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Title: Annette and Sylvie: Being Volume One of The Soul Enchanted
Author: Rolland, Romain
Language: English
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ANNETTE

AND

SYLVIE



Being Volume One of

The Soul Enchanted



By

ROMAIN ROLLAND



Translated from the French by

BEN RAY REDMAN



NEW YORK

HENRY HOLT AND COMPANY

1925



_Annette and Sylvie_ is the prelude of a work in several volumes, that
bears the title: _The Soul Enchanted_.



_Love, the first born creatures,
Love, who later shall engender Thought_. . . .


RIG-VEDA



CONTENTS
PART ONE
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
PART TWO
CHAPTER I
CHAPTER II
CHAPTER III
CHAPTER IV
CHAPTER V
CHAPTER VI
CHAPTER VII
CHAPTER VIII
CHAPTER IX
CHAPTER X
CHAPTER XI
CHAPTER XII
CHAPTER XIII
CHAPTER XIV
CHAPTER XV
CHAPTER XVI
CHAPTER XVII



FOREWORD


Upon the threshold of a new journey which, without being as long as that
of "Jean-Christophe," will include more than one stage, I would remind
my readers of the friendly prayer which I addressed to them at a
turning-point in the story of my musician. At the commencement of
_Revolt_, I admonished them to consider each volume as one chapter of a
moving work, whose thought unrolled only as rapidly as the life
represented. Citing the old adage, _La fin loue la vie, et le soir le
jour_, I added: When we shall have made an end, you may judge the worth
of our effort.

Of course, I understand that each volume has its own character, that it
must be judged separately as a work of art; but it would be premature to
judge the general thought from a single volume. When I write a novel, I
choose a human being with whom I feel certain affinities,--or, rather,
it is he who chooses me. Once this person has been selected, I leave him
perfectly free, I beware of mingling my personality with his. It is a
weighty burden, a personality that one has borne for more than half a
century. The divine boon of art is to deliver us from this burden, by
giving us other souls to quaff, other lives to assume--(our Indian
friends would say, "other of _our_ lives"; for all is in each . . .).

So, when I have once adopted Jean-Christophe, or Colas, or Annette
Rivière, I am no more than the secretary of their thoughts. I listen to
them, I see them act, I see through their eyes. In the measure that they
come to know their own hearts and men, I learn with them; when they make
mistakes, I stumble; when they recover themselves, I pick myself up, and
we set off again upon the road. I do not say that this road is the best.
But this road is ours. Whether or not Christophe, Colas and Annette are
right, Christophe, Colas and Annette are life is not the least of
justifications.

Seek here neither thesis nor theory. Behold in this work merely the
inner history of a life that is sincere, long, fertile in joys and
sorrows, not exempt from contradictions, abounding in errors, yet always
struggling to attain, in default of inaccessible Truth, that harmony of
spirit which is our supreme truth.


R.R.

_August_, 1922.


_ANNETTE AND SYLVIE_



PART ONE



I


She was seated beside the window, with her back turned to the light, so
that the rays of the setting sun fell upon the firm column of her neck.
She had just come indoors. For the first time in months, Annette had
spent the day in the open, tramping and finding intoxication in the
spring sunlight. Tipsy sunlight, like pure wine, diluted by no shadow of
leafless trees, and brightened by the cool air of the winter that had
flown. Her head was humming, her veins pulsing, and her eyes were
drenched in torrents of light. Red and gold beneath her closed eyelids.
Gold and red in her body. Immobile, bemused, upon her chair, for an
instant she lost consciousness. . . .


A pool, in the midst of woods, with a patch of sunlight like an eye.
Around about, a circle of trees, their trunks befurred with moss. She
must bathe her body; she finds herself undressed. The icy hand of the
water rubs her feet and knees. Voluptuous torpor. In the pool of red and
gold she contemplates her nudity. . . . A feeling of shame, obscure and
indefinable, as though other spying eyes were watching her. To escape
them she advances further into the water, which rises to her chin. The
sinuous water becomes a living embrace; and slippery creepers twine
themselves about her legs. She seeks to free herself, she sinks into the
slime. Above, the patch of sunlight sleeps upon the pool. Angrily she
thrusts her foot against the bottom and rises to the surface. The water
now is gray, dull, and muddied; but still the sunlight on its gleaming
surface. . . . Annette grasps a willow branch that overhangs the pool,
to lift herself free from the watery contamination. The leafy limb
covers her naked back and shoulders like a wing. The shadow of night
falls, and the air is chill Upon her neck. . . .


She emerges from her trance; only a few moments have flown since she
sank into it. The sun is disappearing behind the hills of Saint-Cloud.
The cool of evening has come.

Sobered, Annette rises, shivering a little; and, wrinkling her brows in
irritation at the lapse she has allowed herself, she goes to sit down
before the fire, within the depths of her room. It is a pleasant wood
fire, designed to distract the eye and to furnish company rather than to
give warmth; for from the garden, through the open window, with the damp
breeze of an early spring evening, there enters the melodious chattering
of homing birds settling down to sleep. Annette dreams; but this time
her eyes are open. She has recovered a foothold in her accustomed world.
She is in her own house: she is Annette Rivière. And, as she leans
towards the flame that reddens her youthful face, teasing with her foot
the black cat that stretches out its gold-barred belly, she once more
becomes conscious of her sorrow, that for an instant had been forgotten;
she recalls the image (escaped from her heart) of the person she has
lost. In deep mourning, with the trace of grief's passage not yet
effaced from her brow or from the corners of her mouth, with her lower
lids still slightly swollen from recent tears; but healthy, fresh, and
bathed in sap like youthful nature itself, this vigorous young girl who
is not beautiful but well made--with heavy chestnut hair, lightly tanned
neck, starry eyes and flower-like cheeks--seeking to enfold anew her
wandering glance and round shoulders in the dispersed veils of her
melancholy--this girl, sitting thus, seems like a young widow watching
the departure of the beloved shade.

Widow, indeed, Annette was in her heart; but he whose shade her fingers
sought to detain was her father.

Six months had passed already since she had lost him. Towards the end of
autumn, Raoul Rivière, still young (he was not quite fifty), had been
carried off in two days by an attack of uremia. Although for several
years he had been obliged to show some consideration for the health he
had abused, he had not expected so brusque a lowering of the curtain. He
was a Parisian architect, an old student of the Villa Romaine, handsome,
congenitally cunning and possessed of inordinate desires, lionized in
drawing-rooms and honored by the official world; and all his life long
he had known how to collect commissions, honors and windfalls without
ever appearing to seek them. His was a typically Parisian face,
popularized by photographs, magazine sketches and caricatures,--with
bulging forehead, swelling at the temples, head lowered like a charging
bull; round, protuberant eyes with an audacious glance; white bushy hair
cut in a brush, and a little tuft of hair below his laughing, voracious
mouth; the whole expression being marked by wit, insolence, charm, and
effrontery. In the Parisian world of arts and pleasures, he was known by
everyone. And yet none knew him. He was a man of dual nature, who knew
admirably how to adapt himself to society for the sake of exploiting it;
but he also knew how to conduct his hidden life as a thing apart. He was
a man of strong passions and powerful vices who managed to cultivate
them all, while taking care to reveal nothing that might scare away his
clients; he had his secret museum (_fas ac nefas_), but only the rarest
initiates were allowed a glimpse of it; he cared not a hang for public
taste and morality, but at the same time he conformed to them in his
outward life and in his official works. There was none who knew him,
neither among his friends nor among his enemies. . . . His enemies? He
had none. Rivals at the most, who had smarted that he might forge ahead.
But they bore him no malice: having got the better of them, he was such
an adept at the art of wheedling that they almost smiled and begged his
pardon, like those timid persons on whose feet one treads. Hard and
cunning as he was, he had accomplished the feat of remaining on good
terms with the competitors he supplanted, and with the women he
abandoned.

In his own household he had been somewhat less fortunate. His wife had
had the bad taste to suffer from his infidelities. Although it seemed to
him that she should have had ample time, during the twenty-five years of
their married life, to habituate herself to them, she never learned
resignation. Morosely virtuous, with a manner slightly cold as was her
Lyonnaise beauty, possessed of feelings that were strong but
concentrated, she lacked all adroitness in holding him; and she had
still less of that eminently practical talent of ignoring what she could
not help. She was too self-respecting to complain, yet she could not
resign herself to hiding from him the fact that she knew and suffered.
As he was sensitive (at least he believed he was) he avoided thinking of
this; but he bore her a grudge for not knowing better how to veil her
egotism. For some years they had lived practically apart; but by tacit
accord they hid this from the eyes of the world, and even from their
daughter, Annette, who never became cognizant of the situation. She had
not sought to fathom her parents' misunderstanding; it was distasteful
to her. And adolescence has enough preoccupations of its own. A fig for
those of others! . . .

Raoul Rivière's cleverest act was winning his daughter to his side.
Naturally, he made no move in this direction; it was a triumph of art.
Not a word of reproach, not an allusion to the wounds inflicted by
Madame Rivière; he was chivalrous, he left his daughter to find out
these things for herself. Nor did she fail to do so, for she too was
under her fathers spell. And how could she fail to decide against the
woman who, being his wife, was clumsy enough to spoil their happiness!
In this unequal battle poor Madame Rivière was beaten in advance; and
she crowned her defeat by being the first to die. Raoul remained sole
master of the field,--and of his daughter's heart. For the past five
years Annette had lived morally enveloped by her amiable father who was
devoted to her, and who, intending no harm, lavished on her those charms
that were natural to him. His generosity to her was augmented when he
found less opportunity to employ these charms outside; for during the
last two years he was kept closer to home by warnings of the illness
that was to carry him off.

Nothing, then, had troubled the warm intimacy that united father and
daughter, and filled Annette's unawakened heart. She was between
twenty-three and twenty-four, but her heart seemed younger; its
development had not been forced. Perhaps, like all those who have a long
future before them, and because she felt a profound life pulsing within
her, she let that life amass itself, in no hurry to take stock of it.

She took after both her parents: from her father she came by the outline
of her features and the charming smile, which in his case promised more
than he realized, and in hers, as she was still pure, more than she
wished; while from her mother she inherited a surface tranquillity, a
poise of manner, and a mind that was serious despite its extreme
freedom. Doubly alluring she was, with the charm of the one and the
reserve of the other. It was impossible to guess which of the two
temperaments was dominant in her. Her true nature still remained
unknown,--to herself as well as to others. None suspected her hidden
universe. She was an Eve in the garden, half slumbering. She had not yet
become conscious of the desires that were within her; nothing had
awakened them, for nothing had disturbed them. It seemed that she had
but to stretch out her arm to gather them. She never tried, lulled by
their happy humming. Perhaps she did not wish to try. . . . Who knows
how far one tries to dupe oneself? One would rather not see the
disturbing things within one. . . . And she preferred to ignore that
interior sea. The Annette whom people knew, the Annette who knew
herself, was a very calm, reasonable, well-regulated little person,
mistress of herself, who had her own will and her own independent
judgment, but who, so far, had never had occasion to oppose these to the
established rules of the world or of her household.

Without in any way neglecting the duties of social life, nor being
indifferent to its pleasures, which she enjoyed with a healthy appetite,
she had felt the need of a more serious activity. She busied herself
with fairly thorough studies, with following university courses, with
passing examinations and taking a double degree. Possessed of a lively
intelligence that demanded occupation, she loved exact studies,
particularly the sciences, in which she was highly gifted. Perhaps it
was that her healthy nature, with an instinct for equilibrium, felt the
necessity of opposing the strict discipline of a clear method and
sharply defined ideas to the disquieting attraction of that inner life
which she feared to face, and which, despite her precautions, came
beating on her door at each halt of the inactive mind. This clear,
accurate, regular activity satisfied her for the moment. She did not
care to speculate on what would follow. Marriage held no attraction for
her; she avoided thought of it. Her father smiled at her resolutions;
but he was disinclined to oppose them, for he found them to his own
advantage.



II


The disappearance of Raoul Rivière shook to its foundations the
well-ordered edifice of which, without Annette's realizing it, he was
the principal pillar. She was not unfamiliar with the face of death.
Five years before she had made its acquaintance, when her mother had
left her. But the features of this face are not always the same. After
spending several months in a private hospital, Madame Rivière had
departed silently, as she had lived, guarding the secret of her last
terrors as she had the trials of her life; leaving behind her, in the
candid egotism of the young girl, along with a gentle sorrow that
resembled the first rains of spring, an impression of relief that was
unconfessed, and the shadow of a remorse that was soon to be lost in the
joy of living.

Quite different was the end of Raoul Rivière. Stricken in the midst of
a happiness that he felt sure of enjoying for a long time still, he
brought to his departure no philosophy. He greeted his sufferings and
the approach of death with cries of revolt. Until the supreme breath of
a gasping agony, like that of a galloping horse that climbs a slope, he
battled fearfully. Those frightful images were stamped in Annette's
burning brain as though in wax. She remained haunted by them at night.
In the darkness of her room, in bed, upon the verge of sleep or suddenly
awakening, she revived the agony and the face of the dying man with such
violence that she was the dying man himself: her eyes were _his_ eyes,
her breath was _his_ breath; she no longer distinguished between them;
in the eye-sockets she recognized the appeal of a drowning glance. She
came close to destruction; but robust youth enjoys such elasticity! The
more the cord is stretched, the further flies the arrow of life. The
blinding light of those maddening images was extinguished by its own
excess, and night fell upon the memory. The features, the voice, the
radiance of the vanished man, all had vanished: Annette, determined to
exhaust the shadow that was within her, could find no further trace of
it. Nothing but herself. She alone. . . . Alone. The Eve of the garden
was awakening without the companion at her side,--the man whom she had
always felt near her, without seeking to define him; the man who,
unknown to her and as yet indistinctly, was assuming the shape of love.
And suddenly the garden lost its security. Disquieting breaths from
without had entered it; both the breath of death and the breath of life.
Annette opened her eyes, as did the world's first men at night, with the
apprehension of a thousand unknown dangers ambushed about her, with the
instinct of imminent battle. Of a sudden the dormant energies gathered
themselves together, and held themselves tensely ready. And her solitude
was peopled by passionate forces.

Her equilibrium was destroyed. Her studies, her work, now meant nothing
to her; the place that she had accorded them in her life now seemed a
mockery. But the other part of her life, which sorrow had just touched,
revealed itself to be of immeasurable extent. The shock of the injury
had awakened all its fibres: around the wound, opened by the
disappearance of the beloved companion, gathered all the forces of love,
hidden and unknown; sucked in by the void that had been hollowed out,
they came hastening from the distant depths of her being. Surprised by
this invasion, Annette strove to evade its significance; she persisted
in relating everything to the precise object of her grief:
everything,--the sharp, burning stimulus of Nature, whose spring breezes
bathed her in moisture; the vague and violent longing for happiness . . .
lost or desired?--the arms outstretched towards the absent one; and
the bounding heart which yearned for the past . . . or was it the
future? But she succeeded only in dissolving her grief into a confused
mystery of sorrow, passion, and obscure pleasure. By this she was at
once devoured and revolted. . . .

On this evening in late April, she was swept away by revolt. Her
rational mind waxed furious at the confused reveries which it had too
long left uncontrolled, and of which it saw the danger. It wished to
repel them, but this was not easy; they no longer listened; the mind had
lost its habit of command. . . . Annette, tearing herself away from
contemplation of the fire upon the hearth, from the insidious advance of
the night that had completely fallen, stood up, chilly now, and,
enveloping herself in a dressing-gown of her father's, she flooded the
room with light.

It was Raoul Rivière's old study. Through the open bay-windows, through
the sparse young foliage of the trees, one could see the Seine in the
darkness, and on its sombre, seemingly immobile mass, the reflections of
houses whose windows were being lighted upon the opposite bank, and of
the daylight that was dying above the hills of Saint-Cloud. Raoul
Rivière, who was a man of taste--although disinclined to use it to
satisfy the insipid routine or laughable caprices of his wealthy
clients--had chosen for himself, at the gates of Paris, on the Quai de
Boulogne, an old Louis XVI mansion that he had had no hand in building.
He had contented himself with making it comfortable. His study had also
served him admirably for affairs of gallantry, and there was reason to
believe that the room had not suffered from lack of use in this
capacity. Here Rivière had received more than one amiable visit,
suspected by no one; for the chamber had its private entrance from the
garden. But for two years the entrance had been useless, and the sole
feminine visitor had been Annette. Annette, coming and going, tidying
things, pouring water into a vase of flowers, constantly moving about;
then suddenly motionless over a book, curled up in her favorite corner
of the divan, whence she might silently watch the passage of the sinuous
river and, without interrupting her absent-minded reading, carry on an
absent-minded conversation with her father. But he, sitting yonder,
listless and weary, his sly profile catching her slightest movement from
the corner of one eye; he, an old spoiled child who could never admit
that, wherever he might be, he was not the center of all thoughts,
harassed her with witticisms, wheedling questions, insistent,
disturbing, in order to attract Annette's attention to himself and make
sure that she was really listening to everything. . . . To the very end,
touched and delighted that he could not do without her, she gave up
everything else for the sake of devoting herself to him alone. Then he
was satisfied; and, sure of his public, he showered upon it the
resources of his brilliant mind. He shot off his rockets, he laid bare
his memories. Of course, he was careful to select only the most
flattering; and he arranged them _ad usum Delphini_, to the taste of the
_dauphine_, cleverly guessing at her secret curiosities and her sudden
fits of bristling repugnance. He told her precisely what she desired to
hear; and Annette, all ears, was proud of his confidences. She was quite
ready to believe that she possessed more of her father than her mother
had ever known. Of his intimate life's story she remained, so she
thought, the sole trustee.

But, since her father's death, another trust had been left in her hands:
all his papers. Annette had no desire to learn what they contained. Her
piety told her that they did not belong to her; but another sentiment
whispered the contrary. In any event, it was necessary to decide upon
their fate: Annette, sole heiress, might die in her turn, and those
family papers should not be allowed to fall into strange hands. It was
urgent, then, to examine them, and to determine whether they were to be
destroyed or preserved. For some days now Annette had been decided on
this course. But when she found herself again, at evening, in the room
that was permeated by the beloved presence, she lacked courage to do
more than drink in this presence for hours, without stirring. She
feared, in opening these letters of the past, too direct a contact with
reality.

Yet it must be done. This evening she was resolved upon it. In the
diffused softness of this over tender night, in which she disturbedly
felt the dwindling of her grief, she wished to affirm her possession of
the dead man. She went toward the piece of rosewood furniture, more
suitable for a coquette than for a worker, a high Louis XV chiffonier,
in which Rivière had heaped his letters and intimate papers, disposing
them in the seven or eight drawers that made the piece a kind of
anticipatory and charming model of the American skyscraper. Annette,
kneeling, pulled out the lower drawer; then to examine it the better,
she lifted it out completely, and, returning to her place by the fire,
she sank to her knees and bent over it. Not a sound in the house. She
was living there alone, save for an old aunt who kept house and who
scarcely counted: Aunt Victorine, an eclipsed sister of Annette's
father, who had always lived to serve Rivière, and who now continued as
housekeeper in the service of her niece,--not unlike an old cat, having
finally become a part of the furniture of the house, to which she was as
much attached, no doubt, as to the human beings. Having retired to her
room early in the evening, her distant presence on the floor above, the
peaceable coming and going of her old felt-shod feet, disturbed
Annette's reveries no more than would a familiar animal.

She began to read, curious and a little troubled. But her orderly
instinct and her need of calm, which insisted that everything in and
around herself should be clearly arranged, imposed on her, as she picked
up and unfolded the letters, a slowness of movement and a detached
coldness that succeeded in deluding her for a time at least.

The first letters that she read were from her mother. The fretful tone
at first called to mind her earlier impressions, not always kindly,
sometimes a little irritated, mixed with some pity for what she had
considered, from the height of her reason, a really unhealthy habit of
mind: "Poor mama! . . ." But little by little, as she continued her
reading, she perceived for the first time that this mental state was not
without its causes. Certain allusions to Raoul's infidelities disturbed
her. Too partial to pass judgment against her father, she hurried on,
pretending that she had not clearly understood. Her filial piety
furnished her excellent reasons for averting her eyes. But at the same
time she discovered Madame Rivière's earnestness, her wounded
tenderness, and she reproached herself for having misunderstood her, and
having thus added to the sorrows of this martyr's life.

In the same drawer, side by side, reposed other bundles of letters (some
even detached and mingled with her mother's) which Raoul's casual
carelessness had jumbled together, as he had done with the
correspondents themselves during his life of multiple households.

This time Annette's determined calm was subjected to a difficult test.
From every sheet of the new bundle, voices spoke, much more intimate and
surer of their power than that of poor Madame Rivière: they affirmed
their proprietary rights over Raoul. Annette was revolted by them. Her
first movement was to crumple in her hand the letters that she held, and
throw them into the fire. But she snatched them out again.

Hesitantly she regarded the sheets, already seared by the flame, that
she had rescued. It was certain that if she had had sound reasons, a
moment ago, for not wishing to delve into her parents' quarrels, she now
had still better ones for wishing to know nothing of her father's
liaisons. But these reasons counted for nothing, now. She felt herself
personally attacked. On what grounds, how or why, she could not have
said. Bent over, motionless, wrinkling the end of her nose, her face
pushed forward in a disgusted pout, like an irritated cat, she trembled
with desire to throw back into the fire the insolent papers that she
clutched in her fist. But, as her fingers loosened their hold, she could
not resist the temptation of glancing at them. And then, suddenly
decided, she opened her hand, unfolded the letters again, meticulously
smoothing out with one finger the creases she had made. . . . And she
read,--she read all.



III


With repulsion (and not without attraction, too) Annette witnessed the
passage of those love affairs of which she had known nothing. They
formed a motley and fantastic troop. In love as in art, Raoul's caprice
was "period color." Annette recognized certain names belonging to her
own world; and with hostility she recalled the smiles and caresses that
she used to receive from certain favorites. Others belonged upon a less
lofty social level; their spelling was no less free than the sentiments
they expressed. Annette's disdainful pout was accentuated; but her mind,
with sharp and mocking eyes like her father's, saw the comic aspect of
these women who, leaning forward, with a wisp of hair in their eyes and
the tip of their tongues thrust out, made their pens gallop over the
paper. All these adventures, some a little longer, some a little
shorter, but none very long after all, passed, succeeded one another,
and effaced one another. Annette was grateful for that,--wounded, but
disdainful.

She was not yet at the end of her discoveries. In another drawer,
sedulously put apart (more carefully, she was forced to remark, than her
mother's letters) a new bundle revealed a more enduring liaison.
Although the dates were carelessly indicated, it was easy to see that
this correspondence embraced a long period of years. It was in two
handwritings: the one, incorrect, slovenly, and backhand, stopped half
way through the packet; the other, childish at first, gradually grew
firmer, and continued until the last years, even (and this discovery was
particularly painful to Annette), up until the last months of her
father's life. And this correspondent, who was robbing her of a part of
that sacred period of which she had thought herself the unique
possessor, this double intruder, was addressing her father as "Father!"

She experienced the sensation of an intolerable wound. With an angry
gesture she flung her father's dressing-gown from her shoulders. The
letters fell from her hands, and she sank back in her chair with dry
eyes and burning cheeks. She did not analyse her own emotions. She was
too moved by passion to know what she thought. But, with all her
passion, she was thinking: "He deceived me! . . ."

Again she picked up the hateful letters, and this time she did not let
them go until she had absorbed them down to the very last line. She
read, breathing deeply with her mouth shut, burned by a hidden fire of
jealousy, and by another sentiment, still obscure, that had been
awakened. Not for a second did the idea occur to her, in penetrating the
intimacy of this correspondence, in possessing herself of her father's
secrets, that she might be guilty of a moral misdemeanor. Not for a
second did she doubt her right. . . . (Her right! The spirit of reason
was far away; another power, a despotic one, was speaking!) . . . On the
contrary, she felt that it was she who was wounded in her right--_in her
right_--by her father!

She recovered herself, however. She glimpsed, for an instant, the
enormity of her pretension. What rights had she over him? What did he
owe her? The imperious grumbling of passion answered: "Everything."
Argument was useless! Annette, abandoned to her absurd resentment,
suffered from the wound, and at the same time felt a bitter joy in those
cruel forces that, for the first time, were thrusting their piercing
goads into her flesh.

She spent a part of the night in reading. And when she finally went to
bed, with her eyes closed she long continued to reread lines and words
that made her start, until the deep sleep of youth overcame her, and she
lay motionless, outstretched, breathing deeply, very calm, even relieved
by the emotional expenditure that she had undergone.

She read again the next day; many times, during the days that followed,
she reread the letters which never ceased to occupy her thoughts. Now
she could almost reconstruct this life, this double life which had
unrolled parallel to her own: the mother, a florist, whom Raoul had
furnished funds to open a shop; the daughter, employed by a milliner, or
perhaps a seamstress (it was not very clear). The one was named
Delphine; and the other, the younger, Sylvie. To judge by their
fantastic, negligent style of writing--a style that for all its
carelessness was not lacking in charm--they resembled each other.
Delphine seemed to have been a pleasant person who, despite a few little
ruses that appeared here and there in her letters, could not have
wearied Rivière very greatly with her demands. Neither the mother nor
the daughter took life tragically. And besides, they seemed sure of
Raoul's affection. It was perhaps the best way to conserve it. But this
impertinent assurance ruffled Annette no less than did the extreme
familiarity of their tone with him.

It was Sylvie who especially absorbed her jealous attention. The other
had died, and Annette's pride affected to scorn the kind of intimacy
that Delphine had enjoyed with her father; already she was forgetting
that, a few days before, the discovery of similar attachments had been a
sensible affront to her. Now that a much more profound intimacy had
entered the lists, all other rivalries seemed negligible to her. With
strained imagination she tried to picture to herself this stranger who,
despite her ill will, was only half a stranger. The laughing ease, the
calm familiarity of these letters in which Sylvie disposed of her father
as though he were entirely her property, made Annette furious; she
sought to outstare this insolent unknown so that she might confound her.
But the little intruder defied her glance. She seemed to say: "It is my
right: I am of _his_ blood."

And the more irritated Annette became, the more this affirmation grew
upon her. She fought against it too much not to gradually become
accustomed to the combat, and even to the adversary. Finally, she could
not get along without it. In the morning the first thought that greeted
her upon awakening was of Sylvie; and now the sly voice of her rival
said: "I am of _your_ blood."

So clearly did she hear it, so vivid one night was the vision of her
unknown sister, that Annette in her half-sleep stretched out her arms to
seize her.

And the next day, provoked, protesting, but conquered, the desire held
her and would not let her go. She left the house, in search of Sylvie.



IV


The address was in the letters. Annette went to the Boulevard du Maine.
It was afternoon; Sylvie was at the work-shop. Annette did not dare to
hunt her out there. She waited for a few days, and then went back one
evening after dinner. Sylvie had not come in, or else she had already
gone out again; no one was quite sure. Annette, who had been keyed up by
nervous impatience for a whole day preceding each attempt, returned home
disappointed; and a secret cowardice advised her to give it up. But she
was one of those who never give up anything on which they have once
decided; they are all the less willing to yield when the obstacle
persists, or when they are afraid of what may happen.

She went again, one day at the end of May, towards nine in the evening.
And this time she was told that Sylvie was at home. Six flights. She
climbed too quickly, for she did not wish to have time to seek any
reasons why she should turn back. At the top, her breath was short. She
halted on the last stair. She did not know what she was going to find.

A long general hall, uncarpeted, tiled. At right and left, two doors
ajar: voices called from one lodging to the other. Through the door on
the left a reflection from the setting sun fell upon the red tiles. That
was where Sylvie lived.

Annette knocked. Some one called out, "Come in!" without ceasing to
chatter. Annette pushed open the door; the light from the golden heavens
struck her full in the face. She saw a young girl, half-dressed, in a
skirt, with bare shoulders, and bare feet thrust into red slippers,
walking back and forth with her supple, plump back turned towards her.
She was looking for something on her toilet table, talking to herself,
and powdering her nose with a puff.

"Well now! What is it?" she demanded in a tone that was nasal because of
the pins thrust in one corner of her mouth.

Then suddenly, distracted by a lilac branch that was soaking in her
water jug, she plunged her nose into it with a grunt of pleasure.
Lifting her head, and looking into the mirror with her laughing eyes,
she caught sight of Annette behind her, hesitating on the threshold,
aureoled in sunlight. "Oh!" she exclaimed, turned around with bare arms
lifted above her head, quickly thrust the pins back into her rearranged
hair, came forward with hands outstretched, and then suddenly withdrew
them, making a gesture of welcome that was cordial but reserved. Annette
entered, vainly trying to speak. Sylvie was silent too. She offered her
visitor a chair, and slipping into a well-worn, blue-striped
dressing-gown, she sat down on the bed opposite her. They looked at each
other, and each waited for the other to begin.

How different they were! Each studied the other with sharp, precise,
unindulgent eyes which asked: "Who are you?"


Sylvie saw Annette, big, fresh, large of face, her nose a little
snubbed, her forehead like that of a young heifer beneath a mass of
twisted golden brown hair, with very thick eyebrows, large clear blue
eyes that protruded a trifle, and that grew strangely hard at times when
waves of emotion swept up from her heart; her mouth was large and her
lips firm, with a light down at the corners, and habitually closed in a
defensive, watchful, determined pout,--but when they opened they were
illumined by a timid, radiant and delightful smile which transformed her
whole countenance; her chin, like her cheeks, was full but not fat, both
solidly cut; nape, neck and hands were the color of dark honey; beneath
her beautiful, firm skin flowed pure blood. A little heavy of figure,
her bust a trifle square, she had breasts that were large and full:
Sylvie's practised eye felt them under the dress, lingering longest on
the fine shoulders, so perfectly proportioned that they formed, with the
white, round column of her neck, Annette's greatest physical charm. She
knew how to dress, she was turned out with care; an excessive, an
over-studied care in Sylvie's opinion: hair well done, not a ringlet out
of place, not a hook and eye at fault, everything in order. Sylvie was
asking herself: "And is she the same inside?"

Annette saw Sylvie, almost as tall as herself (perhaps just as tall) but
thin, slender of figure, with a head that was small for her body, now
half-naked under her peignor, and a throat that was slight but plump,
while her arms too were plump: balancing herself on her little rump, she
sat with her hands clasped over her round knees. Round too were her
forehead and her chin; her little nose turned up; her light brown hair
grew low on the temples and curled over the cheeks, and little wandering
hairs appeared on the nape and the white, very white and slender, neck.
A hot-house plant. The two profiles of her face were asymmetrical: the
right-hand one was languorous, sentimental,--a sleeping cat; the
left-hand one, malicious, watchful,--a biting cat. When she spoke, her
upper lip drew back over laughing teeth. And Annette was thinking:
"Beware of her bite!"

How different they were! . . . And yet at the first glance both had
recognized the expression, the clear eyes, the forehead, the wrinkle at
the corner of the mouth,--the father. . . .

Annette, frightened and stiff, took her courage in her hands and, in a
pale voice that was chilled by excess of emotion, she told who she was,
her name. Sylvie let her speak without ceasing to stare at her; then,
calmly, with a slightly cruel smile of her curled upper lip, she said:
"I knew it."

Annette started.

"How?"

"I've seen you before, often, with father. . . ."

Before those last words there was an imperceptible hesitation. Perhaps
she had been going to say "_my_ father." But she felt an ironic pity for
Annette's glance that read her lips. Annette understood, averted her
eyes, and blushed, humiliated.

Sylvie missed none of it; she took a leisurely delight in Annette's
embarrassment. She continued to speak without haste, studiedly. She said
that she had been in the church, at the funeral service, in one of the
aisles, and that she had seen everything. Her singsong, rather nasal
voice reeled off her narrative with no show of emotion. But if Sylvie
knew how to see, Annette knew how to hear; and when the girl had
finished, Annette, raising her eyes, asked her:

"You loved him very much?"

The eyes of the two sisters exchanged a caress. But this lasted for a
moment only. Already a jealous shadow had clouded Annette's expression,
and she continued:

"He loved you very much."

She sincerely wished to please Sylvie, but she could not help a shade of
spite creeping into her voice. Sylvie thought that she could sense a
patronising tone. Immediately her paws showed their little claws, and
she said spiritedly:

"Oh! yes, he loved me tremendously!"

She made a little pause; then, with a complacent air, let fly:

"And he was _very_ fond of you, too. He often told me so."

Annette's passionate hands, her large nervous hands, trembled and
clasped each other. Sylvie watched them. With contracted throat, Annette
asked:

"He spoke to you of me, often?"

"Often," repeated the innocent Sylvie.

