visit. His wife could not understand it, and bitterly complained of her exile. By way of diversion she invited her old acquaintances, and when her husband was absent they amused themselves by turning over his papers, his memoranda, and the work he was engaged upon.
"Do look, my dear, how funny it is. He shuts himself up to write this. He paces up and down, talking to himself. As for me, I understand nothing of what he does."
And then came endless regrets, and recollections of her past life.
"Ah! if I had known. When I think that I might have married Aubertot and Fajon, the linen-drapers." She always spoke of the two partners at the same time, as though she would have married the firm. Neither did she restrain her feelings in her husband's presence.
She disturbed him, prevented all work, settling down with her friends in the very room he was writing in, and filling it with the silly chatter of idle women, who talked loud, full of disdain for a literary profession which brought in so little, and whose most laborious hours always resemble a capricious idleness. From time to time Heurtebise strove to escape from the life which he felt was daily becoming more dismal. He rushed off to Paris, hired a small room at an hotel, tried to fancy he was a bachelor; but suddenly he thought of his son, and with a desperate longing to embrace him hurried back the same evening into the country.
On these occasions, in order to avoid the inevitable scene on his return, he took a friend back with him and kept him there as long as he could. As soon as he was no longer alone face to face with his wife, his fine intellect awoke and his interrupted schemes of work little by little and one after the other came back to him. But what anguish it was when his friends left! He would have kept his guests for ever, clinging to them by all the strength of his ennui. With what sadness would he accompany us to the stand of the little suburban omnibus which bore us back to Paris! and when we left, how slowly he turned homewards over the dusty road, with rounded shoulders and listless arms, listening to the vanishing wheels.
In truth their tete-a-tete life had become unbearable, and to avoid it, he tried always to keep his house full. With his easy goodnature, his weariness and indifference, he was soon surrounded by a lot of literary starvelings. A set of scribblers, lazy, cracked day-dreamers, settled down upon him and became more at home than himself; and as his wife was but a fool, incapable of judging, because they talked more loudly, she found them charming and very superior to her husband. The days were spent in idle discussions. There was a clash of empty words, a firing of smallest shot, and poor Heurtebise, motionless and silent in the midst of the tumult, merely smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Sometimes, however, towards the end of an interminable repast, when all his guests, elbows on table, began around the brandy flasks one of those lengthy maundering conversations, benumbing like clouds of tobacco smoke, an immense feeling of disgust would seize hold of him, and not having the courage to turn out all these poor wretches, he would himself disappear and remain absent for a week.
"My house is full of imbeciles," he said one day to me. "I dare not return." With this kind of existence, he no longer wrote. His name was never seen, and his fortune, squandered in a perpetual craving to have people in his house, disappeared in the outstretched hands around him.
It was a long time since we had met when I received one morning a line of his dear little handwriting, formerly so firm, now trembling and uncertain. "We are in Paris. Come and see me. I am so dull." I found him with his wife, his child and his dogs, in a lugubrious little apartment in the Batignolles. The disorder which in this narrow space could not be spread about, seemed more hideous even than in the country. While the child and dogs rolled about in rooms the size of a chessboard compartment, Heurtebise; who was ill, lay with his face to the wall, in a state of utter prostration. His wife, dressed out as usual, and ever placid, hardly looked at him. "I don't know what is the matter with him," she said to me with a gesture of indifference. On seeing me he had for a moment a return of gaiety, and a minute of his old hearty laugh, but it was soon stifled. As they had kept up in Paris all their suburban habits, there appeared at the breakfast hour, in the midst of this household disorganized by poverty and illness, a parasite, a seedy looking little bald man, cranky and peevish, of whom they always spoke as "the man who has read Proudhon." It was thus that Heurtebise, who probably had never known his name, introduced him to everybody. When he was asked "Who is that?" he unhesitatingly replied, "Oh! a very clever fellow, who has thoroughly studied Proudhon." His knowledge was certainly not very apparent, for this deep thinker rarely made himself heard except to complain at table of an ill-cooked roast or a spoilt sauce. On this occasion, the man who had read Proudhon declared that the breakfast was detestable, which however did not prevent his devouring the larger half of it himself.
How long and lugubrious this meal by the bedside of my sick friend appeared to me! The wife gossiped as usual, with a tap now and then to the child, a bone to the dogs, and a smile to the philosopher. Not once did Heurtebise turn towards us, and yet he was not asleep. I hardly know whether he thought. Dear, valiant fellow! In those paltry and ceaseless struggles, the mainspring of his strong nature had broken, and he was already beginning to die. The silent death agony, which however was rather an abandonment of life, lasted several months; and then Madame Heurtebise found herself a widow. Then, as no tears had dimmed her clear eyes, as she always bestowed the same care on her glossy locks, and as Aubertot and Fajon were still available, she married Aubertot and Fajon. Perhaps it was Aubertot, perhaps it was Fajon, perhaps even both of them. In any case, she was able to resume the life she was fitted for, and the voluble gossip and eternal smile of the shopwoman.
THE CREDO OF LOVE.
To be the wife of a poet! that had been the dream of her life! but ruthless fate, instead of the romantic and fevered existence she sighed for, had doomed her to a peaceful, humdrum happiness, and married her to a rich man at Auteuil, gentle and amiable, perhaps indeed a trifle old for her, possessed of but one passion,—perfectly inoffensive and unexciting—that of horticulture. This excellent man spent his days pruning, scissors in hand, tending and trimming a magnificent collection of rose trees, heating a greenhouse, watering flower beds; and really it must be admitted that, for a poor little heart hungering after an ideal, this was hardly sufficient food. Nevertheless for ten years her life remained straightforward and uniform, like the smooth sanded paths in her husband's garden, and she pursued it with measured steps, listening with resigned weariness to the dry and irritating sound of the ever-moving scissors, or to the monotonous and endless showers that fell from the watering pots on to the leafy shrubs. The rabid horticulturist bestowed on his wife the same scrupulous attention he gave to his flowers. He carefully regulated the temperature of the drawing-room, overcrowded with nosegays, fearing for her the April frosts or March sun; and like the plants in pots that are put out and taken in at stated times, he made her live methodically, ever watchful of a change of barometer or phase of the moon.
She remained like this for a long time, closed in by the four walls of the conjugal garden, innocent as a clematis, full however of wild aspirations towards other gardens, less staid, less humdrum, where the rose trees would fling out their branches untrained, and the wild growth of weed and briar be taller than the trees, and blossom with unknown and fantastic flowers, luxuriantly coloured by a warmer sun. Such gardens are rarely found save in the books of poets, and so she read many verses, all unknown to the nurseryman, who knew no other poetry than a few almanac distichs such as:
Quand il pleut a la Saint-Medard, Il pleut quarante jours plus tard.*
* When it rains on Saint Medard's day, It rains on for forty more days.
At haphazard, the unfortunate creature ravenously devoured the paltriest rhymes, satisfied if she found in them lines ending in "love" and "passion"; then closing the book, she would spend hours dreaming and sighing: "That would have been the husband for me!"
