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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMadame De Mauves - Chapter V
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Madame De Mauves - Chapter V Post by :Roy_Adriaan Category :Long Stories Author :Henry James Date :February 2011 Read :2363

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Madame De Mauves - Chapter V

On reaching Paris Longmore straightaway purchased a Murray's "Belgium"
to help himself to believe that he would start on the morrow for
Brussels; but when the morrow came it occurred to him that he ought by
way of preparation to acquaint himself more intimately with the Flemish
painters in the Louvre. This took a whole morning, but it did little to
hasten his departure. He had abruptly left Saint-Germain because it
seemed to him that respect for Madame de Mauves required he should
bequeath her husband no reason to suppose he had, as it were, taken a
low hint; but now that he had deferred to that scruple he found himself
thinking more and more ardently of his friend. It was a poor expression
of ardour to be lingering irresolutely on the forsaken boulevard, but he
detested the idea of leaving Saint-Germain five hundred miles behind
him. He felt very foolish, nevertheless, and wandered about nervously,
promising himself to take the next train. A dozen trains started,
however, and he was still in Paris. This inward ache was more than he
had bargained for, and as he looked at the shop-windows he wondered if
it represented a "passion." He had never been fond of the word and had
grown up with much mistrust of what it stood for. He had hoped that when
he should fall "really" in love he should do it with an excellent
conscience, with plenty of confidence and joy, doubtless, but no strange
soreness, no pangs nor regrets. Here was a sentiment concocted of pity
and anger as well as of admiration, and bristling with scruples and
doubts and fears. He had come abroad to enjoy the Flemish painters and
all others, but what fair-tressed saint of Van Eyck or Memling was so
interesting a figure as the lonely lady of Saint-Germain? His restless
steps carried him at last out of the long villa-bordered avenue which
leads to the Bois de Boulogne.

Summer had fairly begun and the drive beside the lake was empty, but
there were various loungers on the benches and chairs, and the great
cafe had an air of animation. Longmore's walk had given him an appetite,
and he went into the establishment and demanded a dinner, remarking for
the hundredth time, as he admired the smart little tables disposed in
the open air, how much better (than anywhere else) they ordered this
matter in France. "Will monsieur dine in the garden or in the salon?"
the waiter blandly asked. Longmore chose the garden and, observing that
a great cluster of June roses was trained over the wall of the house,
placed himself at a table near by, where the best of dinners was served
him on the whitest of linen and in the most shining of porcelain. It so
happened that his table was near a window and that as he sat he could
look into a corner of the salon. So it was that his attention rested on
a lady seated just within the window, which was open, face to face
apparently with a companion who was concealed by the curtain. She was a
very pretty woman, and Longmore looked at her as often as was consistent
with good manners. After a while he even began to wonder who she was and
finally to suspect that she was one of those ladies whom it is no breach
of good manners to look at as often as you like. Our young man too, if
he had been so disposed, would have been the more free to give her all
his attention that her own was fixed upon the person facing her. She was
what the French call a belle brune, and though Longmore, who had rather
a conservative taste in such matters, was but half-charmed by her bold
outlines and even braver complexion, he couldn't help admiring her
expression of basking contentment.

She was evidently very happy, and her happiness gave her an air of
innocence. The talk of her friend, whoever he was, abundantly suited her
humour, for she sat listening to him with a broad idle smile and
interrupting him fitfully, while she crunched her bonbons, with a
murmured response, presumably as broad, which appeared to have the
effect of launching him again. She drank a great deal of champagne and
ate an immense number of strawberries, and was plainly altogether a
person with an impartial relish for strawberries, champagne and what she
doubtless would have called betises.

They had half-finished dinner when Longmore sat down, and he was still
in his place when they rose. She had hung her bonnet on a nail above her
chair, and her companion passed round the table to take it down for her.
As he did so she bent her head to look at a wine-stain on her dress, and
in the movement exposed the greater part of the back of a very handsome
neck. The gentleman observed it, and observed also, apparently, that the
room beyond them was empty; that he stood within eyeshot of Longmore he
failed to observe. He stooped suddenly and imprinted a gallant kiss on
the fair expanse. In the author of this tribute Longmore then recognised
Richard de Mauves. The lady to whom it had been rendered put on her
bonnet, using his flushed smile as a mirror, and in a moment they passed
through the garden on their way to their carriage. Then for the first
time M. de Mauves became aware of his wife's young friend. He measured
with a rapid glance this spectator's relation to the open window and
checked himself in the impulse to stop and speak to him. He contented
himself with bowing all imperturbably as he opened the gate for his
companion.

That evening Longmore made a railway journey, but not to Brussels. He
had effectually ceased to care for Brussels; all he cared for in the
world now was Madame de Mauves. The air of his mind had had a sudden
clearing-up; pity and anger were still throbbing there, but they had
space to range at their pleasure, for doubts and scruples had abruptly
departed. It was little, he felt, that he could interpose between her
resignation and the indignity of her position; but that little, if it
involved the sacrifice of everything that bound him to the tranquil
past, he could offer her with a rapture which at last made stiff
resistance a terribly inferior substitute for faith. Nothing in his
tranquil past had given such a zest to consciousness as this happy sense
of choosing to go straight back to Saint-Germain. How to justify his
return, how to explain his ardour, troubled him little. He wasn't even
sure he wished to be understood; he wished only to show how little by
any fault of his Madame de Mauves was alone so with the harshness of
fate. He was conscious of no distinct desire to "make love" to her; if
he could have uttered the essence of his longing he would have said that
he wished her to remember that in a world coloured grey to her vision by
the sense of her mistake there was one vividly honest man. She might
certainly have remembered it, however, without his coming back to remind
her; and it is not to be denied that as he waited for the morrow he
longed immensely for the sound of her voice.

He waited the next day till his usual hour of calling--the late
afternoon; but he learned at the door that the mistress of the house was
not at home. The servant offered the information that she was walking a
little way in the forest. Longmore went through the garden and out of
the small door into the lane, and, after half an hour's vain
exploration, saw her coming toward him at the end of a green by-path. As
he appeared she stopped a moment, as if to turn aside; then recognising
him she slowly advanced and had presently taken the hand he held out.

"Nothing has happened," she said with her beautiful eyes on him. "You're
not ill?"

"Nothing except that when I got to Paris I found how fond I had grown of
Saint-Germain."

She neither smiled nor looked flattered; it seemed indeed to Longmore
that she took his reappearance with no pleasure. But he was uncertain,
for he immediately noted that in his absence the whole character of her
face had changed. It showed him something momentous had happened. It was
no longer self-contained melancholy that he read in her eyes, but grief
and agitation which had lately struggled with the passionate love of
peace ruling her before all things else, and forced her to know that
deep experience is never peaceful. She was pale and had evidently been
shedding tears. He felt his heart beat hard--he seemed now to touch her
secret. She continued to look at him with a clouded brow, as if his
return had surrounded her with complications too great to be disguised
by a colourless welcome. For some moments, as he turned and walked
beside her, neither spoke; then abruptly, "Tell me truly, Mr. Longmore,"
she said, "why you've come back." He inclined himself to her, almost
pulling up again, with an air that startled her into a certainty of what
she had feared. "Because I've learned the real answer to the question I
asked you the other day. You're not happy--you're too good to be happy
on the terms offered you. Madame de Mauves," he went on with a gesture
which protested against a gesture of her own, "I can't be happy, you
know, when you're as little so as I make you out. I don't care for
anything so long as I only feel helpless and sore about you. I found
during those dreary days in Paris that the thing in life I most care for
is this daily privilege of seeing you. I know it's very brutal to tell
you I admire you; it's an insult to you to treat you as if you had
complained to me or appealed to me. But such a friendship as I waked up
to there"--and he tossed his head toward the distant city--"is a potent
force, I assure you. When forces are stupidly stifled they explode.
However," he went on, "if you had told me every trouble in your heart it
would have mattered little; I couldn't say more than I--that if that in
life from which you've hoped most has given you least, this devoted
respect of mine will refuse no service and betray no trust."

She had begun to make marks in the earth with the point of her parasol,
but she stopped and listened to him in perfect immobility--immobility
save for the appearance by the time he had stopped speaking of a flush
in her guarded clearness. Such as it was it told Longmore she was moved,
and his first perceiving it was the happiest moment of his life. She
raised her eyes at last, and they uttered a plea for non-insistence that
unspeakably touched him.

