A WILLING ENVOY
"Paris, July 20, 11 P. M.
"MY FRIEND: My mother has just died at Roncieres. We shall leave here at
midnight. Do not come, for we have told no one. But pity me and think of
me. YOUR ANY."
"July 21, 12 M.
"MY POOR FRIEND: I should have gone, notwithstanding what you wrote, if
I had not become used to regarding all your wishes as commands. I have
thought of you with poignant grief ever since last night. I think of
that silent journey you made, sitting opposite your daughter and your
husband, in that dimly-lighted carriage, which bore you toward your
dead. I could see all three of you under the oil lamp, you weeping and
Annette sobbing. I saw your arrival at the station, the entrance of
the castle in the midst of a group of servants, your rush up the stairs
toward that room, toward that bed where she lies, your first look at
her, and your kiss on her thin, motionless face. And I thought of your
heart, your poor heart--that poor heart, of which half belongs to me and
which is breaking, which suffers so much, which stifles you, making me
suffer also at this moment.
"With profound pity, I kiss your eyes filled with tears.
"Roncieres, July 24.
"Your letter would have done me good, my friend, if anything could do me
good in the horrible situation into which I have fallen. We buried her
yesterday, and since her poor lifeless body has gone out of this house
it seems to me that I am alone in the world. We love our mothers almost
without knowing or feeling it, for such love is as natural as it is
to live, and we do not realize how deep-rooted is that love until the
moment of final separation. No other affection is comparable to that,
for all others come by chance, while this begins at birth; all the
others are brought to us later by the accidents of life, while this
has lived in our very blood since our first day on earth. And then, and
there, we have lost not only a mother but our childhood itself, which
half disappears, for our little life of girlhood belonged to her as
much as to ourselves. She alone knew it as we knew it; she knew about
innumerable things, remote, insignificant and dear, which are and which
were the first sweet emotions of our heart. To her alone I could still
say: 'Do you remember, mother, the day when--? Do you remember, mother,
the china doll that grandmother gave me?' Both of us murmured to each
other a long, sweet chapter of trifling childish memories, which no
one on earth now knows of but me. So it is a part of myself that is
dead--the older, the better. I have lost the poor heart wherein the
little girl I was once still lived. Now no one knows her any more; no
one remembers the little Anne, her short skirts, her laughter and her
"And a day will come--and perhaps it is not far away--when in my turn I
too shall go, leaving my dear Annette alone in the world, as mamma has
left me to-day. How sad all this is, how hard, and cruel! Yet one never
thinks about it; we never look about us to see death take someone every
instant, as it will soon take us. If we should look at it, if we should
think of it, if we were not distracted, rejoiced, or blinded by all that
passes before us, we could no longer live, for the sight of this endless
massacre would drive us mad.
"I am so crushed, so despairing, that I have no longer strength to do
anything. Day and night I think of my poor mamma, nailed in that box,
buried beneath that earth, in that field, under the rain, whose old
face, which I used to kiss with so much happiness, is now only a mass of
frightful decay! Oh, what horror!
"When I lost papa, I was just married, and I did not feel all these
things as I do to-day. Yes, pity me, think of me, write to me. I need
you so much just now.
"Paris, July 25.
"MY POOR FRIEND: Your grief gives me horrible pain, and life no longer
seems rosy to me. Since your departure I am lost, abandoned, without
ties or refuge. Everything fatigues me, bores me and irritates me. I am
ceaselessly thinking of you and Annette; I feel that you are both far,
far away when I need you near me so much.
"It is extraordinary how far away from me you seem to be, and how I miss
you. Never, even in my younger days, have you been my _all_, as you are
at this moment. I have foreseen for some time that I should reach this
crisis, which must be a sun-stroke in Indian summer. What I feel is so
very strange that I wish to tell you about it. Just fancy that since
your absence I cannot take walks any more! Formerly, and even during the
last few months, I liked very much to set out alone and stroll along the
street, amusing myself by looking at people and things, and enjoying
the mere sight of everything and the exercise of walking. I used to walk
along without knowing where I was going, simply to walk, to breathe, to
dream. Now, I can no longer do this. As soon as I reach the street I
am oppressed by anguish, like the fear of a blind man that has lost his
dog. I become uneasy, exactly like a traveler that has lost his way
in the wood, and I am compelled to return home. Paris seems empty,
frightful, alarming. I ask myself: 'Where am I going?' I answer myself:
'Nowhere, since I am still walking.' Well, I cannot, for I can no longer
walk without some aim. The bare thought of walking straight before me
wearies and bores me inexpressibly. Then I drag my melancholy to the
"And do you know why? Only because you are no longer here. I am certain
of this. When I know that you are in Paris, my walks are no longer
useless, for it is possible that I may meet you in the first street I
turn into. I can go anywhere because you may go anywhere. If I do not
see you, I may at least find Annette, who is an emanation of yourself.