There was no assurance that she spoke the truth; but Annette, who had
scant skill in hiding her own thoughts, did not suspect the words of
others, and those of Sylvie touched her heart. . . . So, her father
spoke of her to Sylvie, they talked about her together! And she, to the
very last day, had known nothing; he had seemed to confide in her, and
he had duped her; he had kept her out of things, she had not even known
of her sister's existence! Such inequality, such injustice overwhelmed
her. She felt that she was beaten. But she did not wish to show it; so
she sought a weapon, found it, and said:

"You must have seen very little of him during the last years."

"Yes," conceded Sylvie regretfully, "during the last years that was so.
He was sick. _They_ kept him shut up."

There was a hostile silence. Both were smiling, both were champing at
the bit: Annette, rigid and strained; Sylvie, her expression as false as
a gambler's counter, caressing, mannered. Before going on with the game,
they were counting up the points. Annette, a little relieved at having
won a (very slight) advantage, and secretly ashamed of her evil
thoughts, tried to put the conversation on a more cordial basis. She
spoke of the desire she had felt to meet the girl in whom, too, her
father lived again,--"_a little_." But it was in vain; despite herself
she made it clear that there was a difference between their shares, and
she let it be understood that hers was the privileged one. She told
Sylvie about Raoul's last years, and she could not help showing how much
_more_ intimate she had been with him. Sylvie profited by a pause in the
narrative to furnish Annette, in return, with her own memories of the
paternal affection. And each, against her will, envied the other's
share; and each tried to make her own seem the bigger. Speaking or
listening (not wishing to listen, but hearing just the same) they
continued to inspect each other from head to foot. Sylvie complaisantly
compared her long legs, slim ankles and small bare feet, lost in their
slippers, with Annette's somewhat heavy extremities and awkward ankles.
And Annette, studying Sylvie's hands, did not fail to note the
cultivated moons of the over-pink nails. It was not merely two young
girls who confronted each other; it was two rival households. So,
despite the apparent freedom of the conversation, they remained armed
with eye and tongue, and observed each other harshly. The fierce
sharpness of jealousy made each bluntly penetrate, at first glance, to
the very depths of the other; to the faults and hidden vices unsuspected
perhaps by their possessor. Sylvie recognized in Annette the demon of
pride, inflexibility of principle, despotic violence, which had not yet,
however, found occasion to exert itself. Annette recognized in Sylvie a
practised sharpness and a smiling falseness. Later, when they loved each
other, they would have given much to forget what they had seen. But for
the instant their animosity gazed through a magnifying glass. There were
seconds when they hated each other. Annette, with a bursting heart, was
thinking:

"It isn't right, it isn't right! I should set the example."

Her eyes made a tour of the modest room, taking in the window, the lace
curtains, the roof and chimneys of the opposite house under the
moonlight, the lilac branch in the broken water jug.

In a cold tone, colder for the fact that she was burning inside, she
offered Sylvie her friendship, her assistance. . . . Sylvie, negligently,
with a malicious little smile, listened, made no reply. . . .
Annette, mortified, ill hiding her piqued pride and incipient passion,
rose abruptly. They exchanged a pleasant, commonplace good-bye. And,
with sorrow and anger in her heart, Annette went out.

But as she reached the end of the tiled hall, and was already descending
the first step of the stairs, Sylvie came running towards her, in her
little Turkish slippers, one of which she lost on the way, and from
behind she slipped her arms around Annette's neck. Annette turned,
crying out with emotion. She hugged Sylvie in a burst of passion; and
Sylvie cried out too, but with laughter at the violence of the embrace.
Their mouths met ardently. Loving words. Affectionate murmurs. Thanks,
promises that they would see each other soon. . . .

They drew apart. Annette, laughing with happiness, found that without
realizing it she had descended to the bottom of the staircase. From
above she heard a gamin's whistle, as though calling a dog, and Sylvie's
voice whispering:

"Annette!"

She raised her head and saw high above her in a patch of light Sylvie's
laughing face bending down.

"Catch!"

And Annette received full in her face a rain of drops and the wet lilac
that Sylvie had thrown down to her, at the same time throwing kisses
with both hands. . . .

Sylvie vanished. Annette, with lifted head, continued to look for her
when she was no longer there. And, clasping the branch of wet flowers in
her arms, she kissed the lilac.



V


Despite the distance, and although certain streets were not very safe at
this belated hour, Annette returned home on foot. She could easily have
danced. When she finally reached the house, happy and troubled, she did
not retire until she had placed the flowers in a vase beside her bed.
And then she got up again to take them out and put them in her water
jug, as they had been at Sylvie's. In bed again, she kept her lamp
lighted, for she did not wish to take leave of this day. But suddenly,
three hours later, she awakened in the middle of the night. The flowers
were really there; it had not been a dream, she had seen Sylvie. . . .
She fell asleep again, upon the breast of that dear image.

The days that followed were filled by the buzzing of bees erecting a new
hive. Just as a swarm groups itself around a young queen, so Annette
constructed a new future around Sylvie. The old hive was deserted; its
queen was indeed dead. Attempting to mask this revolution in the palace,
the passionate heart pretended to believe that its love for the father
had been transferred to Sylvie, and that it would rediscover him
there. . . . But Annette really knew that she was bidding him farewell.

There sounded the imperious voice of new love, which creates and
destroys. . . . Memories of the father were thrust, pitilessly, from
view. Familiar objects were relegated to the pious shadow of rooms in
which they ran no risk of being frequently disturbed. The greatcoat was
thrust into the bottom of an old closet. Having put it away, Annette
took it out again indecisively, pressed her cheek against it, then
suddenly in anger thrust it from her. Illogicality of passion! Which of
the two was the traitor? . . .

She was enamoured of the sister she had discovered. She scarcely knew
her! But as soon as one loves, such an uncertainty is only an added
attraction. The mystery of the unknown is added to the charm of what one
thinks one knows. Of the Sylvie she had glimpsed, she wished to remember
only what had pleased her. Secretly she admitted that this was not very
exact; but when she honestly sought to recall the shadows of the
portrait, she heard the little slippers trotting down the hall, and felt
Sylvie's bare arms clasped about her neck.

Sylvie was going to come. She had promised. . . . Annette was preparing
everything for her reception. Where would she put her? There, in her
pretty room. Sylvie would sit here, in her favorite place, before the
open window. In imagination Annette saw everything through her sister's
eyes, and took delight in showing Sylvie her house, her bibelots, her
trees clothed in their softest greenery, and the vista yonder over the
flowered hills. In sharing with Sylvie the grace and comforts of her
life she enjoyed them with the freshness of new sensations. But the
thought occurred to her that Sylvie's eyes might draw comparisons
between her own lodging and the Boulogne house. A shadow fell across her
joy. This inequality weighed upon her, as though it had been her fault.
Couldn't she correct it by asking Sylvie to share with her the
advantages that fate had given her? Yes, but this would be to give her
still another advantage. And Annette foresaw that she would not gain her
consent without a struggle. She remembered the mocking silence with
which Sylvie had greeted her first invitations. Her sensitiveness would
have to be humored. How could it be done? Annette reviewed four or five
plans in her mind. None satisfied her. Ten times she changed the
arrangement of the room: after having placed in it her most valuable
possessions, with a childish pleasure, she carried them out again and
left only the simplest things. There was not a detail--a flower on the
landing, the place of a portrait--that she did not argue over. . . .
Sylvie must not arrive before everything was in order! But Sylvie was in
no hurry, and Annette had time to make and remake, again and again, her
little arrangements. She found Sylvie very slow in coming, but she
profited by this to revise her plans. Unconscious comedy! She was
deluding herself by attributing importance to these trifles. All this
bustle of arrangement and rearrangement was only a pretext to distract
her attention from another bustle of passionate thoughts which was
troubling the habitual order of her rational life.

The pretext wore itself out. This time all was ready. And Sylvie did not
come. In imagination Annette had already welcomed her ten times. She was
exhausted with waiting. . . . Yet she could not go back to Sylvie's!
What if, when she went to see her again, she should read in Sylvie's
bored eyes that her sister could get along very well without her! At the
very idea Annette's pride bled. No, rather than this humiliation, it
would be better never to see her again! Yet . . . She decided hastily,
and dressed herself to go in search of the forgetful girl. But she had
not finished buttoning her gloves before she lost courage; and, with her
legs sinking under her, she sat down on a chair in the vestibule, not
knowing what to do. . . .

And just at that moment,--when Annette had sunk down beside the door,
with her hat on her head, all ready to go out, yet not able to make up
her mind,--just then, Sylvie rang the bell!

Between the sound of the bell and the opening of the door ten seconds
did not elapse. Such promptness and the sight of Annette's delighted
eyes were enough to tell Sylvie that she was expected. They were already
kissing each other, standing on the door-sill, before a word was said.
Then Annette impetuously dragged Sylvie through the house, without
letting go of her hands, devouring her with her eyes, and laughing
foolishly to herself like a happy child. . . .

And nothing happened as she had anticipated. Not one of the prepared
phrases of welcome served. She did not seat Sylvie in the chosen place.
Turning their backs to the window, they both sat on the divan, side by
side, gazing into each other's eyes, speaking without listening; their
expressions said:

Annette: "At last! You are really here?"

Sylvie: "You see, I've come. . . ."

But Sylvie, having examined Annette, said: "You were going out?"

Annette shook her head without wishing to explain. Sylvie understood
perfectly and, leaning over, she whispered:

"You were coming to my place?"

Annette started and, resting her cheek on her sister's shoulder, she
murmured: "Bad girl!"

"Why?" demanded Sylvie, kissing Annette's fair eyebrows with the corner
of her mouth.

Annette did not reply. Sylvie knew the answer. She smiled, peeking
maliciously at Annette who was now avoiding her glance. The violent
girl! Her spirit was broken. A sudden timidity had fallen upon her, like
a net. They sat without stirring, the big sister leaning on the shoulder
of the little one, who was satisfied at having so promptly established
her power. . . .

Then Annette raised her head and, both mistresses of their first
emotion, they began to talk like old friends.

No longer were their intentions hostile. On the contrary, each was
desirous of surrendering herself to the other. . . . Oh, not completely,
however! They knew that there are things in every one which it does not
do to show. Even when one loves? Precisely when one loves! But what
things, exactly? Each, while unbosoming herself, kept her secrets,
sounding out the limits of what the other's love could bear. And more
than one confidence that began frankly, oscillated uncertainly in the
midst of a phrase, and then ran prettily into a little lie. They did not
know each other; in more than one respect they were disconcerting
enigmas to each other: two natures, two worlds, strangers in spite of
all. For this visit, Sylvie--she had thought about it more than she
would have admitted--had made herself as lovely as possible. And her
possible was much. Annette was captured by her charm and at the same
time embarrassed by certain little artifices of coquetry that made her
uncomfortable. Sylvie perceived this, without trying to change in any
way; and she was at once attracted and intimidated by this big sister of
hers who was so free and so naïve, so ardent and so reserved. (To hear
her chatter one would not have suspected the intimidation!) Both were
keen and extremely observant, and they missed not a wink nor a thought.
They were not yet sure of each other. Suspicious and expansive, they
wished to give themselves; yes, but they did not wish to give without
receiving. Each was possessed by a devil of petty pride. Annette's was
the stronger; but in her the forces of love, too, were stronger, and she
betrayed herself. When she gave more than she had wished, it was a
defeat that Sylvie relished. So the two negotiators, burning to
understand each other, but wisely circumspect, testing each movement,
advanced cautiously. . . .

The duel was an unfair one. Very quickly Sylvie became aware of
Annette's imperious and imploring love. She saw it more clearly than
Annette herself. She tested it; with sheathed claws she played with it,
without seeming to do so. Annette felt that she was conquered. It caused
her shame and joy.

At Sylvie's request she showed her all her rooms. She would not have
done this on her own initiative; she was afraid to gall her sister by
displaying the comfort in which she lived, but to her relief Sylvie
manifested not the slightest pique. She was perfectly at her ease,
coming and going, looking and touching, as though she were at home. It
was Annette, in fact, who was disturbed by this perfect poise; and at
the same time her affection rejoiced in it. Passing by her sister's bed,
Sylvie gave the pillow a friendly little pat. Curiously she examined the
toilet table, making an accurate survey of the bottles at a glance; went
absentmindedly into the library, enthused over a pair of curtains,
criticised an arm-chair, tried another, poked her nose into a half-open
cupboard, felt the silk of a dress; and, having made her tour, returned
to Annette's bedroom where she sat down in the low armchair near the bed
and went on with the conversation. Annette offered her tea, to which
Sylvie preferred two fingers of sugared wine. Sucking a biscuit with the
end of her tongue, Sylvie looked at Annette who was hesitating, wishing
to speak; and she wanted to say to her:

"Out with it then!"

Finally Annette plucked up courage, and with a brusqueness that was
caused by her suppressed affection she proposed to Sylvie that she come
to live with her. Sylvie smiled, did not speak, swallowed her mouthful,
dipped her crumbs and fingers in her wine, smiled again prettily,
thanking her sister with eyes and a full mouth, shaking her head as one
does when talking to a child. And then she said:

"Darling. . . ."

And she refused.

Annette insisted, pressing her; she tried to compel consent with an
imperious violence. It was Sylvie's turn now not to wish to speak! She
excused herself with half-words, in a caressing voice, slightly
embarrassed and a little malicious as well. . . . (She was very fond of
her big sister who was so abrupt, tender, and frank!) She said:

"I can't."

And Annette asked: "But why?"

And Sylvie replied: "I have a sweetheart."

For the space of a second Annette did not understand. Then she
understood only too well, and she was dumbfounded. Watching her from the
corner of one eye, Sylvie rose, still smiling, and left amid a
twittering of little words and kisses.



VI


Annette was left to contemplate her destroyed castle. She felt a great,
confused pain composed of mingled feelings. Bitter ones there were in
plenty, which she would rather not have recognized, but which
spasmodically made her throat contract. . . . She who had thought herself
free from prejudice; the idea that this pretty sister of hers. . . . Oh!
it was too painful! She could have wept over it. . . . Why? It
was stupid! Jealousy again? . . . No!

She shrugged her shoulders and stood up. She wished to think no more
about it. . . . With long strides she went from room to room, seeking
distraction. Then she realized that she was retracting her sister's
promenade through the apartment. She could think only of her. Of her and
that other . . . Jealous, decidedly? No! No! No! No! . . . She stamped
her foot angrily. She would not admit it! . . . But, whether she
admitted it or not, the pain was gnawing at her heart. She sought moral
explanations; and she found them. It was her purity that suffered. In
her complex nature, rich in contradictory instincts that had not yet had
occasion to conflict, there was no lack of puritanical forces. Yet it
was not religious scruples that disturbed her. Brought up by a sceptical
father and a free-thinking mother, outside the pale of any church, she
was accustomed to discuss everything. She was not afraid to submit any
social prejudice to the spirit of examination. She admitted free love;
in theory she admitted it readily. Often in conversation with her father
or with fellow students she had upheld it, and in this the juvenile
desire to appear "advanced" had played an unimportant part; she
sincerely thought that freedom in love was legitimate, natural, and even
right. She had never thought of blaming the pretty girls of Paris who
lived as they pleased; she regarded them sympathetically, certainly with
more sympathy than the women of her middle-class world. . . . Well then,
what was it that hurt her now? Sylvie was exercising her right. . . .
Her right? No, not her right! Others, but not she! One is lenient with
those one does not hold so high. For her sister as for herself Annette
had, justly or not--yes, justly!--very strict standards. Love for one
person only seemed to her an aristocracy of the heart. Sylvie had
fallen. Annette blamed her for it! "One love only? Love for you! . . .
Jealous girl, you are lying to yourself! . . ." But the more jealous she
was of Sylvie, the more she loved her; and the more irritated she became
with her, the more she loved her. One can be so greatly irritated only
by those one loves!

Her little sisters charm was calmly working. It was useless to be
annoyed, to wish that she were different. Little by little, Annette
became conscious of another feeling: curiosity. Despite herself, her
mind was trying to imagine Sylvie's mode of life. She thought about it
entirely too much. She ended by putting herself in Sylvie's place; and
she was rather confused to admit that she did not find it too bad. The
scorn of herself, the indignant revolt that this produced, made her the
more severe towards Sylvie. She continued to sulk, and forbade herself
to visit her sister again.


Sylvie was not at all disturbed. That Annette gave no sign of life did
not in any way trouble her. She had judged her big sister; she knew that
Annette would come back. The period of waiting did not weigh upon her;
she had enough to occupy her heart. First of all, her sweetheart, who
occupied, nevertheless, only a corner of it, and that not for long. And
there were so many other things! She loved Annette. But, after all, she
had lived without her for almost twenty years. She could wait a few
weeks more. . . . She imagined what was going on in her sister's mind.
She found a certain amusement in this, mixed with a residue of
hostility. Two rival races; two classes. When she had been at Annette's,
Sylvie had compared their lives and conditions, although she had not
appeared to do so. She was thinking:

"All the same, you see, we have our little advantages. I have what you
haven't. . . . You thought that you could hold me, and you can't. Yes,
go ahead, go ahead, pout and purse your lips! I have shocked your
conventions. . . . What a blow, my poor Annette!"

And, laughing at the discomfiture which she imagined she read in
Annette's face, she pressed her hand to her lips and threw a kiss. But,
even while she told herself that Annette was suffering and that it was
a bitter close for her to swallow, she was not offended. And, as one does
when a child balks before a full spoon, she whispered, slyly and
cajolingly:

"Come on, my little one! Open your mouth! There you are!"

It was not merely a question of shocked conventions. Sylvie knew
perfectly well that she had wounded Annette in another feeling much less
easily confessed. And the little brigand was delighted at the thought,
for it made her feel that she was her sister's mistress; she would make
the most of it. . . . "Poor Annette! Can you fight against yourself!"
Sylvie was sure, absolutely sure, that she would "have" her. Mocking,
yet at the same time touched, she whispered to her in imagination.

"Go on! I won't take advantage of it. . . ."

She wouldn't take advantage of it? . . .

And why not? It's amusing to take advantages. After all, life is war. To
the victor are the spoils. If the vanquished consents, it's because it
is to his advantage!

"Pshaw! We shall see!"



VII


One Monday morning Sylvie was doing some errands, when she caught sight
of Annette, a little in front of her and walking in the same direction,
on the Rue de Sèvres. She amused herself by following her for a time,
so that she might observe her. Annette was walking with long strides, as
was her habit. Sylvie, whose steps were short, quick, supple, dancing,
laughed at her boyish, athletic pace; but she appreciated the beautiful
harmony of her vigorous body. Head held straight, looking neither to
right nor left, Annette was absorbed. Sylvie caught up with her and
continued to walk beside her on the sidewalk without Annette's noticing
her. Imitating her gait, and peeking from the corner of one eye at her
big sister's cheek, which seemed paled by a melancholy shadow, Sylvie
moved her lips, without turning her head, and said in a low voice:

"Annette. . . ."

It was impossible to hear in the noise of the street. Sylvie barely
heard herself. Yet Annette heard. Or was it that she was conscious of
this mocking "double" that had for some moments been silently escorting
her? Suddenly she saw beside her the amused profile, the lips that moved
comically without speaking, the little laughing eye with its sidewise
glance. . . . Then she stopped, with one of those movements of impetuous
joy that had already surprised and charmed Sylvie on one occasion.
Abruptly she held out her arms. Her whole being quivered. Sylvie
thought:

"She is going to spring. . . ."

For an instant only. Already she had recovered herself; and, almost
coldly, she said:

"Good-morning, Sylvie."

But her cheeks were full of color, and her stiffness could not withstand
the burst of laughter from the younger girl, who was delighted with her
trick. Annette laughed with her:

"Oh! You've caught me!"

Sylvie took her arm, and they walked on, considerately suiting their
steps to each other.

"Were you there long?" asked Annette.

"Oh! about a half-hour," Sylvie affirmed unhesitatingly.

"No?" exclaimed the credulous Annette.

"I followed your movements. I saw everything. Everything. You talked as
you walked."

"It's not true, it's not true," protested Annette. "What a little
liar! . . ."

Their two arms tightened. They began to chatter about the errands they
had just done. They were perfectly happy. In the midst of an impassioned
account of a White Sale at the Bon Marché, where one had been and where
the other was going,--in the uproar of a street that they were crossing,
slipping between the vehicles with the sure instinct of two little
Parisiennes, Sylvie murmured in Annette's ear:

"You haven't kissed me!"

Annette's quick movement nearly crushed her. As they approached the
sidewalk, still walking, their lips met. . . . Hugging each other closer,
they were walking now along a quieter street, that led . . . Where did
it lead? . . .

"Where are we going?"

They stopped, amused to find that in the midst of their chattering they
had lost their way. Sylvie, clutching Annette, said:

"Let's lunch together."

Annette demurred,--(the unexpected charmed her, but embarrassed her a
little too: she was methodical),--mentioning her old aunt, who was
waiting for her. But Sylvie was not bothered by these trifling details:
she had got hold of Annette, and she wasn't going to let her go. She
made her telephone her aunt from a public station, and led her to a
creamery which she knew. For the two young girls, and particularly for
Annette, it was an outing, this little luncheon to which Sylvie insisted
on treating her more fortunate sister. (Annette understood why.) Annette
found everything exquisite. She went into ecstasies over the bread, over
the well done cutlet. And, last of all, there were strawberries in cream
on which they regaled themselves, licking them with their tongues.

But their tongues were even more occupied in talking than in eating.
They spoke, however, of only insignificant things, drinking each other
in, their eyes, their voices, and their radiance. Instinct has its
roads, the shortest and the best. The time had not come to touch on
essential subjects. They circled around, circled joyously, like those
buzzing wasps that turn ten times around a plate before alighting. They
did not alight. . . .

Sylvie stood up, and said: "Now it's time to go to work."

Annette assumed the dashed expression of a child abruptly robbed of its
dessert, and exclaimed: "It has been so nice! I haven't had enough."

"Nor I," replied Sylvie, laughing. "When shall we do it again?"

"The sooner and the longer the better. . . . This ended too soon."

"This evening then. Meet me at the door of the shop at about six."

Annette was disconcerted.

"But shall we be alone?"

She was disturbed at the idea that she might meet "the other."

Sylvie read her meaning.

"Yes, yes, we shall be alone," she said indulgently, with an ironic
emphasis. She calmly explained that her friend had gone to spend two or
three days in the country with his family. Annette blushed when she saw
that Sylvie had guessed; she did not remember that she had vowed,
morning and evening, to give evidence of her moral disapprobation. So
far as morality went, she now saw only one thing: "This evening _he_
will not be there."

What happiness! They could spend the whole evening together.

She spoke her thought, clapping her hands. Sylvie balanced on one foot
as though she were going to dance, grinned with pleasure, and said:
"Everybody's happy." Then, as a man had just come into the shop, she
assumed a genteel air, said, "Good-bye, my dear," and was off like a
shot.

They met again, some hours later, at the exit of the frivolous swarm.
Babbling, peering, trotting along, completing their hair-dressing before
a pocket-mirror or before a stray looking-glass, the little seamstresses
turned around as they passed and outstared Annette with their tired,
sharp, curious eyes; then, ten steps further on, trotting, peering,
babbling, they turned about to look at Sylvie who was kissing Annette.
And Annette was pained to see that Sylvie had talked.

She took her sister to dine at Boulogne. Sylvie had invited herself. To
spare the aunt, who would have exclaimed, "Oh!" and "Ah!" it was
arranged on the way that Sylvie should be introduced as a friend. But
this didn't prevent her, at the end of dinner, when the old lady was
retiring to her own room, conquered by the charms of the little schemer,
from calling her "Aunt" as though in familiar playfulness. . . .

Alone, in the great garden, by the light of a summer night. Tenderly
intertwined, they walked with little steps, drinking in the fragrance of
the weary flowers, exhaled at the close of a fine day. Like the flowers,
their souls exhaled their secrets. This time Sylvie responded to
Annette's questions, hiding little. She told the story of her life from
infancy; and, first of all, her memories of her father. They spoke of
him now without embarrassment, and with no mutual envy; he belonged to
them both, and they judged him with an indulgent, ironic smile, as a
big, amusing, charming fellow, not very substantial, not very
well-behaved. . . . (All men are the same!) They bore him no
ill-will. . . .

"You see, Annette, if he had been well-behaved, I wouldn't be
here. . . ."

Annette pressed her hand.

"Aie! Don't squeeze so hard!"

After that Sylvie spoke of the florist shop, where as a child she had
sat under the counter with the fallen flowers and woven her first
dreams,--of her early experiences of Paris life, listening to the talk
of her mother and the customers; then, when Delphine died (Sylvie had
been thirteen), of her apprenticeship to a dressmaker, who had been her
mother's friend and who had taken her in; then, after a year and the
death of her employer who had been worn out by work (one wears out
quickly in Paris!), of her various avatars. Harsh notations, bitter
experiences, always gaily told, seen with drollery. In passing she
painted types and characters, pricking with a needle on the weft of her
narrative, a trait, a witticism, a word, or a face. She did not tell
all; she had experimented with life a little more than she admitted,
perhaps more than she cared to remember. She caught herself up short at
the chapter on her friend,--of her last friend (if there had been other
chapters, she kept them to herself.) A medical student, met at a ball in
the quartier. (She would willingly go without dinner, to dance!) Not
very handsome, but nice; big and brown, with laughing eyes that wrinkled
at the corners; turned up nostrils, the nose of a good dog; amusing,
affectionate. She described him with no trimmings, but with
complaisance, praising his good qualities, as well as poking a little
fun at him, satisfied with her choice. She interrupted herself to laugh
at certain memories which she recounted, and at others which she did
not. Annette, all ears, troubled and interested, was silent save for a
few embarrassed words that she slipped in here and there. Sylvie held
her hand, and with her other free hand she caressed the ends of
Annette's fingers, one by one, while she spoke, as though she were
plucking a garland. Perceiving her sister's embarrassment, she loved her
for it and was amused by it.

The two young girls were seated on a bench beneath the trees, and they
could no longer see each other in the darkness that had fallen. Sylvie,
little devil, profited by this to describe scenes that were a trifle
indecorous and decidedly amorous, so that she might completely
intimidate her big sister. Annette sensed her malice, and did not know
whether she should smile or censure; she would have liked to censure,
but her little sister was so pretty! There was so much laughter in her
voice, her joy seemed so wholesome! Annette scarcely breathed, trying to
hide the tumult into which these amorous stories threw her. Sylvie, who
could feel beneath her fingers the other's emotions, paused to enjoy the
situation and to concoct some new deviltry: leaning towards Annette, she
asked her frankly, in a lowered voice, if she too had a sweetheart.
Annette started--she had not expected this--and blushed. Sylvie's
piercing eyes sought to see her features in the protective gloom, and,
failing this, she ran her fingers over Annette's cheek. . . .

"It's on fire," she said, laughing.

Annette laughed awkwardly, and blushed more furiously. Sylvie flung
herself on her neck.

"My dear little stupid, what a darling you are! No, you are priceless!
Don't be hurt! I'm mistaken. I love you devotedly. Love your Sylvie a
little. She's not much good, but such as she is she's yours. Annette, my
ducky! Hold out your lips; I love you!"

Passionately Annette clasped her in her arms, taking her breath away.
Sylvie, disengaging herself, observed in the tone of a connoisseur:

"You know how to kiss all right. Who taught you?"

Annette rudely shut the girl's mouth with her hand.

"Don't be always joking!"

Sylvie kissed her palm.

"Forgive me, I won't do it any more."

And, with her cheek resting on her sister's arm, Sylvie remained
discreetly silent, listening, watching against the obscure transparence
of a patch of sky, hollowed out of the semi-darkness by the branches of
the trees, Annette's face which was bent toward her as she spoke in a
low voice.

Annette was opening her heart. In her turn she was telling of the happy
plenitude of her solitary youth, that dawn of a little Diana, passionate
but untroubled, who took joy in what she desired no less than in what
she possessed, for between the one and the other there was for her only
the distance between to-day and to-morrow. And she was so sure of the
morrow that she tasted in advance the perfume of jasmine on the trellis,
without hastening to gather it.

She described the calm egotism of those years, empty of events but rich
in the sweetness of dreams. She told of the intimacy, the absorbing
affection, that bound her to her father. And, in telling about herself,
she had the singular experience of discovering herself; for, until this
moment, she had never had occasion to analyse her past. She was,
momentarily, frightened by it. She halted in her narrative; now she had
difficulty in expressing herself, now she expressed herself with a
troubled, pictorial ardor. Sylvie did not always understand and was
amused, but she listened less than she observed the expression of face,
voice and body.

Annette now confessed the jealous suffering she had felt at discovery of
the second family that her father had hidden from her, and the turmoil
into which she had been thrown by the existence of a rival, a sister.
With her burning frankness, she dissimulated nothing that had made her
blush; her passion reawakened as she evoked it. She said, "I hated
you! . . ." in so fierce a tone that she stopped, checked by the sound
of her own voice. Sylvie, much less stirred but deeply interested, felt
Annette's hand trembling against her cheek, and thought:

"There is fire, underneath there!"

Annette had picked up the thread of the confession that were costing her
so dear. And Sylvie was saying to herself:

"How funny she is to tell me all this!"

But she felt growing within her a respect for her strange, big sister;
it was mocking, certainly, but infinitely tender, and it made her rub
her cheek cajolingly against the sisterly palm. . . .

Annette had come to the point in her narrative at which the attraction
of her unknown sister had taken possession of her, despite her
resistance, the point at which she had seen Sylvie for the first time.
But here frankness could not conquer the emotion of her heart. She tried
to go on, stopped, gave it up, and said:

"I can't. . . ."

There was silence. Sylvie was smiling. She stood up, put her face close
to her sister's, and, pinching her chin, she whispered very low:

"You are a great lover."

"I!" protested Annette, thoroughly confused.

Sylvie had risen from the bench, and, standing in front of her sister,
she pressed Annette's head against her body and said:

"Poor . . . poor Annette! . . ."



VIII


After this, the two sisters saw each other constantly. Not a week went
by without their getting together. Sylvie would come to Boulogne in the
evening to surprise Annette. More rarely Annette went to Sylvie's. By a
tacit agreement they so arranged things that Annette should not meet the
friend. They adopted a regular day for lunching together at the
creamery, and played at making rendezvous here and there in Paris. They
took an equal pleasure in being together. It became a necessity. The
hours dragged on the days when they did not see each other; the old aunt
could not succeed in breaking Annette's silence, and Sylvie was a sullen
puzzle to her sweetheart, who was in no way to blame. The one thing that
made the waiting bearable was the thought of all that they would have to
say to each other when they met again. But this consolation did not
always suffice, and never was Annette happier than on one evening when
Sylvie rang her bell, after ten o'clock, saying that she could not wait
until the morrow to kiss her. Annette was eager to have her stay with,
her; but the little one, who had sworn that she had only five minutes to
stay, had gone off on the run, like a shot, without a word, after an
hour of prattling.

Annette would have liked Sylvie to enjoy the benefit of her house and
her worldly goods. But Sylvie had a brusque way of avoiding all
temptations; she had got it into her head--her obstinate little
head--that she would accept no monetary loan. On the other hand, she
made no fuss about accepting a toilet article, or even "borrowing" it
(what she borrowed she forgot to return). It even happened that once or
twice she snitched . . . oh! nothing important! . . . And, of course,
she would never have touched a bit of money. Money, that's sacred! But a
little knickknack, a valueless ornament: she couldn't resist it. Annette
had noticed this trick of the little _gazza ladra_, and she was
embarrassed by it. Why didn't Sylvie ask her? She would have been so
happy to give! She tried not to see. But the sisters found their
greatest pleasure in exchanging a blouse, a corset cover, underwear:
Annette's love fed on this. Sylvie was an expert in the art of fixing
her sister's dresses, and her taste modified Annette's more sober taste.
The effect was not always very happy, for Annette in her excess of
enthusiasm would sometimes exaggerate the imitation beyond what suited
her individual style, and Sylvie, amused, would have to restrain her
zeal. Much more cautious, she knew how, without admitting it, to profit
by what she learned from Annette's sober distinction,--certain shades of
speech, gesture and manner; but her copy was so cunning that one would
have thought that her model had borrowed from her.