"Thank you--thank you!" she said calmly enough; but the next moment her
own emotion baffled this pretence, a convulsion shook her for ten
seconds and she burst into tears. Her tears vanished as quickly as they
came, but they did Longmore a world of good. He had always felt
indefinably afraid of her; her being had somehow seemed fed by a deeper
faith and a stronger will than his own; but her half-dozen smothered
sobs showed him the bottom of her heart and convinced him she was weak
enough to be grateful. "Excuse me," she said; "I'm too nervous to listen
to you. I believe I could have dealt with an enemy to-day, but I can't
bear up under a friend."

"You're killing yourself with stoicism--that's what is the matter with
you!" he cried. "Listen to a friend for his own sake if not for yours.
I've never presumed to offer you an atom of compassion, and you can't
accuse yourself of an abuse of charity."

She looked about her as under the constraint of this appeal, but it
promised him a reluctant attention. Noting, however, by the wayside the
fallen log on which they had rested a few evenings before, she went and
sat down on it with a resigned grace while the young man, silent before
her and watching her, took from her the mute assurance that if she was
charitable now he must at least be very wise.

"Something came to my knowledge yesterday," he said as he sat down
beside her, "which gave me an intense impression of your loneliness.
You're truth itself, and there's no truth about you. You believe in
purity and duty and dignity, and you live in a world in which they're
daily belied. I ask myself with vain rage how you ever came into such a
world, and why the perversity of fate never let me know you before."

She waited a little; she looked down, straight before her. "I like my
'world' no better than you do, and it was not for its own sake I came
into it. But what particular group of people is worth pinning one's
faith upon? I confess it sometimes seems to me men and women are very
poor creatures. I suppose I'm too romantic and always was. I've an
unfortunate taste for poetic fitness. Life's hard prose, and one must
learn to read prose contentedly. I believe I once supposed all the prose
to be in America, which was very foolish. What I thought, what I
believed, what I expected, when I was an ignorant girl fatally addicted
to falling in love with my own theories, is more than I can begin to
tell you now. Sometimes when I remember certain impulses, certain
illusions of those days they take away my breath, and I wonder that my
false point of view hasn't led me into troubles greater than any I've
now to lament. I had a conviction which you'd probably smile at if I
were to attempt to express it to you. It was a singular form for
passionate faith to take, but it had all of the sweetness and the ardour
of passionate faith. It led me to take a great step, and it lies behind
me now, far off, a vague deceptive form melting in the light of
experience. It has faded, but it hasn't vanished. Some feelings, I'm
sure, die only with ourselves; some illusions are as much the condition
of our life as our heart-beats. They say that life itself is an
illusion--that this world is a shadow of which the reality is yet to
come. Life is all of a piece then and there's no shame in being
miserably human. As for my loneliness, it doesn't greatly matter; it is
the fault in part of my obstinacy. There have been times when I've been
frantically distressed and, to tell you the truth, wretchedly homesick,
because my maid--a jewel of a maid--lied to me with every second breath.
There have been moments when I've wished I was the daughter of a poor
New England minister--living in a little white house under a couple of
elms and doing all the housework."

She had begun to speak slowly, with reserve and effort; but she went on
quickly and as if talk were at last a relief. "My marriage introduced me
to people and things which seemed to me at first very strange and then
very horrible, and then, to tell the truth, of very little importance.
At first I expended a great deal of sorrow and dismay and pity on it
all; but there soon came a time when I began to wonder if it were worth
one's tears. If I could tell you the eternal friendships I've seen
broken, the inconsolable woes consoled, the jealousies and vanities
scrambling to outdo each other, you'd agree with me that tempers like
yours and mine can understand neither such troubles nor such
compensations. A year ago, while I was in the country, a friend of mine
was in despair at the infidelity of her husband; she wrote me a most
dolorous letter, and on my return to Paris I went immediately to see
her. A week had elapsed, and as I had seen stranger things I thought she
might have recovered her spirits. Not at all; she was still in despair--
but at what? At the conduct, the abandoned, shameless conduct of--well
of a lady I'll call Madame de T. You'll imagine of course that Madame de
T. was the lady whom my friend's husband preferred to his wife. Far from
it; he had never seen her. Who then was Madame de T.? Madame de T. was
cruelly devoted to M. de V. And who was M. de V.? M. de V. was--well, in
two words again, my friend was cultivating two jealousies at once. I
hardly know what I said to her; something at any rate that she found
unpardonable, for she quite gave me up. Shortly afterwards my husband
proposed we should cease to live in Paris, and I gladly assented, for I
believe I had taken a turn of spirits that made me a detestable
companion. I should have preferred to go quite into the country, into
Auvergne, where my husband has a house. But to him Paris in some degree
is necessary, and Saint-Germain has been a conscious compromise."

