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- Strong as Death - 40/47 -


life of men.

After these miserable nights, she had long periods of somnolence that made her more tranquil, in the warmth of her bed, when her maid had opened the curtains and lighted the morning fire. She lay there tired, drowsy, neither awake nor asleep, in the torpor of thought which brings about the revival of that instinctive and providential hope which gives light and life to the hearts of men up to their last days.

Every morning now, as soon as she had risen from her bed, she felt moved by a powerful desire to pray to God, to obtain from Him a little relief and consolation.

She would kneel, then, before a large figure of Christ carved in oak, a gift from Olivier, a rare work he had discovered; and, with lips closed, but imploring with that voice of the soul with which we speak to ourselves, she lifted toward the Divine martyr a sorrowful supplication. Distracted by the need of being heard and succored, na´ve in her distress, as are all faithful ones on their knees, she could not doubt that He heard her, that He was attentive to her request, and was perhaps touched at her grief. She did not ask Him to do for her that which He never had done for anyone--to leave her until death all her charm, her freshness and grace; she begged only a little repose, a little respite. She must grow old, of course, just as she must die. But why so soon? Some women remain beautiful so long! Could He not grant that she should be one of these? How good He would be, He who had also suffered so much, if only He would let her keep for two or three years still the little charm she needed in order to be pleasing.

She did not say these things to Him, of course, but she sighed them forth, in the confused plaint of her being.

Then, having risen, she would sit before her toilet-table, and with a tension of thought as ardent as in her prayer, she would handle the powders, the pastes, the pencils, the puffs and brushes, which gave her once more a plaster-like beauty, fragile, lasting only for a day.

CHAPTER VI

THE ASHES OF LOVE

On the Boulevard two names were heard from all lips: "Emma Helsson" and "Montrose." The nearer one approached the Opera, the oftener he heard those names repeated. Immense posters, too, affixed to the Morris columns, announced them in the eyes of passers, and in the evening air could be felt the excitement of an approaching event.

That heavy monument called the National Academy of Music, squatted under the black sky, exhibited to the crowd before its doors the pompous, whitish facade and marble colonnade of its balcony, illuminated like a stage setting by invisible electric lights.

In the square the mounted Republican guards directed the movement of the crowds, and the innumerable carriages coming from all parts of Paris allowed glimpses of creamy light stuff and fair faces behind their lowered windows.

The coupes and landaus formed in line under the reserved arcades, and stopped for a moment, and from them alighted fashionable and other women, in their opera-cloaks, trimmed with fur, feathers, and rare laces--precious bodies, divinely set forth!

All the way along the celebrated stairway was a sort of fairy flight, an uninterrupted mounting of ladies dressed like queens, whose throats and ears scattered flashing rays from their diamonds, and whose long trains swept the stairs.

The theater was filling early, for no one wished to lose a note of the two illustrious artists; and throughout the vast amphitheater, under the dazzling electric light from the great chandelier, a throng of people were seating themselves amid an uproar of voices.

From the stage-box, already occupied by the Duchess, Annette, the Count, the Marquis, Bertin and Musadieu, one could see nothing but the wings, where men were talking, running about, and shouting, machinists in blouses, gentlemen in evening dress, actors in costume. But behind the great curtain one heard the deep sound of the crowd, one felt the presence of a mass of moving, over-excited beings, whose agitation seemed to penetrate the curtain, and to extend even to the decorations.

They were about to present /Faust/.

Musadieu was relating anecdotes about the first representatives of this work at the Theatre Lyrique, of its half success in the beginning followed by brilliant triumph, of the original cast, and their manner of singing each aria. Annette, half turned toward him, listened with that eager, youthful curiosity with which she regarded the whole world; and at times she cast a tender glance at her fiance, who in a few days would be her husband. She loved him, now, as innocent hearts love; that is to say she loved in him all the hopes she had for the future. The intoxication of the first feasts of life, and the ardent longing to be happy, made her tremble with joy and expectation.

And Olivier, who saw all, and knew all, who had sounded all the depths of secret, helpless, and jealous love, down in the furnace of human suffering, where the heart seems to crackle like flesh over hot coals, stood in the back of the box looking at them with eyes that betrayed his torture.