It is probable that all this would have remained in a state of vague aspiration, if at the terrible age of thirty, which seems to be the decisive critical moment for woman's virtue, as twelve o'clock is for the day's beauty, the irresistible Amaury had not chanced to cross her path. Amaury was a drawing-room poet, one of those fanatics in dress coat and grey kid gloves, who between ten o'clock and midnight, go and recite to the world their ecstasies of love, their raptures, their despair, leaning mournfully against the mantel-piece, in the blaze of the lights, while seated around him women, in full evening dress, listen entranced behind their fans.
This one might pose as the very ideal of his kind; with his vulgar but irresistible countenance, sunken eye, pallid complexion, hair cut short and moustaches stiffly plastered with cosmetic. A desperate man such as women love, hopeless of life but irreproachably dressed, a lyric enthusiast, chilled and disheartened, in whom the madness of inspiration can be divined only in the loose and neglected tie of his cravat. But also what success awaits him, when he delivers in a strident voice a tirade from his poem, the Credo of Love, more especially the one ending in this extraordinary line:
Moi, je crois a l'amour comme je crois en Dieu! *
* I believe in love as I believe in God.
Mark you, I strongly suspect the rascal cares as little for God, as for the rest; but women do not look so closely. They are easily caught by a birdlime of words, and every time Amaury recites his Credo of Love, you are certain to see all round the drawing-room rows upon rows of little rosy mouths, eagerly opening, ready to swallow the taking bait of mawkish sentimentality. Just fancy! A poet who has such beautiful moustaches and who believes in love as he believes in God.
For the nurseryman's wife this proved indeed irresistible. In three sittings she was conquered. Only, as at the bottom of this elegiac nature there was some honesty and pride, she would not stoop to any paltry fault. Moreover the poet himself declared in his Credo, that he only understood one way of erring: that which was openly declared and ready to defy both law and society. Taking therefore the Credo of Love for her guide, the young woman one fine day escaped from the garden at Auteuil and went off to throw herself into her poet's arms.—"I can no longer live with that man! Take me away!"
In such cases the husband is always that man, even when he is a horticulturist.
For a moment Amaury was staggered. How on earth could he have imagined that an ordinary little housewife of thirty would have taken in earnest a love poem, and followed it out literally? However he put the best face he could on his over-good fortune, and as the lady had, thanks to her little Auteuil garden, remained fresh and pretty, he carried her off without a murmur. The first days, all was delightful. They feared lest the husband should track them. They thought it advisable to hide under fictitious names, change hotels, inhabit the most remote quarters of the town, the suburbs of Paris, the outlying districts.
In the evening they stealthily sallied forth and took sentimental walks along the fortifications. Oh the wonderful power of romance! The more she was alarmed, the more precautions, window blinds and lowered veils, were necessary, the greater did her poet seem. At night, they opened the little window of their room and gazing at the stars rising on high above the signal lights of the neighbouring railway, she made him repeat again and again his wonderful verses:
Moi, je crois a l'amour comme je crois en Dieu.
And it was delightful!
Unfortunately it did not last. The husband left them too much undisturbed. The fact is, that man was a philosopher. His wife gone, he had closed the green door of his oasis and quietly set about trimming his roses again, happy in the thought that these at least, attached to the soil by long roots, would not be able to run away from him. Our reassured lovers returned to Paris and then suddenly the young woman felt that some change had come over her poet. Their flight, fear of detection, and constant alarms,—all these things which had fed her passion existing no longer, she began to understand and see the situation clearly.
Moreover, at every moment, in the settling of their little household, in the thousand paltry details of every day life, the man she was living with showed himself more thoroughly.
The few and scarce generous, heroic or delicate feelings he possessed were spun out in his verses, and he kept none for his personal use. He was mean, selfish, above all very niggardly, a fault love seldom forgives. Then he had cut off his moustaches, and was disfigured by the loss. How different from that fine gloomy fellow with his carefully curled locks, as he appeared one evening declaiming his Credo, in the blaze of two chandeliers! Now, in the enforced retreat he was undergoing on her account, he gave way to all his crotchets, the greatest of which was fancying himself always ill. Indeed, from constantly playing at consumption, one ends by believing in it. The poet Amaury was fond of decoctions, wrapped himself up in plaisters, and covered his chimney piece with phials and powders. For some time the little woman took up quite seriously her part of a nursing sister. Her devotion seemed to excuse her fault and give an object to her life. But she soon tired of it. In spite of herself, in the stuffy room where the poet sat wrapped in flannel, she could not help thinking of her little garden so sweetly scented, and the kind nurseryman seen from afar in the midst of his shrubs and flowerbeds, appeared to her as simple, touching and disinterested, as this other one was exacting and egotistical.
At the end of a month, she loved her husband, really loved him, not with the affection induced by habit, but with a real and true love. One day she wrote him a long letter full of passion and repentance. He did not vouchsafe a reply. Perhaps he thought she was not yet sufficiently punished. Then she despatched letter after letter, humbled herself, begged him to allow her to return, saying she would die rather than continue to live with that man. It was now the lover's turn to be called "that man." Strange to say, she hid herself from him to write; for she believed him still in love, and while imploring her husband's forgiveness, she feared the exaltation of her lover.
"He will never allow me to leave," she said to herself. Accordingly, when by dint of supplications she obtained forgiveness and the nurseryman—I have already mentioned that he was a philosopher,—consented to take her back, the return to her own home bore all the mysterious and dramatic aspect of flight. She literally eloped with her husband. It was her last culpable pleasure. One evening as the poet, tired of their dual existence, and proud of his regrown moustaches, had gone to an evening party to recite his Credo of Love, she jumped into a cab that was awaiting her at the end of the street and returned with her old husband to the little garden at Auteuil, for ever cured of her ambition to be the wife of a poet. It is true that this fellow was not much of a poet!
The play was just over, and while the crowd, with its many varied impressions, hurried away and poured out under the glare of the principal portico of the theatre, a few friends, of whom I was one, awaited the poet at the artists' entrance in order to congratulate him. His production had not, indeed, been very successful. Too powerful to suit the timid and trivial imagination of the public of our day, it was quite beyond the range of the stage, limited as that is by conventionalities and tolerated traditions. Pedantic criticism declared: "It is not fit for the stage!" and the scoffers of the boulevards revenged themselves for the emotion these magnificent verses had given them by repeating: "It won't pay!" As for us, we were proud of the friend who had dared to roll forth in a ringing peal, his splendid golden rhymes, flashing the best product of his genius beneath the artificial and murderous light of the lustres, and presenting his personages in life-like size, heedless of the optical illusion of the modern stage, of the dimness of opera-glass and defective vision.