"A conscious compromise!" Longmore expressively repeated. "That's your
whole life."

"It's the life of many people," she made prompt answer--"of most people
of quiet tastes, and it's certainly better than acute distress. One's at
a loss theoretically to defend compromises; but if I found a poor
creature who had managed to arrive at one I should think myself not
urgently called to expose its weak side." But she had no sooner uttered
these words than she laughed all amicably, as if to mitigate their too
personal application.

"Heaven forbid one should do that unless one has something better to
offer," Longmore returned. "And yet I'm haunted by the dream of a life
in which you should have found no compromises, for they're a perversion
of natures that tend only to goodness and rectitude. As I see it you
should have found happiness serene, profound, complete; a femme de
chambre not a jewel perhaps, but warranted to tell but one fib a day; a
society possibly rather provincial, but--in spite of your poor opinion
of mankind--a good deal of solid virtue; jealousies and vanities very
tame, and no particular iniquities and adulteries. A husband," he added
after a moment--"a husband of your own faith and race and spiritual
substance, who would have loved you well."

She rose to her feet, shaking her head. "You're very kind to go to the
expense of such dazzling visions for me. Visions are vain things; we
must make the best of the reality we happen to be in for."

"And yet," said Longmore, provoked by what seemed the very wantonness of
her patience, "the reality YOU 'happen to be in for' has, if I'm not in
error, very recently taken a shape that keenly tests your philosophy."

She seemed on the point of replying that his sympathy was too zealous;
but a couple of impatient tears in his eyes proved it founded on a
devotion of which she mightn't make light. "Ah philosophy?" she echoed.
"I HAVE none. Thank heaven," she cried with vehemence, "I have none! I
believe, Mr. Longmore," she added in a moment, "that I've nothing on
earth but a conscience--it's a good time to tell you so--nothing but a
dogged obstinate clinging conscience. Does that prove me to be indeed of
your faith and race, and have you one yourself for which you can say as
much? I don't speak in vanity, for I believe that if my conscience may
prevent me from doing anything very base it will effectually prevent me
also from doing anything very fine."

"I'm delighted to hear it," her friend returned with high emphasis--
"that proves we're made for each other. It's very certain I too shall
never cut a great romantic figure. And yet I've fancied that in my case
the unaccommodating organ we speak of might be blinded and gagged a
while, in a really good cause, if not turned out of doors. In yours," he
went on with the same appealing irony, "is it absolutely beyond being
'squared'?"

But she made no concession to his tone. "Don't laugh at your
conscience," she answered gravely; "that's the only blasphemy I know."

She had hardly spoken when she turned suddenly at an unexpected sound,
and at the same moment he heard a footstep in an adjacent by-path which
crossed their own at a short distance from where they stood.

"It's M. de Mauves," she said at once; with which she moved slowly
forward. Longmore, wondering how she knew without seeing, had overtaken
her by the time her husband came into view. A solitary walk in the
forest was a pastime to which M. de Mauves was not addicted, but he
seemed on this occasion to have resorted to it with some equanimity. He
was smoking a fragrant cigar and had thrust his thumb into the armhole
of his waistcoat with the air of a man thinking at his ease. He stopped
short with surprise on seeing his wife and her companion, and his
surprise had for Longmore even the pitch of impertinence. He glanced
rapidly from one to the other, fixed the young man's own look sharply a
single instant and then lifted his hat with formal politeness.

"I was not aware," he said, turning to Madame de Mauves, "that I might
congratulate you on the return of monsieur."

"You should at once have known it," she immediately answered, "if I had
expected such a pleasure."

She had turned very pale, and Longmore felt this to be a first meeting
after some commotion. "My return was unexpected to myself," he said to
her husband. "I came back last night."

