The Confession of a Child of the Century— Complete

Contents:
Author: Alfred de Musset

Chapter IV Ripening Acquaintance

I went to see her in the morning. I found her at the piano, her old aunt at the window sewing, the little room filled with flowers, the sunlight streaming through the blinds, a large bird-cage at her side.

I expected to find her something of a religieuse, at least one of those women of the provinces who know nothing of what happens two leagues away, and who live in a certain narrow circle from which they never escape. I confess that such isolated life, which is found here and there in small towns, under a thousand unknown roofs, had always had on me the effect of stagnant pools of water; the air does not seem respirable: in everything on earth that is forgotten, there is something of death.

On Madame Pierson’s table were some papers and new books; they appeared as if they had not been more than touched. In spite of the simplicity of everything around her, of furniture and dress, it was easy to recognize mode, that is to say, life; she did not live for this alone, but that goes without saying. What struck me in her taste was that there was nothing bizarre, everything breathed of youth and pleasantness.

Her conversation indicated a finished education; there was no subject on which she could not speak well and with ease. While admitting that she was naive, it was evident that she was at the same time profound in thought and fertile in resource; an intelligence at once broad and free soared gently over a simple heart and over the habits of a retired life. The sea-swallow, whirling through the azure heavens, soars thus over the blade of grass that marks its nest.

We talked of literature, music, and even politics. She had visited Paris during the winter; from time to time she dipped into the world; what she saw there served as a basis for what she divined.

But her distinguishing trait was gayety, a cheerfulness that, while not exactly joy itself, was constant and unalterable; it might be said that she was born a flower, and that her perfume was gayety.

Her pallor, her large dark eyes, her manner at certain moments, all led me to believe that she had suffered. I know not what it was that seemed to say that the sweet serenity of her brow was not of this world but had come from God, and that she would return it to Him spotless in spite of man; and there were times when she reminded one of the careful housewife, who, when the wind blows, holds her hand before the candle.

After I had been in the house half an hour I could not help saying what was in my heart. I thought of my past life, of my disappointment and my ennui; I walked to and fro, breathing the fragrance of the flowers and looking at the sun. I asked her to sing, and she did so with good grace. In the mean time I leaned on the window-sill and watched the birds flitting about the garden. A saying of Montaigne’s came into my head: "I neither love nor esteem sadness, although the world has invested it, at a given price, with the honor of its particular favor. They dress up in it wisdom, virtue, conscience. Stupid and absurd adornment."

"What happiness!" I cried, in spite of myself. "What repose! What joy! What forgetfulness of self!"

The good aunt raised her head and looked at me with an air of astonishment; Madame Pierson stopped short. I became red as fire when conscious of my folly, and sat down without a word.

We went out into the garden. The white goat I had seen the evening before was lying in the grass; it came up to her and followed us about the garden.

When we reached the end of the garden walk, a large young man with a pale face, clad in a kind of black cassock, suddenly appeared at the railing. He entered without knocking and bowed to Madame Pierson; it seemed to me that his face, which I considered a bad omen, darkened a little when he saw me. He was a priest I had often seen in the village, and his name was Mercanson; he came from St. Sulpice and was related to the cure of the parish.

He was large and at the same time pale, a thing which always displeases me and which is, in fact, unpleasant; it impresses me as a sort of diseased healthfulness. Moreover, he had the slow yet jerky way of speaking that characterizes the pedant. Even his manner of walking, which was not that of youth and health, repelled me; as for his glance, it might be said that he had none. I do not know what to think of a man whose eyes have nothing to say. These are the signs which led me to an unfavorable opinion of Mercanson, an opinion which was unfortunately correct.

