Sunday, April 17, 2011

Musset: Fool that I am

Was it so difficult to make a woman speak in spite of herself? This woman was my mistress; I must be very weak if I could not gain my point. I turned over on the sofa with an air of indifference.

"Very well, my dear," said I, gayly, "this is not a time for confidences, then?"

She looked at me in astonishment.

"And yet," I continued, "we must some day come to the truth. Now I believe it would be well to begin at once; that will make you confiding, and there is nothing like an understanding between friends."

Doubtless my face betrayed me as I spoke these words; Brigitte did not appear to understand and kept on walking up and down.

"Do you know," I resumed, "that we have been together now six months? The life we are leading together is not one to be laughed at. You are young, I also; if this kind of life should become distasteful to you,are you the woman to tell me of it? In truth, if it were so, I would confess it to you frankly. And why not? Is it a crime to love? If not, it is not a crime to love less or to cease to love at all. Would it be astonishing if at our age we should feel the need of change?"

She stopped me.

"At our age!" said she. "Are you addressing me? What comedy are you now playing, yourself?"

Blood mounted to my face. I seized her hand. "Sit down here," I said, "and listen to me."

"What is the use? It is not you who speak."

I felt ashamed of my own strategy and abandoned it.

"Listen to me," I repeated, "and come, I beg of you, sit down near me. If you wish to remain silent yourself, at least hear what I have to say."

"I am listening, what have you to say to me?"

"If some one should say to me: 'You are a coward!' I, who am twenty-two years of age and have fought on the field of honor, would throw the taunt back in the teeth of my accuser. Have I not within me the consciousness of what I am? It would be necessary for me to meet my accuser on the field, and play my life against his; why? In order to prove that I am not a coward; otherwise the world would believe it. That single word demands that reply every time it is spoken, and it matters
not by whom."

"It is true; what is your meaning?"

"Women do not fight; but as society is constituted there is no being,of whatever sex, who ought to submit to the indignity involved in an aspersion on all his or her past life, be that life regulated as by a pendulum. Reflect; who escapes that law? There are some, I admit;but what happens? If it is a man, dishonor; if it is a woman, what? Forgiveness? Every one who loves ought to give some evidence of life,some proof of existence. There is, then, for woman as well as for man, a time when an attack must be resented. If she is brave, she rises, announces that she is present and sits down again. A stroke of the sword is not for her. She must not only avenge herself, but she must forge her own arms. Someone suspects her; who? An outsider? She may hold him in contempt--her lover whom she loves? If so, it is her life that is in question, and she may not despise him."

"Her only recourse is silence."

"You are wrong; the lover who suspects her casts an aspersion on her entire life. I know it. Her plea is in her tears, her past life, her devotion and her patience. What will happen if she remains silent? Her lover will lose her by her own act and time will justify her. Is not that your thought?"

"Perhaps; silence before all."

"Perhaps, you say? Assuredly I will lose you if you do not speak; my resolution is made: I am going away alone."

"But, Octave--"

"But," I cried, "time will justify you! Let us put an end to it; yes or no?"

"Yes, I hope so."

"You hope so! Will you answer me definitely? This is doubtless the last time you will have the opportunity. You tell me that you love me, and I believe it. I  suspect you; is it your intention to allow me to go away and rely on time to justify you?"

"Of what do you suspect me?"

"I do not choose to say, for I see that it would be useless. But, after all, misery for misery, at your leisure; I am as well pleased. You deceive me, you love another; that is your secret and mine."

"Who is it?" she asked.

"Smith."

She placed her hand on her lips and turned aside. I could say no more; we were both pensive, our eyes fixed on the floor.

"Listen to me," she began with an effort, "I have suffered much. I call heaven to bear me witness that I would give my life for you. So long as the faintest gleam of hope remains, I am ready to suffer anything; but, although I may rouse your anger in saying to you that I am a woman, I am nevertheless a woman, my friend. We can not go beyond the limits of human endurance. Beyond a certain point I will not answer for the consequences. All I can do at this moment is to get down on my knees before you and beseech you not to go away."

She knelt down as she spoke. I arose.

"Fool that I am!" I muttered, bitterly; "fool, to try to get the truth from a woman! He who undertakes such a task will earn naught but derision and will deserve it! Truth! Only he who consorts with chambermaids knows it, only he who steals to their pillow and listens to the unconscious utterance of a dream, hears it. He alone knows it who makes a woman of himself, and initiates himself into the secrets of her cult of inconstancy! But man, who asks for it openly, he who opens a loyal hand to receive that frightful alms, he will never obtain it! They are on guard with him; for reply he receives a shrug of the shoulders, and, if he rouses himself in his impatience, they rise in righteous indignation like an outraged vestal, while there falls from their lips the great feminine oracle that suspicion destroys love, and they refuse to pardon an accusation which they are unable to meet. Ah! just God! How weary I am! When will all this cease?"

"Whenever you please," said she, coldly; "I am as tired of it as you."

"At this very moment; I leave you forever, and may time justify you! Time! Time! Oh! what a cold lover! Remember this adieu. Time! and thy beauty, and thy love, and thy happiness, where will they be? Is it thus, without regret, you allow me to go? Ah! the day when the jealous lover will know that he has been unjust, the day when he shall see proofs, he will understand what a heart he has wounded, is it not so? He will bewail his shame, he will know neither joy nor sleep; he will live only in the memory of the time when he might have been happy. But, on that day, his proud mistress will turn pale as she sees herself avenged; she will say to herself: 'If I had only done it sooner!' And believe me, if she loves him, pride will not console her."

I tried to be calm, but I was no longer master of myself, and I began to pace the floor as she had done. There are certain glances that resemble the clashing of drawn swords; such glances Brigitte and I exchanged at that moment. I looked at her as the prisoner looks on her at the door of his dungeon. In order to break her sealed lips and force her to speak I would give my life and hers.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "What do you wish me to tell you?"

"What you have on your heart. Are you cruel enough to make me repeat it?"

"And you, you," she cried, "are you not a hundred times more cruel? Ah! fool, as you say, who would know the truth! Fool that I should be if I expected you to believe it! You would know my secret, and my secret is that I love you. Fool that I am! you will seek another. That pallor of which you are the cause, you accuse it, you question it. Like a fool, I have tried to suffer in silence, to consecrate to you my resignation; I have tried to conceal my tears; you have played the spy, and you have counted them as witnesses against me. Fool that I am! I have thought of crossing seas, of exiling myself from France with you, of dying far from all who have loved me, leaning for sole support on a heart that doubts me. Fool that I am! I thought that truth had a glance, an accent, that could not be mistaken, that would be respected! Ah! when I think of it, tears choke me. Why, if it must ever be thus, induce me to take a step that will forever destroy my peace? My head is confused, I do not know where I am!"

She leaned on me weeping. "Fool! Fool!" she repeated, in a heartrending voice.

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