Amid a motley crowd of scene shifters, firemen, and figurants muffled up in comforters, the poet approached us, his tall figure bent double, his coat collar chillily turned up over his thin beard and long grizzled hair. He seemed depressed. The scant applause of the hired claque and literary friends confined to a corner of the house foretold a limited number of representations, choice and rare spectators, and posters rapidly replaced without giving his name a chance of being known. When one has worked twenty of talent and life, this obstinate refusal of the public to comprehend is wearying and disheartening, and one ends by thinking: "Perhaps after all they are right." Fear paralyses and words fail. Our acclamations and enthusiastic greetings somewhat cheered him. "Really do you think so? Is it well done? 'Tis true I have given all I knew." And his feverish hands anxiously clutched ours, his eyes full of tears sought a sincere and reassuring glance. It was the imploring anguish of the sick person, asking the doctor: "It is not true, I'm not going to die?" No! poet, you will not die. The operettas and fairy pieces that have had hundreds of representations and thousands of spectators will be long since forgotten, scattered to the winds with their last playbills, while your work will ever remain fresh and living.
As we stood on the now deserted pavement, exhorting and cheering him, a loud contralto voice vulgarised by an Italian accent burst upon us.
"Hullo, artist! enough pouegie. Let's go and eat the estoufato!"
At the same moment a stout woman wrapped up in a hooded cape and a red tartan shawl linked her arm in that of our friend, in a manner so brutal and despotic that his countenance and attitude became at once embarrassed.
"My wife," he said, then turning towards her with a hesitating smile:
"Suppose we take them home and show them how you make an estoufato?"
Flattered in the conceit of her culinary accomplishments, the Italian graciously consented to receive us, and five or six of us started off for the heights of Montmartre where they dwelt, to share their stewed beef.
I confess I took a certain interest in the artist's home life. Since his marriage our friend had led a very secluded existence, almost always in the country; but what I knew of his life whetted my curiosity. Fifteen years before, when in all the freshness of a romantic imagination, he had met in the suburbs of Rome a magnificent creature with whom he immediately fell desperately in love. Maria Assunta, her father, and a brood of brothers and sisters inhabited one of those little houses of the Transtevera with walls uprising from the waters of the Tiber, and an old fishing boat rocking level with the door. One day he caught sight of the handsome Italian girl, with bare feet in the sand, red skirt tightly pleated around her, and unbleached linen sleeves tucked up to the shoulders, catching eels out of a large gleaming wet net. The silvery scales glistening through the meshes full of water, the golden river and scarlet petticoat, the beautiful black eyes deep and pensive, which seemed darkened in their musing by the surrounding sunlight struck the artist, perhaps even rather trivially, like some coloured print on the titlepage of a song in a music-seller's window.
It so chanced that the girl was heart-whole, having till now bestowed her affections on a big tom-cat, yellow and sly, also a great fisher of eels, who bristled up all over when anyone approached his mistress.
Beasts and men, our lover managed to tame all these folk, was married at Santa-Maria of the Transtevera and brought back to France the beautiful Assunta and her cato.
Ah! poor fellow, he ought also to have brought away at the same time some of the sunlight of that country, a scrap of the blue sky, the eccentric costume and the bulrushes of the Tiber, and the large swing nets of the Ponte Rotto; in fact the frame with the picture. Then he would have been spared the cruel disenchantment he experienced when, having settled in a modest flat on the fourth storey, on the heights of Montmartre, he saw his handsome Transteverina decked out in a crinoline, a flounced dress, and a Parisian bonnet, which, constantly out of balance on the top of her heavy braids, assumed the most independent attitudes. Under the clear cold light of Parisian skies, the unfortunate man soon perceived that his wife was a fool, an irretrievable fool. Not a single idea even lurked in the velvety depths of those beautiful black eyes, lost in infinite contemplation. They glittered like an animal's in the calm of digestion, or in a chance gleam of light, nothing more. Withal the lady was common, vulgar, accustomed to govern by a slap all the little world of her native hut, and the least opposition threw her into uncontrollable rages.
Who would have guessed that the fine mouth, straitened by silence into the purest shape of an antique face, would suddenly open to let flow torrents of vulgar abuse? Without respect for herself or for him, out loud, in the street, at the theatre, she would pick a quarrel with him, and indulge in scenes of fearful jealousy. To crown all, devoid of any artistic feeling, she was completely ignorant of her husband's profession and language, of manners, in fact of everything. The little French she could be taught, only made her forget Italian, and the result was that she composed a kind of half and half jargon which had the most comical effect. In short this love story, begun like one of Lamartine's poems, was ending like a novel of Champfleury's. After having for a long time struggled to civilise this wild woman, the poet saw he must abandon the task. Too honourable to leave her, probably still too much in love, he made up his mind to shut himself up, see no one, and work hard. The few intimate friends he admitted to his house, saw that they embarrassed him and ceased to come.
Hence it was that for the last fifteen years he had been living boxed up in his household like in a leper's cell.
As I pondered over this wretched existence, I watched the strange couple walking before me. He, slender, tall and round-shouldered.
She, squarely built, heavy, shaking her shawl by an impatient shrug of her shoulders, with a free gait like a man's. She was tolerably cheerful, her speech was loud, and from time to time she turned round to see if we followed, familiarly shouting and calling by name those of us she happened to know, accentuating her words by much gesticulation as she would have hailed a fishing boat on the Tiber. When we reached their house, the concierge, furious at seeing so noisy a crew at such an unearthly hour, tried to prevent our entry. The Italian and he had a fearful row on the staircase. We were all dotted about on the winding stairs dimly lighted by the dying gas, ill at ease, uncomfortable, hardly knowing if we ought not to come down again.
"Come, quick, let us go up," said the poet in a low tone, and we followed him silently, while, leaning over the banisters that shook under her weight and anger, the Italian let fly a volley of abuse in which Roman imprecations alternated with the vocabulary of the back slums. What a return home for the poet who had just roused the admiration of artistic Paris, and still retained in his fevered eyes the dazzling intoxication of his first performance! What a humiliating recall to every-day life!
It was only by the fireside in his little sitting room that the icy chill caused by this silly adventure was dispelled, and we should soon have completely forgotten it, had it not been for the piercing voice and bursts of laughter of the signora whom we heard in the kitchen telling her maid how soundly she had rated that choulato! When the table was laid and supper ready, she came and seated herself amongst us, having taken off her shawl, bonnet and veil, and I was able to examine her at my leisure. She was no longer handsome. The square face, the broad heavy jaw, the coarse hair turning grey, and above all the vulgar expression of the mouth, contrasted singularly with the eternal and meaningless reverie of the dreamy gaze. Resting her elbows on the table, familiar and shapeless, she joined in the conversation without for an instant losing sight of her plate. Just over her head, proud amid all the melancholy rubbish of the drawing-room, a large portrait signed by an illustrious name, stood out of the surrounding shade,—it was Maria Assunta at twenty. The purple costume, the milky white of the pleated wimple, the bright gold of the over-abundant imitation jewelry, set off magnificently the brilliancy of a sunny complexion, the velvety shades of the thick hair growing low on the forehead, which seemed to be united by an almost imperceptible down to the superb and straight line of the eyebrows. How could such an exuberance of life and beauty have deteriorated and become such a mass of vulgarity? And curiously while the Transteverina talked, I interrogated her lovely eyes, so deep and soft on the canvas.
