Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Musset: Octave meets Brigitte

ONE evening, as I was walking under a row of linden-trees on the outskirts of the village, I saw a young woman come from a house some distance from the road. She was dressed simply and veiled so that I could not see her face; but her form and her carriage seemed so charming that I followed her with my eyes for some time. As she was crossing a field, a white goat, running at liberty through the grass, ran to her side; she caressed it softly, and looked about as though searching for some favorite herb to feed it. I saw near me some wild mulberry; I plucked a branch and stepped up to her holding it in my hand. The goat watched my approach with apprehension; he was afraid to take the branch from my hand. His mistress made a sign as though to encourage him, but he looked at her with an air of anxiety; she then took the branch from my hand and the goat promptly accepted it from hers. I bowed, and she passed on her way.


WE walked along without a word; the wind was lowering; the trees quivered gently, shaking the rain from the boughs. Some distant flashes of lightning could still be seen; the perfume of humid verdure filled the warm air. The sky soon cleared and the moon illumined the mountain.

I could not help thinking of the freakishness of chance, which had seen fit to make me the solitary companion of a woman, of whose existence I knew nothing a few hours before. She had accepted me as her escort on account of the name I bore, and leaned on my arm with quiet confidence. In spite of her distracted air, it seemed to me that this confidence was either very bold or very simple; and she must needs be either the one or the other, for at each step, I felt my heart becoming at once proud and innocent.

We spoke of the sick woman she had just left, of the scenes along the route; it did not occur to us to ask the questions incident to a new acquaintance. She spoke to me of my father, and always in the same tone I had noted when I first revealed my name--that is, cheerfully, almost gaily. By degrees, I thought I understood why she did this, observing that she spoke thus of all, both living and dead, of life and of suffering and death. It was because human sorrows had taught her nothing that could accuse God, and I felt the piety of her smile.

I told her of the solitary life I was leading. Her aunt, she said, had seen more of my father than she, as they sometimes played cards together after dinner. She urged me to visit them, assuring me a welcome.  
When about half-way home, she complained of fatigue and sat down to rest on a bench that the heavy foliage had protected from the rain. I stood before her and watched the pale light of the moon playing on her face. After a moment's silence, she arose and in a constrained manner observed:

"Of what are you thinking? It is time for us to think of returning."

"I was wondering," I replied, "why God created you, and I was saying to myself that it was for the sake of those who suffer."

"That is an expression, which, coming from you, I can not look upon except as a compliment."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you appear to be very young."

"It sometimes happens," I said, "that one is older than the face would seem to indicate."

"Yes," she replied, smiling, "and it sometimes happens that one is younger than his words would seem to indicate."

"Have you no faith in experience?"

"I know that it is the name most young men give to their follies and their disappointments; what can one know at your age?"

"Madame, a man of twenty may know more than a woman of thirty. The liberty which men enjoy, enables them to see more of life and its experiences than women; they go wherever they please and no barrier restrains them; they test life in all its phases. When inspired by hope, they press forward to achievement; what they will, they accomplish. When they have reached the end, they return; hope has been lost on the route, and happiness has broken its word."

As I was speaking, we reached the summit of a little hill which sloped down to the valley; Madame Pierson, yielding to the downward tendency, began to trip lightly down the incline. Without knowing why, I did the same, and we ran down the hill, arm in arm; the long grass under our feet retarded our progress. Finally, like two birds, spent with flight, we reached the foot of the mountain.

"Behold!" cried Madame Pierson, "just a short time ago I was tired, but now I am rested. And, believe me," she added, with a charming smile, "you should treat your experience as I have treated my fatigue. We have made good time and will enjoy supper the more on that account."  

The Confession of a Child of the Century

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