Yet, despite their intimacy, Annette succeeded in becoming familiar with
only a part of her sister's life. Sylvie enjoyed her independence, and
she liked to make it felt. At bottom she had never completely disarmed
herself of her class hostility; Annette saw clearly that she was
determined to have no one run her affairs or enter into her life save
when she pleased. Besides, Sylvie's self-love had not failed to observe
that her sister did not approve of everything about her. Notably her
love affair. Although Annette tried to accept it, she did not know how
to dissimulate the embarrassment that this subject caused her. Either
she fled from it, or, when she was compelled to speak of it, with the
sincere desire of pleasing Sylvie, there was a forced note in her tone
that Sylvie detected; and she, with a word, would change the subject.
This made Annette sad. With all her heart she wanted Sylvie to be happy,
happy in her own way. And she did not wish to show that this way was not
the one she would have preferred. But she did show it, indubitably. When
one's feelings are strong, one is not very adroit. Sylvie was hurt by
this, and she took revenge in silence. It was only by chance that
Annette learned, several weeks after their occurrence, of certain
important events in her young sister's life.

As a matter of fact it was impossible to make Sylvie acknowledge their
importance; and, indeed, her elastic temperament may have thrown them
off easily, but it was possible, too, that her pride made her pretend
that this was so more than was really the case. It was incidentally that
Annette learned that "for some time" (impossible to be precise: it was
"ancient history") the friend had not been on the scene, the liaison had
been broken. Sylvie did not seem at all affected by this; Annette was
much more so, but it was not with regret. Awkwardly she tried to find
out what had happened. Sylvie shrugged her shoulders, laughed and said:

"Nothing happened. It's happened, that's all."

Annette should have rejoiced, but these words of her sister hurt
her. . . . What a strange feeling! How wrong she was! . . . Oh! that
word "happen" . . . in the world of the heart! And she could laugh as
she said it! . . .

But this great news (it was great news for Annette) was followed shortly
by another discovery. One day when Annette announced her intention of
coming to meet her sister when the shop let out, Sylvie remarked calmly:

"No, no, I'm not there any more. . . ."

"What?" exclaimed Annette in astonishment. "Since when?"

"Oh, quite a while. . . ."

(Still the same trick of avoiding an exact accounting! It might as well
have been last evening as last year!)

"What happened?"

"The same riling that happens every year (just as in _Malbrough_ . . .
"_sà Paques ou à la Trinité_ . . ."): The dead season comes
immediately after the Grand-Prix. The employers all back the wrong
horse, so as to have a generous excuse for giving us the gate."

"But where are you then?"

"Oh, I'm here and there. I run about and do a little bit of everything."

Annette was in consternation.

"Then you haven't any job, and you didn't tell me!"

With a little air of superiority, Sylvie explained (at heart not at all
displeased by the emotion she had produced) that she slapped together
cheap costumes for others to finish, hemmed little dresses, and sewed up
men's trousers. And she made a great joke of it all in the telling. But
Annette did not laugh. Pressing her inquiry further, she found that her
sister was at her wits' end to find work and that she sometimes accepted
tasks that were overtiring and disheartening. Now she understood why
Sylvie had seemed pale "for some time"; why she had not come to see her
for a number of days, offering feeble excuses and absurd lies, in order,
no doubt, to spend a part of the night wearing out her fingers and her
eyes in sewing. Sylvie, in her joking tone of affected indifference,
continued to recount her little misadventures. But she saw that her
sister's lips were trembling with anger. And, abruptly, Annette burst
out:

"No! It's shameful! I can't, I simply can't bear it! What! you say you
love me, and you yourself wanted us to be friends, you pretend to be
one, and then you hide from me the most serious things that concern
you! . . ."

Sylvie's curled lip said, "Pshaw! What of it! . . ." But Annette did not
let her speak; the torrent was loosed.

"I had confidence in you, I thought that you would tell me about your
trials and troubles as I tell you about mine, that we would share
everything. And then you push me to one side as though I were a
stranger; I know nothing, nothing! Except by chance, I should never have
learned that you were in trouble, that you are hunting a job, that you
are ruining your health; and you would take on any sort of work rather
than tell me about it, when you know that it would be a joy for me to
help you. . . . It's wrong, wrong! You have hurt me. It's a lack of
frankness, a lack of friendship! But I won't stand it any longer!
No! . . . To begin with you are coming to live with me, and you are
going to stay here until the dead season is over. . . ."

Sylvie shook her head.

"You are coming, don't say no! Now listen to me, Sylvie; I won't forgive
if you don't. If you say no, I will never see you again, in all my
life. . . ."

Without taking the trouble to excuse herself or to explain, Sylvie,
smiling and obstinate, answered:

"No, my dear, no."

She was quite pleased at Annette's agitation. Her big sister, who had
tried to defeat her, was now no longer mistress of herself, she was
almost in tears. Sylvie: was thinking: "How much prettier she is when
she is animated!"

Her face purple with anger, Annette kept repeating, beseeching
imperiously:

"Stay! . . . You will stay. . . . I want you to. . . . It's
agreed? . . . You are going to stay? . . . You're staying? . . .
Answer me! . . . It's yes? . . ."

And with the same exasperating smile, the little donkey replied:

"It's no, dearest."

Annette turned away from her, violently.

"Then, it's all over."

And turning her back, she went to the window, where she seemed oblivious
to Sylvie's presence. The younger girl waited for a moment, then she got
up and said in a wheedling voice:

"So long, Annette."

Annette did not turn around.

"Farewell," she replied.

Her hands were clenched. If she had moved, Heaven knows what would have
happened! She would have wept, cried out. . . . She did not stir,
haughty and icy. Sylvie, somewhat embarrassed, and not a little
disturbed, but amused in spite of everything, took her departure; once
behind the door, she thumbed her nose.

She was not very proud--but a little proud, just the same--of her fine
resistance. No more was Annette proud of her rage. In consternation she
told herself now that she had burned her bridges: instead of conquering
Sylvie by tact and patience, she had practically driven her away. Sylvie
would never come back, that was a certainty. Annette, in her dilemma,
had closed the door in her sister's face. And she had forbidden herself
to reopen it to her. After all her declarations, she could not go after
Sylvie! It would be a confession of defeat. Her pride wouldn't permit
it; no more would her sense of justice. For Sylvie had behaved
badly. . . . No, no, she would not go! . . .

She put on her hat and went straight to Sylvie's.

Sylvie had returned home. Thoughtfully she was examining the perplexing
situation. She found it stupid, but she saw no way out; for she did not
dream of bending to Annette's will, and no more could she believe that
Annette would yield. At bottom she did not think the Duckling was wrong.
But she did not wish to give in. Sylvie was not insensible to the
blessings of fortune. Without its being apparent, Annette's wealth had
awakened in her quite a little temptation and envy. (One can't help it,
even when one is not--almost not--envious! When one has a young body,
filled with fine little desires, can one help thinking what one would do
with wealth, and how much better one would know how to enjoy it than the
stupid people who have had it thrust into their mouths, all nicely
cooked! . . . ) She did not admit it to herself, but she begrudged
Annette her fortune, a little. Yet, if it was any fault of hers, Annette
was trying to win forgiveness for it. But the point was that Sylvie
would not pardon her. Oh! no one confesses these things to himself.
Every one cherishes in his breast, well hidden, five or six little
monsters. One does not boast of them, one seems not to see them; but one
is in no hurry at all to get rid of them. . . . A more easily confessed
feeling was that Sylvie, tempted by gifts that were denied her, liked to
enjoy the luxury of appearing to disdain them. But, as a matter of fact,
this luxury was devoid of charm; and it proved of scant service. No, it
was decidedly true that Sylvie took no very keen pleasure in her
victory. There was nothing to strut about; if she had won, it was at her
own cost. What made this conclusion the more painful was that her
situation was, in reality, decidedly unpleasant; and Sylvie was having
a deal of difficulty in extricating herself from the scrape. The number
of girls out of work was considerable, and naturally the employers took
advantage of the situation. Nor was her health so splendid. The crushing
heat of a torrid July, late hours, poor food, and bad drinking water had
brought on an attack of enteritis which had left her in a weakened
condition. Under the gridiron of her roof that was roasted by the sun,
with blinds closed, Sylvie, half undressed, with burning skin, seeking
some cool thing on which to lay her hands, was thinking how comfortable
it would be in the Boulogne house; and as she was abundantly endowed
with irony, in default of other gifts, she was making fun of her own
stupidity. She had done well! . . . And to think that she and Annette
were in accord, at bottom! Now they were at logger-heads. Good Heavens!
how stupid they were! Neither one would give in! . . .

And being perfectly sure that she would not yield, that she would be
stupid to the last, she was smiling, curling her pale lips, when she
heard Annette's impetuous steps in the hall. She recognized them
immediately, and bounded to her feet.

"Annette was coming back! . . . The darling girl! . . ."

She hadn't waited for her. . . . Annette was certainly "the best
ever! . . ."

Annette was already in the room. Flushed with excitement and with the
heat of her journey, she had no idea what she was going to do; but the
moment she entered she knew immediately. Suffocated by the furnace-like
atmosphere which pervaded the half-darkened room, she was again seized
by a passionate anger. She marched up to Sylvie, who flung herself on
her neck; she seized the girl's damp shoulders in impatient hands, and,
without responding to her kisses, she said in an exasperated voice:

"I'm taking you away. . . . Get dressed! And don't argue!"

Sylvie argued just the same, in order not to lose the habit. She made a
protesting face. But she surrendered herself. Annette imperiously
dressed her, put on her shoes, buttoned her blouse, abruptly clapped her
hat on her head, shoved her about like a parcel. Sylvie kept saying,
"No, no, no," uttering indignant little cries for form's sake; but she
was delighted at being bullied. When Annette had finished, Sylvie seized
both her hands and kissed them, leaving the mark of her teeth upon them;
then, laughing happily, she said:

"There's nothing else to do. . . . Madame Tempest! I surrender. . . .
Carry me off!"

Annette carried her off. She had taken the girl's arm in her strong
hands, that gripped like a vise. They got into a taxi. When they
arrived, Sylvie said to Annette:

"Now I can tell you: well . . . I was dying to come."

"Why were you so bad?" demanded Annette, grumbling and happy.

Sylvie took Annette's hand, and with the curved index finger she tapped
her own round little forehead.

"Yes, there's mischief in there!" exclaimed Annette.

"Just like yours," said Sylvie, showing her their two obstinate
foreheads in the mirror. They were smiling at each other.

"And," added Sylvie, "we know whom that comes from."



IX


Sylvie's room had been awaiting her for a long time. Even before knowing
of Sylvie's existence, Annette had kept the cage ready for the friend
who would come. The friend had not come; barely had her shadow been
glimpsed, on two or three occasions. Annette's personality, which was
sufficiently individual, her manners, alternately chilly and ardent, the
impetuous character of the outbursts that overcame a reserved nature;
and a certain quality that was strange, exigent and imperious, which,
without her suspecting it, showed in flashes, even when she was
permeated by the desire to give herself with a passionate humility,--all
these things frightened away the young girls of her own age, who without
doubt esteemed her and appreciated her essence (so to speak), but
prudently and from a distance. Sylvie was the first to take possession
of the friendly cage. One may be certain that she did not worry about
it, and that it would not disturb her to leave it when the day came that
she so pleased. She was not much intimidated by Annette. She did not
even feel any surprise at the room in which she was installed. On her
first visit, from certain little marks of ingenious affection, and from
Annette's awkward confusion in showing it to her, she had guessed that
it must be meant for her.

Now that she admitted her defeat--to her own gain--she no longer offered
the least resistance. Still languid from her attack of enteritis, the
little convalescent abandoned herself to the coddling with which her
sister surrounded her. The doctor who was called in had found her
anemic, and had recommended a change of air, a visit to the mountains.
But neither of the girls was in a hurry to leave the common nest; and,
cajolers that they were, they knew how to make the doctor say that,
after all, Boulogne was well enough, and even, in a sense, that it was
better for Sylvie first to regain her strength by a complete rest,
before seeking the tonic of keen mountain air.

So Sylvie could indulge herself, and idle in bed. It was so long since
she had been able to do that! It was delicious to sleep her fill, to
make up for all the sleeps that she had lost, and--most delicious of
all--to rest without sleeping, her limbs stretched out between the fine,
soft sheets, her body experiencing the ultimate in drowsiness and
happiness, while she searched with her foot for cool corners in the bed.
And to dream, to dream! . . . Oh! they didn't go far, those dreams! Like
a fly on the ceiling, they turned round and round. They did not even
come to the end of a phrase. Twenty times, with sticky tongue, they
repeated a story, a project, a memory of the shop, of love, or of a hat.
In the midst of it they jumped head first again into the pool of
sleep. . . .

"But see here, Sylvie, see here . . ." (she would protest dreamily),
"That's no life. . . . Please get out of it!"

Half opening one eye, she would see her sister leaning over her, and she
would make an effort (the words barely came out) to say:

"Annette! Wake me up."

Annette would say, "Little rascal!" and laugh, shaking her. Sylvie would
play the baby.

"Oh, dear mamma, what have I done to be so sleepy?"

Annette's great love overflowed in maternal transports. Seated on the
bed, it seemed to her that the dear head which she pressed against her
breast was that of her daughter. Sylvie surrendered, with little
plaintive protests:

"But how shall I ever be able to go back to work, afterwards?"

"You shan't work any more."

"Why, yes, I will, the idea!" Sylvie rebelled.

In an instant she was awake; pulling herself away from her sister,
sitting up straight, the tousled girl fixed Annette with a look that
defied her.

"So she still thinks that we want to keep her here by force! Get along
with you, my girl!" said Annette, laughing. "Go, if your heart tells you
to! No one is keeping you."

"If that's the case, I'll stay!" exclaimed the spirit of contradiction.
And Sylvie slipped down into the bed again, tired from her effort.

But this indolence lasted for only a few days; and after that, when she
was satiated with sleep, there came the time when it was impossible to
keep her quiet. She traipsed about all day long, half-dressed: in her
sister's slippers that were too big for her bare feet, in her sister's
peignor that she tucked up toga fashion, with bare arms and legs, she
went from room to room, looking at everything, exploring everything. She
had not much notion of "thine." ("Mine" was another matter!) Annette
having said to her, "You are at home," she had taken her at her word.
She rummaged everywhere. She tried everything. She splashed for hours in
the bath room. There was not a corner that she left uninspected. Annette
found Sylvie with her nose in her papers, but these had bored her very
quickly. And the amazed aunt received the invasion of the little
half-dressed figure who ferreted about amongst all the furniture, moved
everything around, addressed a few pretty words to their owner (who was
following her every movement in fear and trembling) and then left
everything in disorder, and the old lady at once scandalized and
charmed.

The house was filled with an inexhaustible babble, with a chattering
that had neither head nor tail, no end, and no reason to end. In no
matter what place, in no matter what costume, perched on the arm of an
easy chair, or comb in hand arranging their hair, or abruptly halted
upon a step of the stairs, or in bathrobes after the morning tub,--the
two friends talked, talked, talked; and, once started, this might last
for hours or days. They forgot to go to bed; their aunt protested in
vain, coughed, rapped on the ceiling. They tried to put a mute on their
voices, to stifle their laughter; but at the end of five minutes . . .
Pouf! Sylvie's little hautboys began to shrill, and there sounded the
happy or indignant exclamations of Annette, who was always getting into
a tangle, and whom the younger girl could easily put up a tree. This
time the raps on the ceiling became really annoyed. Then they decided to
"hit the hay"; but they still kept it up while they undressed. The two
rooms adjoined, the doors were left open, and they were constantly
crossing their frontiers, talking in skirts, talking without skirts; and
they would have talked all night long, from one bed to the other, had
not the sleep of youth come suddenly to put an end to their cluckling. It
swooped down upon them in a flash, as a sparrow-hawk upon a chicken.
They fell back upon their pillows, with open mouths, in the middle of a
phrase. Annette slept like a lump; her sleep was heavy, frequently
disturbed, stormy, drenched with dreams; she rumpled the sheets, she
talked in her sleep, but she never awakened. Sylvie, a light sleeper
with a tiny snore (if you had told her that, she would have cloaked
herself in wounded dignity), would awake and listen in amusement to her
sister's gibberish; sometimes she would get up and go over to the bed
where Annette lay prostrate, with the sheets thrust up in a mountain by
her crossed knees; and, bending over in the light of the night-lamp (for
Annette could not sleep without a light), Sylvie would fascinatedly
watch the dull, heavy but strangely passionate, sometimes tragic face of
the sleeper who was drowning in the ocean of her dreams. She no longer
recognized her. . . .

"Annette? That? That's my sister? . . ."

She wanted to waken her abruptly and put her arms about her neck.

"Wolf, are you there?"

But she was too sure that the wolf was there to try the experiment. Less
pure and more normal than her dangerous elder sister, she played with
fire, but she was not burned by it.

They studied each other at length, while they were dressing and
undressing, comparing themselves curiously. Annette had fits of
primitive modesty that amused Sylvie, who was at once freer and franker.
Annette often appeared cold, one would have said almost hostile; she
went into tantrums, or she wept without cause. The fine Lyonnaise poise,
of which she had formerly been so proud, seemed definitely lost. And the
worst of it was--that she did not at all regret it.

Their confidences went further, now. It would not be easy to reproduce
them all. It comes quite naturally to young girls who love each other to
calmly say audacious things in their conversation, things that in their
mouths preserve a semi-innocence, but which would have none were they
repeated by another. In these talks the difference of their two natures
was clearly shown: the laughing, child-like, perfectly assured
unmorality of the one; and the passionate, disquieting, electrically
charged seriousness of the other. There were clashes; Annette was
exasperated by the greedy levity and wilful bawdiness with which Sylvie
discussed amorous subjects. Audacious in her soul, she was reserved in
her words; it seemed that she feared to hear what she thought. She had
fits of shutting herself up in a double tower, in a fierce dumbness that
she herself did not quite understand. Sylvie understood it much better.
After she had lived with her for fifteen days, Sylvie knew Annette
better than Annette knew herself.

Yet it was not that her mental faculties lifted her above the average of
an agreeable Paris working girl. Aside from a practical sense that was
very sound and cautious--but from which she never drew the most possible
profit, because she almost always preferred to obey her caprices--she
did not emerge from her own sphere to any great extent. Certainly
everything amused her, but nothing really interested her except
fashions. As for everything that had to do with art--pictures, music,
books--she never got beyond the most ordinary stage of appreciation, and
sometimes she didn't reach that. Annette was often embarrassed by her
taste. Sylvie would realize it, and say:

"Ouf! I've put my foot in it again. . . . Well, tell me someone who
behaves properly in society! . . ."

(She spoke of a picture as one speaks of a hat.)

"What should one admire? Once I know, I shall be able to do it as well
as anyone else. . . ."

But on other occasions she was not so conciliatory; she held out stoutly
for the hero of some newspaper serial or for some insipid romance which
was to her the last word in art and sentiment. However, she obliged her
elder sister to discover the value, or rather the artistic promise, of a
genre that Annette had always insisted on running down without knowing
anything about it: the movies, which Sylvie adored, indiscriminately.

It sometimes happened, too, that although she was incapable of feeling
the beauty of a book which they were reading together, Sylvie understood
better than Annette the power of certain pages, whose strange truth
disconcerted her sister; for Sylvie knew life better than Annette did.
And that is the Book of Books. Read it not who will. Everyone carries it
in himself, written from the first to the last line. But to decipher it,
one must be taught the language by the harsh master Experience. Sylvie
had received lessons from him at an early age; she read fluently.
Annette was beginning late. Slower to reach her, the lessons were to
sink deeper.



X


The summer, this year, was excessively hot. By the middle of August the
beautiful trees in the garden were already parched. In the close nights,
Sylvie gasped for a passing breath of air. She had recuperated, but she
was still wan and had little appetite. She was always a small eater, and
if she could have had her way she would have frequently dined on nothing
but an ice and fruit. But Annette kept watch over her, Annette grumbled.
She was kept busy. Finally she decided on the trip to the mountains,
that had been put off from week to week with the underlying hope that it
might be avoided. She would have liked to keep her sister entirely to
herself, all summer long.

They repaired to a spot in the Grisons that Annette remembered from a
former visit as having a good, simple hotel, in a pastoral, restful
setting of old Switzerland. But a few years had transformed everything.
The hotel was swarming with people. It was a city of pretentious
palaces. Automobile roads cut through the fields; and, in the depths of
the woods, one could hear the grinding of an electric tramway. Annette
wished to flee. But they were tired from a night and day of suffocating
travel; they did not know where to go, and all they asked was to lie
stretched out without stirring. Where they were, even if everything else
had changed, the air at least had preserved its crystalline purity;
Sylvie sucked it in with her tongue, as though she were licking a
Parisian ice from a glass cup while she stood beside the cart of an
ambulatory merchant in the midst of a roaring street. They told
themselves they would stay for a few days, until it became a little
cooler. And then they got used to it. They discovered the charm of the
place.

It was a lively season. A tennis tournament was attracting the alert
youth of three or four nations. There were informal dances, little
plays. A buzzing swarm was loafing, flirting, showing off. Annette could
have done without it; but Sylvie was frankly entertained, and the
pleasure that she showed communicated itself to her sister. Both were
high-spirited and had no reason to frown on the diversions of their age.

Young, gay and attractive, each in her own way, it was not long before
they were very much surrounded. Annette was blooming. In the open air
and at sports she showed to her best advantage. Strong, strapping, fond
of walking and all active games, she was a brilliant tennis partner,
with a sure eye, supple wrist, quick hand, and lightning-like return.
Usually restrained in her gestures, she displayed, when occasion
demanded, admirable nerve and furious bursts of speed. Sylvie,
marvelling, clapped her hands as she watched her leap about; she was
proud of her sister. She admired her the more because she felt incapable
of imitating her: this svelte Parisienne was inept at all sports, and
she did not particularly understand their attraction. They called for
too much action! She found it more agreeable--and above all, more
prudent--to remain a spectator. But she did not waste her time. . . .

She formed a little court, over which she queened it as though she had
done nothing else all her life. Sly one that she was, she knew how to
copy from the fashionable young women she observed all those mannerisms
that were well-bred, smart, and easily borrowed. Looking as though
butter would not melt in her mouth, deliciously distrait, her eyes and
ears were always open; she missed nothing. But Annette still remained
her best model. With a sure instinct, she knew not only how to copy her
in many a detail, but how to improve the copy by slight changes, and
even in certain cases how to take the opposite tack,--oh! just enough to
appear incorrect, by one refinement the more. She showed still more
intelligence by never overstepping the limits within which she felt
solid ground beneath her feet. In her own province she was perfect, in
manners, bearing, and tone. Exquisite distinction raised to an
extravagant point. Annette could not help laughing when she heard
Sylvie, with charming aplomb, retailing to her court little tid-bits
with which Annette had stuffed her the evening before. Sylvie would slip
her a sly wink. It would not have done, certainly, to push her too far
in conversation. For all her wit and excellent memory, she would have
gotten her foot into it; but she didn't slip, she watched her step. And
then, too, she knew how to choose her partners. The majority of them
were young sportsmen from foreign lands: Anglo-Saxons, Roumanians, who
were more sensitive to a mistake in play than to an error in language.
The great favorite of the little feminine circle was an Italian. Bearing
the sonorous name of an old Lombard family (extinct for centuries, but
the name never dies), he was of a type that is very common among the
youth of the Peninsula, and which is characteristic of a period rather
than of a race. In it one finds curiously blended the American of Fifth
Avenue, and the condottiere of the fourteenth century, which gives to
the ensemble a rather grand air--(Operatic). A handsome fellow, tall and
straight, well built, with a round head and clean shaven face, very
brown skin, fiery eyes, a great conquering nose, bluish nostrils, and a
heavy jaw, Tullio walked with supple loins and chest thrust out. His
manners were a mixture of hauteur, obsequious courtesy, and brutality.
An irresistible man. He had but to stoop to gather hearts. He did not
stoop. He waited for them to be placed in his hand.

Perhaps it was precisely for the reason that Annette did not offer hers
to him that he first fixed his choice on her. A tennis champion himself,
he appreciated the physical qualities of the robust girl, and when he
talked with her he discovered other sports for which they had a common
liking: horseback riding and canoeing, which Annette had gone into with
the passion that she brought to everything. With his big nose he sensed
the over-abundant energy that coursed through her virgin body; and he
desired it. Annette perceived this desire, and she was at once offended
and captivated. Her intense physical life, which had been curbed by
years of semi-claustration, was awakening under the flame of this superb
summer, in the midst of these young people who thought only of pleasure,
and in the excitement of these vigorous sports. The last weeks spent
with Sylvie, their free conversations, and the excessive affection with
which she was saturated, had considerably perturbed her nature,--that
nature which she so little understood, unsuspecting its depths. The
house was ill defended against an assault of the senses. For the first
time, Annette experienced the sting of sexual passion. It caused her
shame and anger, as though someone had slapped her face. But this did
not make the desire wane. Instead of hiding herself, she faced the
onslaught with a cold pride and a trembling heart. As for Tullio, who
always cloaked a rapacious desire beneath a perfect deference, he was
the more enamoured when he saw that she understood and was ready to
oppose him. This was another match, differently passionate! Harsh
challenges were exchanged, there were sharp passages at aims, without
any sign of these things on the surface. As he bowed with masculine
politeness to kiss her hand, while she was smiling at him with a haughty
grace, she read in his eyes:

"I shall have you."

And her shut lips answered him:

"Never!"

Sylvie was following the duel with the eyes of a lynx; and while she
found it amusing, she felt that she would like to play a part in it.
What part? Really, she had no idea on that point. . . . Well, to amuse
herself, and to second Annette of course, that went without saying! The
boy was good-looking; Annette was good-looking too. How beautifying a
strong feeling always is! That burning pride, that little bull's
forehead ready for combat, those waves of red and white that Sylvie
imagined she could see passing over Annette's body, like shivers. . . .
The man was priding himself on his play. . . .

". . . Nothing to be done, my lad; no, no, you won't get her if she
doesn't want you to! But does she want it? Doesn't she want it? Make up
your mind, Annette! He's caught. Finish him off! . . . The stupid! She
doesn't know. . . . All right, we're going to help her. . . ."

Their acquaintance was founded on praises of Annette. They both admired
her. The Italian was definitely conquered. Radiant, with her eyes
shining, Sylvie was entirely of his opinion. She was very adroit in her
praising of Annette; but she was no less so in arming herself with all
her charms. And once she had brought them into play, there was no way of
stopping them. In vain she would say to them:

"Now, be quiet. That's enough. You are going too far. . . ."

But her charms no longer listened, there was nothing to do but to let
them have their way. . . . And it was so amusing! Naturally, that idiot
had taken fire immediately. How silly men are! He thought that if anyone
was nice to him, it must be for his beauty. . . . But he was handsome,
just the same. . . . And now what would the fish do, between two hooks?
Was he going to presume to gobble them both? What was he going to
decide? . . . "Well, old chap, make a choice!"

She did not facilitate his choice for him by effacing herself in favor
of Annette. And no more did Annette. From now on she instinctively
redoubled her efforts in order to eclipse Sylvie. The two sisters were
devoted to each other. Sylvie was as proud of the praise given Annette
as Annette was of the impression produced by Sylvie. They took counsel
together; each supervised the details of the others toilet. With an
unerring sense, they knew how to serve as a foil to each other. At the
evening parties in the hotel they attracted all eyes. But, in spite of
themselves, they came to be looked upon as rivals. And when they danced,
neither one could help evaluating the success of the other, no matter
how severely both forbade themselves to do this. Especially success with
the man who was, decidedly, preoccupying them much more than they would
have wished. . . . And he preoccupied them the more now that he was
uncertain which of them preoccupied him the more. Annette began to feel
vaguely miserable when she saw Tullio in ardent attendance upon her
sister. Both girls were good dancers, each in her own manner. Annette
did all that she could to establish her superiority; and it was certain
that she danced better in the eyes of the connoisseurs. But Sylvie,
while less correct, had more abandon; and as soon as she realized
Annette's intention she became irresistible. Nor did Tullio resist. To
Annette came the sorrow of seeing herself forsaken. After a succession
of dances with Sylvie, Tullio and she went out together, talking and
laughing, into the fine summer night. Annette could no longer control
herself. She too had to quit the room. Without daring to follow them
into the garden, she tried to catch sight of them from the glassed-in
gallery that led into the garden; and she did see them, on the
path,--she saw them bending towards each other, exchanging kisses as
they walked.

But the pain of this was nothing to what followed. When Annette, sitting
in the dark after having gone up to her room, saw Sylvie come in, all
animation, and when Sylvie exclaimed at finding her alone in the
darkness, kissed her cheek, and showed a thousand and one signs of usual
affection; when Annette, after giving the excuse of a sudden headache
that had obliged her to retire, asked Sylvie how she had spent the rest
of the evening and if she had gone walking with Tullio, Sylvie
ingenuously replied that she had not gone walking and that she did not
know what had become of Tullio; that besides Tullio was beginning to
bore her, and then she didn't like men who were too handsome, and
besides he was foppish, and he was a little too dark. . . . Upon which
she went to bed, humming a waltz.

Annette did not sleep. Sylvie slept soundly; she had no suspicion of the
tempest she had unchained. . . . Annette was the prey of unleashed
demons. What had happened was a catastrophe, a double catastrophe.
Sylvie was her rival, and Sylvie was lying to her. Sylvie, her beloved!
Sylvie, her joy and her faith! . . . Everything was crumbling. She could
no longer love her. No longer love her? Could she, could she no longer
love her? . . . Oh, how deep-rooted that love was, so much more so than
she had thought! . . . But is it possible to love someone whom one
distrusts? Oh! Sylvie's treachery wouldn't be anything. . . . There was
something else. It was. . . . It was. . . . Go ahead, say what it
was! . . . Yes, it was that man, whom Annette did not respect, whom she
did not love, and whom she loved now. . . . Loved? No! . . . Whom she
_wanted_. A fever of jealous pride demanded that she take him, that she
tear him away from the _other_; and, above all, that the other should not
tear him away from her. . . . ("_The other_" that was what Sylvie had
become for Annette! . . .)

That night she did not rest a single hour. The sheets burned her skin.
And from the neighboring bed there rose the light breathing of the sleep
of innocence.

When they found themselves face to face the next morning, Sylvie saw at
a glance that everything had changed; and she did not understand what
had happened. Annette, with circles under her eyes, pale, hard and
haughty, but strangely more beautiful (at once more beautiful and more
homely, as though all her secret forces had arisen in answer to a
summons)--Annette, helmeted in pride, cold, hostile, with a wall about
her, looked at Sylvie and listened while she chattered as usual, then
scarcely said good-morning, and left the room. . . . Sylvie's babble
stopped in the middle of a word. She too went out, and with her eyes
followed Annette who was descending the stairs. . . .

She understood. Annette had caught sight of Tullio, who was seated in
the hall, and crossing the room she went straight to him. He too
recognized that the situation had changed. She sat down beside him. They
talked banalities. With her head up, disdainful, she stared straight
ahead, avoiding looking at him. But he had no doubt: it was he she was
staring at. Under her bluish eyelids, that glance, which she was hiding
as though to avoid a too intense light, was saying:

"Do you want me?"

And he, relating an insipid story in a satisfied tone, while he
contemplated his finger nails,--he, like a big cat, was peering sidelong
at that body with its firm breasts, and asking:

"So you want it too?"

"I want you to want me," was the reply.

Sylvie did not hesitate. Making a turn of the hall, she came and took a
chair between Annette and Tullio. Annette's irritation was betrayed in a
glance, in only one: that was enough. Sylvie received its contempt full
in the face. She blinked her eyelids and pretended not to see, but she
bristled like a cat that has felt an electric current; she smiled, and
held herself ready to bite. The three-handed, fair-spoken duel began.
Annette, ignoring Sylvie's presence, taking no notice of what she said,
talked over her head to Tullio, who was embarrassed; or, when she was
compelled to listen--for the other had a glib tongue--she called
attention with a smile or an ironic word to one of those minute
grammatical errors that still adorned Sylvie's discourse (for, despite
her skill, the little gossip had not succeeded in weeding them all from
her garden). Sylvie, mortally wounded, no longer saw her sister, she saw
only a rival, and she thought:

"You'll get yours."

And, showing her teeth:

"A tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye. . . . No, both eyes for
one. . . ."

And she threw herself into the fray. Imprudent Annette! Sylvie was not
hampered, as she was, by her pride: any weapon was good enough for her,
so long as she won. Annette, armored in pride, would have thought
herself degraded had she allowed Tullio to glimpse a shadow of her
desires. Sylvie was embarrassed by no such scruples; she was going to
play with the gentleman the game that flattered him most. . . .

"Which do you prefer? Do you like to inspire a fine disdain, or
admiration? . . ."