The excitement of the meal had put her in a good humour. To cheer up the poet, to whom his mingled failure and glory were doubly painful, she thumped him on the back, laughed with her mouth full, saying in her hideous jargon, that it was not worth while for such a trifle to fling oneself head downwards from the campanile del Duomo.
"Isn't it true, il cato?" she added turning to the old tom-cat crippled by rheumatism, snoring in front of the fire. Then suddenly, in the middle of an interesting discussion, she screamed out to her husband in a voice senseless and brutal as the crack of a rifle:
"Hey! artist! la lampo qui filo!"
The poor fellow immediately interrupted his conversation to wind up the lamp, humble, submissive, anxious to avoid the scene he dreaded, and which in spite of all, he did not escape.
On returning from the theatre we had stopped at the Maison d'Or to get a bottle of choice wine to wash down the estoufato. All along the road Maria Assunta had piously carried it under her shawl, and on her arrival she had placed it on the table where she could cast tender looks upon it, for Roman women are fond of good wine. Already twice or three times mistrustful of her husband's absence of mind, and the length of his arms, she had said:
"Mind the boteglia—you're going to break it."
At last, as she went off to the kitchen to take up with her own hands the famous estoufato, she again called out to him:
"Whatever you do, don't break the boteglia."
Unluckily, the moment his wife had disappeared, the poet seized the opportunity to talk about art, theatres, success, so freely and with so much gusto and vivacity, that—crash! By a gesture more eloquent than the others, the wonderful bottle was thrown down and fell to the ground in a thousand pieces. Never have I beheld such terror. He stopped short, and became deadly pale. At the same moment, Assunta's contralto was heard in the next room, and the Italian appeared on the threshold with flashing eyes, lips swollen with rage, red with the heat of the kitchen range.
"The boteglia!" she roared in a terrible voice.
Then timidly bending down to me, he whispered:
"Say it's you."
And the poor devil was so frightened, that I felt his long legs tremble under the table.
A COUPLE OF SINGERS.
How could they help falling in love? Handsome and famous as they both were, singing in the same operas, living each night during five whole acts the same artificial and passionate existence. You cannot play with fire without being burnt. You cannot say twenty times a month: "I love you!" to the sighing of a flute or the tremolos of a violin, without at last being caught by the emotion of your own voice. In course of time, passion awoke in the surrounding harmonies, the rhythmical surprises, the gorgeousness of costume and scenery. It was wafted to them through the window that Elsa and Lohengrin threw wide open on a night vibrating with sound and luminousness:
"Come let us breathe the intoxicating perfumes."
It slipped in between the white columns of the Capulets' balcony, where Romeo and Juliet linger in the dawning light of day:
"It was the nightingale, and not the lark."
And softly it caught Faust and Marguerite in a ray of moonlight, that rose from the rustic bench to the shutters of their little chamber, amid the entangled ivy and blossoming roses:
"Let me once more gaze upon thy face."
Soon all Paris knew their love and became interested in it. It was the wonder of the season. The world came to admire the two splendid stars gently gravitating towards each other in the musical firmament of the Opera House. At last one evening, after an enthusiastic recall, as the curtain fell, separating the house full of noisy applause and the stage littered with bouquets, where the white gown of Juliet swept over scattered camellia blossoms, the two singers were seized with an irresistible impulse, as though their love, a shade artificial, had but awaited the emotion of a splendid success to reveal itself.
Hands were clasped, vows exchanged, vows consecrated by the distant and persistent plaudits of the house. The two stars had made their conjunction.
After the wedding, some time passed before they were again seen on the stage. Then, when their holiday was ended, they reappeared in the same piece. This reappearance was a revelation. Until then, of the two singers, the man had been the most prized. Older and more accustomed to the public, whose foibles and preferences he had studied, he held the pit and boxes under the spell of his voice. Beside him, the other one seemed but an admirably gifted pupil, the promise of a future genius; but her voice was young and had angles in it, just as her shoulders were too slight and thin. And when on her return she appeared in one of her former parts, and the full rich, powerful sound poured out in the very first notes, abundant and pure, like the water of some sparkling spring, there ran through the house such a thrill of delight and surprise, that all the interest of the evening was concentrated on her. For the young woman, it was one of those happy days, in which the ambient atmosphere becomes limpid, light and vibrating, wafting towards one all the radiance and adulations of success. As for the husband, they almost forgot to applaud him, and as a dazzling light ever seems to make the shade around it darker, so he, found himself relegated, as it were, to the most insignificant part of the stage, as if he were neither more nor less than a mere walking gentleman.
After all, the passion that was revealed in the songstress's acting, in her voice full of charm and tenderness, was inspired by him. He alone lent fire to the glances of those deep eyes, and that idea ought to have made him proud, but the comedian's vanity proved stronger. At the end of the performance he sent for the leader of the claque and rated him soundly. They had missed his entry and his exit, forgotten the recall at the third act; he would complain to the manager, &c.
Alas! In vain he struggled, in vain did the paid applause greet him, the good graces of the public, henceforth bestowed on his wife, remained definitively acquired to her. She was fortunate too in a choice of parts appropriate to her talent and her beauty, in which she appeared with all the assurance of a woman of the world entering a ball-room, dressed in the colours best suited to her, and certain of an ovation. At each fresh success the husband was depressed, nervous, and irritable. This vogue which left him and so absolutely became hers only, seemed to him a kind of robbery. For a long while he strove to hide from every one, more especially from his wife, this unavowable anguish; but one evening, as she was going up the stairs leading to her dressing-room, holding up with both hands her skirt-laden with bouquets, carried away by her triumphal success, she said to him with a voice still overcome by the excitement of applause: "We have had a magnificent house to-night." He replied: "You think so!" in such an ironical and bitter tone, that the young wife suddenly understood all.
Her husband was jealous! Not with the jealousy of a lover, who will only allow his wife to be beautiful for him, but with the jealousy of an artist, cold, furious, implacable. At times, when she stopped at the end of an air and multitudes of bravos were thrown to her from outstretched hands, he affected an indifferent and absent manner, and his listless gaze seemed to say to the spectators: "When you have finished applauding, I'll sing."
Ah! the applause, that sound like hail reechoing so delightfully through the lobbies, the house, and the side scenes, once the sweets of it are tasted, it is impossible to live without it. Great actors do not die of illness or old age, they cease to exist when applause no longer greets them. At the indifference of the public, this one was really seized with a feeling of despair. He grew thin, became peevish and bad-tempered. In vain did he reason with himself, look his incurable folly well in the face, repeat to himself before he came on the stage:
"And yet she is my wife, and I love her!"
In the artificial atmosphere of the stage the true sentiment of life vanished at once. He still loved the wife, but detested the singer. She realized it, and as one nurses an invalid, watched the sad mania. At first she thought of lessening her success, of making a sparing use and not giving the full power of her voice and talent; but her resolutions like those of her husband could not withstand the glare of the footlights. Her talent, almost unconsciously, overstepped her will. Then she humbled herself before him, belittled herself. She asked his advice, inquired if he thought her interpretation correct, if he understood the part in that way.