M. de Mauves seemed to express such satisfaction as could consort with a
limited interest. "It's needless for me to make you welcome. Madame de
Mauves knows the duties of hospitality." And with another bow he
continued his walk.

She pursued her homeward course with her friend, neither of them
pretending much not to consent to appear silent. The Count's few moments
with them had both chilled Longmore and angered him, casting a shadow
across a prospect which had somehow, just before, begun to open and
almost to brighten. He watched his companion narrowly as they went, and
wondered what she had last had to suffer. Her husband's presence had
checked her disposition to talk, though nothing betrayed she had
recognised his making a point at her expense. Yet if matters were none
the less plainly at a crisis between them he could but wonder vainly
what it was on her part that prevented some practical protest or some
rupture. What did she suspect?--how much did she know? To what was she
resigned?--how much had she forgiven? How, above all, did she reconcile
with knowledge, or with suspicion, that intense consideration she had
just now all but assured him she entertained? "She has loved him once,"
Longmore said with a sinking of the heart, "and with her to love once is
to commit herself for ever. Her clever husband thinks her too prim. What
would a stupid poet call it?" He relapsed with aching impotence into the
sense of her being somehow beyond him, unattainable, immeasurable by his
own fretful logic. Suddenly he gave three passionate switches in the air
with his cane which made Madame de Mauves look round. She could hardly
have guessed their signifying that where ambition was so vain the next
best thing to it was the very ardour of hopelessness.

She found in her drawing-room the little elderly Frenchman, M. de
Chalumeau, whom Longmore had observed a few days before on the terrace.
On this occasion too Madame Clairin was entertaining him, but as her
sister-in-law came in she surrendered her post and addressed herself to
our hero. Longmore, at thirty, was still an ingenuous youth, and there
was something in this lady's large assured attack that fairly
intimidated him. He was doubtless not as reassured as he ought to have
been at finding he had not absolutely forfeited her favour by his want
of resource during their last interview, and a suspicion of her being
prepared to approach him on another line completed his distress.

"So you've returned from Brussels by way of the forest?" she archly
asked.

"I've not been to Brussels. I returned yesterday from Paris by the only
way--by the train."

Madame Clairin was infinitely struck. "I've never known a person at all
to be so fond of Saint-Germain. They generally declare it's horribly
dull."

"That's not very polite to you," said Longmore, vexed at his lack of
superior form and determined not to be abashed.

"Ah what have I to do with it?" Madame Clairin brightly wailed. "I'm the
dullest thing here. They've not had, other gentlemen, your success with
my sister-in-law."

"It would have been very easy to have it. Madame de Mauves is kindness
itself."

She swung open her great fan. "To her own countrymen!"

Longmore remained silent; he hated the tone of this conversation.

The speaker looked at him a little and then took in their hostess, to
whom M. de Chalumeau was serving up another epigram, which the charming
creature received with a droop of the head and eyes that strayed through
the window. "Don't pretend to tell me," Madame Clairin suddenly exhaled,
"that you're not in love with that pretty woman."

"Allons donc!" cried Longmore in the most inspired French he had ever
uttered. He rose the next minute and took a hasty farewell.

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He allowed several days to pass without going back; it was of a sublimesuitability to appear to regard his friend's frankness during their lastinterview as a general invitation. The sacrifice cost him a greateffort, for hopeless passions are exactly not the most patient; and hehad moreover a constant fear that if, as he believed, deep within thecircle round which he could only hover, the hour of supreme explanationshad come, the magic of her magnanimity might convert M. de Mauves.Vicious men, it was abundantly recorded, had been so converted as to beacceptable to God, and the something divine in this lady's compositionwould
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His friend Webster meanwhile lost no time in accusing him of the basestinfidelity and in asking him what he found at suburban Saint-Germain toprefer to Van Eyck and Memling, Rubens and Rembrandt. A day or two afterthe receipt of this friend's letter he took a walk with Madame de Mauvesin the forest. They sat down on a fallen log and she began to arrangeinto a bouquet the anemones and violets she had gathered. "I've a wordhere," he said at last, "from a friend whom I some time ago promised tojoin in Brussels. The time has come--it has passed. It finds me
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