She knew man: the vain animal. Tullio adored incense, and she gave him
full measure. With a calm, ingenuous impudence the little rogue listed
the perfections of the young Gattamelata of the Palace Hotel: body,
mind, and clothing. Clothing principally, for she was right in thinking
that this was his chief pride. All homage pleased him. To be sure. But
that he was handsome was no credit to him; and as regarded his mind, his
great name was a guarantee of that. But his dress was his individual
work, and he was susceptible to the approbation of an expert Parisienne.
With the eye of a connoisseur, secretly amused at certain glaring
naïvetés of taste, Sylvie admired everything from top to bottom.
Annette blushed from shame and anger; her small sister's ruse seemed so
crude to her that she asked herself: "Can he possibly bear it?"

He bore it very well: Tullio was lapping up milk. When she had
descended, step by step, from the orange cravat to the lilac belt, to
the shoes of green and gold, Sylvie suddenly stopped: she had an idea.
While going into raptures over the delicacy of Tullio's feet (he was
very proud of them), she exhibited her own, which were decidedly pretty.
With a roguish coquetry she put them next to Tullio's, she compared
them, showing her leg up to the knee. Then, turning to Annette, who was
disdainfully leaning back in her rocking chair, she said with a
delicious smile:

"Let's see yours too, dear!"

And with a rapid gesture she uncovered them, along with Annette's thick
ankles and the rather heavy columns of her legs. For two seconds only.
Annette clutched at the malicious little claw, and it withdrew,
contented. Tullio had seen. . . .

Nor did she stop there. All morning long she brought about apparently
unpremeditated comparisons from which Annette did not emerge to
advantage. Under pretext of appealing to Tullio's superior taste
regarding a collar, a blouse, or a scarf, she managed to draw attention
to what was certainly not her worst feature, and not Annette's best.
Annette, boiling within, pretending not to understand, had to hold
herself back to keep from strangling her. Between two of her tricks,
Sylvie, ever charming, would press her fingers to her mouth and throw
Annette a kiss. But there were times when their flashing eyes
clashed. . . .

(Annette)--"I loathe you!"

(Sylvie)--"Possibly. But it's me he loves."

"No, no!" Annette would cry.

"Yes, yes!" retorted Sylvie.

They exchanged challenging glances. But Annette was not strong enough to
hide her animosity for long beneath a smile, like that little snake
beneath the flowers. Had she remained, she would have screamed. Abruptly
she left the field free to Sylvie. She went off with her head high,
flinging a last look of defiance at her sister. And Sylvie's mocking
eyes replied:

"Who laughs last, laughs best."



XI


The battle continued the next day, and the days following, beneath the
eyes of an amused gallery; for the people in the hotel had seen how
things stood; twenty pairs of idle eyes were watching, bets were made.
The two rivals were too much preoccupied with their own game to give a
thought to that of the others.

The truth was that, for them, it was a game no longer. Sylvie, as well
as Annette, was seriously involved. A demon troubled them, goading their
senses. Tullio, proud of his victory, had no trouble adding fuel to the
flame. He was really handsome, he did not lack wit, he burned with the
desires that he had fired: he was worth conquering. None knew it better
than he.

Every evening the two hostile sisters met in their rooms. They hated
each other; yet they pretended not to know it. Bed neighbors at night,
their position would have become untenable had they admitted the fact to
themselves; it would have come to a public rupture, a thing they wished
to avoid. They so arranged it that they came and went at different
times, talked no longer, pretended not to see each other; or, as that
was practically impossible, they would coldly say, "Good-morning," and
"Good-evening," as though nothing were the matter. The most
straightforward, sensible thing would have been to come to an
understanding. But they did not wish to. They could not. When passion is
unleashed in a woman there is no longer any question of
straightforwardness, still less of common sense.

In Annette passion had become a poison. A kiss that Tullio, profiting by
his strength, had violently imprinted upon the mouth of the proud girl,
one evening at a turn in the path, had unchained in her a sensual
torrent. Humiliated and enraged, she fought against it. But she was the
less capable of resistance because it was the first time the flood had
invaded her. Misfortune of too well defended hearts! When passion
enters, the chastest is the most abandoned. . . .


One night, in one of those fits of feverish insomnia that were consuming
her, Annette slipped into sleep while thinking she was still awake. She
saw herself lying on her bed, with open eyes; but she could not budge,
her limbs were bound. She knew that Sylvie, at her side, was pretending
to sleep, and that Tullio was going to come. She could already hear the
floor creak in the corridor, and the shuffle of cautious steps
advancing. She saw Sylvie raise herself from the pillow, swing her legs
from under the sheets, get up, and slip towards the door that half
opened. Annette wanted to get up too, but she could not. As though she
had heard her, Sylvie turned around, came back to the bed, looked at
her, leaned over to see her better. She was not at all, not at all, like
Sylvie: she did not resemble her, and yet it was Sylvie; she laughed
wickedly, uncovering her teeth; she had long black hair, straight and
stiff, that fell over her face when she leaned down, and brushed
Annette's mouth and eyes. Annette felt on her tongue the taste of a
rough mane and its hot odor. The face of her rival came closer, closer.
Sylvie opened the bed, and got into it. Annette felt a hard knee
pressing against her hip. She was suffocating. Sylvie had a knife; the
chill blade grazed Annette's throat, and she struggled, screamed. . . .
She found herself in the quiet of her room, sitting up in bed, the
sheets in confusion. Sylvie was sleeping peaceably. Annette, quelling
the beating of her heart, listened to her sister's reassuring breathing;
and still she trembled from hate and horror. . . .


She hated. . . . But whom? . . . And who was it that she loved? She
appraised Tullio, she did not respect him, she mistrusted him, she had
no confidence in him whatsoever. And yet for this man whom she had known
only two weeks, who was nothing to her, she was ready to hate her sister,
the person she had loved best of all, whom she still loved. . . .
(No! . . . Yes! . . . whom she still loved. . . .) To this man she had
sacrificed, offhand, all the rest of her life. . . . But how . . . how
could that be possible! . . .

She was aghast; but she could only admit the omnipotence of her madness.
At certain moments a flash of good sense, an ironical start, a returning
wave of her old affection for Sylvie would lift her head above the
stream. But a jealous glance, the sight of Tullio whispering with
Sylvie, was enough to plunge her back again. . . .

It was obvious that she was losing ground. It was precisely for that
reason that her passion was maddened. She was clumsy. Annette did not
know how to hide her wounded dignity. Tullio, kindly prince, had
consented not to choose between them; he deigned to toss his
handkerchief to both. Sylvie picked it up in a trice; she did not stand
on ceremony; later she would make Tullio dance to her liking. She was
not bothered when she saw this Don Juan snatching a few kisses from
Annette in the arbor. And even if it had displeased her, she saw no
reason why she had to show it. One could dissimulate. . . . But Annette
was incapable of it. She would countenance no division of favors, and
she allowed herself to show only too plainly the repulsion which
Tullio's equivocal play aroused in her.

Tullio was beginning to cool towards her. This serious passion
embarrassed him, bored him. A little seriousness in love is all right.
But not too much; that makes it a burden, and not a pleasure. He thought
of passion as a prima donna who, after singing her great cavatina,
returns with extended arms to salute the public. But Annette's passion
did not seem to know that the public existed. She played only for
herself. She played badly. . . .

She was too sincere, too truly in love to remove the traces of her
suffering, of her torments, and those ordinary blemishes that a more
attentive woman effaces or mitigates more than once a day. She did not
appear at all to advantage. She became even homely, in the measure that
she felt herself beaten.

The triumphant Sylvie, sure of her victory, watched the disabled Annette
with ironical satisfaction, spiced with a grain of malice, and, at
bottom, a little pity. . . .

"Well, have you had enough? Is that what you wanted? You're certainly a
sight! . . . A poor beaten dog. . . ."

And she wanted to run and hug her. But when she approached, Annette
displayed so much animosity that Sylvie turned her back in vexation,
grumbling:

"You don't want me to, my girl? . . . Have it your own way! Look after
yourself! I'm all right! . . . Everyone for himself, and that for the
others! After all, if the fool is suffering, it's her own fault! Why is
she always so ridiculously serious?"

(That was what they were all thinking.)

Annette ended by withdrawing from the combat. Sylvie and Tullio were
getting up a program of tableaux, in which Sylvie could show off all her
charms, and a few more besides. . . . (She was a little Parisian
magician who, with a shred of material, could transform herself into a
series of "doubles," all much prettier than the original, but which, by
completing that original, made it appear more charming than them all,
since it gave birth to them all.) . . . To try to fight her on this
ground would have been disastrous for Annette. She knew it only too
well: she was beaten in advance; what would she have been afterwards?
She asked to be left out of the entertainment, giving her health as an
excuse: her ill appearance was excuse enough. And Tullio did not insist.
Scarcely had she refused when she suffered the more at having retired
fully armed from the battle. Even when hope is dead, a struggle
engenders fresh hope. Now she had to leave Tullio and Sylvie alone
together for a part of the day. In order to embarrass them she obliged
herself to attend all the rehearsals. She didn't embarrass them much. On
the contrary she stimulated them, especially that brazen girl, who
insisted on rehearsing ten times a scene that showed the abduction of a
fainting odalisque by a Byronian corsair with eyes of sombre fire,
gnashing teeth,--fatal, feline, ready to leap like a jaguar. Tullio
played the rôle as though he were going to put the whole Palace Hotel
to fire and sword. As for Sylvie, she might have given points to the
twenty thousand houris who hold the Prophet's beard in Paradise.


The evening of the performance arrived. Annette, hidden away in the last
row of the hall, happily forgotten in the midst of the enthusiasm, could
not stay until the end. She left in torture. Her head was afire; her
mouth was bitter; she was chewing the cud of her suffering. Love scorned
was gnawing at her vitals.

She went into the fields that surrounded the hotel; but she could not go
far away, she kept circling around that lighted hall. The sun had set,
darkness was falling. With an animal instinct she smelled out the door
by which the two would certainly make their exit; a little side door
that enabled the actors, without coming through the hall, to regain the
dressing rooms in another wing of the building. They actually did come
out, and before they had gone far they lingered in the shadow of the
field to talk. Hidden behind a clump of trees, Annette could hear Sylvie
laughing, laughing . . .

"No, no, not to-night!"

And Tullio was insisting: "Why not?"

"First of all, I want to sleep."

"There's plenty of time to sleep!"

"No, no, never enough! . . ."

"Well then, to-morrow night."

"It's the same for the other nights. And then I'm not alone at night;
I'm spied on."

"Then it will never be?"

And that little rascal of a Sylvie replied, twisting with laughter:

"But I'm not afraid of the daylight! Are you afraid of it? . . ."

Annette could listen no longer. A storm of disgust, fury, and
unhappiness swept her away, running, into the night, into the fields.
Perhaps they heard the noise of her mad flight and the crackling of
branches, like that which follows on the heels of a fleeing animal. But
she no longer cared whether she was heard or not. Nothing mattered any
more. She was fleeing, fleeing. . . . Whither? She did not know. She
never knew. . . . She ran through the night, moaning. She did not see
ahead of her. She ran on for five minutes, twenty minutes, an hour? She
never knew how long. . . . Until her foot struck a root, and she fell
full length, her head against a tree trunk. . . . And then she screamed,
she howled, with her mouth against the ground, like a wounded beast.


Around her, the night. A sky without moon or stars, black. A mute earth,
untroubled by a breath or by the cries of insects. Only the sound of a
trickle of water over the pebbles, dripping at the foot of the slim fir
against which Annette had struck her forehead. And from the depths of
the gorge that cut the high, abrupt plateau, there rose the fierce
rumbling of a mountain stream. Its plaint mingled with the plaint of the
wounded woman. They seemed the eternal _lamento_ of the earth. . . .

So long as she cried, she did not think. Her body, shaken by convulsive
sobs, was ridding itself of the burden of evil that had crushed it down
for days. The mind was silent. Then the body, exhausted, ceased to moan.
Mental misery rose to the surface. And Annette again became conscious of
her forsakenness. She was alone and betrayed. The circle of her thoughts
could stretch no further. She had not the strength to reassemble their
dispersed company. She had not even the strength to get up. Stretched
out, she abandoned herself to the earth. . . . Oh! if only the earth
wished to take her! . . . The rumbling of the mountain stream was
speaking, thinking for her.

It was bathing her wound. After a period (long, no doubt) of prostrate
suffering, Annette slowly raised her stricken body. The bruise on her
forehead pained her sharply enough, and preoccupation with this hurt
eased her mind. She dipped her scratched hands in the rivulet, she
pressed them against her wounded, burning forehead. And so she remained
seated, her eyes and forehead sunk in her wet palms, feeling the
penetration of that icy purity. . . . And her grief became a distant
thing. . . . She observed its moaning as might a stranger; and she no
longer understood the meaning of those transports. She was thinking:

"Why? . . . What's the good? . . . Is it worth the pain? . . ."

And in the night the torrent answered:

"Folly, folly, folly . . . all is vain . . . all is nothing . . ."

And Annette smiled a bitter smile of pity.

"What was it that I wanted? . . . I don't even know, any more. . . .
Where is it, that great happiness? Take it who will. . . . I shall not
dispute it. . . ."

And then suddenly there returned to her in waves pictures of that
happiness that she had desired, hot gusts of those desires by which her
body was, and for a long time would be, possessed, even while her reason
denied them. In the path traced by their bitter goad, they trailed after
them a musty smell of jealous rages. . . . She suffered their attack in
silence, bent over as beneath the wing of a passing wind. Then, raising
her head, she said aloud:

"I have been wrong. . . . It is Sylvie he loves. . . . That is as it
should be. She is better made for love. She is much prettier. I know it,
and I love her. I love her because she is so. So I should be happy in
her happiness. I am an egotist. . . . Only why, why has she lied to me?
All the rest, but not that! Why has she deceived me? Why didn't she tell
me frankly that she loved him? Why has she treated me like an enemy? Oh!
And then all those things about her that I would rather not see, that
are not very nice, not very good, not very beautiful! . . . But she is
not to blame. How could she know? What a life she must have led from
childhood! And have I the right to reproach her? . . . Were the feelings
that I had any nicer? . . . That I had? That I have! . . . I know
perfectly well that they are still there. . . ."

She sighed, worn out. Then she said:

"Come, this must end! I am the elder. And the greater folly is
mine! . . . Let Sylvie be happy!"

But after having said, "Come," she still remained for a while without
stirring. She hearkened to the silence and dreamed, sucking the knuckles
of her bruised fingers. And then she sighed, stood up without a word,
and began to walk.



XII


She was returning, through the night. The moon had not yet appeared; it
was still far off, but one could feel it rising behind the horizon, from
an abyss of shadows. A feeble light edged the summits that encircled the
plateau like the edges of a cup; and, minute by minute, their black
profiles grew clearer against an aureoled background. Annette walked
unhurriedly; and her breast, breathing regularly once more, was drinking
in the scent of new-mown meadows.

Far off in the darkness, she heard precipitate steps upon the road. Her
heart pounded. She halted. She recognized them, and then walked forward
again, at a quicker pace, to meet them. Someone had heard on the other
side, too. An anxious voice called:

"Annette!"

Annette did not reply, she could not; she was seized with the joy that
coursed through her: all of her suffering, all was effaced. She did not
answer, but she walked faster, still faster. And the other was running
now. She repeated, "Annette!" in an agonized voice.

In the vague phosphorescence of the moon, that was climbing up behind
the great dark wall, an indistinct figure emerged from the whitening
shadow. Annette cried, "Darling!" and flung herself forward with
outstretched arms, like a blind person. . . .


In their haste to be united, their bodies collided. Their arms went
around each other. Their lips sought, and found . . .

"My own Annette!"

"My own Sylvie!"

"My sister! my love!"

"My little darling!"

In the darkness they were running their hands caressingly over cheeks
and hair, over neck and shoulders, once more taking possession of
happiness, of the friend who had been lost.

"Darling!" exclaimed Sylvie, feeling Annette's bare shoulders, "you
haven't your cloak! You have nothing around you! . . ."

Annette realized that as a matter of fact she was clad only in her
evening dress; and, seized by a chill, she shivered.

"You are mad! you are mad!" cried Sylvie, enveloping her, clasping her
in her cape. And her hands, continuing their inspection, took note of
damages.

"Your dress is torn. . . . What in the world have you been doing? What
has happened? . . . And your hair is down over your face. And here,
here, what's the matter with your forehead? . . . Annette, did you
fall? . . ."

Annette did not respond. With her mouth on Sylvie's shoulder, she
abandoned herself and wept. Sylvie made her sit down beside her on a
bank by the road. The moon, clearing the barrier of the mountains,
lighted up Annette's injured forehead, and Sylvie covered it with
kisses.

"Tell me what you have been doing. . . . Tell me what's happened. . . .
My treasure, my little lamb, I was so upset when I went to your room and
didn't find you there! I called you everywhere. . . . I've been hunting
for you for an hour. . . . Oh! I was so miserable. . . . I was afraid, I
was afraid. . . . I can't say what I was afraid of. . . . Why did you go
off? Why did you run away? . . ."

Annette did not wish to reply.

"I don't know," she said. "I felt ill, and I wanted to walk . . . to
breathe. . . ."

"No, you aren't telling the truth, Annette; tell me everything!"

Then she bent over her and said more softly:

"Dear heart, it wasn't because of that? . . ."

Annette interrupted her:

"No! No!"

But Sylvie insisted.

"Don't lie! Tell me the truth. Tell me! Tell your little one! It was
because of him?"

Annette, wiping her eyes and trying to smile, replied:

"No, I assure you. . . . I was a little hurt, it's true. . . . It's
foolish. . . . But it's all over now. I'm glad he loves you."

Sylvie jumped up and struck her hands angrily together.

"So it was he! Oh! But I don't love him, I don't love him any more, that
creature! . . ."

"Yes, you do love him. . . ."

"No! No! No!"

Sylvie stamped on the road.

"It amused me to love him, I did it as a game; but it meant nothing to
me, nothing in comparison with you. . . . Why! All a man's kisses
couldn't make up for one of your tears. . . ."

Annette was overwhelmed with happiness.

"You mean it? You mean it?"

Sylvie sprang into her arms.

When they had grown somewhat calmer, Sylvie said to Annette:

"Now confess! You loved him, too!"

"Too! Now you see! You admit that you loved him. . . ."

"No, I tell you. I forbid you to say so. . . . I won't hear any more
about it. It's ended, ended."

"It's ended," Annette repeated.

They went back along the road bathed in the light of the moon, overjoyed
at having recovered each other. Suddenly Sylvie halted, and, shaking her
fist at the moon, she cried:

"Oh! the beast! . . . He'll pay me for it!"

And, as youth never loses its rights, she burst out laughing at her
malediction.

"But do you know what we are going to do?" Sylvie continued spitefully.
"We are going to pack as soon as we get back, and to-morrow, to-morrow
morning, we'll be off by the first post. When he comes to the table at
luncheon time, he'll find no one. . . . The birds will have flown! . . .
Oh! . . . and then . . ." (she burst out laughing) "I made a date with
him for about ten o'clock, in the woods up there. . . . He'll be running
after me all morning. . . ."

She laughed more heartily than ever; and so did Annette. The spectacle
of Tullio, disappointed and furious, seemed so amusing to them. The two
madcaps! Already their sufferings were far away.

"Just the same," observed Annette, "it's not very nice, dear, to
compromise yourself like that."

"Piffle! What's that to me?" replied Sylvie. "I don't matter. . . .
Yes," she went on, taking a passing nip at Annette's hand that was
patting her ear, "I should be more careful now that I'm your
sister. . . . I will be, I promise you. . . . But you, my dear, you
know that you weren't so much more careful."

"No, that's true," answered Annette contritely. "And I was afraid at
times that I might be still less so. . . . Oh!" she exclaimed, pressing
closer to her sister, "how strange the heart is! One never, never knows
when it's going to rise up inside you and carry you away . . . whither?"

"Yes," said Sylvie, hugging her, "that's why I love you! That heart of
yours is a powerful affair!"


They were ready to go in again. The roofs of the hotel were gleaming
under the moonlight. Sylvie slipped her arm around Annette's neck and
whispered in her ear with an intensity and a seriousness she herself did
not realize:

"My darling! I shall never forget what you have suffered to-night . . .
what you have suffered because of me. . . . Yes, yes, don't say no! I
had time to think of it while I was running in search of you, trembling
that some misfortune . . . If it had happened! . . . Oh! what would I
have done! . . . I should have never come back."

"Darling," exclaimed Annette, deeply moved, "it was not your fault, you
couldn't know how you were hurting me."

"I knew perfectly well. I knew that I was making you suffer, and
it--listen, Annette!--it even gave me pleasure!"

Annette's heart contracted; and a short while ago she too had thought
that she would like to make Sylvie suffer until the blood ran. She said
so. They clasped each other in their arms.

"But what's the matter with us? What are we?" they asked each other,
shamefaced and stricken, yet relieved to know that the other's feelings
had been the same. . . .

"It was love," said Sylvie.

"Love," Annette repeated mechanically. Then she went on, frightened:

"That is love?"

"And you know," said Sylvie, "it was only the beginning."

Annette protested vigorously that she never wanted to love again.

Sylvie made fun of her. But Annette repeated in perfect seriousness:

"I don't want to any more. I'm not made for it."

"Oh, well," said Sylvie, laughing, "there's not a chance, my poor
Annette! You, why you'll stop loving when you stop living!"



_ANNETTE AND SYLVIE_



PART TWO



I


First days of October, gray and sweet. Still air. Warm rain falling
straight down, unhurriedly. The hot and fleshly odor of moist earth,
ripe fruits in the cellar, vatsful in the cider press. . . .

Near an open window in the Rivière's country house, in Burgundy, the
two sisters were sitting opposite each other, sewing. With heads bent
over their work, they seemed to be pointing their round, smooth
foreheads at each other,--the same rounded forehead, prettier in Sylvie,
stronger in Annette, capricious in the one, obstinate in the other,--the
goat and the little bull. But when they raised their heads, their eyes
exchanged an understanding glance. Their tongues were resting, having
chimed away for entire days. They were ruminating on their fever, their
transports, the hosts of words that had passed between them, and all
that they had acquired and learned from each other during the preceding
days. For this time they had given themselves completely, eager to take
all and give all. And now they were silent, the better to think of all
this hidden booty.

But they had desired in vain to see all and to possess all: in the last
analysis, each remained an enigma to the other. And to every human
being, no doubt, every other human being is an enigma; and that is an
attraction. How many things there were in each that the other would
never understand! And they said truly (for they knew it):

"Of what importance is understanding? To understand is to explain. One
doesn't have to explain in order to love. . . ."

But all the same, it makes considerable difference! It amounts to this,
that without understanding one cannot possess completely. And then as
regarded loving, precisely how did they love? They had not at all the
same way of loving. Raoul Rivière's two daughters both inherited,
undoubtedly, an abundant vigor from their father, but it was
concentrated in the one and dispersed in the other. In nothing were the
two sisters more different than in love. Sylvie's affection was
perfectly unrestrained, laughing, gamin-like, impudent, but at bottom
extremely sensible; she was always on the move, but she never lost her
sense of direction, always fluttering her wings, but never flying beyond
the pigeon yard. In Annette there dwelt a strange demon of love, of
whose presence she had been aware for scarcely six months; she
suppressed it, endeavoured to hide it, for she was afraid of it; her
instinct told her that others would misunderstand it: Eros caged, with
blindfolded eyes, troubled, hungry and starving, silently bruising
himself against the bars of the world, and slowly gnawing away the heart
in which he is imprisoned! The burning, incessant, noiseless, biting
pain insensibly plunged Annette's mind into a confused, wounded
lethargy, that was not wholly unpleasant, for she found a certain
pleasure in the sensations that caused her suffering: it was like being
wrapped in a rough-surfaced material, turned wrong side out, or like
running one's hand over the harsh surface of a piece of furniture or the
chill of a rugose wall. Chewing the bitter bark of some twig that she
was nibbling, she would sink at times into a forgetfulness of self and
time, into lapses of consciousness that lasted Heaven knows how long,--a
quarter of a second or an hour? And she would precipitately pull herself
out of them, suspicious and ashamed, sensing the invisible gaze of
Sylvie upon her, for her sister while pretending to work was maliciously
spying on her from the corner of her eye. Without understanding it very
well, Sylvie with her little nose smelled out this inner life of
Annette's that was sleeping in the sun and coiling itself, with sharp
warnings, like an adder beneath the leaves. She thought that her big
sister was very strange, a little cracked, really different from other
people. . . . She was not so much astonished by Annette's passionate
movements, her ardors, and what she could guess of her troubled
thoughts, as by the almost tragic seriousness with which Annette
invested them. Tragic? What an idea! Serious? Why be that? Things are as
they are. One takes them as they are. Sylvie was not going to bother
herself about the fifteen hundred notions that passed through her head!
They come, and then they go away. Everything that's nice and agreeable
is simple and natural; and everything that isn't nice and agreeable is
just as natural, too. Nice or not nice, I swallow them: they are soon
down! Why make such a fuss? . . . Poor Annette, all tangled up! with her
bundles of hot and cold thoughts, her snarl of fears and desires, and
her clusters of passions and decencies all mixed up in every
corner! . . . Who will untangle her? But the fact that she was so
abnormal, exaggerated and incomprehensible amused and attracted Sylvie
greatly; and she loved her only the better for it. . . .

The prolonged silence was heavy with disquieting secrets. Sylvie would
abruptly break it, and begin to talk at random. . . . Quickly, very
quickly, and in a low voice, with her nose over her work as though she
were reviling it, she would begin to mutter a litany of crazy little
words, of inarticulate sounds, generally in _i_,--the _kikikiki_ of a
chaffinch wriggling with delight. And then, presto, she would again
assume a serious expression, as if to say: "Who? I? I didn't do
anything. . . ." Or, nibbling her thread, she would sing in her thin,
nasal voice some silly ballad that had to do with flowers and
"twittering birds," or a snatch of an obscene song from which she would
select a particularly racy bit, with the air of a wise child. And
Annette would start up, half-laughing, half-annoyed, and exclaim:

"Will you please be good enough to shut up!"

But they would be relieved. The air was cleared. Words matter little;
voices, like hands, reestablish contact. They were united again. Where
were we? . . . Beware of silence! Do we know where it may carry you,
carry me, with the flutter of a wing, in a moment of forgetfulness?
Speak to me! I am talking to you. I am holding you. Hold me tight! . . .

They held on to each other. They were firmly decided that whatever
happened they would not let go again. Whatever happened, it would in no
wise affect the essential fact: "I am I. You are you. We accept each
other. Agreed! There's no going back." It was a mutual gift, a tacit
contract, a kind of soul marriage, much more efficacious than any
external bond; neither written engagement, nor religious or civil
sanction could outweigh it. And what did it matter that they were so
different? It is a mistake to think that the best unions are founded on
affinities,--or even on contrasts. They are founded on neither one nor
the other, but on an inner act, on an "I have chosen, I wish, I vow," of
good metal and solidly stamped with the mark of an inflexible dual
decision, as in the case of these two girls with rounded foreheads. "I
have you, and I am no more able to give you back than to take myself
back. . . . Besides you are free to love whom you choose, to do what you
please . . . you may commit any folly, even a little crime if you have
to (I know that you won't! but just the same!)--it will not affect our
pact in any way. . . ." Explain it who will! Scrupulous Annette, if she had
dared to follow her thought to its conclusion, would have been forced to
confess that she was not quite sure of Sylvie's moral worth or of her
future actions. And clear-sighted Sylvie would not have staked her hand
that Annette would not, some day, be capable of disconcerting acts. But
this had to do with others, it did not concern them, the two of them. As
for themselves, they were sure, they had an absolute confidence in each
other. The rest of the world could manage its affairs as it pleased! No
matter what either might do--since it could not affect their mutual
love--they forgave everything in advance, with closed eyes.

Perhaps it was not very moral, but what of that! They would have time to
be moral on some other occasion.

Annette who was a bit of a pedant, who knew life through books--which
did not however keep her from discovering it later (for life has not
quite the same ring when it is heard outside of books)--Annette
remembered those beautiful verses of Schillers:

"_Oh, my sons, the world is full of lies and of hatred; everyone loves
himself alone; all bonds formed by a fragile happiness are
insecure. . . . That which caprice has joined together, that will caprice
put asunder. Nature alone is sincere, it alone rests upon unshakable
anchors. All else floats at the will of stormy waves. . . . Inclination
gives you a friend, interest a companion; happy is he to whom birth has
given a brother. . . . Against this world of war and treachery, they are
two to stand together_. . . ."

Sylvie did not know these verses, that is certain! And, no doubt, she
would have thought that they employed entirely too many confused words
for the expression of a simple sentiment. But as she looked at Annette,
who was not working now, at her bowed head, the firm nape of her neck,
and her heavy mass of twisted hair, she thought:

"She is still dreaming, the big dear; she is deep again in her chest of
follies. What that chest must hold! It's lucky that I'm here, now! It
won't be opened without me. . . ."

For the younger sister had a conviction, perhaps exaggerated, of her
superior sense and experience. And she said to herself:

"I shall protect her."

She might have needed to protect herself first; for in her own chest
there was no lack of follies either. But she knew all about these in
advance, and she regarded them as a landlord regards his tenants. If one
lodges them, it is not for nothing. . . . And then, "Do what you wish,
come what may!" So long as it concerned only herself it was not of
enormous importance. One could always find a way out. . . . But to
protect someone else, that was a new and delectable feeling. . . .

Yes, but . . . Annette, with her head bowed and her hands idle, was
cherishing precisely the same feeling. She was thinking: "My dear little
madcap! . . . It's lucky that I came along in time to look after
her! . . ."

And for Sylvie's future she made plans that were certainly charming, but
concerning which Sylvie had not been consulted. . . .

Then when each had thoroughly pondered the happiness of the other (and
her own into the bargain, of course) . . .

"Hang! my needle is broken. . . . One can't see a thing any more. . . ."
They threw aside their work and went outdoors together to stretch their
legs; both wrapped in the same greatcoat, they walked through the rain
to the end of the garden, beneath weeping trees whose locks were
falling; from the arbor they plucked a bunch of white grapes, all the
better for being moist; they talked, and they talked. . . . And then
suddenly they fell silent, drinking in the autumn wind, the delectable
odor of fallen fruits, of dead leaves, and the tired October light that
faded at four o'clock, the silence of the numbed, slumbering fields, the
earth drinking up the rain, the night . . .

And, hand in hand, they dreamed with quivering Nature, that brooded over
the fearful, burning hope of spring,--the enigma of the future. . . .



II


During those fine, foggy October days, when the fog rolled up like a
spider's web, their intimacy became so necessary to them that they
wondered how they had ever done without it.

Yet they had done without it, and they would again. Life, at the age of
twenty, does not confine itself to a single intimacy, however dear it
may be,--especially the life of two such winged creatures. They must
essay the airy spaces. Firm as the affirmation of their heart's desire
may be, the instinct of their wings is stronger. When Annette and Sylvie
said to each other tenderly: "How could we have lived so long without
each other?" they did not confess to themselves, "But sooner or later
(what a pity!) we shall have to live without each other again!"

For another cannot live for you, in your place; and you would not wish
it. Assuredly the need of their mutual affection was profound, but the
two little Rivières felt another, stronger need, that went deeper, to
the very sources of their being: the need of independence. They who had
so many different traits had precisely this trait in common (it was not
by chance!). And they were perfectly aware of it; it was even one of the
reasons for which, without saying so, they loved each other the more;
for in it each saw herself. But then, what would become of their plans
to fuse their two lives? While each was cradling herself in a dream that
she might protect the other's life, she knew that the other would
consent to it no more than she herself would consent. It was a fond
dream with which they played. They were trying to make the play last as
long as possible.

And yet it could not last for long.

It would have amounted to nothing had they both been merely independent.
But these two little Republics, that were so jealous of their freedom,
had, without realizing it, like all Republics, despotic instincts. As
each considered its own laws excellent, each had a tendency to export
them to the other. Annette, who was capable of self-criticism, would
blame herself when it was too late for trampling upon her sister's
domain,--but then she would do it all over again. Hers was a willful and
passionate character, which, despite herself, was inclined to dominate.
Her nature was quite capable of temporary weakness, beneath the veil of
a great affection, but it remained unchanged. It must be confessed,
besides, that if Annette made an effort to adapt herself to Sylvie's
wishes, Sylvie did not make the task easy for her. All her actions were
headstrong, and within twenty-four hours her head had more than
twenty-four whims, that were not always mutually compatible. Annette,
who was methodical and orderly, laughed at first and after that grew
impatient at these sudden shifts and caprices. She called Sylvie _Rose
of the Winds_, and _I want_ . . . _What is it I Want_? And Sylvie called
her _Squall, Madame I Ordain_, and _Noon at Twelve Sharp_, because she
was plagued by Annette's punctuality.

