He felt, when he found himself unobserved and outside, that he must plung_nto violent action, walk fast and far and defer the opportunity for thought.
He strode away into the forest, swinging his cane, throwing back his head,
casting his eyes into verdurous vistas and following the road without _urpose. He felt immensely excited, but could have given no straight name t_is agitation. It was a joy as all increase of freedom is joyous; somethin_eemed to have been cleared out of his path and his destiny to have rounded _ape and brought him into sight of an open sea. But it was a pain in th_egree in which his freedom somehow resolved itself into the need of despisin_ll mankind with a single exception; and the fact that Madame de Mauve_nhabited a planet contaminated by the presence of the baser multitude kep_lation from seeming a pledge of ideal bliss.
There she was, at any rate, and circumstances now forced them to be intimate.
She had ceased to have what men call a secret for him, and this fact itsel_rought with it a sort of rapture. He had no prevision that he should
"profit," in the vulgar sense, by the extraordinary position into which the_ad been thrown; it might be but a cruel trick of destiny to make hope _arsher mockery and renunciation a keener suffering. But above all this ros_he conviction that she could do nothing that wouldn't quicken his attachment.
It was this conviction that gross accident—all odious in itself—would forc_he beauty of her character into more perfect relief for him that made hi_tride along as if he were celebrating a spiritual feast. He rambled at hazar_or a couple of hours, finding at last that he had left the forest behind hi_nd had wandered into an unfamiliar region. It was a perfectly rural scene,
and the still summer day gave it a charm for which its meagre elements bu_alf accounted.
He thought he had never seen anything so characteristically French; all th_rench novels seemed to have described it, all the French landscapists to hav_ainted it. The fields and trees were of a cool metallic green; the gras_ooked as if it might stain his trousers and the foliage his hands. The clea_ight had a mild greyness, the sheen of silver, not of gold, was in th_ork-a-day sun. A great red-roofed high- stacked farmhouse, with whitewashe_alls and a straggling yard, surveyed the highroad, on one side, from behind _ransparent curtain of poplars. A narrow stream half-choked with emeral_ushes and edged with grey aspens occupied the opposite quarter. The meadow_olled and sloped away gently to the low horizon, which was barely conceale_y the continuous line of clipped and marshalled trees. The prospect was no_ich, but had a frank homeliness that touched the young man's fancy. It wa_ull of light atmosphere and diffused clearness, and if it was prosaic it wa_omehow sociable.
Longmore was disposed to walk further, and he advanced along the road beneat_he poplars. In twenty minutes he came to a village which straggled away t_he right, among orchards and potagers. On the left, at a stone's throw fro_he road, stood a little pink-faced inn which reminded him that he had no_reakfasted, having left home with a prevision of hospitality from Madame d_auves. In the inn he found a brick-tiled parlour and a hostess in sabots an_ white cap, whom, over the omelette she speedily served him—borrowing licenc_rom the bottle of sound red wine that accompanied it—he assured she was _rue artist. To reward his compliment she invited him to smoke his cigar i_er little garden behind the house.
Here he found a tonnelle and a view of tinted crops stretching down to th_tream. The tonnelle was rather close, and he preferred to lounge on a benc_gainst the pink wall, in the sun, which was not too hot. Here, as he reste_nd gazed and mused, he fell into a train of thought which, in an indefinabl_ashion, was a soft influence from the scene about him. His heart, which ha_een beating fast for the past three hours, gradually checked its pulses an_eft him looking at life with rather a more level gaze. The friendly taver_ounds coming out through the open windows, the sunny stillness of th_ellowing grain which covered so much vigorous natural life, conveyed n_trained nor high-pitched message, had little to say abou_enunciation—nothing at all about spiritual zeal. They communicated the sens_f plain ripe nature, expressed the unperverted reality of things, declare_hat the common lot isn't brilliantly amusing and that the part of wisdom i_o grasp frankly at experience lest you miss it altogether. What reason ther_as for his beginning to wonder after this whether a deeply-wounded hear_ight be soothed and healed by such a scene, it would be difficult to explain;
certain it was that as he sat there he dreamt, awake, of an unhappy woman wh_trolled by the slow-flowing stream before him and who pulled down the fruit-
laden boughs in the orchards. He mused and mused, and at last found himsel_uite angry that he couldn't somehow think worse of Madame de Mauves—or at an_ate think otherwise. He could fairly claim that in the romantic way he aske_ery little of life—made modest demands on passion: why then should his onl_assion be born to ill fortune? Why should his first—his last—glimpse o_ositive happiness be so indissolubly linked with renunciation?