Of course he was never satisfied. With assumed goodnature, in the tone of false friendship that comedians use so much amongst each other, he would say, on the evenings of her greatest successes:
"You must watch yourself, dear, you are not doing very well just now, not improving."
At other times he tried to prevent her singing:
"Take care, you are lavishing yourself. You are doing too much. Don't wear out your luck. Believe me, you ought to take a holiday."
He even condescended to the most paltry pretexts. Said she had a cold, was not in good voice. Or else he would try to pick some mean stage quarrel:
"You took up the end of the duet too quickly; you spoilt my effect. You did it on purpose."
He never saw, poor wretch, that it was he who hindered her bye play, hurrying on with his cue in order to prevent any applause, and in his anxiety to regain the public ear, monopolizing the front of the stage, leaving his wife in the background. She never complained, for she loved him too well; moreover success makes us indulgent and every evening she was compelled to quit the shade in which she strove to conceal and efface herself, to obey the summons enthusiastically calling her to the footlights. This singular jealousy was soon noticed at the theatre, and their fellow actors made fun of it. They overwhelmed the singer with compliments about his wife's singing. They thrust under his eyes the newspaper article in which after four long columns devoted to the star, the critic bestowed a few lines to the fast fading vogue of the husband. One day, having just read one of these articles, he rushed into his wife's dressing-room, holding the open paper in his hand and said to her, pale with rage:
"The fellow must have been your lover." He had indeed reached this degree of injustice. In fact the unhappy woman, praised and envied, whose name figured in large type on the play bills and might be read on all the walls of Paris, who was seized upon as a successful advertising medium and placed on the tiny gilt labels of the confectioner or perfumer, led the saddest and most humiliating of lives. She dared not open a paper for fear of reading her own praises, wept over the flowers that were thrown to her and which she left to die in a corner of her dressing-room, that she might avoid perpetuating at home the cruel memories of her triumphant evenings. She even wanted to quit the stage, but her husband objected.
"It will be said that I make you leave it." And the horrible torture continued for both.
One night of a first representation, the songstress was going to the front, when somebody said to her: "Mind what you are about. There is a cabal in the house against you." She laughed at the idea. A cabal against her? And for what reason, Good Heavens! She who only met with sympathy, who did not belong to any coterie! It was true however. In the middle of the opera, in a grand duet with her husband, at the moment when her magnificent voice had reached the highest pitch of its compass, finishing the sound in a succession of notes, even and pure like the rounded pearls of a necklace, a volley of hisses cut her short. The audience was as much moved and surprised as herself. All remained breathless, as though each one felt prisoner within them the passage she had not been able to finish. Suddenly a horrible, mad idea flashed across her mind. He was alone on the stage, in front of her. She gazed at him steadily and saw in his eyes the passing gleam of a cruel smile. The poor woman understood all. Sobs suffocated her.
She could only burst into tears and blindly disappear through the crowded side scenes.
It was her own husband who had had her hissed!
A MISUNDERSTANDING — THE WIFE'S VERSION.
What can be the matter with him? What can he complain of? I cannot understand it. And yet I have done all I could to make him happy. To be sure, I don't say that instead of a poet I would not rather have married a notary or a lawyer, something rather more serious, rather less vague as a profession; nevertheless, such as he was he took my fancy. I thought him a trifle visionary, but charming all the same, and well-mannered; besides he had some fortune, and I thought that once married poetizing would not prevent him from seeking out some good appointment which would set us quite at ease.
He, too at that time seemed to find me to his taste. When he came to see me at my aunt's in the country, he could not find words enough to admire the order and arrangement of our little house, kept like a convent, "It is so quaint!" he used to say. He would laugh and call me all sorts of names taken from the poems and romances he had read. That shocked me a little I confess; I should have liked him to be more serious. But it was not until we were married and settled in Paris, that I felt all the difference of our two natures.
I had dreamed of a little home kept scrupulously bright and clean; instead of which, he began at once to encumber our apartment with useless old-fashioned furniture, covered with dust, and with faded tapestries, old as the hills. In everything it was the same. Would you believe that he obliged me to put away in the attic a sweetly pretty Empire clock, which had come to me from my aunt, and some splendidly-framed pictures given me by my school friends. He thought them hideous. I am still wondering why? For after all, his study was one mass of lumber, of old smoky pictures; statuettes I blushed to look at, chipped antiquities of all kinds, good for nothing; vases that would not hold water, odd cups, chandeliers covered with verdigris.
By the side of my beautiful rosewood piano, he had put another, a little shabby thing with all the polish off, half-the notes wanting, and so old and worn that one could hardly hear it. I began to think: "Good gracious! is an artist then, really a little mad? Does he only care for useless things, and despise all that is useful?"
When I saw his friends', the society he received, it was still worse. Men with long hair, great beards, scarcely combed, badly dressed, who did not hesitate to smoke in my presence, while to listen to them made me quite uncomfortable, so widely opposed were their ideas to mine. They used long words, fine phrases, nothing natural, nothing simple. Then with all this, not a notion of ordinary civilities: you might ask them to dinner twenty times running, and there would be never a call, never a return of any kind. Not even a card or a bonbon on New Year's day. Nothing. Some of these gentry were married and brought their wives to see us. You should have seen the style of these persons! For every day wear, superb toilettes such as thank heaven, I would wear at no time! And so ill-arranged, without order or method. Hair loose, skirts trailing, and such a bold display of their talents! There were some who sang like actresses, played the piano like professors, all talked on every subject just like men. I ask you, is this reasonable?
Ought serious women once married to think of anything but the care of their household? This is what I tried to make my husband understand, when he was vexed at seeing me give up my music. Music is all very well when one is a little girl and has nothing better to do. But candidly, I should consider myself very ridiculous if I sat down every day to the piano.
Oh! I am quite aware that his great complaint against me is that I wished to draw him from the strange society I considered so dangerous for him. "You have driven away all my friends?" he often used to say reproachfully. Yes, I did do so, and I don't regret it. Those creatures would have ended by driving him crazy. After leaving them, he would often spend the night in making rhymes and in marching up and down and talking aloud. As if he were not already sufficiently eccentric and original in himself without being excited by others! What caprices, what whims have I not put up with! Suddenly one morning, he would appear in my room: "Quick, get your hat—we are off to the country." Then one must leave everything, sewing, household affairs, take a carriage, go by rail, spend a mint of money! And I, who only thought of economy! For after all, it is not with fifteen thousand francs (six hundred pounds) a year that one can be counted rich in Paris or make any provision for one's children. At first he used to laugh at my observations, and try to make me laugh; then when he saw how firmly I was resolved to remain serious, he found fault with my simplicity and my taste for home. Am I to blame because I detest theatres and concerts, and those artistic soirees to which he wished to drag me, and where he met his old acquaintances, a lot of scatterbrains, dissipated and Bohemian?