You and she fill the streets full of hope for me--the hope of
recognizing you, whether you approach me from a distance, or whether
I divine your identity in following you. And then the city becomes
charming to me, and the women whose figures resemble yours stir my heart
with all the liveliness of the streets, hold my attention, occupy my
eyes, and give me a sort of hunger to see you.
"You will consider me very selfish, my poor friend, to speak to you in
this way of the solitude of an old cooing pigeon when you are shedding
such bitter tears. Pardon me! I am so used to being spoiled by you that
I cry 'Help! Help!' when I have you no longer.
"I kiss your feet so that you may have pity on me.
"Roncieres, July 30.
"MY FRIEND: Thanks for your letter. I need so much to know that you
love me! I have just passed some frightful days. Indeed, I believed that
grief would kill me in my turn.
"It was like a block of suffering in my breast, growing larger and
larger, stifling me, strangling me. The physician that was called to
treat me for the nervous crisis I was enduring, which recurred four or
five times a day, injected morphine, which made me almost wild, and the
great heat we have had aggravated my condition and threw me into a state
of over-excitement that was almost delirium. I am a little more calm
since the great storm of Friday. I must tell you that since the day of
the funeral I could weep no more, but during the storm, the approach
of which upset me, I suddenly felt the tears beginning to flow from my
eyes, slow, small, burning. Oh, those first tears, how they hurt me!
They seemed to tear me, as if they had claws, and my throat was so
choked that I could hardly breathe. Then the tears came faster, larger,
cooler. They ran from my eyes as from a spring, and came so fast that my
handkerchief was saturated and I had to take another. The great block of
grief seemed to soften and to flow away through my eyes.
"From that moment I have been weeping from morning till night, and that
is saving me. One would really end by going mad or dying, if one could
not weep. I am all alone, too. My husband is making some little trips
around the country, and I insisted that he should take Annette with
him, to distract and console her a little. They go in the carriage or on
horseback as far as eight or ten leagues from Roncieres, and she returns
to me rosy with youth, in spite of her sadness, her eyes shining with
life, animated by the country air and the excursion she has had. How
beautiful it is to be at that age! I think that we shall remain here a
fortnight or three weeks longer; then, although it will be August, we
shall return to Paris for the reason you know.
"I send to you all that remains to me of my heart.
"Paris, August 4th.
"I can bear this no longer, my dear friend; you must come back, for
something is certainly going to happen to me. I ask myself whether I am
not already ill, so great a dislike have I for everything I used to take
pleasure in doing, or did with indifferent resignation. For one thing,
it is so warm in Paris that every night means a Turkish bath of eight
or nine hours. I get up overcome by the fatigue of this sleep in a hot
bath, and for an hour or two I walk about before a white canvas, with
the intention to draw something. But mind, eye, and hand are all empty.
I am no longer a painter! This futile effort to work is exasperating. I
summon my models; I place them, and they give me poses, movements, and
expressions that I have painted to satiety. I make them dress again and
let them go. Indeed, I can no longer see anything new, and I suffer from
this as if I were blind. What is it? Is it fatigue of the eye or of the
brain, exhaustion of the artistic faculty or of the optic nerve? Who
knows? It seems to me that I have ceased to discover anything in the
unexplored corner that I have been permitted to visit. I no longer
perceive anything but that which all the world knows; I do the things
that all poor painters have done; I have only one subject now, and only
the observation of a vulgar pedant. Once upon a time, and not so very
long ago, either, the number of new subjects seemed to me unlimited, and
in order to express them I had such a variety of means the difficulty of
making a choice made me hesitate. But now, alas! Suddenly the world of
half-seen subjects has become depopulated, my study has become powerless
and useless. The people that pass have no more sense for me. I no longer
find in every human being the character and savor which once I liked so
much to discern and reveal. I believe, however, that I could make a very
pretty portrait of your daughter. Is it because she resembles you so
much that I confound you both in my mind? Yes, perhaps.