Even while they were devoted to each other, it was difficult for them to
accommodate themselves for very long to the same manner of living. They
had neither the same tastes nor the same habits. Because they loved each
other, Annette could lend an indulgent ear to the little splutterings of
Sylvie, who had an excellent eye for the main chance, and a still better
ear, but not a very good tongue. And Sylvie, swallowing an amused yawn
("Get along! Will you get along! . . .), was capable of appearing
interested in the deadly reading, the pleasure of which Annette wished
to share with her. . . .

"My! how pretty that is, dear!"

Or, commenting to herself on certain preoccupations with ridiculous
thoughts on life, death, or society . . .

(What a bore! . . . Tootle-too-too! . . . They have plenty of time to
waste! . . .)

"And you," Annette would ask, "what do you think of it, Sylvie?"

("Piffle!" thought Sylvie.)

"I think the same as you do, dear."

This in no wise prevented them from adoring each other; but at the same
time it somewhat hampered their conversation.

And what could they do with their days, alone in the sombre house by the
edge of the woods, confronted by stripped fields, under a low autumn sky
that mingled with the bare plain in the fog? In vain had Sylvie asserted
and believed that she adored the country; she had soon exhausted its
pleasures, and in the country she was idle, out of place, lost. . . .
Nature, nature. . . . Let us be frank! Nature bored her. . . . A land of
rustics! No! She could not bear the little inclemencies: wind, rain, mud
(the mud of Paris, in comparison, seemed pleasant to her), the mice
trotting up and down behind old partitions, the spiders who came indoors
to take up their winter quarters, and those frightful beasts, the
buzzing mosquitoes, who regaled themselves on her wrists and ankles. She
could have wept with irritation and boredom. Annette, rejoicing in the
open air and in the solitude with her beloved sister, invulnerable to
boredom, laughing at mosquito bites, tried to drag Sylvie along on her
muddy walks, without noticing her sullen, disgusted expression. A gust
of wind and rain intoxicated her; forgetting Sylvie, she would set off
with great strides over the plowed earth or through the woods, shaking
the wet branches; and it was not until long after that she remembered
the little straggler. And Sylvie, who was sulking and piteously
examining her swollen face, would wait vainly, thinking:

"When are we going back?"

But among the thousand and one desires of the younger Rivière girl,
there was one that was good and praiseworthy, that nothing could alter,
and the country air served only to lend it new lustre. She loved her
trade. She really loved it. Of good Parisian working stock, work was
necessary to her; she needed her needle and her thimble to busy her
fingers and her thoughts. She had an innate love of sewing; it was a
physical pleasure for her to spend hours handling some piece of
material, a dainty fabric, a silk muslin, folding it, gathering it,
giving a touch to a knot of ribbons. And then her little noddle, which
did not flatter itself, Heaven be praised, that it understood the ideas
lodged in Annette's big brain, knew that here in her own domain, in the
kingdom of chiffons, she had ideas too, enough and to spare. . . . Well
then, could she give up her ideas? It is thought that a woman can enjoy
no greater pleasure than to wear pretty dresses! . . . For a really
gifted woman it is a much greater pleasure to make them. And once one
has tasted this pleasure, one cannot forego it. In the downy idleness in
which her sister kept her, while Annette was running her hands over the
piano keys, Sylvie felt homesick for the noise of big shears and the
sewing machine. All the works of art in the world, had they been offered
to her, would not have made up for the fine, headless dummy that one can
drape according to one's fancy, that one can twist and turn, before
which one squats, that one slyly maltreats, and that one takes in one's
arms for a dance when the forewoman is absent. A few casual words
sufficiently indicated the drift of her thoughts; and impatient Annette,
seeing her eyes light up, knew that she was in for another story of the
shop.


So when Sylvie announced, after their return to Paris, that she was
going back to her lodging and her regular work, Annette sighed; but she
was not surprised. Sylvie, who had expected opposition, was much more
touched by this sigh, by this silence, than she would have been by any
words. She ran to her seated sister, and, kneeling before her, she
clasped her arms around her waist and held her mouth up to her.

"Annette, don't be angry with me!"

"Darling," Annette replied, "your happiness is mine, and you know it."

But she was suffering, and Sylvie was too.

"It is not my fault," she protested. "I love you tremendously, I swear!"

"Yes, dearest, I know that."

Annette was smiling, but she heaved another deep sigh. Sylvie, still on
her knees, took her sister's face between her hands and put her own
close to it.

"I forbid you to sigh! . . . Villain! If you sigh like that I sha'nt be
able to leave. I'm not a little wretch."

"No, darling, you aren't. . . . It was wrong of me, and I won't do it
any more. But I wasn't blaming you. It's because we are leaving each
other."

"Leaving each other! . . . The idea! . . . Naughty girl! We shall see
each other every day. You will come, and I shall come. You will keep my
room for me. Were you going to presume, by any chance, to take it away
from me? No, no, it's mine, and I won't give it back. When I am tired, I
count on coming here to be petted. And you know, some evenings when you
aren't expecting me, I shall arrive at the most unreasonable hours; I
have a key, I shall come in and surprise you. . . . Beware if you play
any tricks! . . . You will see, you will see, we shall love each other
all the better. . . . Leave each other! Do you think that I would want
to leave you, that I could get along without my pretty Annette!"

"Oh! the wheedler, the little rascal!" said Annette, laughing, "how well
she knows how to cajole one! The damned little liar!"

"Annette! Don't swear!" exclaimed Sylvie severely.

"Well then, simply liar. . . . Is that all right?"

"Yes, that may pass," replied Sylvie magnanimously. . . .

She threw herself on Annette's neck and suffocated her with kisses.

"Lie to you, lie to you, I'm eating you! . . ."

The affectionate, cunning girl had other ways of winning forgiveness.
She asked Annette to help her set up shop on her own account. This
"lass" of twenty wanted to be her own mistress, to take orders no
longer, to give orders in her turn,--if only to her dummy. Annette was
delighted at being able to give her money. The two sisters put their
heads together, endlessly discussed arrangements, ran about the
following day to find a place, then to choose furniture and materials,
then to arrange matters with the authorities; and they spent the
evenings making up lists of customers, making plan after plan, move
after move,--until Annette ended by having the illusion that it was she
who was setting up shop with Sylvie. And she forgot that their lives
were going to be divorced.



III


Customers were not slow in coming to Sylvie's. When Annette went
calling, she wore the little dressmaker's prettiest creations, and sang
her praises. She succeeded in sending to her many young women from her
own set. Sylvie, for her part, had no scruples about exploiting the
addresses of her old employer's customers. However, she was wise enough
not to enlarge the circle of her operations too rapidly. Little by
little. Life is long. There is plenty of time. . . . She loved work, but
not to the mad degree of certain human ants--and especially feminine
ones--whom she had seen kill themselves at their task. She had every
intention of leaving time for pleasure. Work is one of them, but it is
not the only one. "_A little of everything_." Hers was the motto of a
small appetite, but dainty and curious. . . .

Before long her life was so filled that not much of it remained for
Annette. Whatever happened, Sylvie guarded Annette's share; she clung to
it. But for Annette's heart, a share was little. She did not know how to
give herself in halves, or thirds, or quarters. She still had to learn
that in their affections people are like a small merchant: they deliver
them retail. She was long in understanding this, still longer in
accepting it. As yet she had not passed beyond the first lessons.

Without saying so, she suffered at seeing herself eliminated, little by
little, from Sylvie's days. Sylvie was never alone any more, at home or
in her shop. She had acquired a new sweetheart. Annette bowed to the
inevitable. Her love for her sister now defended her against her old
jealous spite and severity of judgment. But it did not defend her
against melancholy. Sylvie, who, despite her lightness, loved her sister
well enough to sense the pain she was causing her, would occasionally
tear herself away from the farandole of her activities, both business
and pleasure; and suddenly, in the midst of work or even a
tête-à-tête, she would drop the most pressing matters and run off to
Annette's. Then there was a whirlwind of passing tenderness. At the
moment, Sylvie was no less full of affection than Annette. But it
passed; and when the whirlwind carried Sylvie back to her business or
her pleasures, filled with Annette, Annette would sigh, grateful for the
little tempest of loving chatter, mad confidences, and laughing embraces
that had visited her, but feeling more alone than ever and more
troubled.


Yet it was not interests that she lacked. Her days were as full as
Sylvie's.

Her life, her double life, intellectual and social, that had been broken
off since her father's death, had resumed its natural course. Her mental
needs, which during the past year had been crowded aside by the needs of
her heart, had now reawakened stronger than ever. As much to fill the
hours left empty by Sylvie's absence, as because the intelligence of a
rich nature is matured by experiences of the passional life, she had
again applied herself to her scientific studies, and she was astonished
to find that she brought to them a clearer gaze than before. She became
interested in biology, and planned a thesis on the origins of the
æsthetic sentiment and its manifestations in nature.

She had also picked up the threads of her social life; she returned to
the world that she had formerly frequented with her father. And she
found in it a fresh pleasure: the pleasure of curiosity, of a greater
sophistication that discovered, in people she had thought she knew,
unexpected aspects of which she had not dreamed. There were other
pleasures too, of a very different sort, some that one acknowledged, and
others that one did not confess: the pleasure of pleasing; obscure
forces of attraction (of repulsion too) that awake in us and around us
magnetic relations which are established between minds and bodies, under
cover of deceptive words; dumb possessive instincts that momentarily
graze the even and monotonous surface of drawing-room thoughts,
instincts that efface themselves, but which quiver beneath the
surface. . . .

Yet society and work occupied only the smallest portion of her time.
Never had Annette's life been so peopled as now when she was alone.
Through the long evenings and night hours, when sleep tosses the mind
back into wakefulness, with its hallucinatory thoughts, as the
withdrawing tide leaves on the shore a myriad of organisms torn from the
nocturnal abysses of ocean,--Annette contemplated the ebb and flow of
her interior sea, and the littered shore. It was the great spring
equinox.

A part of the forces that stirred within her were not new to her; but,
as their energy increased tenfold, the mind became conscious of them
with an exalted clarity. Their contradictory rhythms caused an
intoxication of the heart, a vertigo. . . . It was impossible to grasp
the order hidden in this confusion. The violent shock of sexual passion
that, like a summer storm, had shaken Annette's heart, was leaving
behind it a lasting perturbation. In vain had the memory of Tullio been
effaced, the equilibrium of her being was for a long time shaken. The
tranquillity of her life, the absence of events, created an illusion for
Annette: she could have believed that nothing had happened, and could
have easily repeated the careless cry of those watchmen in the fine
Italian nights: _Tempo sereno!_ . . . But the hot night was hatching new
storms, and the unstable air was shivering with disquiet eddies. A
perpetual disorder. The thrusts of dead souls, revivified, clashed in
this soul in fusion. . . . Here, the dangerous paternal heritage
consisting of those desires that were ordinarily dormant and forgotten,
rose abruptly like a wave from the deep. There, opposing forces: a moral
pride, the passion for purity. And that other passion for independence,
the imperious constraint of which Annette had already experienced in her
union with Sylvie; she anxiously foresaw, too, that this passion for
independence would some day engage in still more tragic conflicts with
love. All this inner travail occupied her, filled her, during the long
winter days. The soul, like a chrysalis encased in a cocoon of foggy
light, was dreaming of its future, and indulging itself in its
dream. . . .

Suddenly, she went beyond her depth. There occurred one of those lapses
of consciousness such as she had experienced last autumn, here and
there, in Burgundy; one of those voids into which one sinks. . . .
Voids? No, they were not voids; but what went on in their depths? Those
strange phenomena, unperceived, perhaps non-existent until ten months
before, that had been released especially since the amorous crisis of
the summer, and since then had become more frequent. Annette had a vague
feeling that these gulfs of consciousness sometimes opened at night,
too, while she slept . . . the heavy sleep of hypnosis. . . . When she
came out of them, she returned from a great distance; there remained no
memory of them, and yet she had the haunting sense that she had
encountered important events and worlds, unspeakable things, things
beyond what the reason permits and tolerates, bestial and superhuman,
reminiscent of the Greek monsters or the cathedral gargoyles. A formless
clay adhered to her fingers. One felt oneself bound alive to that
stranger of one's dreams. There weighed a sorrow, a shame, the fresh
burden of a complicity that could not be defined. One's skin remained
impregnated by an unsavory odor that lingered for days. It was as though
one bore a secret, in the midst of the day's fugitive images, hidden
behind the closed door of a smooth forehead unwrinkled by thought, while
one's indifferent eyes turned inward, and one's hands lay sagely folded
across one's breast--a sleeping lake. . . .

Wherever she went, Annette carried this perpetual dream: in the bustle
of streets, in the studious torpor of lectures and libraries, in the
amiable banality of drawing-room conversations, relieved by a hint of
flirtation and irony. At evening parties more than one person noticed
the absent glance of this young girl who smiled distractedly, less at
what was said to her than at what she was saying to herself, while she
caught by chance a few passing words, and then went far away again,
listening to no-one-knew-what hidden birds in the depths of her aviary.

So noisy was the chorus of little people within Annette that one day she
caught herself listening to it when Sylvie was with her,--Sylvie the
beloved, laughing at her, deafening her with her dear chatter, saying to
her. . . . What was it she was saying? . . . Sylvie perceived it, and
she laughingly shook her.

"You're asleep, you're asleep, Annette!"

Annette protested.

"Yes, yes, I saw you, you are dreaming standing up, like an old carriage
horse. What do you do with your nights?"

"Wretch! . . . And what about yours, if I asked you? . . ."

"Mine? You want to know? Very well! I'm going to tell you. You won't be
bored."

"No! No!" exclaimed Annette, laughing, now thoroughly awake.

She clapped her hand over her sister's mouth. But Sylvie freed herself
and, seizing Annette's head, looked straight into her eyes.

"Your beautiful sleep-walker's eyes. . . . Show us a little of what's in
there. . . . What are you dreaming, Annette? Tell me, tell me! Tell what
you're dreaming. Tell! Come along, let's hear!"

"What do you want me to tell?"

"Say what you are thinking about."

Annette resisted, but she always ended by yielding. For both of them it
was an acute pleasure of affection, and perhaps of egotism, to tell each
other everything. They left nothing out. So Annette tried to unravel her
dreams, much less for Sylvie's benefit than for her own comfort. She
explained, not without difficulty, but with a great scrupulousness and
seriousness that made Sylvie burst into laughter, all her mad
thoughts--the innocent, the candid, the grotesque, the daring, and
sometimes even . . .

"Well, well, Annette! I say, when you try! . . ." exclaimed Sylvie,
pretending to be scandalized.

Her own inner life was perhaps no less strange (neither more nor less
than that of all of us), but she did not suspect it, and she was not
interested in it, like a practical little person who believes once for
all in what she sees and touches, in the sensible and ordinary dream of
superficial earthly existence, and who avoids as absurd everything that
might disturb it.

She laughed with all her heart, listening to her sister. Now who would
ever have thought that of Annette! With her innocent air, she sometimes
tells you the most egregious things in all seriousness. And then she is
frightened at the simplest things, that everybody knows. (She shared
them with Sylvie, with a comical conviction.) Heaven knows what
ridiculous ideas are passing in her noddle! . . . Sylvie found her
complicated, adorable, twisted, deucedly tangled up. Always that disease
of being tormented to death by things that one should take as they come!

"The trouble is that they sing a half-a-dozen tunes at the same time,"
said Annette.

"Well, that's amusing," exclaimed Sylvie. "It's like the Lion de Béfort
fair."

"Horrors!" cried Annette, stuffing up her ears.

"Why, I adore it. Three or four shooting galleries, tram horns, steam
calliopes, bells, whistles, everyone yelling together, till one can't
hear oneself think, while one yells louder than all of them,--and
snorting, laughing and goings on that delight your heart. . . ."

"Little plebeian!"

"But, my little aristo, it's you (you've just said so), it's you who are
like that! If you don't like it, you have only to do as I do. I have
everything in order. Everything in its place. Every rabbit in its
hutch!"

And indeed she spoke the truth. Whatever hubbub went on in the Place
Denfert or in her own little brain, she knew how to manage in one case
as well as the other. She could instantly bring order from the most
inextricable disorder. She knew how to reconcile all her divers needs,
both of mind and body, middle class and otherwise. Each had its
pigeon-hole. As Annette said to her:

"A bureau full of drawers. . . . That's what you are! . . ." (showing
her the famous Louis XV chiffonier in which their father's letters had
been arranged).

"Yes," replied Sylvie, "there a resemblance. . . ."

(It was not of the piece of furniture that she spoke).

". . . At bottom, it's the _real me_. . . ."

She wanted to vex Annette. But Annette wasn't "rising" any more. She was
no longer jealous of her father's heredity; she had her share of it. She
could very well have given it up. It was, at times, a rather troublesome
guest! . . .



IV


She did not know quite how, but during the past year she had lost the
balance of her logical mind and of her stout legs that had been so
firmly implanted in the real world; and she did not see how she was
going to recover it. She would have given a good deal to put on Sylvie's
little boots that unhesitatingly went clattering over the ground with
their decided step. She no longer felt that she was bound firmly enough
to ordinary life, to the life of everybody and every minute. Contrary to
her sister, she was too much preoccupied with her inner existence, and
she was not enough preoccupied, any more, with that on which the sun
shone. It would, doubtless, have been the same, even had she not been
caught by the great sexual trap into which dreamers fall more quickly
and more clumsily than others. The insidious hour was approaching. The
snare was being prepared. . . .

But would this snare, even, suffice to hold a rather wild soul and a
thoroughbred for very long? . . .

While waiting to find out, she circled around,--certainly without
realizing it, for if she had realized it she would have recoiled in
exasperated revolt. No matter! Each of her steps brought her closer to
the trap. . . .

She had to confess it to herself--she who, a year before, had affected
to treat men with the calm assurance of a comrade; no doubt a little
coquettish and amiable, but indifferent; for from them she had seemed
neither to desire nor fear anything--she now looked on men with
different eyes. She maintained an attitude of observation and troubled
waiting. Since the adventure with Tullio, she had lost her fine,
insolent calm.

She knew now that she could not get along without them; and her father's
smile came to her lips when she recalled her childish declarations at
the idea of marriage. Love had left its wasp's dart in her flesh. Chaste
and burning, innocent and sophisticated, she knew her desires; and if
she thrust them into the penumbra of her mind, they manifested their
presence by the confusion into which they threw the remainder of her
ideas. Her whole mental activity was disorganized. Her powers of
reflection were paralyzed. At work, writing or reading, she felt herself
somehow impaired. She could no longer concentrate on an object save at
the cost of disproportionate effort; and afterwards she was exhausted,
disgusted. And it was in vain, for the knot of her attention would
always come undone. Clouds crept into all her thoughts. The perfectly
clear--too clear and too well-lighted--goals that she had fixed for her
intelligence, were dimmed in the fog. The straight road that was to lead
her to them broke off, was cut at every step.

Annette discouragedly thought:

"I shall never get there."

Having formerly attributed to women all the intellectual powers of men,
she experienced the humiliation of saying to herself:

"I was mistaken."

Under the impression of lassitude which oppressed her, she recognized
(rightly or wrongly) certain cerebral weaknesses of her sex, due perhaps
to woman's long unaccustomedness to disinterested thought, to that
objective and detached activity of mind which is demanded by true
science and true art; but more probably due to the mute obsession of
those great, sacred instincts, the rich and heavy deposit of which
nature has placed in her. Annette felt that, alone, she was incomplete;
incomplete in mind, body and heart. But of these last two, she thought
as little as possible; they recalled only too much to her mind.

She had reached the time of life when one can live no longer without a
mate; and woman even less than man, for in her it is not only the lover,
but the mother also, that is awakened by love. She does not realize it:
the two aspirations are confounded in a single sentiment. Annette, as
yet without defining a single one of her thoughts, had a heart swollen
with the need of giving itself to some human being, at once stronger and
weaker than herself, who would take her in his arms and who would drink
at her breast. At the thought of this, she grew faint with tenderness;
would that all the blood in her body might be turned to milk, that she
might give of it. . . . Drink! . . . Oh, my well beloved! . . .

Give all! . . . No! She could not give all! It was not permitted her.
Give all! . . . Yes, her milk, her blood, her body, and her love. . . .
But all? her whole soul? her whole will? and for her entire life? . . .
No, that, she was certain, she could never do. Even when she wished to,
she would be unable. One cannot give what is not one's own,--my free
soul. My free soul does not belong to me; it is I who belong to my free
soul. I cannot dispose of it. . . . To conserve its liberty is much more
than a right, it is a religious duty. . . .

There was in these thoughts of Annette a little of the moral rigidity
that she inherited from her mother. But in her, all took on a passionate
character; with her impetuous blood she could give warmth to the most
abstract ideas. . . . Her "soul!" . . . That "Protestant" word! . . .
(It was herself speaking. . . . She used the word often! . . .) Had
Raoul Rivière's daughter only one soul? She had a whole troop of them,
and in the lot there were three or four of notable stature that did not
always understand one another. . . .

Yet this internal conflict went on in an undefined sphere. Annette had
not yet had the occasion to put her contrary passions to the test. Their
opposition was still a mental game that was ardent and sufficiently
stirring, but devoid of risks; she did not have to decide; she could
permit herself the luxury of mentally trying one solution or another.

It was a subject of laughing discussions with Sylvie, one of those heart
problems that delight the heart of youth during periods of idleness and
waiting, until the time comes when reality brusquely decides for you,
without bothering about your elegant arrangements. Sylvie perfectly
understood Annette's double need; but, so far as she was concerned, she
could see no contradiction in it; one only had to do as she did: love
when it pleased you, be free when it pleased you. . . .

But Annette shook her head.

"No!"

"Why not?"

She refused to explain.

And Sylvie asked mockingly:

"You think it's good enough for me?"

And Annette exclaimed:

"No, darling. You know perfectly well that I love you, as you are."

But Sylvie was not far wrong. Through affection, Annette (while she
sighed to herself) refused to judge Sylvie's free loves. But for herself
she rejected the thought of them. It was not merely the puritanism
inherited from her mother that would have considered them dishonorable.
It was her "entire" nature, it was the very plenitude of her Desire that
refused to parcel itself into small bits. Despite the obscure appeal of
a powerful sexual life, it would have been impossible for her, at this
moment of her life, to receive without revolt the idea of a love in
which the whole being, senses, heart and thought, self-respect, respect
for the other person, and the religious ardor of the impassioned soul,
did not all equally have their places at the feast. To give her
body and withhold her mind,--no, there could be no question of
that. . . . It would be treachery! . . . Then there remained only one
solution,--marriage, monogamous love? Was that a possible dream, for an
Annette?

Possible or not, it cost nothing to dream it, in advance. She did not
deprive herself of it. She had arrived at the edge of the wood of
adolescence, at that beautiful, final instant when, still savoring the
shadow and the shelter of dreams, one sees opening before one, on the
plain, long white roads in the sunlight. On which shall we imprint out
steps? There is no haste to choose. The mind laughingly delays, and it
chooses them all. A happy young girl, without material cares, radiating
love, her arms full of hope, sees offered to her heart the possibility
of twenty different lives; and, even before asking herself, "Which do I
prefer?" she takes up the whole sheaf, to breathe their sweetness. In
imagination Annette tasted, one by one, the future shared with this and
that, and then with another, mate, dropping the bitten fruit, nibbling
at another, then returning to the first, trying a third, without
deciding on any one. Age of uncertainty, at first happy and exalted, but
soon to know weariness, crushing depression, and sometimes even
despairing doubt.

So Annette dreamed of her life,--of her lives to come. To Sylvie alone
she confided her uncertain waiting. And Sylvie was amused at her
sister's languorous, troubled indecision. She knew little about such
things, for it was her habit (she boasted of it in order to scandalize
Annette) to decide before choosing. To decide immediately. Afterwards,
there was time to make one's choice. . . .

"And at least," she said with her swaggering air, "one knows whereof one
speaks!"



V


In the society in which she moved, Annette was extremely successful. She
was much sought after by the majority of the young men. The young girls,
many of whom were prettier than she, did not take very kindly to this.
They had the more reason to be galled because Annette did not seem to
make any great effort to please. Distrait and a little distant, she did
nothing to pique the interest or flatter the vanity of the men who
sought her out. Calmly installed in a corner of the drawing-room, she
let them come to her, without appearing to note their presence, listened
smilingly (they were never sure that she had heard) and, when she
answered, she uttered only pleasant commonplaces. However, they all
came, and tried to charm her: the worldly, the brilliant, and the
respectable young men.

The jealous ones liked to believe that Annette was playing a deep game,
that her indifference was only the ruse of a practised coquette; they
remarked that for some time now Annette's rather cold correctness of
dress had given place to elegant toilettes, in which the fantastic note,
they said, was skilfully calculated to relieve the monotony of her
sleepy homeliness. Malicious tongues added that it was her fortune more
than her face that was courted. But, as regards the toilettes, their
charming artifice should not be attributed to Annette: Sylvie's taste
and wit were solely responsible. And, no doubt, she was a "good catch,"
but if her little court took cognizance of the fact, as it surely did,
it was only the nuance of respect which marked their attentions that
might be attributed to this consideration. Had she been less well
provided by fortune, they would have pursued her no less but more
boldly.

The allurement was deeper. Annette, without being a coquette, was well
enough served by her instincts. Rich and strong, there was no need of
anyone telling them what had to be done; their action was sure, for the
will had no part in it. While Annette, smiling indolently as though
submerged in her inner life, was allowing herself to be carried on the
pleasant tide of a vague revery, on a voluptuous wave, that did not
prevent her hearing and seeing,--her body was speaking for her: a
powerful attraction was emanating from her eyes and mouth and strong,
young limbs, from the youth of her being, charged with love like a
flowering glycine. The charm was so strong that no one seeing her (at
least, no one but a woman) could dream that she was homely. And if she
spoke little, only a few casual words are needed in an empty
conversation to evoke unusual mental horizons. Then too, she offered
herself no less to the desires of those who sought the soul, than to the
covetousness of those who had recognized in this dormant body (sleeping
water) a wealth of pleasure unknown to itself.

She did not seem to see; but she saw perfectly well. It is a feminine
gift. In Annette it was complemented by a vigorous intuition which often
goes with strong vitality, and which, without words or gestures,
immediately penetrates the speech of being to being. When she seemed
distrait, it meant that she was listening to this language. Dark forest
of hearts! . . . They were--they and she--on the hunt. Each sought his
track. Having drifted for a time from one to another, Annette chose her
own.

The young men among whom her choice lay belonged to that rich,
intelligent, active bourgeoisie, advanced in ideas (at least they
thought them advanced), of which Raoul Rivière had been a member. It
was shortly after the Dreyfus Affair, which had brought together men
belonging to different orders of thought, who yet found themselves
united by a common instinct of social justice. This instinct, as later
became apparent, was not very enduring. So far as it was concerned,
social justice was limited to a single injustice. One example among
thousands was Rivière himself, who had lost no sleep over the
iniquities of the world, who had even been capable of concluding with no
pangs of conscience some profitable business with the Sultan, when His
Highness was coolly engineering, amid the silence of a complaisant
Europe, the first Armenian massacre,--yet who, quite sincerely, had been
completely bowled over by the famous Affair. One cannot ask too much of
men! When they have fought for justice, once in their lives, they are
winded. They have been just on at least one occasion; one must be
grateful for that. They are grateful themselves. Rivière's society, the
families whose sons were now Annette's suitors, had no doubt concerning
the merit they had acquired in the championship of Right, nor concerning
the inutility of refreshing this merit by new efforts. They remained,
once for all, the crew of Progress, with folded arms.

With minds sufficiently at peace, besides, as regarded the international
landscape, in this fleeting hour when civic conflicts had nearly
extinguished national hatreds--save for the old ember of anglophobia,
still kept smoking by the Boer war,--possessed of a diluted and not at
all militaristic patriotism,--given to tolerance and good humor, because
they were well off, belonging to the victorious party,--they gave the
impression of an easy-going society, broad in its morality, vaguely
humanitarian, more certainly utilitarian and sceptical, with no very
great principles and no very great prejudices. . . . (They need not have
prided themselves on that! . . .) They counted in their ranks a number
of liberal Catholics, not a few Protestants, a greater number of Jews,
and a quantity of solid middle-class Frenchmen who were indifferent to
all religions, having found a substitute in a political doctrine that
bore various labels, but did not stray very far from the republicanism
which, having endured for thirty years, was beginning to be a form, the
most practical form, of conservatism. Socialism, too, was represented;
but by the rich and intellectual young bourgeois that had been won over
by the golden tongue and example of Jaurès. He was still on his
honeymoon with the Republic.

Annette was never seriously interested in politics. Her active inner
life left her no time for it. But, like the others, she had passed
through her hours of exaltation during the Affair. Her love for her
father modeled her in the image of his feelings. She was predisposed, by
the fire in her heart and by the instinct of liberty that she carried in
her blood, to find herself always on the side of the oppressed. So she
had known moments of passionate emotion when Zola and Picquart faced the
great Beast--unchained public opinion; and it is not impossible that,
like more than one young girl, when she passed by the Cherche-Midi
prison, her heart beat for the man who was shut within. But there was
little reason in these feelings, and Annette had not been able to bring
herself to a critical examination of the Affair. Politics repelled her;
when she had attempted to study them at close range, she had immediately
been turned aside by a mixture of boredom and repugnance which she did
not seek to analyse. Her viewpoint was too honest not to have glimpsed
the amount of pettiness and malpractise that was shared almost equally
by both sides. Less sincere than her eyes, her heart wished to continue
to believe that the party which upheld ideas of justice must be composed
of the justest men. And she reproached herself for what she called her
laziness in not becoming better acquainted with their activities. That
is why she made herself maintain an attitude of sympathetic waiting
towards them,--as when hearing the execution of a page of new music that
is guaranteed by an accepted name, a respectful listener, who does not
understand it, gives credit to beauties that he will discover later,
perhaps. . . .

Annette, being loyal, believed in the virtue of labels, ignorant of the
fact that the fraud is nowhere more current than in the commerce of
ideas. She still attributed some reality to the fabricated _isms_, whose
stamp distinguishes the various political faiths; and she was attracted
by those proclaimed by the advanced parties. A secret illusion made her
hope that it was on this side that she had the best chance of meeting
her mate. Accustomed to the open air, she went in the direction of those
who sought it, like herself, outside the old prejudices, ancient
follies, and suffocation of the house of the past. She spoke no evil of
the old dwelling. It had sheltered the lives and dreams of generations.
But the air was vitiated. Remain there who would! One must breathe. And
her eyes sought the friend who would help her construct her own house,
sanely and clear-sightedly.

In the drawing-rooms that she frequented there was no lack of young men
quite capable, it seemed, of understanding and aiding her. With or
without labels, many had daring minds. But an evil fate willed that
their daring should not be directed towards the same horizons as hers.
In the words of the philosopher, the _elan vital_ is limited. It never
exercises itself, simultaneously, in all directions. Infinitely rare are
the spirits that throw their light all around them as they walk. The
majority of those who have succeeded in lighting their lanterns (and
they are not numerous!) focus their searchlights straight ahead, upon
one point, a single point; and around them they do not see a speck. One
may even say that an advance in one direction is almost always paid for
by a retreat in another. Many a one who is a revolutionary in politics
is an imitative conservative in art. And if he is deprived of a handful
of his prejudices (those that he values least) he will only clasp the
others more avariciously to his breast.

Nowhere is the unevenness of this jolting march more clearly visible
than in the moral evolution of the two sexes. The woman who forces
herself to break with the errors of the past and who enters upon one of
the paths leading to the new society rarely ever encounters the man who
also wishes to found a new world. He takes another route. And if their
climbing paths must finally, perhaps, come together further up the
slope, for the moment they turn their backs upon each other. This
divergence of aims was particularly striking in France at this period,
when the feminine mind, so much longer held back, had been making, for
some years, a sudden advance, of which the men of that day took no
account. The women themselves did not always measure it accurately,
until there came the day when the shock of personal experience revealed
to them the wall that separated them from their mates. The shock was
rude. Annette, to her own cost, had to discover this unhappy
misunderstanding.



VI


From among the drifting souls that swarmed about her, Annette's eyes,
her distrait eyes that unsuspectedly surveyed them all, had finally made
their choice. But they had not admitted it. As long as possible she
tried to preserve the illusion of continued hesitation. When one no
longer needs to make a decision, then it is sweet to murmur to oneself,
"I am not bound as yet," and to leave the doors of hope wide open for
the last time.

There were two in particular between whom she liked to leave her future
in the balance, although she knew perfectly well which one she had
chosen; two young men between twenty-eight and thirty: Marcel Franck and
Roger Brissot. Both belonged to the comfortably situated middle class,
and were distinguished in manner, pleasant and intelligent, but
possessed of minds and characters of different orders.

