"Poor Mimi," said his friend, "so soon forgotten."
This name cast into Rodolphe's mirthsomeness, suddenly gave another turn to the conversation. Rodolphe took his friend by the arm, and related to him at length the causes of his rupture with Mademoiselle Mimi, the terrors that had awaited him when she had left; how he was in despair because he thought that she had carried off with her all that remained to him of youth and passion, and how two days later he had recognized his mistake on feeling the gunpowder in his heart, though swamped with so many sobs and tears, dry, kindle, and explode at the first look of love cast at him by the first woman he met. He narrated the sudden and imperious invasion of forgetfulness, without his even having summoned it in aid of his grief, and how this grief was dead and buried in the said forgetfulness.
"Is it not a miracle?" said he to the poet, who, knowing by heart and from experience all the painful chapters of shattered loves, replied:
"No, no, my friend, there is no more of a miracle for you than for the rest of us. What has happened to you has happened to myself. The women we love, when they become our mistresses, cease to be for us what they really are. We do not see them only with a lover's eyes, but with a poet's. As a painter throws on the shoulders of a lay figure the imperial purple or the star-spangled robe of a Holy Virgin, so we have always whole stores of glittering mantles and robes of pure white linen which we cast over the shoulders of dull, sulky, or spiteful creatures, and when they have thus assumed the garb in which our ideal loves float before us in our waking dreams, we let ourselves be taken in by this disguise, we incarnate our dream in the first corner, and address her in our language, which she does not understand. However, let this creature at whose feet we live prostrate, tear away herself the dense envelope beneath which we have hidden her, and reveal to us her evil nature and her base instincts; let her place our hands on the spot where her heart should be, but where nothing beats any longer, and has perhaps never beaten; let her open her veil, and show us her faded eyes, pale lips, and haggard features; we replace that veil and exclaim, 'It is not true! It is not true! I love you, and you, too, love me! This white bosom holds a heart that has all its youthfulness; I love you, and you love me! You are beautiful, you are young. At the bottom of all your vices there is love. I love you, and you love me!' Then in the end, always quite in the end, when, after having all very well put triple bandages over our eyes, we see ourselves the dupes of our mistakes, we drive away the wretch who was our idol of yesterday; we take back from her the golden veils of poesy, which, on the morrow, we again cast on the shoulders of some other unknown, who becomes at once an aureola-surrounded idol. That is what we all are—monstrous egoists—who love love for love's sake—you understand me? We sip the divine liquor from the first cup that comes to hand. 'What matter the bottle, so long as we draw intoxication from it?'"
"What you say is as true as that two and two make four," said Rodolphe to the poet.
"Yes," replied the latter, "it is true, and as sad as three quarters of the things that are true. Good night."
Two days later Mademoiselle Mimi learned that Rodolphe had a new mistress. She only asked one thing—whether he kissed her hands as often as he used to kiss her own?
"Quite as often," replied Marcel. "In addition, he is kissing the hairs of her head one after the other, and they are to remain with one another until he has finished."
"Ah!" replied Mimi, passing her hand through her own tresses. "It was lucky he did not think of doing the same with me, or we should have remained together all our lives. Do you think it is really true that he no longer loves me at all?"
"Humph—and you, do you still love him?"
"I! I never loved him in my life."
"Yes, Mimi, yes. You loved him at those moments when a woman's heart changes place. You loved him; do nothing to deny it; it is your justification."
"Bah!" said Mimi, "he loves another now."
"True," said Marcel, "but no matter. Later on the remembrance of you will be to him like the flowers that we place fresh and full of perfume between the leaves of a book, and which long afterwards we find dead, discolored, and faded, but still always preserving a vague perfume of their first freshness."
Henry Murger, The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter