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Chapter 7

  • 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.