Marcel Franck, of a half-Jewish family, was one of those charming types
that are sometimes produced by the mixed marriage of well chosen
individuals of two races. Of medium height, slim, graceful and elegant,
he had blue eyes set in a dead white face, a slightly curved nose, a
small fair beard, and an elongated, somewhat horsey profile that
recalled Alfred de Musset. His glance was intelligent and caressing, by
turns coaxing and impudent. His father, a rich cloth merchant, cautious
in business and strong in his passions, who had a taste for the new art,
patronized the young reviews, bought Van Goghs and Rousseaus, had
married a beautiful Toulousaine, who had won the second prize in comedy
at the Conservatory, and who for a time had been the rage at Antoine's
and Porel's. This lady, first taken by assault, and thereafter in lawful
wedlock, by the vigorous Jonas Franck, had abandoned the stage in the
midst of her success, to maintain intelligently, along with her
husband's affairs, a literary salon much frequented by artists. This
most united household, neither member of which, by tacit accord, looked
too closely into the other's conduct, and each of whom knew how to
handle gossip, had brought up a single son in an atmosphere of tolerant
and sharpened intelligence. At home Marcel Franck had learned that there
is a harmony of work and pleasure, and that the art of life depends upon
their wise union. He cultivated this art no less than the others, in
which he had become a discerning connoisseur. Attracted to the national
museums he had made a precocious reputation as a writer on art. Quite as
well as pictures, he knew how to observe living figures with his idle,
penetrating, insolent, indulgent glance. And among the young men who
were courting Annette, it was he who read her best. She was quite aware
of it. Sometimes as she was emerging from one of those absent-minded
reveries, during a conversation in which she was following every other
thought but the one she was uttering, she would meet his curious eyes
that seemed to say to her:

"Annette, I see you naked."

And the most astonishing thing was that she, the modest Annette, was not
embarrassed by this. She felt like replying:

"And how do you find me, that way?"

They exchanged an understanding smile. If he saw her unveiled, it was of
slight importance; she knew that she would never be his. Marcel read
this certainty in her. He was not troubled by it. He was thinking:

"We shall see about that!"

For he knew _the other_.

_The other_, Roger Brissot, had been a college chum of his. Franck
perfectly understood that Annette preferred him. . . . To begin with, at
least . . . ("Afterward? . . . That is another affair! . . .") Brissot
was a handsome fellow, with a fine open countenance, a frank expression,
gay brown eyes, regular features that were rather strong, a full face,
sound teeth,--clean-shaven, with a youthful abundance of black hair
combed back from an intelligent brow and parted at the side. Tall,
broad-chested, long of leg, and with well-muscled arms, his movements
were easy and his actions lively. He spoke well, very well, in a warm
musical voice, a little low and resonant, that people liked,--that he
liked. With his quick, ready, glittering intelligence, he rivaled Franck
in his studies, and was no less fond of athletics. In Burgundy, where
his family's property--woods and vineyards--adjoined the Rivière's
country place, he was an intrepid walker, hunter, and horseman. In the
old days Annette had met him more than once on his walks. But at that
time she had given scant thought to a companion, she liked to go her own
way; and Roger too, having slipped away from Paris for these months in
the open air, played the young Hippolyte, affecting to prefer his horse
and his dog to a girl. In passing, they had exchanged no more than bows
and glances. But those had not been entirely lost. Agreeable images
remained, and the vague attraction of two beings physically well suited.

The idea had occurred to the Brissot family. No less than their persons,
their fortunes seemed made for union. However, so long as Raoul Rivière
lived, the neighborly relations had remained polite enough, but rather
cold and distant. By a curious freak, Rivière, who would have yielded
to no man as a free thinker, had as an architect numbered his clients,
until the Dreyfus Affair, almost exclusively in the aristocracy and the
reactionary camp; and as he was too clever not to give them lip service,
and even to go to mass when it was useful that he should be noticed, he
passed for a reactionary and even a clerical (which made him laugh
heartily!) in the eyes of the radical republicans of his province. Now
the Brissots were pillars of radicalism. This family of the
robe--advocates and attorneys--who prided themselves on having been
republicans for more than a century (their republicanism dated, indeed,
from the days of the First Republic, but they forgot to mention that
their ancestor had received the Order of the Lily upon the return of the
Bourbons), believed in the Republic as others believe in God the Father,
and they considered themselves bound by their traditions: _noblesse
oblige_! So the Brissots had felt it was their duty to manifest their
austere censure of Raoul Rivière by holding him at a distance; which
did not bother him at all, as he expected no commissions from them. Came
the famous Dreyfus Affair, in which Rivière, as we have seen, found
himself, without dreaming of such a thing, in the Progressive party. In
a flash, he was whitewashed; a sponge was applied to his past, and
people even discovered in Rivière exalted civic and republican virtues,
which he himself would never have suspected, but from which he would
assuredly have derived excellent profit, had death not come to spoil his
plans.

The Brissots' plans had not suffered in consequence. These great
republicans who, for a century, had known boldly how to harmonize their
principles and their interests, were rich; and, naturally, they dreamed
of being more so. They knew that Rivière had left his daughter a very
tidy fortune. It would be very nice to unite his Burgundy property to
the Brissot possessions, which it would complete so happily. But with
people who had such principles as the Brissots, worldly reasons came
second,--even when it happened that they thought of them first: in a
question of marriage, it was the young girl who must first be taken into
account. The young girl, in this instance, answered all requirements.
Annette satisfied them by what they knew of her, by her serious ways,
and by what they had learned of her devotion to her father. They were
impressed by her intelligence and by her simplicity. Her bearing in
society was perfect. She had composure. Enough wit. Good health.
Doubtless her work at the Sorbonne, her studies and her diplomas, seemed
a little affected to them; but they considered these the pastimes of an
intelligent young girl who was bored, and who would put them aside when
her first child arrived. And the Brissots were not averse to showing
that they liked intelligence, even in a woman,--provided, naturally, it
did not become embarrassing. Annette would not be the first feminine
intellectual in the family, thank Heaven! Madame Brissot, the mother,
and Roger's sister Adèle, enjoyed the reputation, justified in a sense,
of being brainy women, no less than women of sentiment, who were able to
share the mental life as well as the active life of the men of their
household. Annette's intellectuality was at least a guarantee (the great
point!) that in her case there was no danger of clericalism. For the
rest, she would find in her new family affectionate guidance that would
know how to guard her from any extravagances. It would not be difficult
for the dear child to become part of the family whose name she was to
take: she had no parents, and she would be only too glad to put herself
under the aegis of a second mother and a slightly older sister, who
would ask merely to guide her. For the Brissot ladies, who were keen
observers, judged Annette to be really congenial, very distinguished,
sweet, polished, reserved, timid (from their point of view this was not
a fault) and a little cold (this was almost a virtue).

It was then with the support of his whole family, previously consulted,
that Roger paid his court. He hid nothing from them, sure that he would
always meet with approval. This big fellow was idolized by his family,
and he repaid them in full measure. The Brissots practiced mutual
admiration. There was a hierarchy, but each had his worth. It had to be
recognized that they were all fairly evenly endowed on the mental side,
as well as with the advantages of body and of fortune. They recognized
the fact, but gracefully, like well-bred people. They never showed it to
those whom they considered plainly their inferiors. But the truth could
not be doubted, from the sweet certainty written on their features. Of
all their certainties, Roger was the most certain. He was their dearest
pride, and perhaps the best justified. Never had the Brissot tree borne
more thriving fruit. Roger had the best gifts of his race, and if he had
its faults as well, they were not startling: his charm and his youth
caused them to be forgotten. He was full of talent, all things were easy
for him, but especially speech. Eloquence was one of the family fiefs.
It already counted one barrister; and from birth all the Brissots had a
love of fine speech. It would have been an injustice to pretend that,
like those talkers of the Midi, they had to talk in order to think; but
they had to talk,--that was incontestable. Their real faculties bloomed
in phrases; silence would have atrophied them. Roger's father, one of
the most illustrious gabblers that ever honored the tribune of the
Chamber, and on whom the voters had played the scurvy trick of not
reelecting him, was suffocated by his stifled eloquence; and Roger, then
aged six, used to say to him naïvely when they were alone by the hearth:

"Papa, make me a speech!"

Now he made them on his own account. In a trice his youthful reputation
had been brilliantly established at the legal conferences at the
Palais-Bourbon. Like all the Brissots, he had turned his gifts towards
politics. The meetings in connection with the Dreyfus Affair had
furnished him with an excellent springboard; he bounded into the arena,
delivering speeches in mid-flight. The youthful fire, bravura, and well
chosen, overflowing speech of this handsome young man, won for him the
enthusiastic sympathy of the young feminine Dreyfusistes and many of his
juniors. The Brissots, ever desirous of not allowing themselves to be
outdistanced on the road of Progress, but very careful not to go a step
too far or too early, having carefully surveyed the terrain, spurred
their son, their young pride, along the way of serious socialism. Roger,
his nose to the trail, gave himself to the task. Like the flower of the
youth of his day, he was under the spell of Jaurès, and he tried to
model his orations on the splendid speeches of the great rhetorician,
filled with prophetic visions and illusory mirages. He proclaimed the
necessity of an understanding between the people and the intellectuals.
This furnished him a theme for the most eloquent speeches. Even though
the people--who lacked leisure--did not know much about it, they were
seriously disturbing the leisure of the young bourgeoisie. With personal
subscriptions and the assistance of a small group of friends, Roger
founded a study club, a newspaper, a party. He spent a great deal of
time and a little money on them. The Brissots, who were good reckoners,
also knew how to spend on occasion. They were pleased to see their son
become a leader of the younger generation. They prepared the ground for
the coming elections. Roger was marked for a place in the future
Chamber. Nor was he ignorant of the fact. Accustomed from childhood to
see his family believe in him, he believed in himself, too; and without
precisely knowing what his ideas were, he had an absolute faith in them.
In no way overweening. He was full of himself, but so naturally! He was
successful in everything; he was so accustomed to it that it did not
even occur to him to pride himself on the fact; but he would have been
dumbfounded had it been otherwise, his surest dogmas would have received
a serious blow. How likable he was! A naïve, unconscious and shallow
egotist, a good fellow and a handsome fellow, disposed to give but
determined to receive, and unable to conceive that anything could be
refused him, simple, polite, cordial, demanding, waiting for the world
to place itself at his feet. . . . He was really very attractive.



VII


Annette felt the attraction. She judged him accurately enough, but this
only made her love him the more. She smiled at his foibles, which were
infinitely dear to her. These made him seem to her less the man, and
more the child; and her heart rejoiced that he was one as well as the
other. One of Roger's charms was that he hid nothing; he showed his
entire self. His innocent satisfaction with himself gave him a perfect
naturalness.

He was all the more confiding because he was enamoured of Annette.
Ardently and without reservations. He loved nothing by halves. But he
never saw more than half of anything.

His fire for her was kindled one evening when he had been very eloquent
in some drawing-room. Annette had said nothing, but she had listened
marvelously. (At least he thought so.) Her intelligent eyes returned his
own thoughts to him, clearer and more winged. Her smile gave him joy in
what he had said so well, and it was all the sweeter because he felt
that it was shared. . . . How beautiful she was, that listening girl!
What an admirable mind, what an exceptional soul, could be discerned in
those attentive, speaking eyes, in that all-understanding smile! . . .
Although he was the only one to speak, he had the illusion that he was
talking with her. In any case, he no longer spoke save for her; and he
felt himself being lifted above himself by this inward dialogue, by the
mysterious exchange of these mute responses. . . .

As a matter of fact, Annette was scarcely listening. Sufficiently
intelligent to seize promptly the general drift of Roger's thought, she
followed absentmindedly, as was her habit, the fine balanced phrases.
But she profited by his absorption in his eloquence to study him
thoroughly: eyes, mouth and hands, the way he moved his chin when he
talked, his fine nostrils resembling those of a neighing colt, his habit
of prettily rolling certain letters, and all that this expressed, both
inside and out. . . . She could see into him. She perceived his desire
to be admired, she saw the pleasure that he took in pleasing, and she
judged him handsome, intelligent, eloquent, amazing. And it did not
occur to her at all (yes! a little, a very little . . .) to find him
comical. On the contrary, she found him very touching. . . .

. . . "Yes, my dear, you are handsome, you are charming, intelligent,
eloquent, amazing. . . . You want a little smile? . . . There, my dear,
I give you two . . . with my very sweetest eyes. . . . Are you
satisfied? . . ."

In her heart she laughed, when she saw him, all happiness and pride,
redouble his warbling like a spring bird.

Homage was sweet to him; he drank it undiluted, without a drop of irony;
he wanted more, he was never wearied. And, intoxicated by his own song,
he could no longer distinguish it from the person who admired it. She
seemed to him the incarnation of all that was beautiful, pure and genial
in it. He adored her.

She, into whose heart love had glided at first sight,--when she felt
herself bathed in this adoration, no longer offered the least
resistance. Even the gentle irony that, like a gorget, protected the
beatings of her heart, fell from her; and she offered her bare breast to
love. She was so hungry for affection! What happiness to slake her
thirst (she anticipated the joy) at the lips of this man who charmed
her! How he offered them to her, anticipating her desire, with such a
burst of ardor, permeating her with a passionate gratitude. . . .

The fire was well ablaze. Each burned with the other's desire, and fed
upon his own. And the more the one was exalted, the more he expected of
the other; and the more the other strove to surpass that expectation. It
was very tiring, but they had an immense youthful energy to spend.

For the moment, Annette's energy was reduced to a passive rôle. None
other was left her. Roger invaded her. She was submerged. He scarcely
gave her time to breathe. His expansive, overflowing nature felt the
need of telling all, of confiding all: future, past and present. And it
was long! But Roger held his ground! He also wanted to know all, to have
all. He forcibly penetrated Annette's secrets. Annette was hard pressed
to defend her last retreats. A little scandalized, happy and amused, she
had a faint desire to fly into a passion at this invasion; but the
invader was so adorable! . . . She abandoned herself, voluptuously; she
experienced, in yielding to this mental rape,--("_Et cognovit eam_. . . ."
He scarcely knew her! . . .)--secret feelings of revolt and
pleasure. . . .

It was not over-prudent, this complete surrender of self. There was the
risk that certain confidences, made in hours of abandon, might later be
employed as weapons by the confidant. But this was the very least of
Annette's and Roger's cares. At this hour of love, nothing in the
beloved could displease, nothing could astonish. All that the loved one
confided, far from surprising the lover, seemed a response to his own
unuttered vows. Roger no longer guarded--guarded less than ever--the
indiscreet confessions that Annette's indulgent ear was none the less
registering very faithfully, unknown to him.

What pleasure they took in sharing the past and the present; the present
and the past were linked together in the dream of the future, of _their_
future: for although Annette had said nothing, promised nothing, her
acceptance was so taken for granted, so anticipated, and so demanded,
that Annette herself ended by believing she had given it. Happily, with
eyes half closed, she listened to Roger set forth with tireless
enthusiasm the magnificent life of thought and action that was reserved
for him (for he was one of those who always enjoy to-morrow more than
to-day). . . . For whom? For him? For Roger. And for her too, of course,
since she was a part of Roger. She was not shocked by this absorption;
she was too busy seeing, hearing, drinking in, this marvellous Roger. He
talked a great deal of socialism, of justice, of love, of emancipated
humanity. He was really splendid. In words, his generosity knew no
bounds. Annette was stirred. It was intoxicating to think that she might
be associated with this work of powerful benevolence. Roger never asked
her what she thought about it. It was understood that she thought as he
did. She could not think otherwise. He spoke for her. He spoke for both
of them, because he was the better speaker. He said:

"We shall do. . . . We shall have. . . ."

And she did not protest. On the contrary she was grateful. All this was
so big, so vague, so disinterested, that she had no reason to be
disturbed by it. Roger was all light and liberty. . . . A little diffuse
perhaps. Annette, maybe, would have liked a little more precision. But
that would come later; one couldn't say everything at once. Let us make
the pleasure last! . . . To-day we have only to enjoy these limitless
horizons.

She took particular joy in his charming countenance, in the ardent
attraction of their two loving bodies, through which electric waves
suddenly passed, in the tide of physical vigor that filled them
both,--both rich in the endowment of a youth that was chaste, healthy,
robust, and aflame.

Never was Roger's eloquence more certain than when it halted and, in the
last vibrations of the words that had opened exalted vistas to them,
their eyes met: the sudden contact was like a physical embrace. Then
such desire flamed in them that their breathing stopped. Roger thought
no more of dazzling and talking. Annette no longer thought of the future
of humanity, nor even of her own. They forgot everything, everything
about them: the drawing-room, the public. In these instants they became
but a single being, a wax in the flame. Nothing more than the Desire of
nature,--unique, devouring, and pure like fire. Then Annette, with
distraught eyes and flaming cheeks, would wrench herself out of the
vertigo, with the trembling and intoxicating certainty that some day she
would succumb. . . .



VIII


Their love was no longer a secret to anyone. They were both incapable of
veiling it. Annette held her tongue in vain; her eyes spoke for her.
Their mute acquiescence was so eloquent that in the eyes of the world,
as in Roger's, she appeared tacitly engaged.

The Brissot family alone did not lose sight of the fact that she was
not. To Roger's declarations, Annette doubtless lent herself with an
evident pleasure. But she avoided answering; she was clever enough to
turn the conversation to some great subject, on which the innocent
Roger, leaving the prey for the shadow, launched himself endlessly, only
too happy to talk. And, once again, Annette had not spoken. Having
observed this manœuver several times, the Brissots, prudent folk that
they were, decided to take a hand. It was not that they could harbor a
doubt regarding Annette's decision and the happiness that so brilliant a
match would bring her; but, after all, one must always reckon with the
strange caprices of a young girl! They knew life. They knew its
pitfalls. They were crafty French provincials. When the decision that
they awaited was delayed on the way, prudence counseled them to go in
search of it. The two Brissot ladies took the road.

There was a smile that was known in Paris, in the circle of their
acquaintances, as the Brissot smile: it was unctuous and sweet, affable
and superior, measuredly and heavily playful, foreseeing all, gushing
with benevolence, perfectly indifferent; it offered full hands, but the
hands remained full. It adorned the two Brissot ladies.

Madame Brissot, the mother, a large handsome woman, with a broad face,
fat cheeks, well-fed and chubby, had an imposing carriage, an opulent
bosom, and an unctuous, excessively flattering way of talking that
embarrassed the sincere Annette. But it was not meant for her alone (she
soon noticed this with relief). This laudatory tone was generously
distributed to all. It was accompanied by a perpetual badinage, which
with the Brissots was a courteous mark of the certainty which was
intuitive with them, and of the geniality with which they recognized
this superiority.

Mademoiselle Brissot, Roger's sister, also big and strong, was a very
pale blond, so lacking in color that she seemed almost an albino. She
accentuated this by a cloud of rice powder on her cheeks and a streak of
red on her lips. She was aiming at the ideal of a Louis XV pastel. She
might have served Nattier as a mincing, chlorotic, and fleshy Burgundian
Phœbe. Her mother called this robust girl, "My poor little darling,"
for Mademoiselle Brissot, who functioned like a charm, had conceived the
idea, while admiring her pallor, that her health must be delicate. But
she did not exploit it by demanding coddling; on the contrary she used
it to show off her energy and give herself the right to scorn the softer
creatures of her sex who moaned about their little ailments. In truth,
she was admirable, active, and indefatigable; she read everything, saw
everything, knew everything; she painted, was a judge of music, talked
literature; and every day, in company with Madame Brissot, she carried
out a program of some two or three hundred calls that had to be made in
a given time, receiving them in return, giving dinners, following the
concerts and the theatres, the sittings of the Chamber and the
exhibitions, without ever flinching, without ever betraying fatigue,
save at chosen moments by a bravely stifled sigh;--and, besides all
this, she knew how to feed the body that she mortified, eating heavily
like all her family, and getting a full night's dreamless sleep. She was
no less mistress of her heart than of her body. She was sedately
preparing for her marriage to a politician of some forty years, who was
at this moment governor of one of the great oversea colonies. She had
not dreamed of accompanying him there. She did not wish to leave Paris
and the Brissot name behind her until the happy elect could offer her a
position in France that was worthy of her. In addition to which, she
knew how to keep him from being forgotten in high places. With
regularity they wrote each other letters that were cordial and
businesslike. This long-distance courtship had gone on for a number of
years. Marriage would come in due time. She was in no hurry. Her husband
would be rather mature, but according to Mademoiselle Brissot's taste he
would be all the better for that. She had a strong head. Head, the
Brissots had never lacked. Mademoiselle Brissot's was eminently
political. Her mother said that she was, by vocation, an Egeria. Madame
Brissot admired the intelligence of Mademoiselle Brissot. Mademoiselle
Brissot admired the domestic genius and mind of Madame Brissot. They
paid each other mincing compliments. They kissed each other in the
presence of Annette. It was charming.

However, they soft-pedaled this mutual cult in order to cajole Annette.
They were all compliments, for her, for her house, for her clothes, her
taste, her wit, her beauty. The excessively laudatory tone grated on
Annette a bit; but one does not remain insensible to the flattering
opinion that others have of one, particularly when those others seem
messengers from the person whom one loves. It was hard not to believe
that this was the case; for the Brissot ladies continually brought
Roger's name into the conversation. They intertwined his praises with
Annette's; they made smiling, persistent allusions to the impression
Annette had produced on him, to the things she had said to him, and
which he had hastened to repeat enthusiastically--(he repeated
everything: Annette was embarrassed but none the less touched). They
laid great stress upon his brilliant future; and Madame Brissot assumed
an impressive tone in which to phrase her hope that Roger would
find--that he had found--a helpmate worthy of him. She named no one, but
the meaning was clear. All these little ruses were visible to the naked
eye, at twenty paces. They were meant to be. It was a sort of social
game, in which one must talk around the word that everyone has on his
tongue, without ever pronouncing it. Madame Brissot's smile seemed
watching Annette's lips for the word that was about to come out, as
though to cry:

"A bargain!"

Annette smiled, opened her mouth. But the word did not come. . . .

Annette was invited by the Brissots to intimate evening parties in their
apartment on the Rue de Provence. She became acquainted with father
Brissot, tall and big and rubicund, with cunning eyes beneath bushy
brows, a short gray beard, and the air of a crafty and fatherly lawyer,
who heaped upon her gallantries and ancient jests. He too tried to play
the social game, but he put his foot in it with his circumlocutions.
Annette took fright, and Madame Brissot signalled her husband to keep
out of the affair. So he stayed outside the game, content to jeer and
follow it from the corner of his eye, convinced that it was not his
business and that the women would acquit themselves better than he.

With Annette, Madame Brissot at first adroitly invited only three or
four intimate friends,--then two, then one, then none. And Annette found
herself alone with the four Brissots. _En famille_, said Madame Brissot
in a tone rich in unctuously maternal promises. Annette smelled the
trap, but she did not steal away. She found too much pleasure in being
with Roger. Her affection for him made her regard his family
indulgently; she closed her eyes to what secretly irritated her in this
circle. Acuteness of feminine instinct warned the Mesdames Brissot of
this; strong as their self-love was, it never worked against their
interests; by tacit accord, they knew how to efface themselves, how to
speak less, sift their ideas, and arrange matters so that the lovers
might frequently enjoy undisturbed times alone together. More and more
enamoured and disturbed at Annette's reserve, which would have struck
him less forcibly had not his mother and his sister called it to his
attention, Roger had never been more attracted than now when his
self-confidence was threatened. He delivered no more speeches; his
eloquence had flagged. For the first time in his life, he tried to read
another's soul. As he sat beside Annette, his humble and ardent eyes
devoured, implored the little enigma, striving to solve it. Annette
enjoyed this disquiet, this timidity that was so new in him, this
fearful waiting that watched over her every movement. She was shaken.
There were moments when she nearly bent towards him, to utter decisive
words. And yet she did not say them. At the last second, she
instinctively drew back, without knowing why; brusquely she avoided the
declaration that Roger was about to make, and her own avowals. She
escaped. . . .

And then the trap closed. From one of the neighboring salons, Madame and
Mademoiselle Brissot would discreetly brood over the unfruitful
interview. Occasionally they were visible, crossing the drawing-room,
smiling and preoccupied. In passing they would throw out a friendly
word, but they did not stop. And the two young people continued their
long conversations.

One evening when they were absentmindedly thumbing an album, which was
an excuse for them to put their heads close together, while they were
exchanging their thoughts in a low voice, there was a silence; and
suddenly Annette perceived the danger. She wanted to get up, but Roger's
arm was already around her waist, and the young man's passionate mouth
was upon her half-parted lips. She tried to defend herself. But how
could she, against herself! Her lips returned the kiss, even while she
wanted to draw away. She disengaged herself, however, when she heard
Madame Brissot shrilling in an excited voice, from the other end of the
drawing-room:

"Oh! my dear girl! . . ."

And she was calling:

"Adèle! . . . Monsieur Brissot! . . ."

Annette in stupefaction saw herself surrounded in a flash by the entire
Brissot family, radiant and affectionate. Madame Brissot covered her
with kisses, while she sponged her own eyes with a handkerchief and kept
repeating:

"Love him well!"

Mademoiselle Brissot was saying:

"My little sister!"

And Monsieur Brissot, always a blunderer:

"At last! . . . You've taken long enough! . . ."

Meanwhile Roger was kneeling before Annette, kissing her hands and
begging her with eyes that were fearful and a little shamefaced, asking
forgiveness and imploring:

"Don't say no!"

Annette, petrified, yielded to his kisses; the supplication of those
beloved eyes forged the last link in her chains. She made a final effort
to protest:

("Why, I haven't said anything! . . .")

But she saw in Roger's eyes a grief so sincere that she could not bear
it; and when Roger's face lighted up with happiness, her own became
radiant at the joy she had caused. She clasped his head between her
hands. Roger rose, crying out in relief. And, beneath the benevolent
eyes of his family, they exchanged their kiss of betrothal.



IX


That night, when Annette found herself alone in her own home, she was
thunderstruck. She no longer belonged to herself. She had given
herself. . . . Given! Given her life! . . . Her heart contracted in
anguish.

She still exaggerated the tightness of the bonds that she had just
accepted. She was not one of those young girls who jest lightly with
their fiancés regarding the possibility of divorce. She did not give
with one hand to take back with the other. She was no longer her own.
She belonged to the Brissots. And suddenly the Brissots appeared
inimical. All that her eyes had seen during these past weeks came before
her, with accentuated outlines: all their manœuvres of approach in
order to envelop her, their conspiracy against her freedom, the final
comedy that had extorted her consent by surprise. . . . (Had not Roger,
Roger himself, been an accomplice? . . .) And she bristled like a
cornered animal that sees the circle close around him, feels himself
lost, and is ready to charge with lowered head against the hunters,
either to clear a passage or to die and win vengeance. For the first
time, everything in the Brissots that displeased her, thoughts of which
she had hitherto avoided, appeared to her magnified, hateful, and
intolerable. . . . Even Roger! . . . Never could she live immured in
that man, that family, that circle of interests which were not her own,
which never could be. She decided to break away. . . .

But could she still break away, now that she had just become engaged?
Would Roger permit it? He would have to permit it! He couldn't prevent
her. . . . At the idea that he might oppose it, Annette hated him. In
that moment, the other's suffering did not count, she would not have
hesitated to break his heart in order to recover her own liberty. . . .
And then she remembered his imploring eyes. . . . And she was
overawed. . . . No matter! The egotism of menaced life, the instinct of
self-preservation were stronger than all else, stronger than tenderness,
stronger than pity! She had to save herself. And woe to him who barred
her escape! . . .

All night long, twisting and turning in her bed, devoured by a feverish
insomnia, she lived through in anticipation the scene that she was going
to have with Roger. She repeated, tried out all the words that he and
she would utter. She tried to convince him, she argued, she flew into a
passion, she pled with him, and she detested him. Dawn found her
exhausted but decided. She would go to Rogers house. . . . Or, no! she
would write to him; in that way she would be freer to finish what she
had to say without interruption. She would break it off. To avoid the
Brissots returning to the charge, she resolved to leave Paris, to spend
a few days at some hotel in the suburbs. And getting up, she wrote her
letter, the phrases of which she had rehearsed in her head a hundred
times. Then she hastily began her preparations for departure.

She was in the midst of them when Roger surprised her at it. She had not
thought of barring her door, as it had not occurred to her that he might
come so early. He entered, preceding in his amorous impatience the
servant who announced him. He was bringing flowers. He was bubbling over
with happiness and gratitude. He was so affectionate, so young, so
charming that when Annette saw him she no longer had the strength to
speak. All her fine resolutions were forgotten, her heart was recaptured
at the first glance. With the astonishing bad faith of love, she
immediately found as many reasons for marriage as she had found against
it a moment before. She tried to fight, but joy shone in her eyes,
ringed by the worries of the night. She looked at her Roger, who was
drinking her in with an intoxicated glance, and she said to herself:

"But I have decided . . . but I must decide. . . . What is it I have
decided? . . ."

But how could she know, when he looked at her as though he were drinking
in her very soul! Think, how could she think, how recover herself! . . .
She no longer knew, she was lost. . . . And, meanwhile, it was so good
to feel that she was loved! All that she could do, with an immense
effort, was to ask Roger not to hasten the marriage. And immediately
Roger looked so disappointed, so cast down, that Annette had not the
courage to go on. How could she hurt so dear a boy? She hastened
tenderly to reassure him, to tell him that she loved him; feebly she
tried to cling to her postponement, which he repulsed as energetically
as though it were a matter of life and death. Finally, after a loving
bargaining on both sides, they agreed to compromise; and their marriage
was fixed for the middle of the summer.

Afterwards, Roger left; and Annette, regarding herself sheepishly in the
mirror, found there all her indecision again. . . . How could she get
out of it? She contemplated the interrupted preparations for her
journey.

"Well done!" said she.

She shrugged her shoulders, laughed. . . . How charming Roger was! . . .
Back into the closet went her lingerie and the things she had taken out
for her trunk. . . .

"But just the same," she was thinking, "I don't want to, I don't want
to! . . ."

Nervously she let fall a pile of chemisettes. . . . Thump! And toilet
brushes went tumbling after. . . . Impatiently she kicked the
heap. . . .

And then she gathered them up, bending down to the floor. In the midst
of her tidying, she let herself go and sat down on the parquet, not very
proud of her will power. . . .

"Nonsense!" she exclaimed, stretching herself out on the carpet, "I
still have four months to change my mind. . . ."

And with her face thrust into a cushion, lying flat on her stomach, she
counted the days. . . .



X


The Brissots prudently gave their approval of Annette's expressed desire
to prolong the engagement: they did not wish to imperil their success by
showing too much haste. But they felt it necessary to surround Annette
during these months of waiting. It would not do to leave her to herself;
there was always a risk of the strange girl escaping.

Easter Sunday was approaching. The Brissots invited Annette to spend
Easter week with them at their country place in Burgundy. Annette
accepted regretfully; she was tempted and afraid; afraid of adding to
the chains that already bound her, afraid of being completely captured
or of breaking everything; and afraid of still other things, more
dangerous, that she did not like to consider. She did not wish to escape
from the state of amorous uncertainty in which she was allowing herself
to be cradled: she suffered from it a little, and she found a certain
charm in it. She would have liked to prolong it. But she knew perfectly
well that it was not wholesome, and that she had not the right to do so,
face to face with Roger.

Finally she decided to lay her troubles before Sylvie. Never had she
said a word to her of her love for Roger. Yet she confided everything to
her: of all the other young men she had often spoken to her. . . . Yes,
but she didn't love the other young men! And Roger's name had been kept
out of their conversation.

Sylvie exclaimed, called her "Sneak!" and laughed uproariously when
Annette tried to explain her indecision, her scruples and her torments.

"Well now," she demanded, "is this bird of yours handsome?"

"Yes," replied Annette.

"He loves you?"

"Yes."

"And you love him?"

"I love him."

"Well then, what's stopping you?"

"Oh! it is so difficult! How can I tell you? . . . I love him. . . . I
love him tremendously. . . . He is so wonderful!"

(She began to describe him complaisantly, under Sylvie's mocking eyes.
Then she broke off. . . .)

"I love him very much . . . very much. . . . And then, too, I don't love
him. . . . There are things about him . . . I could never live
with . . . I never could. . . . And then, he loves me too much. He would
like to eat me. . . ."

(Sylvie burst out laughing.)

". . . It's true, eat me entirely, devour my whole life, all my own
thoughts, the very air I breathe. . . . Oh! he's an excellent eater, my
Roger! It's a pleasure to see him at the table. . . . He has a good
appetite. . . . But I, I don't want to be eaten."