At one time, I thought he was becoming more reasonable. I had managed to with-draw him from his good-for-nothing circle of friends, and to gather round us a society of sensible people, well-settled in life, who might be of use to us. But no! Monsieur was bored. He was always bored, from morning till night. At our little soirees, where I was careful to arrange a whist table and a tea table, all as it should be, he would appear with such a face! in such a temper! When we were alone, it was just the same. Nevertheless, I was full of little attentions. I used to say to him: "Read me something of what you are doing." He recited to me verses, tirades, of which I understood nothing, but I put on an air of interest, and here and there made some little remark, which by the way, inevitably had the knack of annoying him. In a year, working night and day, he could only make of all his rhymes, one single volume which never sold, I said to him: "Ah! you see," just in a reasoning spirit, to bring him to something more comprehensible, more remunerative, He got into a frightful rage, and afterwards sank into a state of gloomy depression which made me very unhappy. My friends advised me as well as they could: "You see, my dear, it is the ennui and bad temper of an unoccupied man. If he worked a little more, he would not be so gloomy."
Then I set to work, and all my belongings too, to seek him an appointment, I moved heaven and earth, I made I don't know how many visits to the wives of government officials, heads of departments; I even penetrated into a minister's office. It was a surprise I reserved for him, I said to my-self: "We shall see whether he will be pleased this time," At length, the day when I received his nomination in a lovely envelope with five big seals, I carried it myself to his table, half wild with joy. It was provision for the future, comfort, self content, the tranquillity of regular work. Do you know what he did? He said: "He would never forgive me." After which he tore the minister's letter into a thousand pieces, and rushed out, banging the doors. Oh! these artists, poor unsettled brains taking life all the wrong way! What could be done with such a man? I should have liked to talk to him, to reason with him. In vain. Those were indeed right, who had said to me: "He is a madman." Of what use moreover to talk to him? We do not speak the same language. He would not understand me, any more than I understand him. And now, here we must sit and look at each other. I see hatred in his glance, and yet I have true affection for him. It is very painful.
* * * * *
A MISUNDERSTANDING — THE HUSBAND'S VERSION.
I had thought of everything, taken all my precautions. I would not have a Parisian, because Parisian women alarm me. I would not have a rich wife because she might be too exacting and extravagant. I also dreaded family ties, that terrible network of homely affections, which monopolizes, imprisons, dwarfs and stifles. My wife was the realization of my fondest dreams. I said to myself: "She will owe me everything."
What pleasure to educate this simple mind to the contemplation of beauty, to initiate this pure soul to my enthusiasms and hopes, to give life, in short, to this statue! The fact is she had the air of a statue, with her great serious calm eyes, her regular Greek profile, her features, which although rather too marked and severe, were softened by the rose-tinted bloom of youth and the shadow of the waving hair. Added to all this was a faint provincial accent that was my especial joy, an accent to which with closed eyes, I listened as a recollection of happy childhood, the echo of a tranquil life in some far away, utterly unknown nook. And to think that now, this accent has become unbearable to me! But in those days, I had faith. I loved, I was happy, and disposed to be still more so. Full of ardour for my work, I had as soon as I was married begun a new poem, and in the evening I read to her the verses of the day. I wished to make her enter completely into my existence. The first time or two, she said to me: "Very pretty," and I was grateful to her for this childish approbation, hoping that in time she would comprehend better what was the very breath of my life.
Poor creature! How I must have bored her! After having read her my verses, I explained them to her, seeking in her beautiful astonished eyes the hoped-for gleam of light, ever fancying I should surprise it.
I obliged her to give me her opinion and I passed over all that was foolish to retain only what a chance inspiration might contain of good. I so longed to make of her my true help mate, the real artist's wife! But no! She could not understand. In vain did I read to her the great poets, choosing the strongest, the tenderest,—the golden rhymes of the love poems fell upon her ear as coldly and tediously as a hailstorm. Once I remember, we were reading la Nuit d'Octobre; she interrupted me, to ask for something more serious! I tried then to explain to her that there is nothing in the world more serious than poetry, which is the very essence of life, floating above it like a glory of light, in the % vibrations of which words and thoughts are elevated and transfigured. Oh! what a disdainful smile passed over her pretty mouth and what condescension in her glance! As though a child or a madman had spoken to her.
What have I not thus wasted of strength and useless eloquence! Nothing was of any use. I stumbled perpetually against what she called good sense, reason, that eternal excuse of dried up hearts and narrow minds. And it was not only poetry that bored her. Before our marriage, I had believed her to be a musician. She seemed to understand the pieces she played, aided by the underlinings of her teacher. Scarcely was she married when she closed her piano, and gave up her music.
Can there be anything more melancholy than this abandonment by the young wife of all that had pleased in the young girl? The reply given, the part ended, the actress quits her costume. It was all done with a view to marriage; a surface of petty accomplishments, of pretty smiles, and fleeting elegance. With her the change was instantaneous. At first I hoped that the taste I could not give her, an artistic intelligence and love of the beautiful, would come to her in spite of herself, through the medium of this wonderful Paris, with its unconscious refining influence on eyes and mind. But what can be done with a woman who does not know how to open a book, to look at a picture, who is always bored and refuses to see anything? I soon understood that I must resign myself to have by my side nothing but a housewife, active and economical, indeed very economical. According to Proudhon, a woman, nothing more. I could have shaped my course accordingly; so many artists are in the same plight! But this modest role was not enough for her.
Little by little, slyly, silently, she managed to get rid of all my friends. We had not made any difference in our talk because of * her presence. We talked as we always had done in the past, but she never understood the irony or the fantasy of our artistic exaggerations, of our wild axioms, or paradoxes, in which-an idea is travestied only to figure more brilliantly. It only irritated and puzzled her. Seated in a quiet corner of the drawing-room, she listened and said nothing, planning all the while how she should eliminate one by one those who so much shocked her. Notwithstanding the seeming friendliness of the welcome, there could already be felt in my rooms that thin current of cold air, which warns that the door is open and that it is time to leave.
My friends once gone, she replaced them by her own. I found myself surrounded by an absurd set of worthies, strangers to art, who hated poetry and scorned it because "it made no money." On purpose the names of fashionable writers who manufacture plays and novels by the dozen were cited before me, with the remark: "So and so makes a great deal of money!"
Make money! this is the all-important point for these creatures, and I had the pain of seeing my wife think with them. In this fatal atmosphere, her provincial habits, her mean and narrow views were made still more odious by an incredible stinginess.
Fifteen thousand francs (six hundred pounds) a year! It seemed to me that with this income we could live without fear of the morrow. Not at all! She was always grumbling, talking of economy, reform, good investments. As she overpowered me with these dull details, I felt all desire and taste for work ebb away from me. Sometimes she came to my table and scornfully turned over the scattered half-written pages:—"Only that!" she would say, counting the hours lost upon the insignificant little lines. Ah I if I had listened to her, my glorious title of poet, which it has taken me so many years to win, would be now dragged through the black mire of sensational literature. And when I think that to this selfsame woman I had at first opened my heart, confided all my dreams; and when I think that the contempt she now shows me because I do not make money dates from the first days of our marriage; I am indeed ashamed, both of myself and of her.