"Well, then, after forcing myself to sketch a man or a woman who does
not resemble any of the familiar models, I decide to go and breakfast
somewhere, for I no longer have the courage to sit down alone in my
own dining-room. The Boulevard Malesherbes seems like a forest path
imprisoned in a dead city. All the houses smell empty. On the street the
sprinklers throw showers of white rain, splashing the wooden pavement
whence rises the vapor of damp tar and stable refuse; and from one
end to the other of the long descent from the Parc Monceau to Saint
Augustin, one sees five or six black forms, unimportant passers,
tradesmen or domestics. The shade of the plane-trees spreads over the
burning sidewalks, making a curious spot, looking almost like liquid, as
if water spilled there were drying. The stillness of the leaves on the
branches, and of their gray silhouettes on the asphalt, expresses the
fatigue of the roasted city, slumbering and perspiring like a workman
asleep on a bench in the sun. Yes, she perspires, the beggar, and she
smells frightfully through her sewer mouths, the vent-holes of sinks and
kitchens, the streams through which the filth of her streets is running.
Then I think of those summer mornings in your orchard full of little
wild-flowers that flavor the air with a suggestion of honey. Then I
enter, sickened already, the restaurant where bald, fat, tired-looking
men are eating, with half-opened waistcoats and moist, shining
foreheads. The food shows the effect of heat--the melon growing soft
under the ice, the soft bread, the flabby filet, the warmed-over
vegetables, the purulent cheese, the fruits ripened on the premises. I
go out, nauseated, and go home to try to sleep a little until the hour
for dinner, which I take at the club.
"There I always find Adelmans, Maldant, Rocdiane, Landa, and many
others, who bore and weary me as much as hand-organs. Each one has his
own little tune, or tunes, which I have heard for fifteen years,
and they play them all together every evening in that club, which is
apparently a place where one goes to be entertained. Someone should
change my own generation for my benefit, for my eyes, my ears, and my
mind have had enough of it. They still make conquests, however, they
boast of them and congratulate one another on them!
"After yawning as many times as there are minutes between eight o'clock
and midnight, I go home and go to bed, and while I undress I think that
the same thing will begin over again the next day.
"Yes, my dear friend, I am at the age when a bachelor's life becomes
intolerable, because there is nothing new for me under the sun. An
unmarried man should be young, curious, eager. When one is no longer
all that, it becomes dangerous to remain free. Heavens! how I loved my
liberty, long ago, before I loved you more! How burdensome it is to me
to-day! For an old bachelor like me, liberty is an empty thing, empty
everywhere; it is the path to death, with nothing in himself to prevent
him from seeing the end; it is the ceaseless query: 'What shall I do?
Whom can I go to see, so that I shall not be alone?' And I go from one
friend to another, from one handshake to the next, begging for a little
friendship. I gather up my crumbs, but they do not make a loaf. You, I
have You, my friend, but you do not belong to me. Perhaps it is because
of you that I suffer this anguish, for it is the desire for contact with
you, for your presence, for the same roof over our heads, for the
same walls inclosing our lives, the same interests binding our hearts
together, the need of that community of hopes, griefs, pleasures,
joys, sadness, and also of material things, that fills me with so much
yearning. You do belong to me--that is to say, I steal a little of you
from time to time. But I long to breathe forever the same air that you
breathe, to share everything with you, to possess nothing that does
not belong to both of us, to feel that all which makes up my own life
belongs to you as much as to me--the glass from which I drink, the chair
on which I sit, the bread I eat and the fire that warms me.
"Adieu! Return soon. I suffer too much when you are far away.
"Roncieres, August 8th.
"MY FRIEND: I am ill, and so fatigued that you would not recognize me at
all. I believe that I have wept too much. I must rest a little before I
return, for I do not wish you to see me as I am. My husband sets out for
Paris the day after to-morrow, and will give you news of us. He expects
to take you to dinner somewhere, and charges me to ask you to wait for
him at your house about seven o'clock.
"As for me, as soon as I feel a little better, as soon as I have no more
this corpse-like face which frightens me, I will return to be near you.
In all the world, I have only Annette and you, and I wish to offer to
each of you all that I can give without robbing the other.
"I hold out my eyes, which have wept so much, so that you may kiss them.
When he received this letter announcing the still delayed return,
Olivier was seized with an immoderate desire to take a carriage for the
railway station to catch a train for Roncieres; then, thinking that M.
de Guilleroy must return the next day, he resigned himself, and even
began to wish for the arrival of the husband with almost as much
impatience as if it were that of the wife herself.
Never had he liked Guilleroy as during those twenty-four hours of
waiting. When he saw him enter, he rushed toward him, with hands
"Ah, dear friend! how happy I am to see you!"