She too laughed heartily; and Sylvie, who was sitting in her lap,
laughed against her neck. Annette went on:

"It's frightful to feel yourself being devoured like that, alive, to
have nothing of your own any more, not to be able to keep anything any
longer. . . . And he doesn't suspect it. . . . He loves me madly, and I
have an idea, you see, that he doesn't even try to understand me, that
he doesn't even think about it. He comes, he takes, he carries me
off. . . ."

"Well, that's terribly nice!" observed Sylvie.

"You are always thinking about silly things!" said Annette, clasping her
in her arms.

"And what would you like to have me think about?"

"About marriage. That's a serious thing."

"Serious! oh! well, not so serious!"

"What, it isn't serious to give all of yourself, without a single
reservation?"

"And who talked about doing that? You'd have to be mad!"

"But he wants to have everything!"

Sylvie squirmed with laughter like a little fish.

"Oh! you goose! you stupid! . . . Ninny!"

(It seemed to her so simple to say what one wished, to give what one
wished, and to keep back all the rest without saying anything about it!
She was affectionately ironical towards men and their demands. They are
not so sharp! . . .)

"But I'm not, I'm not all those things," Annette protested.

"Oh! So far as that goes!" exclaimed Sylvie, "you take everything so
seriously."

Annette admitted the fact, contritely.

"It's too bad all the same! . . . I wish I were like you! . . . You have
all the luck!" she went on.

"Let's exchange! Hand over yours!" said Sylvie.

Annette had no desire to exchange. Sylvie left her comforted.

But at the same time, Annette did not understand herself. She was
puzzled.

"It's curious!" she said to herself, "I want to give everything. And I
want to keep everything! . . ."


The next day--it was the eve of her departure--while she was finishing
her preparations, when she was beginning to torment herself again, a
singular visit added to her anxieties, at the same time clarifying them.
Marcel Franck was announced.

After a few amiably courteous speeches, he alluded to Annette's
engagement, of which Roger had made no mystery. Gracefully he
felicitated her, his voice and eyes gently ironic, affectionate. Annette
felt very much at ease with him, as with a perspicacious friend to whom
one need not say all, from whom one need hide nothing,--for half-words
carry understanding. They talked of Roger, whom Marcel envied,
smilingly. Annette knew that he spoke the truth, and that he was in
love. But it caused them no perturbation. She asked him questions about
Roger, whom he knew intimately. Marcel sang his praises; but when she
insisted that he speak of him in a somewhat less banal fashion, he
jokingly said that it was useless for him to describe Roger, as she knew
him quite as well as he. And, saying this, he fixed her with so
penetrating a glance that, for an abashed moment, she turned away her
eyes. Then, staring in turn at him, she encountered his shrewd smile
which showed that they understood each other. They talked for some time
of indifferent matters, and then Annette abruptly interrupted, in a
preoccupied tone:

"Tell me frankly," she said, "do you think I've made a mistake?"

"I should never think of you as being mistaken," said he.

"No, don't be polite! You are the one person who can tell me the truth."

"But you know that my position is peculiarly delicate."

"I know it. But I know, too, that it has no effect on the sincerity of
your judgment."

"Thanks!" said he.

She continued:

"You think that we are mistaken, Roger and I?"

"I think that you are deceiving yourselves."

She bowed her head. Then she said:

"I think so too."

Marcel did not respond. He continued to look at her and smile.

"Why are you smiling?"

"I was sure that you thought so." Annette, turning her eyes upon him,
asked:

"Tell me, now, what I seem like to you?"

"I should teach you nothing."

"You will help me to see more clearly."

"You are," Marcel said to her, "an amorous rebel. Perpetually amorous
(forgive me!) and perpetually rebellious. You feel the need of giving
yourself, and you feel the need of withholding yourself. . . ."

(Annette could not conceal a slight start.)

"I shock you?"

"No, no, quite the contrary! How true it is! Go on! Tell me some
more. . . ."

"You are," Marcel continued, "an independent who cannot remain alone. It
is the law of nature. You feel it more keenly, because you are more
alive."

"Yes, you understand me! You understand me better than he does.
But . . ."

"But it is he whom you love."

There was no bitterness in the tone. Very friendlily they stared at each
other, amused at the strangeness of human nature.

"It is not easy to live," said Annette, "to live in pairs."

"Why, yes, it would be easy enough, if men hadn't spent their time for
centuries ingeniously complicating life by reciprocal restraints. The
only thing to do is to throw them off. But naturally our excellent
Roger, like any good old Frenchman, doesn't conceive of the idea. They
think that they are lost if they no longer feel themselves weighed down
by the restraints of the past. '_Where there is no restraint, there is
no pleasure_ . . .' especially when in being restrained one restrains
one's neighbor."

"What is your conception of marriage, then?"

"As an intelligent association of interests and pleasures. Life is a
vine that we exploit in common; together we cultivate it and gather the
grapes. But we are not compelled always to drink our wine together,
always tête-à-tête. There is a mutual complaisance that demands from
and gives to the other the clusters of pleasure, of which each disposes,
and which allows one discreetly to finish his harvesting elsewhere.

"What you mean," asked Annette, "is the liberty of adultery?"

"The old obsolete word! What I mean," answered Marcel, "is the liberty
of love, the most essential of all liberties."

"That's the thing of least importance to me," said Annette. "For me
marriage is not a public square in which one gives oneself to every
passer-by. I give myself to one alone. The day on which I ceased to love
and loved another, I should separate from the first; I should not divide
myself between them, and I could not bear the division."

Marcel made an ironic gesture that seemed to say:

"What does it matter? . . ."

"So you see, my friend," Annette went on, "in the last analysis, I am
still further away from you than from Roger."

"So you too," demanded Marcel, "belong to the good old school: 'Let us
hamper one another'?"

"The one grandeur of marriage," said Annette, "is monogamous love, the
fidelity of two hearts. If that is lost, what remains outside of a few
practical advantages?"

"They are not negligible," said Marcel.

"They are not enough," replied Annette, "to compensate for the
sacrifices."

"If that's your opinion, what are you complaining about? You rivet the
bars from which one would deliver you."

"The liberty that I want," said Annette, "is not that of the heart. I
feel that I am strong enough to keep that intact for the one to whom I
give it."

"Are you so sure of that?" Marcel demanded tranquilly.

Annette was not so sure of it! She too was doubtful. It was her mother's
daughter who was speaking at this moment, it was not the whole Annette.
But she did not wish to admit it, especially to Marcel, and in an
argument. She said:

"I wish it."

"Will power in such matters! . . ." exclaimed Marcel, with his shrewd
smile. ". . . It is as though one decreed that a red fire should be a
green fire. Love is a lighthouse of changing fires."

But Annette obstinately said:

"Not for me! . . . I don't want it to be!"

She was perfectly aware, and with the same conviction, of the need of
change and of the need of permanence, those two passionate instincts of
all vigorous lives. But, turn and turn about, whichever one of these two
felt itself threatened, revolted.

Marcel, being well acquainted with the proud and obstinate girl, bowed
politely.

Annette, who judged herself as accurately as he judged her, said a
little shamefacedly:

"After all, I shouldn't like . . ."

And, with this concession made to the spirit of truth, she continued
more firmly, now feeling herself to be on ground of which she was sure:

"But I should like, in exchange for the gift of mutual affection, that
each should preserve the right to live according to his own soul, to
walk in his own way, to seek his own truth, to secure, if need be, his
own field of activity,--to carry out, in a word, the proper law of his
own spiritual life, and not sacrifice himself to the law of another,
even the dearest person of all: for no one has the right to immolate
another's soul, or his own for the sake of another. It is a crime."

"That's all very fine, my dear friend," said Marcel, "but for me, you
know, the soul is a little beyond my depth. Perhaps it may mean more to
Roger. But I am afraid that in that case he will not understand it in
the same fashion. I can't quite see the Brissots, in their family
circle, conceiving the possibility of any spiritual law save that of the
political and private fortunes of the Brissots."

"By the way," said Annette, smiling, "to-morrow I'm going to their place
in Burgundy to spend two or three weeks."

"Well," remarked Marcel, "that will be a case of confronting their
idealism with your own. For they are great idealists, they too! After
all, perhaps I am mistaken. At bottom you are admirably made to get
along together."

"Don't dare me!" said Annette. "Perhaps I shall come back an
accomplished Brissot."

"Dear me! That wouldn't be so cheerful! . . . No, no, I beg of
you! . . . Brissot, or not Brissot, preserve us Annette!"

"Alas! I should like to lose her, but I can't, I'm afraid," Annette
replied.

He said good-bye, kissing her hand.

"It's a pity, all the same! . . ."

He left. Annette, too, told herself that it was a pity, but not in the
same sense that Marcel meant. It was in vain that he saw her clearly; he
understood her no more than did Roger, who did not see her at all. To
understand her required more "religious" souls--more religiously
free--than those of almost all these young Frenchmen. Those who are
religious, are so in the tradition of Catholicism, which means obedience
and the renunciation of intellectual liberty (especially in the case of
a woman). And those whose minds are free rarely suspect the profound
needs of the soul.



XI


Roger was waiting with the carriage at the little Burgundy station,
where Annette arrived the following day. The instant she saw him, her
cares took flight. Roger was so happy! And she was no less so. She was
grateful to the Brissot ladies for having found weak excuses for not
coming to meet her.

It was a clear spring evening. The golden horizon encircled the gentle
undulations of pale, new grass and red, plowed land. Larks were
chirping. The two-wheeled cart flew over the white road, which rang
under the hoofs of the spirited little horse, and the sharp air whipped
Annette's red cheeks. She sat pressed against her young companion, who,
even while he drove, laughed and talked with her, and, suddenly bending
over her lips, took and gave a kiss in mid-flight. She did not resist.
She loved him, she loved him! But this did not prevent her realizing
that she would soon begin to judge him again, to judge herself. It is
one thing to judge, and another to love. She loved him as she loved this
air, this sky, this breath from the fields, like a bit of spring.
To-morrow was time enough to clarify her thoughts! To-day she gave
herself a holiday. Let us enjoy this delicious hour! It will not come
again. . . . It seemed to her that she was flying above the earth, with
her beloved.


They arrived only too soon, although they went slowly at the last
turning, when they were ascending the poplar-lined road, and even
though, when they stopped to rest the horse beneath the shadow of the
high hedges that masked the front of the château, they embraced for a
long time without speaking.

The Brissots put their best foot forward. They knew how to find delicate
words by which tactfully to evoke the memory of her father. That first
evening in the family circle, Annette let herself be mothered, grateful
and touched; she had so long been deprived of the affectionate warmth of
a home! She wanted to delude herself. Everyone helped her to do this.
Her resistance slumbered. . . .


But when she awoke in the middle of the night, and listened to the
gnawing of a mouse in the silence of the old house, the idea of a
mouse-trap came into her mind; and she said to herself:

"I am caught. . . ."

She felt a pang, she tried to reason with herself.

"No, no, I don't want to be; I am not . . ."

A nervous sweat moistened her shoulders. She said:

"To-morrow I shall talk to Roger seriously. He must know what I am like.
We must see each other honestly if we are going to live together. . . ."

But when the next day came, she was so glad to see Roger again, to let
herself be enveloped in his warm affection, to breathe with him the
intoxicating sweetness of the spring countryside, to dream of
happiness--(impossible perhaps, but who knows, who knows? . . . perhaps
it is close . . . one need only stretch out a hand . . .)--that she put
off explanations until the next day. . . . And then, to the next. . . .
And then, to the day after. . . .

And each night she was seized anew by piercing pangs, by heart
burnings. . . .

"I must. . . . I must speak. . . . It has to be done for Rogers sake.
Every day he is more enchained, and enchains me more. I have no right to
keep silent. It is deceiving him. . . ."

Heavens, heavens! How weak she was!

. . . Yet she was not so, in ordinary life. But the breath of love is
like those hot winds whose burning languor breaks your joints and makes
your heart faint. An extreme lassitude of obscure pleasure. A fear of
stirring. A fear of thinking. . . . The soul, cowering in its dream,
fears awakening. Annette knew perfectly well that at her first gesture
the dream would be shattered. . . .


But even if we do not move, time moves for us; and the flight of days is
sufficient to carry away the illusion that we would preserve. In vain
one watches oneself; two persons cannot live together from morn till
evening without, at the end of a short time, showing themselves as they
really are.

The Brissot family revealed its true colors. The smile was façade.
Annette had become part of the household. She saw busy, morose,
middle-class people, who administered their wealth with a bitter
pleasure. There was no question here of socialism. Of immortal
principles, they invoked only the Declaration of the Landlord's Rights.
It was not good to attack this. Their watchman was ceaselessly occupied
in setting up barriers against trespassing. They personally exercised a
strict surveillance that was to them a kind of sorry delectation. They
seemed to be carrying on a guerrilla warfare with the servants, their
farmers, the grape gatherers, and with all their neighbors. The spirit
of sharp practice, that was native to the family and to the province,
flourished here. When father Brissot succeeded in trapping someone he
had his eye out for, he laughed heartily. But he did not laugh last: his
adversary was made of the same Burgundian clay, not to be caught
napping; the next day he retaliated by a trick of his own. And then it
began all over again. . . .

Of course, Annette was not invited to participate in these ructions; the
Brissots talked about them among themselves, in the drawing-room or at
table, when Roger and Annette seemed occupied with each other. But
Annette's keen attention followed everything that was said around her.
Besides, Roger would interrupt the most loving dialogue to take part in
the discussion that passionately interested them all. Then they grew
heated, they all talked at once, they forgot Annette. Or they called
upon her to witness facts of which she was ignorant.--Until finally,
Madame Brissot, recalling the listener's presence, cut short the
colloquy, and, turning her melting smile upon Annette, shifted the
conversation into more flowery paths. Then, with no transition, they
returned to affable good fellowship. There was in the general tone of
the conversation a curious alloy of prudery and frankness,--just as
liberality and stinginess were mingled in the château life. Lively
Monsieur Brissot made puns. Mademoiselle Brissot talked poetry, and on
this subject everyone had his say. They all pretended to a knowledge of
it. Their taste dated back some twenty years. On everything to do with
art, they had fixed opinions. They relied on the tried and true opinions
of their "friend so and so" who belonged to the Institute and was much
decorated. No more timid minds, in the face of authority, could be
imagined than these big bourgeois who thought that they were as advanced
in art as in politics, and who were advanced in neither one nor the
other; for in both they never, wittingly, arrived on the field until
after the battle had been won.

Annette felt herself far away from them. She looked, listened, and asked
herself:

"What have I to do with these people?"

The idea that one or another of them might presume to act as her
guardian did not even repel her any more, it made her want to laugh. She
asked herself what Sylvie would have thought, had she been blessed with
a family of this sort. What shouts, what bursts of laughter! . . .

Annette answered them sometimes, when she was all alone in the garden.
And it happened that Roger heard her one day, and asked in astonishment:

"What in the world is making you laugh?"

To which she replied:

"Nothing, dear. I don't know. Nonsense. . . ."

And she tried to reassume her soberest expression. But it was stronger
than she: she began laughing harder than ever, even in front of the
Brissot ladies. She begged pardon, and the Mesdames Brissot, indulgent
and a little vexed, said:

"The child! She has to get rid of her laughter!"

But she was not always laughing. Shadows passed abruptly over her good
humor. After hours of radiant tenderness and confidence with Roger, she
experienced, without transition, and for no cause, attacks of
melancholy, doubt, and anxiety. The instability from which her thoughts
had suffered since last autumn, far from being calmed, was accentuated
during these months of requited love. There came, in flurries, an
invasion of strangely unharmonious instincts: irritability, grotesque
humor, malignant irony, umbrageous pride, inexplicable fits of spite.
Annette found it hard to put a damper on them. And the result was not so
splendid, for when she did she seemed plunged in a hostile and
disquieting taciturnity. As her intelligence remained clear, she was
astonished at these sudden changes, and reproached herself for them.
That didn't improve matters. But the realization of her own
imperfections gave her a certain indulgence--more wished for than
sincere--towards those of these "clowns." . . . (Again! . . .
Impertinent girl! . . . Forgive me! I won't do it again! . . .) Since
they were Roger's relations, she ought to accept them, if she accepted
Roger. The rest, Good Heavens, the rest is of no great importance when
there are two to defend each other.

Only, were there two? Would Roger defend her? And, even before
considering whether she would accept Roger, would Roger accept her
sincerely and with a generous heart when he finally saw what she was
like? For up to date he had seen only her mouth and eyes. As regarded
what she thought and wished--the true Annette--it did not seem that he
had tried very hard to become acquainted with her; he found it more
comfortable to invent her. However, Annette cradled herself in the hope
that, with the aid of love, it would not be impossible, after bravely
looking into each other's hearts, for them to say to each other: "I take
you, I take you as you are. I take you with your faults, your demons,
with your little demands, with your law of life. You are what you are.
As you are, I love you."

She knew that, for her part, she was capable of this act of love. During
the last days she had observed Roger at length, with her bright eyes in
which, unknown to him, everything was mirrored. Roger, no long unsure of
himself, had frequently shown himself to be more of a Brissot than she
would have wished; he was obsessed by the interests and the quarrels of
his tribe, and even brought to them the same tricky spirit. Certain
little hard, crafty sides of him did not please her. But she did not
wish to judge them severely, as she would have done in the case of
others. To her these traits seemed imitative. In many things, Roger
appeared to her still an uncertain child, under the thumb of his family,
whom he religiously copied, with marked timidity of spirit, despite all
his big words. Although she began to perceive a lack of consistency in
his projects for social reform, and although she was no longer
completely duped by his eloquent idealism, she bore him no grudge for
that, for she knew that he was not trying to deceive her, and that he
was his own first dupe; she was even ready, with a tender irony, to
remove from his path all that might disturb the illusion by which he had
to live. And even his naïve egotism, which he sometimes displayed in a
cumbersome fashion, did not repel her; it seemed to her devoid of evil
intention. At bottom, all his faults were faults of weakness. And the
amusing thing was that he posed as strength itself. . . . The man of
bronze. . . . _Æs triplex_. . . . Poor Roger! . . . It was almost
touching. Annette laughed very softly, but she reserved for him a wealth
of indulgence. She loved him dearly. Despite everything, she saw him as
good, generous and ardent. She was like a mother who treats with a
gentle hand the little, and to her eyes not very serious, vices of a
dear child: she does not hold him responsible for them, she is only the
more disposed to fuss over him and coddle him. Ah! and then Annette had
for Roger not merely the indulgent eyes of a mother! She had the very
partial eyes of a lover. The body was speaking; and its voice was very
strong. The voice of reason could say what it pleased: there was a way
of hearing that made these very faults set fire to desire. Annette saw
everything clearly. But just as one may bend one's head and squint one's
eyes in order to harmonize the planes of a landscape, so Annette, when
she looked at Roger's unpleasant traits, viewed them from an angle that
softened them. It would have not been much beyond her to love even
deformities: for one gives more of oneself when one loves the faults of
one's beloved; in loving what is fine, one does not give, one takes.
Annette thought:

"I am glad that you are imperfect. If you knew what I see, it would
annoy you. Forgive me! I have seen nothing. . . . But I, I am not like
you; I want you to see me as imperfect! I am what I am, and I hold to
it; my imperfections are myself, more than the rest. If you take me, you
take them. Do you take them? . . . But you don't wish to know them. When
will you finally take the trouble to really look at me?"



XII


Roger was in no hurry. After a few futile attempts to lead him on to
this dangerous ground from which he seemed to flee, Annette,
interrupting their conversation in the midst of a walk, stopped, took
both his hands in hers, and said:

"Roger, we must have a talk."

"Talk!" he exclaimed, laughing. "But it doesn't seem to me that we
deprive ourselves of that!"

"No," she said, "I don't mean talking pretty things; I mean a serious
talk."

Immediately his expression grew a little frightened.

"Don't be afraid," she said, "it's about myself that I want to talk to
you."

"About you?" he said, once more serene. "Then it's bound to be
charming."

"Wait! Wait!" she exclaimed. "Perhaps you won't say that when you have
heard me."

"What could you tell me now that would surprise me? Haven't we told each
other everything, after being together for so many days?"

"So far as I'm concerned, I've scarcely said anything but _Amen_," said
Annette, laughing. "You do all the talking."

"Oh! the bad girl!" exclaimed Roger. "Isn't it you that I talk about?"

"Yes, it's about me, _too_. And you even speak for me."

"You think that I talk too much?" asked Roger innocently.

Annette bit her lips.

"No, no, my dear Roger, I love it when you talk. But when you talk about
me, I just listen to you; and it is so beautiful, so beautiful that I
say, 'So be it!' But it's not true."

"You are the first woman to complain of her picture being beautiful."

"I should prefer it to be me. It's not a beautiful picture that you are
going to hang up in your family home, Roger. I am a living woman, who
has her desires, her passions, and her thoughts. Are you sure that she
can come into your home with all her baggage?"

"I am taking you with my eyes closed."

"I am asking you to open them."

"I see your limpid soul, revealed in your face."

"Poor Roger! Good Roger! . . . You don't want to look."

"I love you. That's enough for me."

"I love you too. And that isn't enough for me."

"It's not enough?" he asked in a tone of consternation.

"No. I have to see."

"What is it you want to see?"

"I want to see _how_ you love me."

"I love you more than everything else in the world."

"Naturally! You couldn't do less. But I am not asking you _how much_, I
am asking you _how_ you love me. . . . Yes, I know that you want me; but
what is it, precisely, that you want to make of your Annette?"

"Make her half of myself."

"There you are! . . . Now the point is, my friend, that I am not a half.
I am a whole Annette."

"That's just a way of speaking. I mean that you are me, and that I am
you."

"No, no, don't be me, Roger! Let me be that!"

"When we unite our lives, won't we make them one?"

"That's what worries me. I am afraid I can't quite do that."

"What's troubling you, Annette? What are these ideas? You love me, don't
you? You love me? That's the essential thing! Don't bother about the
rest. The rest is my business. You'll see, I shall arrange--I, and my
family that will be yours--we shall arrange your life so well that you
will have nothing to do but let yourself be carried along."

Annette was looking at the ground and tracing letters in the dirt with
her toe. She was smiling.

(He didn't understand at all, the dear boy. . . .)

She raised her eyes to Roger, who, with perfect tranquillity, was
awaiting her response. She said:

"Roger, look at me. Haven't I good legs?"

"Good and beautiful," said he.

"That!" she said, menacing him with her finger, "that is not the
question. . . . Am I not a strong walker?"

"Of course," he said. "And I like you to be."

"Well, then, do you think that I am going to let myself be
carried? . . . You are very kind, very kind, and I thank you; but let me
walk! I am not one of those who fear the fatigues of the road. To take
them away from me is to take away my appetite for life. I rather have
the impression that you and your family would like to free me from the
trouble of acting and of choosing, would like to arrange everything in
advance in prescribed pigeonholes, very comfortably--your life, their
life, my life--the whole future. I shouldn't want that. I don't want it.
I feel that I am at the beginning. I am seeking. I know that I have need
of seeking, of seeking myself."

Roger's air was benevolent and bantering.

"And what can you seek?"

He saw here the crotchets of a young girl. She felt it, and said in a
provoked tone:

"Don't make fun of me! . . . I don't amount to much, I don't pretend
that I do. But after all I know what I am, and that I have a life . . .
a poor little life. . . . It's not so long, a lifetime, and one has it
only once. . . . I have the right. . . . No, not the right if you will!
that seems egotistical. . . . It is my duty not to lose it, not to throw
it away at random. . . ."

Instead of being touched, he assumed a hurt air.

"You think that you are throwing it away at random? Is your life going
to be lost? Won't it have a fine, a very beautiful purpose?"

"Beautiful, no doubt. . . . But what? What do you offer me?"

Once again he ardently described his political career, the future of
which he dreamed, his great personal and social ambitions. She listened
to him talk, then, gently stopping him in the middle (for of such a
subject he was never weary), she said:

"Yes, Roger. Certainly. That is very, very interesting. But to tell you
the truth--no, don't be ruffled--I haven't quite as much faith as you in
this political cause to which you are consecrating yourself."

"What! you don't believe in it? But you did believe in it when I spoke
to you about it those first times that I saw you in Paris. . . ."

"I have changed a little," said she.

"What has changed you? . . . No, no, it's not possible. . . . You will
change back again. My generous Annette couldn't be disinterested in the
cause of the people, in the reform of society!"

"But I am not disinterested in it," she replied. "What I am
disinterested in is the political cause."

"They are the same thing."

"Not entirely."

"The victory of one will be the victory of the other."

"I rather doubt it."

"Yet it is the only way of serving progress and the people."

(Annette thought: "While serving himself." But she reproached herself
for it.)

"I see other ways."

"What are they?"

"The oldest is still the best. Like those who followed Christ, to give
all, to leave all behind, in order to go to the people."

"What a utopia!"

"Yes, I believe you. You are not a Utopian, Roger. I thought that you
were at first; I think so no longer. In politics you have the sense of
reality. With your great talent, I am perfectly sure of your future
success. If I doubt the cause, I don't doubt you. You will have a
splendid career. I can see you already at the head of a party, an
applauded orator, winning a majority in Parliament, a minister . . ."

"Stop!" he said. ". . . _Macbeth, you will be King!_ . . ."

"Yes, I am something of a witch . . . for others. But what vexes me is
that I am not for myself."

"Yet it's not so difficult. If I become minister, that concerns you
too. . . . Now see here, frankly, wouldn't that please you?"

"What? To be a minister? Heavens above! Not in the least! . . . Forgive
me, Roger . . . it would make me glad for your sake, of course. And if I
were with you, you may be sure that I would play my part to the best of
my ability, and I would be happy to help you. . . . But (you wanted me
to be frank, didn't you?) I must confess that such a life would not
fill my life, not at all."

"Of course, I understand that. The woman best fitted in the world to
share a life of political activity--take my admirable mother for
example!--couldn't limit herself to that. Her real task is in the home.
And her proper vocation is motherhood."

"I know," said Annette. "We shan't argue about that vocation. But . . .
(I am afraid of what I am going to say, I am afraid that you won't
understand me) . . . I don't know yet what motherhood will bring me. I
am very fond of children. I think that I would be very much attached to
my own. . . . (You don't like that word? Yes, I seem cold to you. . . .)
Perhaps I would be completely wrapped up in them. . . . It is
possible. . . . I don't know. . . . But I shouldn't like to say something
that I don't feel. And to be perfectly frank, this 'vocation' is not yet
entirely awakened in me. While still waiting for life to reveal
something of which I am ignorant, it doesn't seem to me that a woman
ought, in any case, to bury her whole life in this love of children. . . .
(Don't raise your eyebrows! . . .) I am convinced that it is possible
to love one's child, loyally perform one's domestic task, and still keep
enough of oneself--as one ought to--for the most essential thing."

"The most essential?"

"One's soul."

"I don't understand."

"How can one make one's inner life understood? Words are so uncertain,
so obscure, botched! The soul . . . It is ridiculous to speak of the
soul! What does it mean? I can't explain what it is. But it is. It is
what I am, Roger, the truest and deepest."

"Don't you give me what is truest and deepest?"

"I can't give all," she said.

"Then you don't love me."

"Yes, Roger, I love you. But no one can give all."

"You are not enough in love. When one is in love, one doesn't think of
holding back any part of oneself. Love . . . love . . . love . . ."

And he soared off into one of his great speeches. Annette heard him
celebrate, in moving terms, the whole gift of self, the joy of
sacrificing for the happiness of the beloved. And she thought:

(My dear, why do you say all that? Do you think I don't know it? Do you
think that I couldn't sacrifice myself for you, if it were necessary,
and find my joy in it? But on one condition: that you don't demand
it. . . . Why do you demand it? . . . Why do you seem to expect it as
your right? Why haven't you confidence in me, in my love?)

After he had finished, she said:

"That is very beautiful. . . . I wouldn't be capable, you know, of
expressing these things as well as you. But perhaps, on occasion, I
wouldn't be incapable of feeling them. . . ."

He exclaimed: "Perhaps! On occasion!"

"You find that very little, don't you? It is more than you think. . . .
But I don't like to promise more . . . (perhaps it is less) . . . than I
can fulfill. I don't know in advance. We must trust each other. We are
upright people. We love each other, Roger. We shall do all that we can."

Again he raised his arms.

"All that we can! . . ."

She smiled and continued.

"Do you want to trust me? I need to draw on my credit. I have much to
ask. . . ."

He was prudent: "Go ahead!"

"I love you, Roger, but I should like to be sincere. From my childhood I
have lived alone a good deal and enjoyed a great deal of freedom. My
father left in me a spirit of independence, which I haven't abused,
because it seemed quite natural to me, and because it was wholesome. So
I have acquired certain habits of mind that I should find difficult,
now, to do without. I know that I am rather different from the majority
of young girls of my class. Yet I believe that what I feel they feel
too; only I dare to say it, and I have a clearer conscience. You ask me
to unite my life with yours. It is my wish. For each of us it is our
most profound desire to find our beloved mate. And it seems to me that
you could be that mate, Roger . . . if . . . if you wished . . ."

"If I wished!" he exclaimed. "That's a good joke! I don't do anything
but wish! . . ."

"If you _truly_ wished to be my mate. It is not a joke. Reflect! . . .
To unite our lives means to suppress either one or the other. . . . What
do you offer me? . . . You aren't aware of it, because the world has
long been used to these inequalities. But they are new to me. . . . You
do not come to me with only your affection. You come to me with your
family, your friends, your clients, and your relatives, with your course
mapped out, your career fixed, with your party and its dogmas, your
family and its traditions,--with a whole world that is yours, a whole
world that is you. And I, who have a world too, who am also a
world,--you say to me: 'Abandon your world! Throw it away, and enter
into mine!' I am ready to come, Roger, but I must come whole. Do you
accept me as I am?"

"I want all," said he. "It was you, just now, who said that you could
not give me all."

"You don't understand. I say: 'Do you accept me free? And do you accept
all of me?'"

"Free?" responded Roger circumspectly. "Everybody has been free in
France since '89. . . ." (Annette smiled: "The old platitude! . . .")
"But, after all, we must understand each other. It is certainly evident
that from the moment you marry you will not be completely free. By that
act you will have contracted obligations."

"I don't like that word very much," said Annette, "but I am not afraid
of the thing. I should joyously and freely take my part in the trials
and labors of the man I loved, in the duties of our common life. But I
won't renounce, on that account, the duties of my own life."

"And what other duties are there? After what you have told me and what I
think I know, your life, my dear Annette, your life that until now has
been so placid and so calm, does not seem to me to have experienced any
very great exigencies? What could it demand? Is it your work that you
mean? Would you like to go on with it? I confess that kind of
activity seems wrong to me, for a woman. At least, as a vocation. It's
bothersome, in the home. . . . But I can't believe that you are
afflicted with this gift from Heaven. You are too human, and too well
balanced."

"No, it isn't a question of a special vocation. That would be simple,
for then one would have to follow it. . . . The demand, the exigence (as
you say) of my life is less easy to formulate: for it is less precise
and much more vast. It is a question of the right laid upon every living
soul: the right to change."

Roger cried: "To change! To change love?"

"Even while always remaining faithful, as I have said, to a single love,
the soul has the right to change. . . . Yes, I know, Roger, that the
word 'change' frightens you. . . . It disturbs me, too. . . . When the
passing hour is beautiful, I should like never to stir. One sighs that
it cannot be held forever! . . . And yet, Roger, one ought not to do it;
and, first of all, one cannot. One does not remain stationary. One
lives, one goes forward, one is pushed,--one must, must advance! This
does no injury to love; one takes that along. But love should not wish
to hold us back, shut up with it in the immobile sweetness of a single
thought. A beautiful love may last for a whole lifetime, but it cannot
entirely fill it. Think, my dear Roger, that while still loving you I
might find myself some day, perhaps (I find myself already), cramped
within your circle of action and thought. I would never dream of arguing
with you the excellence of your choice. But would it be just for it to
be imposed on me? And don't you find it equitable to grant me the right
of opening the window, if I haven't enough air,--and even the door, a
little--(oh! I won't go far)--and for me to have my own little province
of activity, my intellectual interests, my friendships, not to remain
confined to one point of the globe, to the same horizon, but to try and
enlarge it, to seek a change of air, to emigrate. . . . (I say: if it is
necessary. . . . I don't know yet. But in any case I need to feel that I
am free to do it, that I am free to wish, free to breathe, free . . .
free to be free . . . even if I never make use of my liberty.) . . .
Forgive me, Roger, perhaps you find this need absurd and childish. It is
not, I assure you; it is the most profound need of my being, the breath
that gives me life. If it were taken away from me, I should die. . . . I
can do everything, for love. . . . But constraint kills me. And the idea
of constraint makes me a rebel. No, the union of two beings ought not to
become a mutual enchainment. It should be a twofold blooming. I should
like each, instead of being jealous of the other's free development, to
be happy in assisting it. Would you be, Roger? Would you know how to
love me enough to love me free, free of you? . . ."