I make no money! That explains everything, the reproach of her glance, her admiration for fruitful commonplaces, culminating in the steps she took but lately to obtain for me I don't know what post in a government office.
At this, however, I resisted. No defence remains to me but this, a force of inertia, which yields to no assault, to no persuasion. She may speak for hours, freeze me with her chilliest smile, my thought ever escapes her, will always escape her. And we have come to this! Married and condemned to live together, leagues of distance separate us; and we are both too weary, too utterly discouraged, to care to make one step that might draw us together. It is horrible!
ASSAULT WITH VIOLENCE.
MR. PETITBRY, Chamber Counsel.
To Madame Nina de B., at her Aunt's house, in Moulins.
Madame, conformably to the wishes of Madame your aunt, I have looked into the matter in question. I have noted down one by one all the different points and submitted your grievances to the most scrupulous investigation. Well, on my soul and conscience, I do not find the fruit ripe enough, or to speak plainly, I do not consider that you have sufficient grounds to justify your petition for a judicial separation. Let us not forget that the French law is a very downright kind of thing, totally devoid of delicate feeling for nice distinctions. It recognizes only acts, serious, brutal acts, and unfortunately it is these acts we lack. Most assuredly I have been deeply touched while reading the account of the first year of your married life, so very painful to you. You have paid dearly for the glory of marrying a famous artist, one of those men in whom fame and adulation develop monstrous egotism, and who under penalty of shattering the frail and timid life that would attach itself to theirs, must live alone. Ah! madame, since the commencement of my career, how many wretched wives have I not beheld in the same cruel position as yourself! Artists who live only by and for the public, carry nothing home to their hearth but fatigue from glory, or the melancholy of their disappointments. An ill-regulated existence, without compass or rudder, subversive ideas contrary to all social conventionality, contempt of family life and its happiness, cerebral excitement sought for in the abuse of tobacco and strong drink, without mentioning anything else, this constitutes the terrible artistic element from which your dear Aunt is desirous of withdrawing you; but I must repeat, that while I fully comprehend her anxiety, nay her remorse even at having consented to such a marriage, I cannot see that matters have reached a point calculated to warrant your petition.
I have, however, set down the outlines of a judicial memorandum, in which your principal grievances are grouped and skilfully brought into prominence. Here are the principal divisions of the work:
1 deg.. Insulting conduct of Monsieur towards Madame's family.—Refusal to receive our Aunt from Moulins, who brought us up, and is tenderly attached to us.—Nicknames such as Tata Bobosse, Fairy Carabossa, and others, bestowed on that venerable old maid, whose back is slightly bent.—Jests and quips, drawings in pen and pencil of the aforesaid and her infirmity.
2 deg.. Unsociableness.—Refusal to see Ma-dame's friends, to make wedding calls, to send cards, to answer invitations, etc.
3 deg.. Wanton extravagance.—Money lent without acknowledgment to all kinds of Bohemians.—Open house and free quarters, turning the house into an inn.—Constant subscriptions for statues, tombs, and productions of unfortunate fellow artists.—Starting an artistic and literary magazine!!!
4 deg.. Insulting conduct to Madame.—Having said out loud when alluding to us: "What a fool!"
5 deg.. Cruelty and violence.—Excessive brutality on the part of Monsieur.—Rage on the slightest pretext.—Breakage of china and furniture.—Scandalous rows, offensive expressions.
All this, as you see, dear Madame, constitutes a somewhat respectable amount of evidence, but is not however sufficient. We lack assault with violence. Ah! if we had only an assault with violence, a tiny little assault before witnesses, our case would be grand! But now that you have put a hundred and fifty miles between your husband and yourself we can scarcely hope for an incident of this kind. I say "hope" because in the present state of affairs, a brutal act on the part of this man would be the most fortunate thing that could befall you.
I remain, Madame, awaiting your commands, your devoted and obedient servant,
PS.—Violence before witnesses, of course!
To Monsieur Petitbry, in Paris.
What, Sir! have we come to such a pass as this! Is this what your laws have made of antique French chivalry! So then, when a misunderstanding is often sufficient to separate two hearts for ever, your law courts require acts of violence to justify such a separation. Is it not scandalous, unjust, barbarous, outrageous? To think that in order to regain her freedom, my poor darling will be obliged to run her neck into the halter, to abandon herself to all the fury of that monster, to excite it even. But no matter, our mind is made up. An assault with personal violence is necessary. Well! we will have it. No later than to-morrow, Nina will return to Paris, How will she be received? What will take place there? I cannot think of it without a shudder. At this idea my hand trembles, my eyes become dimmed. Ah! Monsieur. Ah! Monsieur Petitbry. Ah!
Nina's unhappy Aunt.
MR. MARESTANG, ATTORNEY At the Law Court of the Seine.
To Monsieur Henri de B., Literary man in Paris.
Be calm, be calm, be calm! I forbid your going to Moulins or rushing off in pursuit of the fugitive. It is more judicious and safer to await her return in your own house, by your fireside. In point of fact, what has taken place? You refused to receive that ridiculous and ill-natured old maid; your wife has gone to join her. You should have expected as much. Family ties are very strong in the heart of such an extremely youthful bride. You were in too great a hurry. Remember that this Aunt brought her up, that she has no other relations in the world. She has her husband, you will say. Ah! my dear fellow, between ourselves we may admit that husbands are not always amiable. I know one more especially who in spite of his good heart is so nervous, so violent! I am well aware that hard work and artistic preoccupations have a good deal to do with it. Be that as it may, the bird has been scared, and has flown back to its former cage. Don't be alarmed, it won't stay there long. Either I am very much mistaken or the Parisian of yesterday will soon weary of the antiquated surroundings, and ere long regret the vivacities of her poet. Above all don't stir.
Your old friend,
To Monsieur Marestang, attorney in Paris.
At the same moment with your rational and friendly letter, I received a telegram from Moulins, announcing Nina's return. Ah! what a true prophet you were! She is coming back this evening, all alone, just as she left me, without the slightest advance on my part. The thing now will be to arrange so easy and agreeable a life for her, that she shall never again be tempted to leave me. I have laid in a stock of tenderness and patience during her week's absence. There is only one point on which I remain inflexible: I will not again receive that horrible Tata Bobosse, that blue stocking of 1820, who gave me her niece only in the hopes that my modest fame would serve to heighten hers. Remember, my dear Marestang, that ever since my marriage this wicked little old woman has always come between my wife and me, pushing her hump into all our amusements at the theatres, the exhibitions, in society, in the country, everywhere in fact. And you wonder after that, at my having displayed a certain haste in getting rid of her, and packing her off to her good town of Moulins. Indeed, my dear fellow, you have no idea of all the harm those old maids, suspicious and ignorant of life, are capable of doing in a young household. This one had stuffed my wife's pretty little head full of false, old fashioned, preposterous ideas, trumpery sentimentality of the time of Ipsiboe or young Florange: "Ah! if my lady love saw me!" For her, I was a poate, the poate one sees on the frontispieces of Renduel or Ladvocat, crowned with laurels, a lyre on his hips, and his short velvet-collared cloak blown aside by a Parnassian gust of wind. That was the husband she had promised her niece, and you may fancy how terribly my poor Nina must have been disappointed. Nevertheless I admit that I was very bungling with the dear child. As you say, I wanted to go ahead too rapidly, I frightened her. It was my part gently to modify all that the rather narrowing and false education of the convent and the sentimental dreams of the Aunt had effected, leaving the provincial perfume time to evaporate. However all this can be repaired since she is returning. She is returning, my dear friend! This evening, I shall go and meet her at the station and we shall walk home arm in arm, reconciled and happy.
