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- The Physiology of Marriage Part 3 - 4/19 -
to see; what I am sure of is that the objects before our eyes began in spite of the full moon to grow misty, when suddenly I was released from her weight, and she sank into the back cushions of the carriage.
"Your object," she said, rousing herself from a deep reverie, "is possibly to convince me of the imprudence of this proceeding. Judge, therefore, of my embarrassment!"
"My object!" I replied, "what object can I have with regard to you? What a delusion! You look very far ahead; but of course the sudden surprise or turn of chance may excuse anything."
"You have counted, then, upon that chance, it seems to me?"
We had reached our destination, and before we were aware of it, we had entered the court of the chateau. The whole place was brightly lit up. Everything wore a festal air, excepting the face of its master, who at the sight of me seemed anything but delighted. He came forward and expressed in somewhat hesitating terms the tenderness proper to the occasion of a reconciliation. I understood later on that this reconciliation was absolutely necessary from family reasons. I was presented to him and was coldly greeted. He extended his hand to his wife, and I followed the two, thinking of my part in the past, in the present and in the future. I passed through apartments decorated with exquisite taste. The master in this respect had gone beyond all the ordinary refinement of luxury, in the hope of reanimating, by the influence of voluptuous imagery, a physical nature that was dead. Not knowing what to say, I took refuge in expressions of admiration. The goddess of the temple, who was quite ready to do the honors, accepted my compliments.
"You have not seen anything," she said. "I must take you to the apartments of my husband."
"Madame, five years ago I caused them to be pulled down."
"Oh! Indeed!" said she.
At the dinner, what must she do but offer the master some fish, on which he said to her:
"Madame, I have been living on milk for the last three years."
"Oh! Indeed!" she said again.
Can any one imagine three human beings as astonished as we were to find ourselves gathered together? The husband looked at me with a supercilious air, and I paid him back with a look of audacity.
Madame de T----- smiled at me and was charming to me; Monsieur de T----- accepted me as a necessary evil. Never in all my life have I taken part in a dinner which was so odd as that. The dinner ended, I thought that we would go to bed early--that is, I thought that Monsieur de T----- would. As we entered the drawing-room:
"I appreciate, madame," said he, "your precaution in bringing this gentleman with you. You judged rightly that I should be but poor company for the evening, and you have done well, for I am going to retire."
Then turning to me, he added in a tone of profound sarcasm:
"You will please to pardon me, and obtain also pardon from madame."
He left us. My reflections? Well, the reflections of a twelvemonth were then comprised in those of a minute. When we were left alone, Madame de T----- and I, we looked at each other so curiously that, in order to break through the awkwardness, she proposed that we should take a turn on the terrace while we waited, as she said, until the servants had supped.
It was a superb night. It was scarcely possible to discern surrounding objects, they seemed to be covered with a veil, that imagination might be permitted to take a loftier flight. The gardens, terraced on the side of a mountain, sloped down, platform after platform, to the banks of the Seine, and the eye took in the many windings of the stream covered with islets green and picturesque. These variations in the landscape made up a thousand pictures which gave to the spot, naturally charming, a thousand novel features. We walked along the most extensive of these terraces, which was covered with a thick umbrage of trees. She had recovered from the effects of her husband's persiflage, and as we walked along she gave me her confidence. Confidence begets confidence, and as I told her mine, all she said to me became more intimate and more interesting. Madame de T----- at first gave me her arm; but soon this arm became interlaced in mine, I know not how, but in some way almost lifted her up and prevented her from touching the ground. The position was agreeable, but became at last fatiguing. We had been walking for a long time and we still had much to say to each other. A bank of turf appeared and she sat down without withdrawing her arm. And in this position we began to sound the praises of mutual confidence, its charms and its delights.
"Ah!" she said to me, "who can enjoy it more than we and with less cause of fear? I know well the tie that binds you to another, and therefore have nothing to fear."
Perhaps she wished to be contradicted. But I answered not a word. We were then mutually persuaded that it was possible for us to be friends without fear of going further.
"But I was afraid, however," I said, "that that sudden jolt in the carriage and the surprising consequences may have frightened you."
"Oh, I am not so easily alarmed!"
"I fear it has left a little cloud on your mind?"
"What must I do to reassure you?"
"Give me the kiss here which chance--"
"I will gladly do so; for if I do not, your vanity will lead you to think that I fear you."
I took the kiss.
It is with kisses as with confidences, the first leads to another. They are multiplied, they interrupt conversation, they take its place; they scarce leave time for a sigh to escape. Silence followed. We could hear it, for silence may be heard. We rose without a word and began to walk again.
"We must go in," said she, "for the air of the river is icy, and it is not worth while--"
"I think to go in would be more dangerous," I answered.
"Perhaps so! Never mind, we will go in."
"Why, is this out of consideration for me? You wish doubtless to save me from the impressions which I may receive from such a walk as this-- the consequences which may result. Is it for me--for me only--?"
"You are modest," she said smiling, "and you credit me with singular consideration."
"Do you think so? Well, since you take it in this way, we will go in; I demand it."
A stupid proposition, when made by two people who are forcing themselves to say something utterly different from what they think.
Then she compelled me to take the path that led back to the chateau. I do not know, at least I did not then know, whether this course was one which she forced upon herself, whether it was the result of a vigorous resolution, or whether she shared my disappointment in seeing an incident which had begun so well thus suddenly brought to a close but by a mutual instinct our steps slackened and we pursued our way gloomily dissatisfied the one with the other and with ourselves. We knew not the why and the wherefore of what we were doing. Neither of us had the right to demand or even to ask anything. We had neither of us any ground for uttering a reproach. O that we had got up a quarrel! But how could I pick one with her? Meanwhile we drew nearer and nearer, thinking how we might evade the duty which we had so awkwardly imposed upon ourselves. We reached the door, when Madame de T----- said to me:
"I am angry with you! After the confidences I have given you, not to give me a single one! You have not said a word about the countess. And yet it is so delightful to speak of the one we love! I should have listened with such interest! It was the very best I could do after I had taken you away from her!"
"Cannot I reproach you with the same thing?" I said, interrupting her, "and if instead of making me a witness to this singular reconciliation in which I play so odd a part, you had spoken to me of the marquis--"
"Stop," she said, "little as you know of women, you are aware that their confidences must be waited for, not asked. But to return to yourself. Are you very happy with my friend? Ah! I fear the contrary--"
"Why, madame, should everything that the public amuses itself by saying claim our belief?"
"You need not dissemble. The countess makes less a mystery of things than you do. Women of her stamp do not keep the secrets of their loves and of their lovers, especially when you are prompted by discretion to conceal her triumph. I am far from accusing her of coquetry; but a prude has as much vanity as a coquette.--Come, tell me frankly, have you not cause of complaint against her?"
"But, madame, the air is really too icy for us to stay here. Would you like to go in?" said I with a smile.
"Do you find it so?--That is singular. The air is quite warm."
She had taken my arm again, and we continued to walk, although I did not know the direction which we took. All that she had hinted at concerning the lover of the countess, concerning my mistress, together with this journey, the incident which took place in the carriage, our conversation on the grassy bank, the time of night, the moonlight--all made me feel anxious. I was at the same time carried along by vanity, by desire, and so distracted by thought, that I was too excited perhaps to take notice of all that I was experiencing. And, while I was overwhelmed with these mingled feelings, she continued talking to me of the countess, and my silence confirmed the truth of all that she chose to say about her. Nevertheless, certain passages in her talk recalled me to myself.
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