(She was thinking: "I should be yours only the more! . . .")

Roger was listening to her anxiously, nervous, and a little vexed. Any
man would have been. Annette should have been capable of more
adroitness. In her need of frankness and her fear of deception, she was
always led into exaggerating the most startling features of her thought.
But a stronger love than Roger's would not have set this all at naught.
Roger, his self-love touched above all, wavered between two sentiments:
that of not taking this feminine caprice seriously, and the annoyance
that he felt at this moral insurrection. He had not perceived its
passionate appeal to his heart. All that he understood of it was that it
was a sort of obscure menace and attack upon his proprietary rights. If
he had possessed more cunning in his management of women, he would have
hidden his secret vexation, and promised, promised, promised . . . all
that Annette desired. "Lover's promises, as many as the wind will carry.
Why then be niggardly? . . ." But Roger, who had his faults, also had
his virtues: he was, as they say, "a simple young fellow," too much
filled with himself to be well acquainted with women, with whom he had
had recent dealings. He lacked the skill to hide his vexation. And when
Annette awaited his generous answer, she suffered the disappointment of
seeing that while listening to her he had thought only of himself.

"Annette," said he, "I confess that I can scarcely understand what you
ask of me. You talk of our marriage as of a prison, and your one idea
seems to be to escape from it. My house has no bars at the windows, and
it is large enough for one to be comfortable in it. But one cannot live
with all the doors wide open, and my house is made to be lived in. You
talk to me about leaving it, about having your individual life, your
personal relationships, your friends, and even, if I have rightly
understood, of your privilege to leave the home at will, in search of
Heaven knows what you fail to find there, until it happens to please you
to come back again some day. . . . This can't be serious, Annette! You
haven't thought about it! No man could grant his wife a position that
would be so humiliating for him and so equivocal for her."

These reflections were not, perhaps, lacking in good sense. But there
are times when perfectly dry good sense, with no intuition of the heart,
is a kind of nonsense. Annette, somewhat ruffled, answered with a proud
frigidity that masked her emotion:

"Roger, it is necessary to have faith in the woman one loves; when one
marries her, one must not do her the wrong of believing that she would
not have the same care as yourself for your honor. Do you think that
such a woman as myself would lend herself to an equivocation in order to
humiliate you? Any humiliation for you would be a humiliation for her as
well. And the freer she were, the more bound she would feel to watch
over that part of yourself which you had confided to her. You will have
to esteem me more highly. Aren't you capable of having confidence in
me?"


He felt the danger of alienating her by his doubts; and, telling himself
that after all there was no need of attaching an exaggerated importance
to these feminine ideas, and that there would be time later to correct
them--(if she remembered them!)--he returned to his first idea, which
was to take the whole thing as a joke. So he believed that he was doing
very well, when he said gallantly:

"Perfect confidence, Annette! I believe in your fair eyes. Only swear to
me that you will love me always, that you will love me alone! I ask
nothing more of you!"

But the little Cordelia, who could not reconcile herself to this
trifling fashion of avoiding the honest response on which her life
depended, stiffened against this impossible pledge.

"No, Roger, I can't, I can't swear that. I love you very much. But I
cannot promise something that does not depend upon myself. It would mean
deceiving you; and I shall never deceive you. I promise you simply to
hide nothing from you. And if the time comes when I love you no longer,
or love another, you will be the first to know it,--even before that
other. And you do the same! Oh, Roger! let us be honest!"

That was scarcely possible. Embarrassing truth was something to which
the house of Brissot was not accustomed. When it knocked on the door,
they hastened to send word:

"Everyone is out!"

Roger did not fail to do it. He cried:

"My dear, how pretty you are! . . . There, let us talk of something
else! . . ."



XIII


Annette returned to the house, disappointed. She had cherished great
hopes of a frank talk. Although she had anticipated resistance, she had
counted on Roger's heart illumining his mind. The most distressing thing
was not that Roger had not understood, but that he had not made the
least effort to understand. He seemed to see nothing pathetic in the
question for Annette. He was all on the surface, and he saw everything
in his own image. Nothing could be more painful to a woman with a strong
inner life.

She did not deceive herself. Roger had been embarrassed, irritated by
Annette's words, but he had completely failed to perceive their
seriousness; he considered them inconsequential. He thought that Annette
had bizarre and rather paradoxical ideas, that she was "original": it
was troublesome. Madame and Mademoiselle Brissot knew how to be superior
without being "original." But one could not demand this perfection in
everyone. Annette had other qualities,--that, perhaps, Roger did not
place so high, but to which he clung (it must be said) much more firmly
at the moment. In this preference the body had a greater share than the
mind; but the mind, too, had its share. Roger took a keen delight in
Annette's heedless ardor, when it was not exercised on subjects
embarrassing to him. He was not disturbed. Annette, in her uprightness,
had shown him that she loved him. He was convinced that she would not be
able to disengage herself from him.

He little suspected the drama of conscience that was being played out at
his side. In truth, Annette loved him so much that she could not bring
herself to think him such a sorry figure. She wished to believe herself
mistaken. She tested other possibilities, she tried to do her best. If
Roger would not grant her an independent life, at least what part would
he give her in his own? But the new conclusions at which she found
herself compelled to arrive were discouraging. Roger's naïve egotism
relegated her, in fine, to the dining table, the drawing-room, and the
bed. He was very ready to tell her, prettily, about his affairs; but all
she had to do, thereafter, was to approve of them. He was no more
disposed to concede to his wife the rights of a collaborator who might
discuss his political activities with him and modify them, than he was
to permit her a social activity different from his own. It seemed to him
perfectly natural--(it was always done)--that the woman who loved him
should give him her whole life, and that she should receive only a
portion of his. At the bottom of his nature he held that old masculine
belief in his own superiority which made him feel that what he gave was
of a finer essence. But he would not have admitted it, for he was a good
fellow and a gallant Frenchman. If it happened that Annette presumed to
base certain feminine rights on the example of the husband, Roger would
smilingly say:

"It is not the same thing."

"Why?" Annette would ask.

And Roger would avoid a response. A conviction that one does not discuss
suffers less danger of being shaken. Roger's conviction was firmly
rooted. And Annette chose the wrong course to make him doubt himself.
Her advances, her efforts to find a mutual ground of understanding,
after her useless attempt to impose her ideas on him, were interpreted
by Roger as a fresh proof of the power that he had over her. And he even
grew vain. Suddenly Annette would become irritated, and a quivering note
would mark her speech. Roger would pull himself up short, and return to
the method that, in his opinion, had been so successful: he would
laughingly promise all that was demanded of him. It is the tone, they
say, that puts the song across. That was the case with Roger. Annette
was conscious of the contempt.

Other more serious questions arose. Annette's intimacy with Sylvie had
been dangerously menaced. It was evident that the free-minded girl would
not be readily welcomed into this circle, and that the little seamstress
would be still less so. Never would the vain, stiff-necked Brissots
admit, for themselves or for their daughter-in-law, any such scandalous
evidence of relationship. It would have to be hidden. And Sylvie would
be no more ready to do this than Annette. Each had her pride, and each
was proud of the other. Annette loved Roger, and she wanted him with a
more burning desire than she confessed to herself; but she would never
sacrifice her Sylvie to him. She had loved her too much; and if this
love, perhaps, had waned, she did not forget that at moments it had made
her touch the ultimate depths of passion:--(she knew it, she alone; even
Sylvie suspected only half the truth). But, in the hours of her mutual
confidence with Roger, Annette had told him much too much. Then Roger
had seemed amused, touched. . . . Yes, but on the condition that all
this belonged to the past. He had no intention of seeing a prolongation
of this compromising sisterhood. Secretly, he had even decided to put an
end to it, gently, without appearing to take a hand in the affair. He
did not wish to share his wife's intimacy with anyone. _His_ wife . . .
"_This dog is mine_. . . ." Like all his family, he had a very keen
sense of what belonged to him.

As Annette's visit grew longer, this possessive grasp grew
tighter,--from certain affectionate externalities with which they
surrounded her. What the Brissots possessed, they possessed. The
domestic despotism of the two women sharply manifested itself daily in a
thousand minute details. Their "mind," as the saying goes, was "made up"
on everything, whether it was a question of the household or the world,
of everyday existence or of great problems of the moral life. It was
screwed down, fixed, once for all. Everything was prescribed: what must
be praised, what must be rejected,--especially what must be rejected!
Such ostracisms! What men, what things, what ways of thinking or of
acting, were judged, condemned without appeal, and for eternity! The
tone and the smile removed the desire to argue. They had an air of
saying (they often said, in so many words):

"There are not two ways of thinking, my dear child."

Or, when Annette none the less tried to show that there was a way also
of her own:

"My dear, how amusing you are!"

Which had the effect of making her instantly shut her mouth.

They already treated her as a daughter of the house, not quite
thoroughly trained, whom they were instructing. They instructed her
regarding the order and course of the Brissot days, months, and seasons,
regarding their relatives in the province and their relatives in Paris,
their duties of kinship, their calls, their dinners, and the endless
chain of those social tasks, about which the women complained, and of
which they were very proud, because the harassment of this perpetual
activity gave them the illusion that they were being of some service.
This mechanical life, these false relationships, this perpetual
convention, were all intolerable to Annette. Everything seemed regulated
in advance: work and pleasure,--for they had their pleasures too,--but
regulated in advance! . . . Hurrah for unforeseen ills that released one
from the program! But there was little hope of release, even on the
score of ills. Annette felt herself bricked in, like a stone in a wall!
Sand and lime. Roman cement. Brissot mortar. . . .

She exaggerated the rigorousness of this life. Chance and the unexpected
played their parts in it, as in all lives. The Mesdames Brissot were
more redoubtable in words than in fact; they pretended to direct
everything; but it was not impossible, if one attacked their weak spots,
anointed them, flattered and worshipped them, to lead them by the nose;
a cunning girl might have said to herself, while evaluating them at
their proper worth:

"Keep on talking! I'll do things my own way!"

One would have thought that a tenacious energy, like Annette's, could
never be stifled. But Annette was passing through that nervous fever of
women who, by dint of staring too fixedly at the object which
preoccupies them, cease to see it as it is. From a few words heard
during the daytime, she forged monsters when she was alone at night. She
was appalled at the battle which she had to wage continually, and she
repeated to herself that she would never succeed in defending herself
against them all. She did not feel strong enough. She mistrusted her own
energy. She was afraid of her own nature, of those unexpected
oscillations by which her troubled mind continued to be shaken, of those
sharp gusts that she could not explain. And, indeed, they sprang from
the complexity of her rich being whose new harmony could be slowly
realized only by living; but, in the meantime, there was danger of their
plunging her into many surprises of violence and weakness, of the flesh
and of the mind, of the insidious hazards of fate, ambushed beneath the
stones of the road. . . .

The basis of her trouble was that she was no longer sure of her love.
She no longer knew. . . . She no longer loved, and yet she still loved.
Her mind and heart--her mind and senses--were at battle. The mind saw
too clearly; it was disillusioned. But the heart was not; and the body
was irritated when it saw that it was going to lose what it coveted;
passion grumbled:

"I do not want to renounce! . . ."

Annette felt this revolt, and she was humiliated by it; her natural
violence reacted forcibly, appealing to her wounded pride. She said:

"I love him no longer! . . ."

And her now hostile glance espied in Roger the reasons for no longer
loving him.

Roger saw nothing. He surrounded Annette with kindnesses, with flowers,
with gallant attentions. But he thought that the game was won. Not for
an instant did he dream of the proud savage soul that was observing him,
from behind its veil, burning to give itself--but to him who would utter
the mysterious password which shows that one is recognized. He did not
utter it; and for a reason. On the contrary, he uttered irreflective
words that, without her showing it, wounded Annette to the heart. The
instant after, he no longer remembered what he had said. But Annette,
who had not seemed to hear, could have repeated them to him ten days,
ten years later. She kept the memory of them fresh, and the wound open.
It was in spite of herself, for she was generous, and she reproached
herself for not knowing how to forget. But the best of women may pardon
intimate offenses; she never forgets them.

Day by day, rents appeared in the fine cloth woven by love. The cloth
remained stretched tight, but the least breath made disquieting shivers
pass over it. Annette, observing Roger in the family circle, with his
family traits, the hardness, the dryness of certain of his speeches and
his contempt for humble people, said to herself:

"He is fading. At the end of a few years there will remain nothing of
what I love in him."

And since she loved him still, she wished to avoid the bitter
disillusion, the degrading conflicts between them that she foresaw, if
they were united.


Two nights before Easter, her decision was made. A miserable night.
There were many desires to be vanquished, obstinate hope that did not
wish to die had to be trodden under foot. She had, in imagination, built
her nest with Roger. So many dreams of happiness that they had whispered
to each other! Renounce them! Recognize that they had been mistaken!
Admit that one was not made for happiness! . . .

For that is what she told herself in her discouragement. Another, in her
place, would not have been cast down. Why was she not capable of
accepting it? Why could she not sacrifice a part of her nature? . . .
But no, she could not! How badly life is arranged! One cannot live
without mutual affection; no more can one live without independence. The
one is as sacred as the other. One as much as the other is necessary to
the air we breathe. How can they be reconciled? They say to you:
"Sacrifice! If you do not sacrifice, you do not love enough. . . ." But
it is almost always those who are capable of a great love who are also
the most enamoured of independence. For in them, all is strong. And if
they sacrifice to their love the principle of their pride, they feel
themselves degraded even in their love, they dishonor love. . . . No, it
is not so simple as the morality of humility would have us believe--or
that of pride,--the Christian or the Nietzschean doctrine. In us a
strength is not opposed to a weakness, a virtue to a vice; it is two
forces confronting two virtues, two duties. . . . The sole true
morality, according to the true life, would be a morality of harmony.
But, so far, human society has known only a morality of repression and
renunciation,--tempered by lies. Annette could not lie. . . .

What was to be done? . . . To escape from equivocation as quickly as
possible, at any price! Since she was convinced that it would be
impossible to live in this union, to break it the next day! . . .

Break! . . . She imagined to herself the family's stupefaction, the
scandal. . . . That was nothing. . . . But Roger's grief. . . .
Immediately she pictured to herself in the darkness the image of his
beloved face. . . . At this vision a new surge of passion swept
everything away. . . . Annette, burning and icy, motionless in her bed,
upon her back, with her eyes open, suppressed the beatings of her
heart. . . .

"Roger," she implored, "my Roger, forgive me! . . . Oh! If I could spare
you this pain! . . . I cannot, I cannot! . . ."

Then she was bathed in such a flood of love and of remorse that she
nearly went running to fling herself at the foot of Roger's bed, to kiss
his hands, and say to him:

"I will do everything you wish. . . ."

What! She still loved him? . . . She rebelled. . . .

"No, no! I don't love him any more! . . ."

She lied to herself furiously. . . .

"I don't love him any more! . . ."

In vain! . . . She still loved him. She loved him more than ever.
Perhaps not with the noblest part of her--(but what is noble, and what
is not?)--Yes! with the noblest too, and with the least! Body and
soul! . . . If one could only stop loving when one stopped respecting! How
comfortable that would be! . . . But to suffer at the hands of the
beloved has never exempted one from loving him: one feels it only the
more cruelly when one is forced to love him! . . . Annette was suffering
in her wounded love--from lack of confidence, lack of faith in herself,
lack of Roger's profound love. She was suffering from the bitter
consciousness of all the destroyed hopes which she had hatched and which
would never see the light of day. It was because she loved Roger so
ardently that she insisted on making him accept her independence. She
wanted to be to him more than a woman who abdicates, passive in the
union,--a free and sure companion. He took no stock in it. She felt
within herself a sorrow, an anger of offended passion. . . .

"No! no! I love him no longer! I ought not to, I don't want to. . . ."

But her strength crumpled, and, even before she could finish her cry of
rebellion, she wept. . . . In the night, in silence. . . . Beneath the
ice of reason, alas! she was on fire. . . . There was that which she did
not wish to say: what joy she would have found in sacrificing to him all
that she had, even her independence, if only he had made a generous
move, a gesture, a simple gesture, to sacrifice himself, rather than to
sacrifice her! . . . She would not have let him do it. She would have
demanded no more than an outburst of the heart, a proof of true love.
But that proof, although he loved her in his own way, he was incapable
of giving. It did not enter his thoughts. He had judged Annette's desire
as a feminine requirement that must be received smilingly, but in which
there was not touch sense. What could she wish? Why the devil was she
crying? Because she loved him? Well then? . . .

"You love me, don't you? You love me? That is the essential
thing. . . ."

Ah! that word, she had not forgotten that either! . . .

Annette smiled amid her tears. Poor Roger! He was what he was. One could
not grudge him that. But one does not change. Neither he, nor I. We
cannot live together. . . .

She dried her eyes.

"Come now, one must put a stop to this. . . ."



XIV


After a white night--(she had drowsed for only an hour or two at
dawn)--Annette arose, resolute. With the light of day, calm returned to
her. She dressed herself and did her hair methodically, coldly, shutting
out of her mind everything that might awaken its doubts, attentive to
her toilet, which she made with an even more than ordinary meticulous
attention to correct detail.

About nine o'clock Roger knocked gaily at her door. Following his
morning custom, he had come to take her for a walk.

They set out, escorted by a gamboling dog. They took a road that led
beneath the trees. The young, verdant woods were shot through with
sunlight. The branches were alive with the songs and cries of birds.
Every step sent them flying; there were beatings of wings, rustlings of
leaves, clashing of branches, frenzied flights through the forest. The
excited dog snapped and sniffed and zig-zagged. Jays were bickering. In
the cupola of an oak, two ringdoves were cooing. And far away, the
cuckoo was circling, circling, farther, then nearer, tirelessly
repeating his ancient jest. It was the outburst of spring fever. . . .

Roger, noisy, very gay, laughing, and exciting his dog, was himself like
a big, happy dog. Annette followed silently, at a few paces. She was
thinking:

"Here! . . . No, yonder at the turning. . . ."

She was watching Roger. She was listening to the forest. How different
all would be, after she had spoken! . . . The turn was passed. She had
not spoken. . . . She said: "Roger . . ." in an uncertain, trembling
voice, almost a whisper. . . . He did not hear it, he noticed nothing.
Stooping down in front of her, he gathered some violets, and he talked,
talked. . . . She repeated: "Roger!" this time in such an accent of
distress that he turned around, startled. At once he saw the pallor of
her gravely serious face; he came to her. . . . He was afraid already.
She said:

"Roger, we must separate."

His features expressed stupefaction and dismay. He stammered:

"What's that you say? What's that you say?"

Avoiding his glance, she repeated firmly:

"We must separate, Roger; it is sad, but we must. I have come to see
that it is impossible, impossible for me to be your wife. . . ."

She wanted to go on, but he prevented her.

"No, no, that's not true! . . . Be still! Be still! You are mad! . . ."

"I must go away, Roger," she said.

He shouted: "Go away, you! . . . I don't want you to! . . ."

He had seized her arms, and was squeezing them brutally. Then he caught
sight of her proud face, obstinate and glacial; he felt that he was
lost, he let go, he begged pardon, he prayed, he pleaded.

"Annette! My little Annette! Stay, stay! . . . No, it isn't
possible. . . . But what has happened? What have I done?"

Pity reappeared on the firm face. She said:

"Let's sit down, Roger. . . ."

(He seated himself docilely beside her on a mossy bank: his eyes never
left her, imploring at every word).

". . . Be calm, everything must be explained. . . . Be calm, I beg of
you! . . . Believe me that I have to use all my strength to be. . . . I
could not speak unless I forced myself to do so. . . ."

"But don't speak," he cried. "It is madness! . . ."

"It is necessary."

He tried to close her mouth. She pulled herself away. Despite the
disturbance within her, her resolution seemed so inflexible that she
imposed it on Roger who, abandoning the struggle, beaten and haggard,
listened to her words, without daring to look at her. Annette, in a
voice that seemed impassive, cold and mournful, but which was marked by
sharp breaks, and which once or twice stopped to take breath along the
way,--said what she had decided to say, in words that were clear,
studied, and moderate, but which seemed all the more implacable for
that. . . . She had sincerely wanted to test out whether they could live
together. She hoped so at first, she wished it with all her heart. She
had seen that this dream could not be realized. Too many things
separated them. Too many differences in their surroundings and in their
thoughts. She laid the blame at her own door; she had definitely
recognized that she could not live a married life. She had conceptions
of life, of independence, which did not accord with Roger's. Perhaps
Roger was right. The majority of men, perhaps of women even, thought as
he did. She was wrong, no doubt. But right or wrong, that was how she
was. It was useless for her to cause another's misery and her own. She
was made to live alone. She freed Roger from all promises made to her,
and took back her own freedom. For the rest, they were not bound.
Everything had been upright between them. They must separate uprightly,
as friends. . . .

While speaking, she stared at the grass at her feet; she was very
careful not to look at Roger. But, as she spoke, she heard his gasping
breath, and it was a sore trial for her to go on to the end. When she
had finished, she risked looking at him. In her turn, she was smitten.
Roger's face was like that of a drowning man: flushed, breathing
noisily, he had not the strength to cry out. Awkwardly he moved his
clenched hands, sought and found his breath, and groaned:

"No, no, no, no, I cannot, I cannot . . ."

And he burst into sobs.

From a field by the edge of the woods, they heard the voice of a
peasant, the noise of a plow-share. Annette, overcome with emotion,
seized Roger by the arm and drew him away from the road, into the
bushes, then further into the midst of the forest. Roger, devoid of
strength, let himself be led, repeating:

"I cannot, I cannot. . . . What is going to become of me? . . ."

Tenderly she tried to keep him from speaking. But he was overwhelmed by
his despair: the misery of his love, of his pride, the public
humiliation, the ruined happiness that was to be his lot,--all these
were at once commingled. This big child who had been spoiled by life,
who had never seen anything resist his desire, broke down at this
defeat: it was a catastrophe, a crumbling of all his certainties; he was
losing faith in himself, he was losing his foothold, there was no way
for him to turn. Annette, touched by this great grief, was saying:

"My sweetheart . . . my sweetheart. . . . Don't cry! . . . You have, you
will have a beautiful life . . . you will have no need of me."

He continued to moan.

"I can't do without you. I no longer believe in anything. . . . I no
longer believe in my life. . . ."

And he flung himself on his knees.

"Stay! Stay with me! . . . I will do what you want . . . everything that
you want. . . ."

Annette knew perfectly well that he was making promises that he could
not fulfill, but she was touched. Gently she replied:

"No, my friend, you are saying it sincerely, but you couldn't do it, or
you would suffer because of it, and I should suffer too; life would be a
perpetual conflict. . . ."

When he saw that he could not shake her resolution, he burst into tears
at her feet, like a child. Annette was pierced by pity and by love. Her
energy melted. She tried to remain firm, but she could not resist these
tears. She thought of herself no longer; she thought only of him. She
caressed that dear head resting against her legs, and she said tender
words to him. She lifted up her big, unhappy boy, she dried his eyes
with her handkerchief, she took him by the arm again, she compelled him
to walk. He was so prostrated that he surrendered himself, knowing only
how to weep. As they went along, the branches of the trees lashed their
faces. They went into the woods, without seeing, without knowing where.
Annette felt emotion and love rising within her. Supporting Roger, she
said:

"Don't cry! . . . my dear! . . . my little one. It tears me to
pieces. . . . I can't bear it. . . . Don't cry! . . . I love you. . . .
I love you, my poor little Roger. . . ."

And he answered:

"No . . .!" in the midst of his tears.

"Yes! I love you, I love you, a thousand times more than you have ever
loved me. . . . What do you want me to do? . . . Oh! I shall do
it. . . . Roger, my Roger. . . ."

And now as they were walking, they came out of the woods, and found
themselves at the fence of the Rivière property, near the old house.
Annette recognized it. . . . She looked at Roger. . . . And suddenly
passion invaded her whole body. A wind of fire. A drunkenness of the
senses, like the intoxication of an acacia in bloom. . . . She ran
towards the door, holding Roger by the hand. They entered the deserted
habitation. The blinds were shut. Coming in out of the broad daylight,
they were blinded. Roger bumped against the furniture. Without seeing
and without thinking, he let himself be guided by the burning hand that
led him through the darkness of the ground floor rooms. Annette did not
hesitate, her destiny drew her on. . . . Into the room at the back, the
room of the two sisters, in which from the past autumn there still
floated the perfume of their two bodies, toward the big bed, where they
had both slept, she went with him; and, in a passion of pity and of
joy,--she gave herself to him.



XV


When they awakened from their overwhelming intoxication, their eyes were
accustomed to darkness. The room seemed lighted. Rays of sunlight came
dancing through the slits in the blinds, reminding them of the fine day
outside. Roger was covering Annette's unclothed body with kisses; he was
giving voice to his gratitude in inarticulate words. . . .

But after he had spoken, he suddenly fell silent, his face resting
against Annette's side. . . . Annette, silent and motionless, was
dreaming. . . . Outside, in the rosebush by the wall, bees were
buzzing. . . . And, like a song receding in the distance, Annette
heard Roger's love take wings. . . .

Already he loved her less. Roger, too, felt it with shame and annoyance;
but he was unwilling to admit it. Fundamentally, he was shocked that
Annette had given herself. . . . Ridiculous exigence of man! He desires
the woman, and when she sincerely surrenders herself to him, he almost
regards her over-generous act as an infidelity! . . .

Annette leaned towards him, lifted up his head, looked into his eyes for
a long time, said nothing, and smiled a melancholy smile. When he felt
this glance piercing him to his very soul, he sought to deceive her. He
intended to appear thoroughly enamoured. He said:

"Now, Annette, you cannot go: I _must_ marry you."

Annette's sad smile reappeared. She had read him perfectly. . . .

"No, my friend," said she, "you _must_ nothing."

He recovered himself.

"I want . . ."

But she replied: "I am going to go."

"Why?" he asked.

And before she spoke he already understood her reasons for departure.
However, he felt obliged to dispute them afresh. She put her hand over
his mouth; and he kissed that hand with passionate anger. . . . Oh! how
much he loved her! He was humiliated by his own thoughts. Had not she
seen them? . . . And the sweet, moist hand that caressed his lips seemed
to say:

"I have seen nothing. . . ."

From a distant village came the tolling of bells, borne upon the fitful
wind. . . . After a long silence, Annette sighed. . . . Come, this time
it is the end. . . . In a hushed voice she said:

"Roger, we must go back. . . ."

Their bodies drew apart. Kneeling beside the bed, he pressed his brow
against Annette's bare feet. He wished to prove to her:

"I am thine."

But he did not succeed in driving away his afterthought.

He went out of the room, leaving Annette to dress. While waiting he
leaned his elbows on a wall of the little entrance court, listening
vaguely to the noises of the countryside and savoring the hour just
passed. Importunate ideas were eclipsed. He rejoiced in the happiness of
pride and sensual appeasement. He was proud of himself. He thought:

"Poor Annette!"

He corrected himself:

"Dear Annette! . . ."

She came out of the house. As calm as ever. But very pale. . . . Who can
tell all that had passed during those brief moments that she had been
left alone: assaults of passion, grief, renunciation? . . . Roger saw
nothing of all this, he was absorbed in himself. He went to her and
sought to renew his protestations. She raised a finger to her lips:
Silence! . . . At the hedge that enclosed the garden she plucked a
branch of hawthorn, she broke it in two, and gave him half. And as she
left the Rivière estate with him, on the very threshold, she pressed
her lips to Roger's.

They returned without a word, through the forest. Annette had begged him
not to break the silence. He held her arm. His attitude was very tender.
She was smiling, with her eyes half closed. And this time it was he who
guided her steps. He did not recall that only an hour ago, at this very
spot, he had wept. . . .

In the depths of the forest the dog was barking in pursuit of
game. . . .



XVI


She took her departure on the following day. Her excuse was a letter, a
sudden illness of her old aunt. The Brissots were not completely fooled
by this. For some time they had been more suspicious than Roger that
Annette was escaping them. But it suited their dignity not to seem to
admit this possibility, and to believe in the reasons given for this
sudden departure. Up to the last moment they played a comedy of brief
separation and early reunion. This constraint was painful to Annette;
but Roger had begged her not to announce her decision until later, at
Paris, and Annette admitted to herself that she would have found it hard
to inform the Brissots by word of mouth. So, when they took leave of
each other, they exchanged smiles, coy words and embraces from which the
heart was absent.

Roger again accompanied Annette in a carriage to the station. They were
both sad. Roger had virtuously renewed his request to Annette that she
should marry him; he felt that he was bound to: he was a gentleman. Too
much of a one. He also felt that he had the right, now, to make his
authority felt,--in the interest of Annette. He thought that because she
had given herself, because Annette had abdicated, the situation between
them was no longer quite equal, and that he must now demand marriage.
Annette saw only too clearly that, if he married her now, he would think
himself justified a thousand times more than ever in playing her
guardian. Of course, she was grateful to him for his correct insistence.
But . . . she refused. Roger was secretly irritated by this. He no
longer understood her. . . . (He thought that he had always understood
her!) . . . And he judged her severely. He did not show it.
But she guessed it, with mingled sorrow and irony, and always
tenderness. . . . (He was still Roger! . . .)

When they had nearly arrived, she placed her gloved hand on Roger's
hand. He started:

"Annette!"

"Let us forgive each other!" she said.

He wished to speak; he could not. Their hands remained clasped. They did
not look at each other, but each knew that the other was holding back
the tears, ready to flow. . . .

They were at the station; they had to be discreet. Roger installed
Annette in her carriage. She was not alone in the compartment. They had
to restrict themselves to commonplace courtesies; but the eyes of each
were avidly seizing upon the image of the other's beloved face.

The engine whistled.

"Till we meet again!" they said.

And they were thinking: "Never!"

The train pulled out. Roger returned home in the falling night. His
heart was full of sorrow and of anger. Of anger against Annette. Of
anger against himself. He felt torn asunder. He felt--oh, shame!--he
felt relieved. . . .

And stopping his horse on the deserted road, in contempt for himself and
in contempt for love, he wept bitterly.



XVII


Annette returned home to the Boulogne house, and there she shut herself
up. When the letter to the Brissots had gone off, she severed all
connections with the outside world. None of her friends knew that she
had returned. She opened no letters. For days she never left the floor
on which she lived. Her old aunt, accustomed not to understand her and
not to worry about it, respected her isolation. Her external life seemed
suspended. Her other, secret life was only the more intense. Her silence
was swept by storms of wounded passion. She had to be alone so that she
might abandon herself to them to the point of exhaustion. She emerged
from them broken, her blood drained, her mouth parched, with burning
brow, and hands and feet like ice. There followed torpid periods given
over to deep dreams. For days she dreamed; and she made no effort to
direct her thoughts. She was invaded by a confused mass of mingled
emotions. . . . A somber melancholy, a bitter sweetness, a taste of
ashes in the mouth, disappointed hopes, sudden flashes of memory that
made her heart leap, fits of embittered despair, pride and passion, and
a sense of ruin, of the irremediable, of a Fate against which all
efforts are vain,--at first a crushing feeling, then mournful, then
dissolving into a drowsiness whose distant sorrow was marked by a
strange pleasure. . . . She did not understand. . . .


One night, in a dream, she saw herself in a bourgeoning forest. She was
alone. She was running through the thickets. Tree branches laid hold of
her dress, damp bushes clutched her; she freed herself, but tore her
clothes in doing so, and saw with shame that she was half naked. She
bent to cover herself with the tatters of her skirt. And then before
her, on the ground, she saw a small oval basket, beneath a pile of
sun-drenched leaves,--not yellow and gold, but white as silver, like the
trunk of a birch, white with the finest linen. Deeply moved, she looked
at it, she knelt beside it. She saw the linen begin to stir. With
beating heart, she stretched out her hand. . . . Her emotion
persisted. . . . She did not understand. . . .


There came a day--when she understood. . . . She was alone no
longer. . . . In her a life was arising, a new life. . . .

And the weeks passed, while she brooded over her hidden universe. . . .


"Love, is it really thou? Love, thou who hast fled me when I sought to
seize thee, hast thou entered into me? I hold thee, I hold thee, thou
shalt not escape me; oh, my little prisoner, I hold thee in my body.
Revenge thyself! Devour me! Little consuming creature, devour my vitals!
Nourish thyself on my blood! Thou art myself. Thou art my dream. Since I
could not find thee in this world, I have made thee with my flesh. . . .
And now, Love, I have thee! I am he whom I love! . . ."



THE END



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