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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
By Édouard Rod (1857–1910)
From ‘The Sense of Life’: Translation of Grace Elizabeth King

I SHOULD like to find a word to express a being who is tranquil, sweet, good, confiding; one whose presence alone gives repose; a being of grace and charm, breathing peace…. While I work she is there behind me, watchful not to disturb me; from time to time I am conscious of the noise of the worsted she draws through the canvas, or the page she turns, or of her light breathing. Sometimes I turn and no longer see her; she has silently disappeared: after a moment she returns in the same way, without even a creak of the floor beneath her little slippers; and I feel her look resting on me as a continual caress,—the look of her great, deep, clear eyes, wherein there is only goodness, tenderness, and devotion. And always also I feel her thought following mine, and traveling side by side with it across the dreams, as across the cares of the day.  1
  What mystery is there, then, in this sentiment of intimate union, which lessens disquietude and doubles joys? I suffered so much formerly in feeling myself alone! I passed nights wandering amid crowds to evade myself; forcing myself to the illusion that I was something to those others who were moving before my eyes. I have fled with horror from my home, so pitilessly filled with myself; where the smallest objects—the bibelots, books, paper on the wall, pictures and easy-chairs—sent back to me like multiplied mirrors my odious image. It seemed to me that I might leave it behind me as I went in the streets—this me; or forget it in a café, or deposit it in a theatre; and I haunted theatres, cafés, and streets. Often I fastened myself on to trumpery friends,—friends met by chance,—and recounted to them my affairs, sharing with them fragments of my soul, without allowing myself to be rebuffed by their indifference. How many times has not my heart beat out to strange hearts, without hearing aught but its own palpitations beating in a vacancy? How many times after having forgotten myself for an hour or a night in gay company,—in salons, casinos, or taverns; after laughing from full lips, and talking boisterously; after having diffused myself in confidences to others, and received with a friendly air theirs in return,—have I not felt with tenfold bitterness on the morrow that I was still alone, irremediably alone; that the noises had vanished, leaving naught behind; that the fumes of alcohol,—all had exhaled into sadness, like the friendship or love of the day before.  2
  Well, it seems to me now that my solitude is vanquished; certainly not because I see unceasingly near me the same known form, but because that form is loved. Something of her passes continually into me, like a beautiful warmth; like another, better life; and something of me passes into her. It is no longer a strange soul, which remains a stranger in spite of frequent meetings, in spite of closeness of relation; it is a continuous penetration, which little by little, of two beings makes only one….  3
  It is strange how one permits oneself to be taken and swept on by the machinery of life. We yield one finger carelessly; it takes the whole body. We think we can play with it; take from it what we wish; give up to it, through laziness, through lassitude or indifference, fragments of ourselves,—and yet remain masters and maintain our independence. Illusion! After the revolt of first youth, one day we see that we have surrendered ourselves, that we are bound! It is the trifling and treacherous habits whose insinuating sweetness has insensibly conquered you; it is the ambition for a long-disdained aim, which yet developed itself across your disdain; it is love—your powerlessness to feel which made you for a long time doubt it, which you even denied because you had experienced it under none of its known forms, and which glides into you in a guise you never expected. It is duty…. Heavens! Yes, duty,—the sentiment unjustified among all; that convention, that absurdity, that imperative, whose non-existence your reason has a thousand times demonstrated; which sets itself to cry out its orders, and makes itself obeyed. All these ties bind me; all these voices govern me; I feel that I no longer belong to myself.  4
  How many times before, when I suffered without cause, or when some dolorous shock produced agonizing thoughts in me, have I consoled myself by saying, “After all, I am master of my existence; when the measure shall be full, nothing shall prevent my delivering myself; a few precautions so as not to be remarked, the least noise possible, and all these worries will be forever away from me!” Now I can no longer thus console myself: I have by an act of will bound myself, my destiny, to another destiny; and this double chain which I imprudently linked, I have not the right to break…. The right!—oh, the absurd word which comes and imposes itself upon my mind! Whence comes that unknown force which can weigh upon my decision? whence the mysterious fluid which paralyzes my egoism? I know that the moment I close my eyes, the world will cease to exist, with her of whom I think, with the affection which grows in my heart, with the ideas I forge around myself, and with my wranglings about the right, duty, liberty, and all the rest. I know that I shall know nothing of the tears, sorrows, struggles, which will exist after me; that in my repose I shall feel nothing, absolutely nothing, of the ill caused by my act, which may even possibly result in good. I know all this; an effort of my imagination lets me touch nothingness: and yet I feel myself a slave. Destiny may strike with redoubled blows upon me; I may be harassed by the troop of enemies from without, or by a worse one which we carry within ourselves; I may find myself in the clutches of those two adversaries which in other times I would not have hesitated to rid myself of at the price of life,—misery and suffering…. I shall probably have to struggle with them for a long time; to bear their frightful wiles: my relations with men may become a source of continual goadings, on which my imagination will pour the boiling oil of its dreams. I must support all this,—patient beast of burden bending under the lash,… without a way of issue, without being able to look once more toward the Great Liberator; without ever dreaming again in sweet hours of the means of putting an end to all the evils….  5
  Sometimes at nightfall we go and sit beside that Auteuil pond, which we have taken to loving for its silence, and its old trees that bathe their branches in its sleeping waters. Generally it is deserted; and, separated from the road by a thick curtain of leaves, we are very far from the Bois, very far from Paris, very far from life. To-day, by chance, a young woman was there with her children: one still in swaddling-clothes, sleeping on her lap; while the other, a little girl, was playing at her side with a shovel in the gravel. We seated ourselves opposite this pretty group; and soon the little girl observed us and came toward us, her finger in her mouth, with an adorable air of timidity and roguishness. She greatly wanted to come to us, yet dared not quite do so. Ever looking at us, she stooped to gather a few daisies in the turf; then deciding suddenly, she came running and laid them on my wife’s knee, with a pretty “Here,” friendly and satisfied. We embraced her, and she told us many charming things, and we played with her until her mother called her back again. She left, throwing us kisses. Then, left alone, we began to speak of children. She, like all women, a mother by instinct, desired to have them. I do not. I fear the responsibilities; fear the disturbances: our intimacy of two suffices me; it seems to me that we lack nothing. “Nevertheless,” said she, “they are so beautiful, and put so much life into the house. Imagine how much gayer our house would be with a pretty little girl,—such a one as you have just kissed.”  6
  “But the anxieties about the mother, the cares, the noise night and day, the worry with the nurse, the sacrifice of our independence! Would it not be necessary to renounce our walks, our project of traveling, change all our plans for the future, which we have made as though we were always to be tête-à-tête?”  7
  “But when we are old?”  8
  “Well, when we are old,—and after all it is not certain that we ever shall be old,—our affection will be all the more solid because we are alone. God knows the storms which await our common life; escaping together, wearied it may be, we shall press one to the other to brave the common sadness of our fate. Our days being fewer, will be dearer to us; we shall not have one too many in which to love on; and how well off we shall be amid the revolutions of human affairs, which will scarcely touch us any longer! Detached from all save one another, having inclosed our entire horizon with our affection, life—whose possible caprices we now dread—will have glided away behind our footsteps; we shall look upon it as from the summit of a traveled road, of which we no longer see the rough places or pebbles; recalling together good and bad recollections, which in the mirage of memory will appear equally good to us. We shall love each the other all the more, for we shall have proved each other for a long time: for the heart grows old only to the world; it remains a temple wherein are piously preserved sacred affections: and if we too come to be cold, that indifference towards everything, which obscures the eyes of the aged, shall not prevent our cultivating the feeling which shall still unite us, but rather the contrary. Who knows but that some night, bent and leaning one upon the other, going out once more to breathe the spring air,—our last, perhaps,—our talk of to-day will come back to us like a gust of air from the past? And I am sure that, taught by our experience, we shall say then, ‘Decidedly it is best it should have been so.’”  9
  She looked at the murmuring water with an unconvinced air, hesitating to answer. “But,” she said at last, after a silence in which we both heard the other think, “one of us two will go first. If we have no child, the other will remain alone.” This was precisely the idea that had come to me, and had silenced me. Both of us shivered and said no more.  10

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