The other also seemed very glad, delighted above all things to return
to Paris, for life was not gay in Normandy during the three weeks he had
The two men sat down on a little two-seated sofa in a corner of the
studio, under a canopy of Oriental stuffs, and again shook hands with
"And the Countess?" asked Bertin, "how is she?"
"Not very well. She has been very much affected, and is recovering too
slowly. I must confess that I am a little anxious about her."
"But why does she not return?"
"I know nothing about it. It was impossible for me to induce her to
"What does she do all day?"
"Oh, heavens! She weeps, and thinks of her mother. That is not good for
her. I should like very much to have her decide to have a change of air,
to leave the place where that happened, you understand?"
"Oh, she is a blooming flower."
Olivier smiled with joy.
"Was she very much grieved?" he asked again.
"Yes, very much, very much, but you know that the grief of eighteen
years does not last long."
After a silence Guilleroy resumed:
"Where shall we dine, my dear fellow? I need to be cheered up, to hear
some noise and see some movement."
"Well, at this season, it seems to me that the Cafe des Ambassadeurs is
the right place."
So they set out, arm in arm, toward the Champs-Elysees. Guilleroy,
filled with the gaiety of Parisians when they return, to whom the city,
after every absence, seems rejuvenated and full of possible surprises,
questioned the painter about a thousand details of what people had been
doing and saying; and Olivier, after indifferent replies which betrayed
all the boredom of his solitude, spoke of Roncieres, tried to capture
from this man, in order to gather round him that almost tangible
something left with us by persons with whom we have recently been
associated, that subtle emanation of being one carries away when
leaving them, which remains with us a few hours and evaporates amid new
The heavy sky of a summer evening hung over the city and over the great
avenue where, under the trees, the gay refrains of open-air concerts
were beginning to sound. The two men, seated on the balcony of the Cafe
des Ambassadeurs, looked down upon the still empty benches and chairs of
the inclosure up to the little stage, where the singers, in the mingled
light of electric globes and fading day, displayed their striking
costumes and their rosy complexions. Odors of frying, of sauces, of hot
food, floated in the slight breezes from the chestnut-trees, and when
a woman passed, seeing her reserved chair, followed by a man in a black
coat, she diffused on her way the fresh perfume of her dress and her
Guilleroy, who was radiant, murmured:
"Oh, I like to be here much better than in the country!"
"And I," Bertin replied, "should like it much better to be there than
"Heavens, yes! I find Paris tainted this summer."
"Oh, well, my dear fellow, it is always Paris, after all."
The Deputy seemed to be enjoying his day, one of those rare days of
effervescence and gaiety in which grave men do foolish things. He looked
at two cocottes dining at a neighboring table with three thin young men,
superlatively correct, and he slyly questioned Olivier about all the
well-known girls, whose names were heard every day. Then he murmured in
a tone of deep regret:
"You were lucky to have remained a bachelor. You can do and see many
But the painter did not agree with him, and, as a man will do when
haunted by a persistent idea, he took Guilleroy into his confidence on
the subject of his sadness and isolation. When he had said everything,
had recited to the end of his litany of melancholy, and, urged by the
longing to relieve his heart, had confessed naively how much he would
have enjoyed the love and companionship of a woman installed in his
home, the Count, in his turn, admitted that marriage had its advantages.
Recovering his parliamentary eloquence in order to sing the praises of
his domestic happiness, he eulogized the Countess in the highest terms,
to which Olivier listened gravely with frequent nods of approval.
Happy to hear her spoken of, but jealous of that intimate happiness
which Guilleroy praised as a matter of duty, the painter finally
murmured, with sincere conviction:
"Yes, indeed, you were the lucky one!"
The Deputy, flattered, assented to this; then he resumed:
"I should like very much to see her return; indeed, I am a little
anxious about her just now. Wait--since you are bored in Paris, you
might go to Roncieres and bring her back. She will listen to you, for
you are her best friend; while a husband--you know----"
Delighted, Olivier replied: "I ask nothing better. But do you think it
would not annoy her to see me arriving in that abrupt way?"
"No, not at all. Go, by all means, my dear fellow."
"Well, then, I will. I will leave to-morrow by the one o'clock train.
Shall I send her a telegram?"
"No, I will attend to that. I will telegraph, so that you will find a
carriage at the station."
As they had finished dinner, they strolled again up the Boulevard, but
in half an hour the Count suddenly left the painter, under the pretext
of an urgent affair that he had quite forgotten.