He sat down on a bench and began to talk about Paris, which he called the modern Babylon. He had been there, he knew every one; he knew Madame de B------, who was an angel; he had preached sermons in her salon and was listened to on bended knee. (The worst of this was that it was true.) One of his friends, who had introduced him there, had been expelled from school for having seduced a girl; a terrible thing to do, very sad. He paid Madame Pierson a thousand compliments for her charitable deeds throughout the country; he had heard of her benefactions, her care for the sick, her vigils at the bed of suffering and of death. It was very beautiful and noble; he would not fail to speak of it at St. Sulpice. Did he not seem to say that he would not fail to speak of it to God?

Wearied by this harangue, in order to conceal my rising disgust, I sat down on the grass and began to play with the goat. Mercanson turned on me his dull and lifeless eye:

"The celebrated Vergniaud," said he, "was afflicted with the habit of sitting on the ground and playing with animals."

"It is a habit that is innocent enough," I replied. "If there were none worse the world would get along very well, without so much meddling on the part of others."

My reply did not please him; he frowned and changed the subject. He was charged with a commission; his uncle the cure had spoken to him of a poor devil who was unable to earn his daily bread. He lived in such and such a place; he had been there himself and was interested in him; he hoped that Madame Pierson—

I was looking at her while he was speaking, wondering what reply she would make and hoping she would say something in order to efface the memory of the priest’s voice with her gentle tones. She merely bowed and he retired.

When he had gone our gayety returned. We entered a greenhouse in the rear of the garden.

Madame Pierson treated her flowers as she did her birds and her peasants: everything about her must be well cared for, each flower must have its drop of water and ray of sunlight in order that it might be gay and happy as an angel; so nothing could be in better condition than her little greenhouse. When we had made the round of the building, she said:

"This is my little world; you have seen all I possess, and my domain ends here."

"Madame," I said, "as my father’s name has secured for me the favor of admittance here, permit me to return, and I will believe that happiness has not entirely forgotten me."

She extended her hand and I touched it with respect, not daring to raise it to my lips.

I returned home, closed my door and retired. There danced before my eyes a little white house; I saw myself walking through the village and knocking at the garden gate. "Oh, my poor heart!" I cried. "God be praised, you are still young, you are still capable of life and of love!"

One evening I was with Madame Pierson. More than three months had passed, during which I had seen her almost every day; and what can I say of that time except that I saw her? "To be with those we love," said Bruyere, "suffices; to dream, to talk to them, not to talk to them, to think of them, to think of the most indifferent things, but to be near them, that is all."

I loved. During the three months we had taken many long walks; I was initiated into the mysteries of her modest charities; we passed through dark streets, she on her pony, I on foot, a small stick in my hand; thus half conversing, half dreaming, we went from cottage to cottage. There was a little bench near the edge of the wood where I was accustomed to rest after dinner; we met here regularly, as though by chance. In the morning, music, reading; in the evening, cards with the aunt as in the days of my father; and she always there, smiling, her presence filling my heart. By what road, O Providence! have you led me? What irrevocable destiny am I to accomplish? What! a life so free, an intimacy so charming, so much repose, such buoyant hope! O God! Of what do men complain? What is there sweeter than love?

To live, yes, to feel intensely, profoundly, that one exists, that one is a sentient man, created by God, that is the first, the greatest gift of love. We can not deny, however, that love is a mystery, inexplicable, profound. With all the chains, with all the pains, and I may even say, with all the disgust with which the world has surrounded it, buried as it is under a mountain of prejudices which distort and deprave it, in spite of all the ordure through which it has been dragged, love, eternal and fatal love, is none the less a celestial law as powerful and as incomprehensible as that which suspends the sun in the heavens.

What is this mysterious bond, stronger and more durable than iron, that can neither be seen nor touched? What is there in meeting a woman, in looking at her, in speaking one word to her, and then never forgetting her? Why this one rather than that one? Invoke the aid of reason, of habit, of the senses, the head, the heart, and explain it if you can. You will find nothing but two bodies, one here, the other there, and between them, what? Air, space, immensity. O blind fools! who fondly imagine yourselves men, and who reason of love! Have you talked with it? No, you have felt it. You have exchanged a glance with a passing stranger, and suddenly there flies out from you something that can not be defined, that has no name known to man. You have taken root in the ground like the seed concealed in the turf which feels the life within it, and which is on its way to maturity.