It is perhaps because, like many spirits of the same stock, he had in hi_omposition a lurking principle of sacrifice, sacrifice for sacrifice's sake,
to the authority of which he had ever paid due deference, that he now felt al_he vehemence of rebellion. To renounce, to renounce again, to renounce fo_ver, was this all that youth and longing and ardour were meant for? Wa_xperience to be muffled and mutilated like an indecent picture? Was a man t_it and deliberately condemn his future to be the blank memory of a regre_ather than the long possession of a treasure? Sacrifice? The word was a tra_or minds muddled by fear, an ignoble refuge of weakness. To insist now seeme_ot to dare, but simply to BE, to live on possible terms.
His hostess came out to hang a moist cloth on the hedge, and, though her gues_as sitting quietly enough, she might have imagined in his kindled eyes _lattering testimony to the quality of her wine. As she turned back into th_ouse she was met by a young man of whom Longmore took note in spite of hi_igh distraction. He was evidently a member of that jovial fraternity o_rtists whose very shabbiness has an affinity with the unestablished an_nexpected in life—the element often gazed at with a certain wistfulness ou_f the curtained windows even of the highest respectability. Longmore wa_truck first with his looking like a very clever man and then with his lookin_ike a contented one. The combination, as it was expressed in his face, migh_ave arrested the attention of a less exasperated reasoner. He had a slouche_at and a yellow beard, a light easel under one arm, and an unfinished sketc_n oils under the other. He stopped and stood talking for some moments to th_andlady, while something pleasant played in his face. They were discussin_he possibilities of dinner; the hostess enumerated some very savoury ones,
and he nodded briskly, assenting to everything. It couldn't be, Longmor_hought, that he found such ideal ease in the prospect of lamb-chops an_pinach and a croute aux fruits. When the dinner had been ordered he turned u_is sketch, and the good woman fell to admiring and comparing, to picking up,
off by the stream-side, the objects represented.
Was it his work, Longmore wondered, that made him so happy? Was a stron_alent the best thing in the world? The landlady went back to her kitchen, an_he young painter stood, as if he were waiting for something, beside the gat_hich opened upon the path across the fields. Longmore sat brooding and askin_imself if it weren't probably better to cultivate the arts than to cultivat_he passions. Before he had answered the question the painter had grown tire_f waiting. He had picked up a pebble, tossed it lightly into an upper windo_nd called familiarly "Claudine!" Claudine appeared; Longmore heard her at th_indow, bidding the young man cultivate patience. "But I'm losing my light,"
he said; "I must have my shadows in the same place as yesterday."
"Go without me then," Claudine answered; "I'll join you in ten minutes." He_oice was fresh and young; it represented almost aggressively to Longmore tha_he was as pleased as her companion.
"Don't forget the Chenier," cried the young man, who, turning away, passed ou_f the gate and followed the path across the fields until he disappeared amon_he trees by the side of the stream. Who might Claudine be? Longmore vaguel_ondered; and was she as pretty as her voice? Before long he had a chance t_atisfy himself; she came out of the house with her hat and parasol, prepare_o follow her companion. She had on a pink muslin dress and a little whit_at, and she was as pretty as suffices almost any Frenchwoman to be pleasing.
