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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Awakening
By Edmond (1822–1896) and Jules (1830–1870) de Goncourt
From ‘Renée Mauperin’

A LITTLE stage had been erected at the end of the Mauperins’ drawing-room. The footlights were hidden behind a screen of foliage and flowering shrubs. Renée, with the help of her drawing-master, had painted the curtain, which represented a view on the banks of the Seine. On either side of the stage hung a bill, on which were these words, written by hand:—
To conclude with
And then followed the names of the actors.
  On all the chairs in the house, which had been seized and arranged in rows before the stage, women in low gowns were squeezed together, mixing their skirts, their lace, the sparkle of their diamonds, and the whiteness of their shoulders. The folding doors of the drawing-room had been taken down, and showed, in the little drawing-room which led to the dining-room, a crowd of men in white neckties, standing on tiptoe.  2
  The curtain rose upon ‘The Caprice.’ Renée played with much spirit the part of Madame de Léry. Henry, as the husband, revealed one of those real theatrical talents which are often found in cold young men and in grave men of the world. Naomi herself—carried away by Henry’s acting, carefully prompted by Denoisel from behind the scenes, a little intoxicated by her audience—played her little part of a neglected wife very tolerably. This was a great relief to Madame Bourjot. Seated in the front row, she had followed her daughter with anxiety. Her pride dreaded a failure. The curtain fell, the applause burst out, and all the company were called for. Her daughter had not been ridiculous; she was happy in this great success, and she composedly gave herself up to the speeches, opinions, congratulations, which, as in all representations of private theatricals, followed the applause and continued in murmurs. Amidst all that she thus vaguely heard, one sentence, pronounced close by her, reached her ears clear and distinct above the buzz of general conversation:—“Yes, it is his sister, I know; but I think that for the part he is not sufficiently in love with her, and really too much in love with his wife: did you notice it?” And the speaker, feeling that she was being overheard by Madame Bourjot, leaned over and whispered in her neighbor’s ear. Madame Bourjot became serious.  3
  After a pause the curtain went up again, and Henry Mauperin appeared as Pierrot or Harlequin, not in the traditional sack of white calico and black cap, but as an Italian harlequin, with a white three-cornered hat, and dressed entirely in white satin from head to foot. A shiver of interest ran through the women, proving that the costume and the man were both charming; and the folly began.  4
  It was the mad story of Pierrot, married to one woman and wishing to marry another; a farce intermingled with passion, which had been unearthed by a playwright, with the help of a poet, from a collection of old comic plays. Renée this time acted the part of the neglected woman, who in various disguises interfered between her husband and his gallant adventures, and Naomi that of the woman he loved. Henry, in his scenes of love with the latter, carried all before him. He played with youth, with brilliancy, with excitement. In the scene in which he avows his love, his voice was full of the passionate cry of a declaration which overflows and swamps everything. True, he had to act with the prettiest Columbine in the world: Naomi looked delicious that evening in her bridal costume of Louis XVI., copied exactly from the ‘Bride’s Minuet,’ a print by Debucourt, which Barousse had lent for the purpose.  5
  A sort of enchantment filled the whole room, and reached Madame Bourjot; a sort of sympathetic complicity with the actors seemed to encourage the pretty couple to love one another. The piece went on. Now and again Henry’s eyes seemed to look for those of Madame Bourjot, over the footlights. Meanwhile, Renée appeared disguised as the village bailiff; it only remained to sign the contract; Pierrot, taking the hand of the woman he loved, began to tell her of all the happiness he was going to have with her.  6
  The woman who sat next to Madame Bourjot felt her lean somewhat on her shoulder. Henry finished his speech, the piece disentangled itself and came to an end. All at once Madame Bourjot’s neighbor saw something glide down her arm; it was Madame Bourjot, who had just fainted.  7
  “OH, do pray go indoors,” said Madame Bourjot to the people who were standing around her. She had been carried into the garden. “It is past now; it is really nothing; it was only the heat.” She was quite pale, but she smiled. “I only want a little air. Let M. Henry only stay with me.”  8
  The audience retired. Scarcely had the sound of feet died away, when—“You love her!” said Madame Bourjot, seizing Henry’s arm as though she were taking him prisoner with her feverish hands; “you love her!”  9
  “Madame—” said Henry.  10
  “Hold your tongue! you lie!” And she threw his arm from her. Henry bowed.—“I know all. I have seen all. But look at me!” and with her eyes she closely scanned his face. Henry stood before her, his head bent.—“At least speak to me! You can speak, at any rate! Ah, I see it,—you can only act in her company!”  11
  “I have nothing to say to you, Laura,” said Henry in his softest and clearest voice. Madame Bourjot started at this name of Laura as though he had touched her. “I have struggled for a year, madame,” began Henry; “I have no excuse to make. But my heart is fast. We knew each other as children. The charm has grown day by day. I am very unhappy, madame, at having to acknowledge the truth to you. I love your daughter, that is true.”  12
  “But have you ever spoken to her? I blush for her when there are people there! Have you ever looked at her? Do you think her pretty? What possesses you men? Come! I am better-looking than she is! You men are fools. And besides, my friend, I have spoiled you. Go to her and ask her to caress your pride, to tickle your vanity, to flatter and to serve your ambitions,—for you are ambitious: I know you! Ah, M. Mauperin, one can only find that once in a lifetime! And it is only women of my age, old women like me,—do you hear me?—who love the future of the people whom they love! You were not my lover, you were my grandchild!” And at this word, her voice sounded as though it came from the bottom of her heart. Then immediately changing her tone—“But don’t be foolish! I tell you you don’t really love my daughter; it is not true: she is rich!”  13
  “O madame!”  14
  “Good gracious! there are lots of people. They have been pointed out to me. It pays sometimes to begin with the mother and finish with the dower. And a million, you know, will gild a good many pills.”  15
  “Speak lower, I implore—for your own sake: some one has just opened a window.”  16
  “Calmness is very fine, M. Mauperin, very fine, very fine,” repeated Madame Bourjot. And her low, hissing voice seemed to stifle her.  17
  Clouds were scudding across the sky, and passed over the moon looking like huge bats’ wings. Madame Bourjot gazed fixedly into the darkness, straight in front of her. Her elbows resting on her knees, her weight thrown on to her heels, she was beating with the points of her satin shoes the gravel of the path. After a few minutes she sat upright, stretched out her arms two or three times wildly and as though but half awake; then, hastily and with jerks, she pushed her hand down between her gown and her waistband, pressing her hand against the ribbon as though she would break it. Then she rose and began to walk. Henry followed her.  18
  “I intend, sir, that we shall never see each other again,” she said to him, without turning round.  19
  As they passed near the basin, she handed him her handkerchief:—  20
  “Wet that for me.”  21
  Henry put one knee on the margin and gave her back the lace, which he had moistened. She laid it on her forehead and on her eyes. “Now let us go in,” she said; “give me your arm.”  22
  “Oh, dear madame, what courage!” said Madame Mauperin, going to meet Madame Bourjot as she entered; “but it is unwise of you. Let me order your carriage.”  23
  “On no account,” answered Madame Bourjot hastily: “I thank you. I promised that I would sing for you, I think. I am going to sing.”  24
  And Madame Bourjot advanced to the piano, graceful and valiant, with the heroic smile on her face wherewith the actors of society hide from the public the tears that they shed within themselves, and the wounds which are only known to their own hearts.  25

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