Thursday, January 13, 2011

Musset: Octave betrayed

I have to explain how I was first taken with the malady of the age.  I was at table, at a great supper, after a masquerade. About me were my friends, richly costumed, on all sides young men and women, all sparkling with beauty and joy; on the right and on the left exquisite dishes, flagons, splendor, flowers; above my head was an obstreperous orchestra, and before me my loved one, whom I idolized.

I was then nineteen; I had passed through no great misfortune, I had suffered from no disease; my character was at once haughty and frank, my heart full of the hopes of youth. The fumes of wine fermented in my head; it was one of those moments of intoxication when all that one sees and hears speaks to one of the well-beloved. All nature appeared a beautiful stone with a thousand facets, on which was engraven the mysterious name. One would willingly embrace all who smile, and feel that he is brother of all who live. My mistress had granted me a rendezvous, and I was gently raising my glass to my lips while my eyes were fixed on her.

As I turned to take a napkin, my fork fell. I stooped to pick it up, and not finding it at first I raised the table cloth to see where it had rolled. I then saw under the table my mistress's foot; it touched that of a young man seated beside her; from time to time they exchanged a gentle pressure.

Perfectly calm, I asked for another fork and continued my supper. My mistress and her neighbor, on their side, were very quiet, talking but little and never looking at each other. The young man had his elbows on the table and was chatting with another woman, who was showing him her necklace and bracelets. My mistress sat motionless, her eyes fixed and swimming with languor. I watched both of them during the entire supper, and I saw nothing either in their gestures or in their faces that could betray them. Finally, at dessert, I dropped my napkin, and stooping down saw that they were still in the same position.

I had promised to escort my mistress to her home that night. She was a widow and therefore free, living alone with an old relative who served as chaperon. As I was crossing the hall she called to me:

"Come, Octave!" she said, "let us go; here I am."

I laughed, and passed out without replying. After walking a short distance I sat down on a stone projecting from a wall. I do not know what my thoughts were; I sat as if stupefied by the unfaithfulness of one of whom I had never been jealous, whom I had never had cause to suspect. What I had seen left no room for doubt; I was felled as if by a stroke from a club. The only thing I remember doing as I sat there, was looking mechanically up at the sky, and, seeing a star shoot across the heavens, I saluted that fugitive gleam, in which poets see a worn-out world, and gravely took off my hat to it.

I returned to my home very quietly, experiencing nothing, as if deprived of all sensation and reflection. I undressed and retired; hardly had my head touched the pillow when the spirit of vengeance seized me with such force that I suddenly sat bolt upright against the wall as if all my muscles were made of wood. I then jumped from my bed with a cry of pain; I could walk only on my heels, the nerves in my toes were so irritated. I passed an hour in this way, completely beside myself, and stiff as a skeleton. It was the first burst of passion I had ever experienced.

 The Confessions of a Child of the Century

No comments: