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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 16
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    He read the same morning on the posters that _she_ was playing that evening. He watched for her after the performance and saw her distributing hand-shakes to sundry acquaintances before driving off. He was suddenly struck with something hard and cruel in her, which he had not observed in the interview of the night before. Then he discovered that he hated her, abominated her with all the force of his mind and muscles and nerves. He longed to tear her to pieces, to rend and crush her. It made him furious to think she was moving, talking, laughing,--in a word, that she was alive. At least it was only fair she should suffer, that life should wound her and make her heart bleed. He was rejoiced at the thought that she must die one day, and then nothing of her would be left, of her rounded shape and the warmth of her flesh; none would ever again see the superb play of light in her hair and eyes, the reflections, now pale, now pearly, of her dead-white skin. But her body, that filled him with such rage, would be young and warm and supple for long years yet, and lover after lover would feel it quiver and awake to passion. She would exist for other men, but not for him. Was that to be borne? Ah! the deliciousness of plunging a dagger in that warm, living bosom! Ah! the bliss, the voluptuousness of holding her pinned beneath one knee and demanding between two stabs:

    "Am I ridiculous now?"

    He was still muttering suchlike maledictions when he felt a hand laid on his shoulder. Wheeling round, he saw a quaint figure--a huge nose like a pothook, high, massive shoulders, enormous, well-shaped hands, a general impression of uncouthness combined with vigour and geniality. He thought for a moment where this strange monster could have come from; then he shouted: "Garneret!"

    Instantly his memory flew back to the court-yard and class-rooms of the school in the _Rue d'Assas_, and he saw a heavily built lad, for ever under punishment, standing out face to the wall during playtime, getting and giving mighty fisticuffs, a terrible fellow for plain speaking and hard hitting, industrious, yet a thorn in the side of masters, always in ill-luck, yet ever and anon electrifying the class with some stroke of genius.

    He was glad enough to see his old school-fellow again, who struck him as looking almost old with his puckered lids and heavy features. They set off arm in arm along the deserted _Quai_, and to the accompaniment of the faint lapping of the water against the retaining walls, told each other the history of their past--which was succinct enough, their present ideas, and their hopes for the future--which were boundless.

    The same ill-luck still pursued Garneret; from morn to eve he was engaged on prodigiously laborious hack-work for a map-maker, who paid him the wages of one of his office boys; but his big head was crammed with projects. He was working at philosophy and getting up before the sun to make experiments on the susceptibility to light of the invertebrates; by way of studying English and politics at the same time, he was translating Mr. Disraeli's speeches; then every Sunday he accompanied Monsieur Hébert's pupils on their geological excursions in the environs of Paris, while at night he gave lectures to working men on Italian painting and political economy. There was never a week passed but he was bowled over for twenty-four or forty-eight hours with an agonizing sick-headache. He spent long hours too with his fiancée, a girl with no dowry and no looks, but of a loving, sensitive temper, whom he adored and fully intended to marry the moment he had five hundred francs to call his own.

    Servien could make nothing of the other's temperament, one that looks upon the world as an immense factory where the good workman labours, coat off and sleeves rolled up, the sweat pouring from his brow and a song on his lips. He found it harder still to conceive a love with which the glamour of the stage or the splendours of luxurious living had nothing to do. Yet he felt there was something strong and sensible and true about it all, and craving sympathy he made Garneret the confidant of his passion, telling the tale in accents of despair and bitterness, though secretly proud to be the tortured victim of such fine emotions.

    But Garneret expressed no admiration.

    "My dear fellow," said he, "you have got all these romantic notions out of trashy novels. How can you love the woman when you don't know her?"

    How, indeed? Jean Servien did not know; but his nights and days, the throbbings of his heart, the thoughts that possessed his mind to the exclusion of all else, everything convinced him that it was so. He defended himself, talking of mystic influences, natural affinities, emanations, a divine unity of essence.

    Garneret only buried his face between his hands. It was above his comprehension.

    "But come," he said, "the woman is no differently constituted from other women!"

    Obvious as it was, this consideration filled Jean Servien with amazement. It shocked him so much that, rather than admit its truth, he racked his brains in desperation to find arguments to controvert the blasphemy.

    Garneret gave his views on women. He had a judicial mind, had Garneret, and could account for everything in the relations of the sexes; _but_ he could not tell Jean why one face glimpsed among a thousand gives joy and grief more than life itself seemed able to contain. Still, he tried to explain the problem, for he was of an eminently ratiocinative temper.

    "The thing is quite simple," he declared. "There are a dozen violins for sale at a dealer's. I pass that way, common scraper of catgut that I am, I tune them and try them, and play over on each of them in turn, with false notes galore, some catchy tune--_Au clair de la lune_ or _J'ai du bon tabac dans ma tabatière_--stuff fit to kill the old cow. Then Paganini comes along; with one sweep of the bow he explores the deepest depths of the vibrating instruments. The first is flat, the second sharp, the third almost dumb, the fourth is hoarse, five others have neither power nor truth of tone; but lo! the twelfth gives forth under the master's hand a mighty music of sweet, deep-voiced harmonies. It is a Stradivarius; Paganini knows it, takes it home with him, guards it as the apple of his eye; from an instrument that for me would never have been more than a resonant wooden box he draws chords that make men weep, and love, and fall into a very ecstasy; he directs in his will that they bury this violin with him in his coffin. Well, Paganini is the lover, the instrument with its strings and tuning-pegs is the woman. The instrument must be beautifully made and come from the workshop of a right skilful maker; more than that, it must fall into the hands of an accomplished player. But, my poor lad, granting your actress is a divine instrument of amorous music, I don't believe you capable of drawing from it one single note of passion's fugue.... Just consider. I don't spend my nights supping with ladies of the theatre; but we all know what an actress is. It is an animal generally agreeable to see and hear, always badly brought up, spoilt first by poverty and afterwards by luxury. Very busy into the bargain, which makes her as unromantic as anybody can well be. Something like a _concierge_ turned princess, and combining the petty spite of the porter's lodge with the caprices of the boudoir and the fagged nerves of the student.

    "You can hardly expect to dazzle T---- with the munificence and tastefulness of your presents. Your father gives you a hundred sous a week to spend; a great deal for a bookbinder, but very little for a woman whose gowns cost from five hundred to three thousand francs apiece. And, as you are neither a Manager to sign agreements, nor a Dramatic Author to apportion rôles, nor a Journalist to write notices, nor a young man from the draper's to take advantage of a moment's caprice as opportunity offers when delivering a new frock, I don't see in the least how you are to make her favour you, and I think your tragedy queen did quite right to slam her gate in your face."

    "Ah, well!" sighed Jean Servien, "I told you just now I loved her. It is not true. I hate her! I hate her for all the torments she has made me suffer, I hate her because she is adorable and men love her. And I hate all women, because they all love someone, and that someone is not I!"

    Garneret burst out laughing.

    "Candidly," he grinned, "they are not so far wrong. Your love has no spark of anything affectionate, kindly, useful in it. Since the day you fell in love with Mademoiselle T----, have you once thought of sparing her pain? Have you once dreamed of making a sacrifice for her sake? Has any touch of human kindness ever entered into your passion? Can it show one mark of manliness or goodness? Not it. Well, being the poor devils we are, with our own way to push in life and nothing to help us on, we must be brave and good. It is half-past one, and I have to get up at five. Good night. Cultivate a quiet mind, and come and see me."
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