Henri de B.
Nina de B. to her Aunt in Moulins.
He was waiting for me at the station and greeted me with a smile and open arms, as though I were returning from some ordinary journey. You can imagine that I put on my iciest appearance. Directly I reached home, I shut myself up in my room, where I dined alone, pleading fatigue. After which, I locked myself in. He came to bid me good-night through the key-hole, and to my great surprise, went away on tiptoe without anger or importunity. This morning, I called on Monsieur Petitbry, who gave me detailed instructions as to the way I was to act, the hour, place, witnesses. Ah! my dear Aunt, if you knew how frightened I am as the hour draws near.
His violence is so dreadful. Even when he is gentle like yesterday, his eyes have flashes of lightning. However, I will try and be courageous in thinking of you, my darling Aunt. Besides, as Monsieur Petitbry said to me, it is only a short painful moment to get over, and then we will both resume our former quiet life, so calm and happy.
Nina de B.
From the same to the same.
Dear Aunt, I am writing to you from my bed, torn by the emotions of that terrible scene. Who could have supposed that things would take this turn? Nevertheless I had taken every precaution. I had warned Marthe and her sister, who were to come at one o'clock, and I had chosen for the great scene the moment when on leaving the table, the servants are clearing away in the dining-room next to the study. From early morn my plans were laid; an hour of scales and exercises on the piano, the Cloches du Monastere, the Reveries de Rosellen, all the pieces he hates. This did not prevent his working away without betraying the slightest irritability. At breakfast, the same patience. A detestable breakfast, scraps, and the sweet dishes he loathes. And if you had seen my costume! A dress with a cape some five years out of date, a little black silk apron, and uncurled hair! In vain I sought for some signs of irritation, that well-known straight line that Monsieur hollows out between his eyebrows at the least annoyance. Well no! nothing! Really I might have thought they had changed my husband. He said to me in a calm and rather sad tone:
"Ah, you have done your hair in the old way."
I hardly answered, not wishing to hurry on matters before my witnesses had arrived, and then, strangely enough, I felt somewhat moved and upset beforehand by the scene I was trying to get up. At last, after a few still shorter replies on my part, he rose from the table and went into his own room. I followed him trembling. I heard my friends stationing themselves in the little drawing-room, and Pierre who came and went, arranging the glasses and silver. The decisive moment had arrived. He must now be brought to the needful point of violence, and it seemed to me this would be easy, after all I had done since the morning to irritate him.
When I entered his study I must have been very pale. I felt myself in the lion's cage. The thought flashed across me: "Suppose he killed me!" He did not present a very terrible appearance, however, leaning back on his divan, a cigar in his mouth.
"Do I disturb you?" I asked in my most ironical voice.
He replied gently:
"No. You see. I am not working."
"Ah! indeed you don't work then at all, now?"
He still very mild.
"You are mistaken, my dear. On the contrary, I work a great deal. Only our craft is one in which a great deal of work can be done without having a tool in hand."
"And what may you be doing at this moment? Ah! yes, I know, your play in verse; always the same thing for the last two years. It is certainly lucky that your wife had a fortune! That allows you to idle at your ease."
I thought he would have sprung upon me at this. Not a bit of it. He came up to me and took hold of my hands gently:
"Come, is it to be always the same thing? Are we to begin our life of warfare again? If so, why did you come back?"
I confess I felt rather moved by his sad and affectionate tone; but I thought of you, my poor Aunt, of your exile, of his harsh conduct towards us, and that gave me courage. I said to him the bitterest, most wounding things I could think of—I know not what—that I wished to heaven I had never married an artist; that at Moulins, every one pitied me; that I found my friends married to magistrates, serious, influential men, in good positions, while he—If even he made money—But no, Monsieur would work for fame only! and what fame!
At Moulins no one knew him; at Paris, his pieces were hissed. His books did not sell. And so on, and so on. My brain seemed to whirl round as all the malicious words came from me one after the other. He looked at me without replying, in chilly anger. Of course this coldness exasperated me still more. I was so much excited, that I no longer recognized my own voice, raised to an extraordinary pitch, and the last words I screamed at him—I can't remember what unjust and mad remark it was—seemed to buzz indistinctly in my ears. For a moment, I thought Monsieur Petitbry's assault with violence was an accomplished fact. Pallid, with set teeth Henri made two steps towards me:
Then suddenly, his anger fell, his face became impassive again, and he looked at me with so scornful, insolent and calm a glance, that my patience came to an end. I raised my hand, and gave him the best box on the ear I ever gave in my life. At the noise, the door opened, and my witnesses appeared solemn and indignant.
"Monsieur! this is infamous!"
"Yes, isn't it?" said the poor fellow, showing his red cheek.
You can imagine my confusion. Happily, I took the line of fainting, and melting into torrents of tears, which relieved me greatly. At present, Henri is in my room. He watches by me, nurses me, and is really most kind. What can I do? What a checkmate! This will not prove very satisfactory to Monsieur Petitbry.
Nina de B.
BOHEMIA AT HOME.
I hardly fancy it would be possible to find in the whole of Paris, a more lively and peculiar house than that of the sculptor Simaise. Life there is one continual round of festivities. At whatever hour you drop in upon them, a sound of singing and laughter, or the jingle of a piano, guitar, or tamtam greets you. You can never enter the studio without finding a waltz going on, or a set of quadrilles, or a game of battledore and shuttlecock, or else it is cumbered with all the litter and preparations for a ball; shreds of tulle and ribbons lying scattered among the sculptor's chisels; artificial flowers hanging over the busts, and spangled skirts spreading over groups of moist clay.
The fact is that four big t daughters of sixteen to twenty-five years of age, all very pretty indeed, take up a great deal of room; and when these young ladies whirl round with their hair streaming down their backs, with floating ribbons, long pins, and showy ornaments, it really seems as if instead of four there were eight, sixteen, thirty-two Misses Simaise, as dashing the one as the other, talking and laughing loudly, with the hoydenish manner peculiar to artists' daughters, with the studio jests, the familiarity of students, and knowing also better than anyone how to dismiss a creditor or blow up a tradesman impertinent enough to present his bill at an inopportune moment.