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- The Physiology of Marriage Part 3 - 5/19 -
"What an exquisite creature she is!" she was saying. "How graceful! On her lips the utterances of treachery sound like witticism; an act of infidelity seems the prompting of reason, a sacrifice to propriety; while she is never reckless, she is always lovable; she is seldom tender and never sincere; amorous by nature, prudish on principle; sprightly, prudent, dexterous though utterly thoughtless, varied as Proteus in her moods, but charming as the Graces in her manner; she attracts but she eludes. What a number of parts I have seen her play! /Entre nous/, what a number of dupes hang round her! What fun she has made of the baron, what a life she has led the marquis! When she took you, it was merely for the purpose of throwing the two rivals off the scent; they were on the point of a rupture; for she had played with them too long, and they had had time to see through her. But she brought you on the scene. Their attention was called to you, she led them to redouble their pursuit, she was in despair over you, she pitied you, she consoled you-- Ah! how happy is a clever woman when in such a game as this she professes to stake nothing of her own! But yet, is this true happiness?"
This last phrase, accompanied by a significant sigh, was a master- stroke. I felt as if a bandage had fallen from my eyes, without seeing who had put it there. My mistress appeared to me the falsest of women, and I believed that I held now the only sensible creature in the world. Then I sighed without knowing why. She seemed grieved at having given me pain and at having in her excitement drawn a picture, the truth of which might be open to suspicion, since it was the work of a woman. I do not know how I answered; for without realizing the drift of all I heard, I set out with her on the high road of sentiment, and we mounted to such lofty heights of feeling that it was impossible to guess what would be the end of our journey. It was fortunate that we also took the path towards a pavilion which she pointed out to me at the end of the terrace, a pavilion, the witness of many sweet moments. She described to me the furnishing of it. What a pity that she had not the key! As she spoke we reached the pavilion and found that it was open. The clearness of the moonlight outside did not penetrate, but darkness has many charms. We trembled as we went in. It was a sanctuary. Might it not be the sanctuary of love? We drew near a sofa and sat down, and there we remained a moment listening to our heart- beats. The last ray of the moon carried away the last scruple. The hand which repelled me felt my heart beat. She struggled to get away, but fell back overcome with tenderness. We talked together through that silence in the language of thought. Nothing is more rapturous than these mute conversations. Madame de T----- took refuge in my arms, hid her head in my bosom, sighed and then grew calm under my caresses. She grew melancholy, she was consoled, and she asked of love all that love had robbed her of. The sound of the river broke the silence of night with a gentle murmur, which seemed in harmony with the beating of our hearts. Such was the darkness of the place it was scarcely possible to discern objects; but through the transparent crepe of a fair summer's night, the queen of that lovely place seemed to me adorable.
"Oh!" she said to me with an angelic voice, "let us leave this dangerous spot. Resistance here is beyond our strength."
She drew me away and we left the pavilion with regret.
"Ah! how happy is she!" cried Madame de T-----.
"Whom do you mean?" I asked.
"Did I speak?" said she with a look of alarm.
And then we reached the grassy bank, and stopped there involuntarily. "What a distance there is," she said to me, "between this place and the pavilion!"
"Yes indeed," said I. "But must this bank be always ominous? Is there a regret? Is there--?"
I do not know by what magic it took place; but at this point the conversation changed and became less serious. She ventured even to speak playfully of the pleasures of love, to eliminate from them all moral considerations, to reduce them to their simplest elements, and to prove that the favors of lovers were mere pleasure, that there were no pledges--philosophically speaking--excepting those which were given to the world, when we allowed it to penetrate our secrets and joined it in the acts of indiscretion.
"How mild is the night," she said, "which we have by chance picked out! Well, if there are reasons, as I suppose there are, which compel us to part to-morrow, our happiness, ignored as it is by all nature, will not leave us any ties to dissolve. There will, perhaps, be some regrets, the pleasant memory of which will give us reparation; and then there will be a mutual understanding, without all the delays, the fuss and the tyranny of legal proceedings. We are such machines--and I blush to avow it--that in place of all the shrinkings that tormented me before this scene took place, I was half inclined to embrace the boldness of these principles, and I felt already disposed to indulge in the love of liberty.