The three blows were struck, and suddenly the sharp little tap of a bow on the leader's desk stopped short all movement, all coughing and whispering; then, after a brief and profound silence, the first measure of the introduction arose, filling the house with the invisible and irresistible mystery of the music that penetrates our bodies, thrills our nerves and souls with a poetic and sensuous fever, mingling with the limpid air we breathe a wave of sound to which we listen.

Olivier took a seat at the back of the box, painfully affected, as if his heart's wounds had been touched by those accents. But when the curtain rose he stood up again, and saw Doctor Faust, lost in sorrowful meditation, seated in his alchemist's laboratory.

He had already heard the opera twenty times, and almost knew it by heart, and his attention soon wandered from the stage to the audience. He could see only a small part of it behind the frame of the stage which concealed their box, but the angle that was visible, extending from the orchestra to the top gallery, showed him a portion of the audience in which he recognized many faces. In the orchestra rows, the men in white cravats, sitting side by side, seemed a museum of familiar countenances, society men, artists, journalists, the whole category of those that never fail to go where everyone else goes. In the balcony and in the boxes he noted and named to himself the women he recognized. The Comtesse de Lochrist, in a proscenium box, was absolutely ravishing, while a little farther on a bride, the Marquise d'Ebelin, was already looking through her lorgnette. "That is a pretty debut," said Bertin to himself.

The audience listened with deep attention and evident sympathy to the tenor Montrose, who was lamenting over his waning life.

Olivier thought: "What a farce! There is Faust, the mysterious and sublime Faust who sings the horrible disgust and nothingness of everything; and this crowd are asking themselves anxiously whether Montrose's voice has not changed!" Then he listened, like the others, and behind the trivial words of the libretto, through that music which awakens profound perception in the soul, he had a sort of revelation as to how Goethe had been able to conceive the heart of Faust.

He had read the poem some time before, and thought it very beautiful without being moved by it, but now he suddenly realized its unfathomable depth, for it seemed to him that on that evening he himself had become a Faust.

Leaning lightly upon the railing of the box, Annette was listening with all her ears; and murmurs of satisfaction were beginning to be heard from the audience, for Montrose's voice was better and richer than ever!

Bertin had closed his eyes. For a whole month, all that he had seen, all that he had felt, everything that he had encountered in life he had immediately transformed into a sort of accessory to his passion. He threw the world and himself as nourishment to this fixed idea. All that he saw that was beautiful or rare, all that he imagined that was charming, he mentally offered to his little friend; and he had no longer an idea that he did not in some way connect with his love.

Now he listened from the depths of his soul to the echo of Faust's lamentations, and the desire to die surged up within him, the desire to have done with all his grief, with all the misery of his hopeless love. He looked at Annette's delicate profile, and saw the Marquis de Farandal, seated behind her, also looking at it. He felt old, lost, despairing. Ah, never to await anything more, never to hope for anything more, no longer to have even the right to desire, to feel himself outside of everything, in the evening of life, like a superannuated functionary whose career is ended--what intolerable torture!

Applause burst forth; Montrose had triumphed already. And Labarriere as Mephistopheles sprang up from the earth.

Olivier, who never had heard him in this role, listened with renewed attention. The remembrance of Aubin, so dramatic with his bass voice, then of Faure, so seductive with his baritone, distracted him a short time.

But suddenly a phrase sung by Montrose with irresistible power stirred him to the heart. Faust was saying to Satan:

"Je veux un tresor qui les contient tous-- Je veux la jeunesse."

And the tenor appeared in silken doublet, a sword by his side, a plumed cap on his head, elegant, young, and handsome, with the affectations of a handsome singer.

A murmur arose. He was very attractive and the women were pleased with him. But Olivier felt some disappointment, for the poignant evocation of Goethe's dramatic poem disappeared in this metamorphosis. Thenceforth he saw before him only a fairy spectacle, filled with pretty little songs, and actors of talent whose voices were all he listened to. That man in a doublet, that pretty youth with his roulades, who showed his thighs and displayed his voice, displeased him. This was not the real, irresistible, and sinister Chevalier


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