She had a clear brown skin and a bright dark eye and a step that made walkin_s light a matter as being blown—and this even though she happened to be a_he moment not a little over-weighted. Her hands were encumbered with variou_rticles involved in her pursuit of her friend. In one arm she held he_arasol and a large roll of needlework, and in the other a shawl and a heav_hite umbrella, such as painters use for sketching. Meanwhile she was tryin_o thrust into her pocket a paper-covered volume which Longmore saw to be th_oems of Andre Chenier, and in the effort dropping the large umbrella an_arking this with a half-smiled exclamation of disgust. Longmore steppe_orward and picked up the umbrella, and as she, protesting her gratitude, pu_ut her hand to take it, he recognised her as too obliging to the young ma_ho had preceded her.
"You've too much to carry," he said; "you must let me help you."
"You're very good, monsieur," she answered. "My husband always forget_omething. He can do nothing without his umbrella. He is d'une etourderie—"
"You must allow me to carry the umbrella," Longmore risked; "there's too muc_f it for a lady."
She assented, after many compliments to his politeness; and he walked by he_ide into the meadow. She went lightly and rapidly, picking her steps an_lancing forward to catch a glimpse of her husband. She was graceful, she wa_harming, she had an air of decision and yet of accommodation, and it seeme_o our friend that a young artist would work none the worse for having he_eated at his side reading Chenier's iambics. They were newly married, h_upposed, and evidently their path of life had none of the mocking crookednes_f some others. They asked little; but what need to ask more than such quie_ummer days by a shady stream, with a comrade all amiability, to say nothin_f art and books and a wide unmenaced horizon? To spend such a morning, t_troll back to dinner in the red-tiled parlour of the inn, to ramble awa_gain as the sun got low—all this was a vision of delight which floated befor_im only to torture him with a sense of the impossible. All Frenchwomen wer_ot coquettes, he noted as he kept pace with his companion. She uttered a wor_ow and then for politeness' sake, but she never looked at him and seemed no_n the least to care that he was a well-favoured and well-dressed young man.
She cared for nothing but the young artist in the shabby coat and the slouche_at, and for discovering where he had set up his easel.
This was soon done. He was encamped under the trees, close to the stream, and,
in the diffused green shade of the little wood, couldn't have felt immediat_eed of his umbrella. He received a free rebuke, however, for forgetting it,
and was informed of what he owed to Longmore's complaisance. He was dul_rateful; he thanked our hero warmly and offered him a seat on the grass. Bu_ongmore felt himself a marplot and lingered only long enough to glance at th_oung man's sketch and to see in it an easy rendering of the silvery strea_nd the vivid green rushes. The young wife had spread her shawl on the gras_t the base of a tree and meant to seat herself when he had left them, mean_o murmur Chenier's verses to the music of the gurgling river. Longmore looke_ while from one of these lucky persons to the other, barely stifled a sigh,
bade them good-morning and took his departure. He knew neither where to go no_hat to do; he seemed afloat on the sea of ineffectual longing. He strolle_lowly back to the inn, where, in the doorway, he met the landlady returnin_rom the butcher's with the lambchops for the dinner of her lodgers.
"Monsieur has made the acquaintance of the dame of our young painter," sh_aid with a free smile—a smile too free for malicious meanings. "Monsieur ha_erhaps seen the young man's picture. It appears that he's d'une jolie force."
"His picture's very charming," said Longmore, "but his dame is more charmin_till."
"She's a very nice little woman; but I pity her all the more."
"I don't see why she's to be pitied," Longmore pleaded. "They seem a ver_appy couple."
The landlady gave a knowing nod. "Don't trust to it, monsieur! Thos_rtists—ca na pas de principes! From one day to another he can plant he_here! I know them, allez. I've had them here very often; one year with one,
another year with another."
Longmore was at first puzzled. Then, "You mean she's not his wife?" he asked.
She took it responsibly. "What shall I tell you? They're not des homme_erieux, those gentlemen! They don't engage for eternity. It's none of m_usiness, and I've no wish to speak ill of madame. She's gentille— bu_entille, and she loves her jeune homme to distraction."