"This beautiful night," she continued, "this lovely scenery at this moment have taken on fresh charms. O let us never forget this pavilion! The chateau," she added smilingly, "contains a still more charming place, but I dare not show you anything; you are like a child, who wishes to touch everything and breaks everything that he touches."
Moved by a sentiment of curiosity I protested that I was a very good child. She changed the subject.
"This night," she said, "would be for me without a regret if I were not vexed with myself for what I said to you about the countess. Not that I wish to find fault with you. Novelty attracts me. You have found me amiable, I should like to believe in your good faith. But the dominion of habit takes a long time to break through and I have not learned the secret of doing this--By the bye, what do you think of my husband?"
"Well, he is rather cross, but I suppose he could not be otherwise to me."
"Oh, that is true, but his way of life isn't pleasant, and he could not see you here with indifference. He might be suspicious even of our friendship."
"Oh! he is so already."
"Confess that he has cause. Therefore you must not prolong this visit; he might take it amiss. As soon as any one arrives--" and she added with a smile, "some one is going to arrive--you must go. You have to keep up appearance, you know. Remember his manner when he left us to-night."
I was tempted to interpret this adventure as a trap, but as she noticed the impression made by her words, she added:
"Oh, he was very much gayer when he was superintending the arrangement of the cabinet I told you about. That was before my marriage. This passage leads to my apartment. Alas! it testifies to the cunning artifices to which Monsieur de T----- has resorted in protecting his love for me."
"How pleasant it would be," I said to her, keenly excited by the curiosity she had roused in me, "to take vengeance in this spot for the insults which your charms have suffered, and to seek to make restitution for the pleasures of which you have been robbed."
She doubtless thought this remark in good taste, but she said: "You promised to be good!"
* * * * *
I threw a veil over the follies which every age will pardon to youth, on the ground of so many balked desires and bitter memories. In the morning, scarcely raising her liquid eyes, Madame de T-----, fairer than ever, said to me:
"Now will you ever love the countess as much as you do me?"
I was about to answer when her maid, her confidante, appeared saying:
"You must go. It is broad daylight, eleven o'clock, and the chateau is already awake."
All had vanished like a dream! I found myself wandering through the corridors before I had recovered my senses. How could I regain my apartment, not knowing where it was? Any mistake might bring about an exposure. I resolved on a morning walk. The coolness of the fresh air gradually tranquilized my imagination and brought me back to the world of reality; and now instead of a world of enchantment I saw myself in my soul, and my thoughts were no longer disturbed but followed each other in connected order; in fact, I breathed once more. I was, above all things, anxious to learn what I was to her so lately left--I who knew that she had been desperately in love with the Marquis de V-----. Could she have broken with him? Had she taken me to be his successor, or only to punish him? What a night! What an adventure! Yes, and what a delightful woman! While I floated on the waves of these thoughts, I heard a sound near at hand. I raised my eyes, I rubbed them, I could not believe my senses. Can you guess who it was? The Marquis de V-----!
"You did not expect to see me so early, did you?" he said. "How has it all gone off?"
"Did you know that I was here?" I asked in utter amazement.
"Oh, yes, I received word just as you left Paris. Have you played your part well? Did not the husband think your visit ridiculous? Was he put out? When are you going to take leave? You had better go, I have made every provision for you. I have brought you a good carriage. It is at your service. This is the way I requite you, my dear friend. You may rely on me in the future, for a man is grateful for such services as yours."
These last words gave me the key to the whole mystery, and I saw how I stood.
"But why should you have come so soon?" I asked him; "it would have been more prudent to have waited a few days."
"I foresaw that; and it is only chance that has brought me here. I am supposed to be on my way back from a neighboring country house. But has not Madame de T----- taken you into her secret? I am surprised at her want of confidence, after all you have done for us."
"My dear friend," I replied, "she doubtless had her reasons. Perhaps I did not play my part very well."
"Has everything been very pleasant? Tell me the particulars; come,
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