We were alone, the window was open, the murmur of a little fountain came to us from the garden. O God! would that I could count, drop by drop, all the water that fell while we were sitting there, while she was talking and I was answering. It was there that I became intoxicated with her to the point of madness.

It is said that there is nothing so rapid as a feeling of antipathy, but I believe that the road to love is more swiftly traversed. How priceless the slightest words! What signifies the conversation, when you listen for the heart to answer? What sweetness in the glance of a woman who begins to attract you! At first it seems as though everything that passes between you is timid and tentative, but soon there is born a strange joy, an echo answers you; you know a dual life. What a touch! What a strange attraction! And when love is sure of itself and knows response in the object beloved, what serenity in the soul! Words die on the lips, for each one knows what the other is about to say before utterance has shaped the thought. Souls expand, lips are silent. Oh! what silence! What forgetfulness of all!

Although my love began the first day and had since grown to ardor, the respect I felt for Madame Pierson sealed my lips. If she had been less frank in permitting me to become her friend, perhaps I should have been more bold, for she had made such a strong impression on me, that I never quitted her without transports of love. But there was something in the frankness and the confidence she placed in me that checked me; moreover, it was in my father’s name that I had been treated as a friend. That consideration rendered me still more respectful, and I resolved to prove worthy of that name.

To talk of love, they say, is to make love. We rarely spoke of it. Every time I happened to touch the subject Madame Pierson led the conversation to some other topic. I did not discern her motive, but it was not prudery; it seemed to me that at such times her face took on a stern aspect, and a wave of feeling, even of suffering, passed over it. As I had never questioned her about her past life and was unwilling to do so, I respected her obvious wishes.

Sunday there was dancing in the village; she was almost always there. On those occasions her toilet, although quite simple, was more elegant than usual; there was a flower in her hair, a bright ribbon, or some such bagatelle; but there was something youthful and fresh about her. The dance, which she loved for itself as an amusing exercise, seemed to inspire her with a frolicsome gayety. Once launched on the floor it seemed to me she allowed herself more liberty than usual, that there was an unusual familiarity. I did not dance, being still in mourning, but I managed to keep near her, and seeing her in such good humor, I was often tempted to confess my love.

But for some strange reason, whenever I thought of it, I was seized with an irresistible feeling of fear; the idea of an avowal was enough to render me serious in the midst of gayety. I conceived the idea of writing to her, but burned the letters before they were half finished.

That evening I dined with her, and looked about me at the many evidences of a tranquil life; I thought of the quiet life that I was leading, of my happiness since I had known her, and said to myself: "Why ask for more? Does not this suffice? Who knows, perhaps God has nothing more for you? If I should tell her that I love her, what would happen? Perhaps she would forbid me the pleasure of seeing her. Would I, in speaking the words, make her happier than she is to-day? Would I be happier myself?"

I was leaning on the piano, and as I indulged in these reflections sadness took possession of me. Night was coming on and she lighted a candle; while returning to her seat she noticed a tear in my eye.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

I turned aside my head.

I sought an excuse, but could find none; I was afraid to meet her glance. I arose and stepped to the window. The air was balmy, the moon was rising beyond those lindens where I had first met her. I fell into a profound revery; I even forgot that she was present and, extending my arms toward heaven, a sob welled up from my heart.

She arose and stood behind me.

"What is it?" she again asked.

I replied that the sight of that valley stretching out beneath us had recalled my father’s death; I took leave of her and went out.

Why I decided to silence my love I can not say. Nevertheless, instead of returning home, I began to wander about the woods like a fool. Whenever I found a bench I sat down only to rise precipitately. Toward midnight I approached Madame Pierson’s house; she was at the window. Seeing her there I began to tremble and tried to retrace my steps, but I was fascinated; I advanced gently and sadly and sat down beneath her window.