"Who then is so distinguished a young woman?" asked Longmore. "What do yo_now about her?"
"Nothing for certain; but it's my belief that she's better than he. I've eve_one so far as to believe that she's a lady—a vraie dame—and that she ha_iven up a great many things for him. I do the best I can for them, but _on't believe she has had all her life to put up with a dinner of tw_ourses." And she turned over her lamb-chops tenderly, as to say that though _ood cook could imagine better things, yet if you could have but one cours_amb-chops had much in their favour. "I shall do them with breadcrumbs. Voil_es femmes, monsieur!"
Longmore turned away with the feeling that women were indeed a measureles_ystery, and that it was hard to say in which of their forms of perversit_here was most merit. He walked back to Saint-Germain more slowly than he ha_ome, with less philosophic resignation to any event and more of the urgen_gotism of the passion pronounced by philosophers the supremely selfish one.
Now and then the episode of the happy young painter and the charming woman wh_ad given up a great many things for him rose vividly in his mind and seeme_o mock his moral unrest like some obtrusive vision of unattainable bliss.
The landlady's gossip had cast no shadow on its brightness; her voice seeme_hat of the vulgar chorus of the uninitiated, which stands always ready wit_ts gross prose rendering of the inspired passages of human action. Was i_ossible a man could take THAT from a woman—take all that lent lightness t_hat other woman's footstep and grace to her surrender and not give her th_bsolute certainty of a devotion as unalterable as the process of the sun? Wa_t possible that so clear a harmony had the seeds of trouble, that the char_f so perfect union could be broken by anything but death? Longmore felt a_mmense desire to cry out a thousand times "No!" for it seemed to him at las_hat he was somehow only a graver equivalent of the young lover and tha_ustling Claudine was a lighter sketch of Madame de Mauves. The heat of th_un, as he walked along, became oppressive, and when he re-entered the fores_e turned aside into the deepest shade he could find and stretched himself o_he mossy ground at the foot of a great beech. He lay for a while staring u_nto the verdurous dusk overhead and trying mentally to see his friend a_aint-Germain hurry toward some quiet stream-side where HE waited, as he ha_een that trusting creature hurry an hour before. It would be hard to say ho_ell he succeeded; but the effort soothed rather than excited him, and as h_ad had a good deal both of moral and physical fatigue he sank at last into _uiet sleep. While he slept moreover he had a strange and vivid dream. H_eemed to be in a wood, very much like the one on which his eyes had latel_losed; but the wood was divided by the murmuring stream he had left an hou_efore. He was walking up and down, he thought, restlessly and in intens_xpectation of some momentous event. Suddenly, at a distance, through th_rees, he saw a gleam of a woman's dress, on which he hastened to meet her. A_e advanced he recognised her, but he saw at the same time that she was on th_ther bank of the river. She seemed at first not to notice him, but when the_ad come to opposite places she stopped and looked at him very gravely an_ityingly. She made him no sign that he must cross the stream, but he wishe_nutterably to stand by her side. He knew the water was deep, and it seemed t_im he knew how he should have to breast it and how he feared that when h_ose to the surface she would have disappeared. Nevertheless he was going t_lunge when a boat turned into the current from above and came swiftly towar_hem, guided by an oarsman who was sitting so that they couldn't see his face.
He brought the boat to the bank where Longmore stood; the latter stepped in,
and with a few strokes they touched the opposite shore. Longmore got out and,
though he was sure he had crossed the stream, Madame de Mauves was not there.
He turned with a kind of agony and saw that now she was on the other bank—th_ne he had left. She gave him a grave silent glance and walked away up th_tream. The boat and the boatman resumed their course, but after going a shor_istance they stopped and the boatman turned back and looked at the stil_ivided couple. Then Longmore recognised him—just as he had recognised him _ew days before at the restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne.