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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Confession Of A Child Of The Century - Part 4 - Chapter 6
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The Confession Of A Child Of The Century - Part 4 - Chapter 6 Post by :Morningwing Category :Long Stories Author :Alfred De Musset Date :May 2012 Read :957

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The Confession Of A Child Of The Century - Part 4 - Chapter 6


IT was Mercanson who had repeated in the village and in the chateaux my conversation with him about Dalens and the suspicions that, in spite of myself, I had allowed him clearly to see. Every one knows how bad news travels in the provinces, flying from mouth to mouth and growing as it flies; that is what happened in this case.

Brigitte and I found ourselves face to face with each other in a new position. However feebly she may have tried to flee, she had nevertheless made the attempt. It was on account of my prayers that she remained; there was an obligation implied. I was under oath not to grieve her either by my jealousy or my levity; every thoughtless or mocking word that escaped me was a sin, every sorrowful glance from her was a reproach acknowledged and merited.

Her simple, good nature gave a charm even to solitude; she could see me now at all hours without resorting to any precaution. Perhaps she consented to this arrangement in order to prove to me that she valued her love more highly than her reputation; she seemed to regret having shown that she cared for the representations of malice. At any rate, instead of making any attempt to disarm criticism or thwart curiosity, we lived the freest kind of life, more regardless of public opinion than ever.

For some time, I kept my word and not a cloud troubled our life. These were happy days, but it is not of these that I must speak.

It was said everywhere about the country that Brigitte was living publicly with a libertine from Paris; that her lover ill-treated her, that they spent their time quarreling and that all of it would come to a bad end. As they had praised Brigitte for her conduct in the past, so they blamed her now. There was nothing in her past life, even, that was not picked to pieces and misrepresented. Her lonely tramps over the mountains, when engaged in works of charity, suddenly became the subject of quibbles and of raillery. They spoke of her as of a woman who had lost all human respect and who deserved the frightful misfortunes she was drawing down on her head.

I had told Brigitte that it was best to let them talk and pay no attention to them; but the truth is, it became insupportable to me. I sometimes tried to catch a word that I might consider an insult and demand an explanation. I listened to whispered conversations in a salon where I was a visitor, but could hear nothing; in order to do us better justice, they waited until I had gone. I returned to Brigitte and told her that all these stories were mere nonsense, that it was foolish to notice them; that they could talk about us as much as they pleased and we would care nothing about it.

Was I not terribly mistaken? If Brigitte was imprudent, was it not my place to be cautious and ward off danger? On the contrary, I took, so to speak, the part of the world against her.

I began by indifference; I was soon to grow malignant.

"It is true," I said, "that they speak evil of your nocturnal excursions. Are you sure that they are wrong? Has nothing happened in those romantic grottoes and by-paths in the forest? Have you never accepted the arm of an unknown as you accepted mine? Was it merely charity that served as your divinity in that beautiful temple of verdure that you visited so bravely?"

Brigitte's glance when I adopted this tone, I shall never forget; I shuddered at it myself. "But, bah," I thought, "she would do the same thing my other mistress did, she would point me out as a ridiculous fool, and I would pay for it all in the eyes of the public."

Between the man who doubts and the man who denies, there is only a step. All philosophy is related to atheism. After having told Brigitte that I suspected her past conduct, I began to regard it with real suspicion.

I came to imagine that Brigitte was deceiving me, she, who never left me at any hour of the day; I sometimes planned long absences in order to test her, as I supposed; but in truth, it was only to give myself some excuse for suspicion and mockery. And then I took pleasure in observing that I had outgrown my foolish jealousy, which was the same as saying, that I no longer esteemed her highly enough to be jealous of her.

At first, I kept such thoughts to myself, but soon found pleasure in revealing them to Brigitte. We went out for a walk.

"That dress is pretty," I said, "such and such a girl, belonging to one of my friends, has one like it."

We were seated at table.

"Come, my dear, my former mistress used to sing for me at dessert; it is understood that you are to imitate her."

She sat at the piano.

"Ah! pardon me, but will you play that waltz that was so popular last winter; that will remind me of happy times."

Reader, that lasted six months: for six long months, Brigitte, scandalized, exposed to the insults of the world, had to endure from me all the wrongs that a wrathful and cruel libertine could inflict on woman.

Coming from these frightful scenes, in which my own spirit exhausted itself in suffering and painful contemplation of the past; recovering from that frenzy, a strange access of love, an extreme exaltation, led me to treat my mistress like an idol, like a divinity. A quarter of an hour after having insulted her, I was on my knees before her; when I was not accusing her of some crime, I was begging her pardon; when I was not mocking, I was weeping. Then I was seized by a delirium of joy, I almost lost my reason in the violence of my transports; I did not know what to do, what to say, what to think, in order to repair the evil I had done. I took Brigitte in my arms, and made her repeat a hundred times that she loved me, and that she pardoned me. I threatened to expiate my evil deeds by blowing out my brains, if I ever ill-treated her again. These periods of exaltation sometimes lasted several hours, during which time, I exhausted myself in foolish expressions of love and esteem. Then morning came; day appeared; I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion, and I awakened with a smile on my lips, mocking at everything, believing in nothing.

During these terrible hours, Brigitte appeared to forget that there was another man in me than the one she saw. When I asked her pardon she shrugged her shoulders as though to say: "Do you not know that I pardon you?" She would not complain as long as a spark of love remained in my heart; she assured me that all was good and sweet coming from me, insults, as well as tears.

And yet as time passed my evil grew worse, my moments of malignity and irony became more somber and intractable. A real physical fever attended my outbursts of passion; I awakened trembling in every limb and covered with cold sweat. Brigitte, too, although she did not complain of it, began to fail in health. When I began to abuse her she would leave me without a word and lock herself in her room. Thank God, I have never raised my hand against her; in my most violent moments I would rather die than touch her.

One evening the rain was beating against the windows; we were alone, the curtains closed.

"I am in happy humor this evening," I said to Brigitte, "and yet the beastly weather saddens me. Let us seek some diversion in spite of the storm."

I arose and lighted all the candles I could find. The room was small and the illumination brilliant. At the same time a bright fire threw out a stifling heat.

"Come," I said, "what shall we do while waiting until it is time for supper?"

I happened to remember that it was carnival time in Paris. I seemed to see the carriages filled with masks crossing the boulevards. I heard the shouts of the crowds before the theaters; I saw the lascivious dances, the gay costumes, the wine and the folly; all of my youth bounded in my heart.

"Let us disguise ourselves," I said to Brigitte. "It will be for us alone, but what does that matter? If you have no costumes we can make them, and pass away the time agreeably."

We searched in the closet for dresses, cloaks, and artificial flowers; Brigitte as usual, was patient and cheerful. We both arranged a sort of travesty; she wanted to dress my hair herself; we painted and powdered ourselves freely; all that we lacked was found in an old chest that belonged, I believe, to the aunt. In an hour we could not recognize each other. The evening passed in singing, in a thousand follies; toward one in the morning it was time for supper.

We had ransacked all the closets; there was one near me that remained open. While sitting down at the table, I perceived on a shelf the book of which I have already spoken, the one in which Brigitte was accustomed to write.

"Is it not a collection of your thoughts?" I asked, stretching out my hand and taking the book down. "If I may, allow me to look at it."

I opened the book, although Brigitte made a gesture as though to prevent me; on the first page I read these words:

"This is my last will and testament."

Everything was written in a firm hand; I found, first, a faithful recital of all that Brigitte had suffered on my account since she had been my mistress. She announced her firm determination to endure everything, so long as I loved her and to die when I left her. Her daily life was recorded there; what she had lost, what she had hoped, the isolation she experienced even in my presence, the barrier that was growing up between us, the cruelties I subjected her to in return for her love and her resignation--all that was written down without a complaint; on the contrary, she undertook to justify me. Then followed personal details, the disposition of her effects. She would end her life by poison, she wrote. She would die by her own hand and expressly forbid that her death should be charged to me. "Pray for him," such were her last words.

I found in the closet, on the same shelf, a little box that I remembered I had seen before, filled with a fine bluish powder resembling salt.

"What is this?" I asked of Brigitte, raising the box to my lips. She gave vent to a scream of terror and threw herself upon me.

"Brigitte," I said, "tell me adieu. I shall carry this box away with me; you will forget me, and you will live if you wish to save me from becoming a murderer. I will set out this very night; you will agree with me that God demands it. Give me a last kiss."

I bent over her and kissed her forehead.

"Not yet," she cried in anguish. But I repulsed her and left the room.

Three hours later I was ready to set out, and the horses were at the door. It was still raining when I entered the carriage. At the moment the carriage was starting, I felt two arms about my neck and a sob on my breast.

It was Brigitte. I did all I could to persuade her to remain; I ordered the driver to stop; I even told her that I would return to her when time should have effaced the memory of the wrongs I had done her. I forced myself to prove to her that yesterday was the same as to-day, to-day as yesterday; I repeated that I could only render her unhappy, that to attach herself to me was but to make an assassin of me. I resorted to prayers, to vows, to threats even; her only reply was, "You are going away, take me, let us take leave of the country, let us take leave of the past. We can not live here, let us go elsewhere, wherever you please, let us go and die together in some remote corner of the world. We must be happy, I by you, you by me."

I kissed her with such passion that I feared my heart would burst.

"Drive on," I cried to the coachman. We threw ourselves into each other's arms, and the horses set out at a gallop.

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