I do not know whether she recognized me; I had been there some time when I heard her sweet, fresh voice singing the refrain of a romance, and at the same instant a flower fell on my shoulder. It was a rose she had worn that evening on her bosom; I picked it up and pressed it to my lips.

"Who is there at this hour? Is it you?"

She called me by name. The gate leading into the garden was open; I arose without replying and entered it, I stopped before a plot of grass in the centre of the garden; I was walking like a somnambulist, without knowing what I was doing.

Suddenly I saw her at the door opening into the garden; she seemed to be undecided and looked attentively at the rays of the moon. She made a few steps toward me and I advanced to meet her. I could not speak, I fell on my knees before her and seized her hand.

"Listen to me," she said; "I know all; but if it has come to that, Octave, you must go away. You come here every day and you are always welcome, are you not? Is not that enough.? What more can I do for you? My friendship you have won; I wish you had been able to keep yours a little longer."

When Madame Pierson had spoken these words she waited in silence as though expecting a reply. As I remained overwhelmed with sadness, she gently withdrew her hand, stepped back, waited a moment longer and then reentered the house.

I remained kneeling on the grass. I had been expecting what she said; my resolution was soon taken, and I decided to go away. I arose, my heart bleeding but firm. I looked at the house, at her window; I opened the garden-gate and placed my lips on the lock as I passed out.

When I reached home I told Larive to make what preparations were necessary, as I would set out in the morning. The poor fellow was astonished, but I made him a sign to obey and ask no questions. He brought a large trunk and busied himself with preparations for departure.

It was five o’clock in the morning and day was be ginning to break when I asked myself where I was going. At that thought, which had not occurred to me before, I experienced a profound feeling of discouragement. I cast my eyes over the country, scanning the horizon. A sense of weakness took possession of me; I was exhausted with fatigue. I sat down in a chair and my ideas became confused; I bore my hand to my forehead and found it bathed in sweat. A violent fever made my limbs tremble; I could hardly reach my, bed with Larive’s assistance. My thoughts were so confused that I had no recollection of what had happened. The day passed; toward evening I heard the sound of instruments. It was the Sunday dance, and I asked Larive to go and see if Madame Pierson was there. He did not find her; I sent him to her house. The blinds were closed, and a servant informed him that Madame Pierson and her aunt had gone to spend some days with a relative who lived at N------, a small town some distance north. He handed me a letter that had been given him. It was couched in the following terms:

"I have known you three months, and for one month have noticed that
you feel for me what at your age is called love. I thought I
detected on your part a resolution to conceal this from me and
conquer yourself. I already esteemed you, this enhanced my respect.
I do not reproach you for the past, nor for the weakness of your
will.

"What you take for love is nothing more than desire. I am well
aware that many women seek to arouse it; it would be better if they
did not feel the necessity of pleasing those who approach them.
Such a feeling is a dangerous thing, and I have done wrong in
entertaining it with you.

"I am some years older than you, and ask you not to try to see me
again. It would be vain for you to try to forget the weakness of a
moment; what has passed between us can neither be repeated nor
forgotten.

"I do not take leave of you without sorrow; I expect to be absent
some time; if, when I return, I find that you have gone away, I
shall appreciate your action as the final evidence of your
friendship and esteem.
"BRIGITTE PIERSON."

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Chicago: Alfred de Musset, "Chapter IV Ripening Acquaintance," The Confession of a Child of the Century— Complete, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in The Confession of a Child of the Century—Complete (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed January 17, 2020, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LBQC24XJEZU2A7.

MLA: Musset, Alfred de. "Chapter IV Ripening Acquaintance." The Confession of a Child of the Century— Complete, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in The Confession of a Child of the Century—Complete, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 17 Jan. 2020. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LBQC24XJEZU2A7.

Harvard: Musset, AD, 'Chapter IV Ripening Acquaintance' in The Confession of a Child of the Century— Complete, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, The Confession of a Child of the Century—Complete, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 17 January 2020, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LBQC24XJEZU2A7.