For some time they had ceased to speak,
too oppressed with the needless anguish of this their
last night. At their feet the tiny shining windows
of Etretat were dropping back into the night, as though
sinking under the rise of that black, mysterious flood
that came luminously from the obscure regions of the
faint sky. Overhead, the swollen August stars
had faded before the pale flush that, toward the lighthouse
on the cliff, heralded the red rise of the moon.
He held himself a little apart, the
better to seize every filmy detail of the strange
woman who had come inexplicably into his life, watching
the long, languorous arms stretched out into an impulsive
clasp, the dramatic harmony of the body, the brooding
head, the soft, half-revealed line of the neck.
The troubling alchemy of the night, that before his
eyes slowly mingled the earth with the sea and the
sea with the sky, seemed less mysterious than this
woman whose body was as immobile as the stillness
in her soul.
All at once he felt in her, whom he
had known as he had known no other, something unknown,
the coming of another woman, belonging to another
life, the life of the opera and the multitude, which
would again flatter and intoxicate her. The summer
had passed without a doubt, and now, all at once,
something new came to him, indefinable, colored with
the vague terror of the night, the fear of other men
who would come thronging about her, in the other life,
where he could not follow.
Around the forked promontory to the
east, the lights of the little packet-boat for England
appeared, like the red cinder in a pipe, slipping
toward the horizon. It was the signal for a lover’s
embrace, conceived long ago in fancy and kept in tenderness.
“Madeleine,” he said,
touching her arm. “There it is our
“Ah! lé p’tit bateau with
its funny red and green eyes.”
She turned and raised her lips to
his; and the kiss, which she did not give but permitted,
seemed only fraught with an ineffable sadness, the
end of all things, the tearing asunder and the numbness
of separation. She returned to her pose, her
eyes fixed on the little packet, saying:
“It goes fast.”
They spoke mechanically, and then
not at all. The dread of the morning was too
poignant to approach the things that must be said.
Suddenly, with the savage directness of the male to
plunge into the pain which must be undergone, he began:
“It was like poison that kiss.”
She turned, forgetting her own anguish
in the pain in his voice, murmuring, “Ben, my
“So you will go to-morrow,”
he said bitterly, “back to the great public
that will possess you, and I shall remain here,
“It must be so.”
He felt suddenly an impulse he had
not felt before, an instinct to make her suffer a
little. He said brutally:
“But you want to go!”
She did not answer, but, in the obscurity,
he knew her large eyes were searching his face.
He felt ashamed of what he had said, and yet because
she made no protestation, he persisted:
“You have left off your jewels,
those jewels you can’t do without.”
“You who are never happy without them why
As, carried away by the jealousy of
what lay beyond, he was about to continue, she laid
her fingers on his lips, with a little brusk, nervous
movement of her shoulders.
“Don’t you don’t understand.”
But he understood and he resented
the fact that she should have put aside the long undulating
rope of pearls, the rings of rubies and emeralds that
seemed as natural to her dark beauty as the roses to
the spring. He had tried to understand her woman’s
nature, to believe that no memory yet lingered about
them, to accept without question what had never belonged
longed to their life together, and remembering what
he had fought down he thought bitterly:
“She has changed me more than I have changed
her. It is always so.”
She moved a little, her pose, with
instinctive dramatic sense, changing with her changing
“Do not think I don’t understand you,”
she said quietly.
“What do you understand?”
“It hurts you because I wish to return.”
“That is not so, Madeleine,”
he said abruptly. “You know what big things
I want you to do.”
“I know only you
would like me to say the contrary to protest
that I would give it all up be content
to be with you alone.”
“No, not that,” he said
grudgingly, “and yet, this last night here I
should like to hear you say the contrary.”
She laughed a low laugh and caught
his hand a little tighter.
“That displeases you?”
“No, no, of course not!” Presently she
added with an effort:
“There is so much that we must
say to each other and we have not the courage.”
“True, all summer we have never talked of what
must come after.”
“I want you to understand why
I go back to it all, why I wish every year to be separated
from you yes, exactly, from you,”
she added, as his fingers contracted with an involuntary
movement. “Ben, what has come to me I never
expected would come. I love, but neither that
word nor any other word can express how absolutely
I have become yours. When I told you my life,
you did not wonder how difficult it was for me to believe
that such a thing could be possible. But you convinced
me, and what has come to me has come as a miracle.
I adore you. All my life has been lived just
for this great love; ah yes, that’s what I believe,
what I feel.” She leaned swiftly to him
and allowed him to catch her to him in his strong
arms. Then slowly disengaging herself, she continued,
“You are a little hurt because I do not cry
out what you would not accept, because I do not say
that I would give up everything if you asked it.”
“It is only to hear it,” he said
“But I have often wished it
myself,” she said slowly. “There’s
not a day that I have not wished it to
give up everything and stay by you. Do you know
why? From the longing that’s in me now,
the first unselfish longing I have ever had to
sacrifice myself for you in some way, somehow.
It is more than a hunger, it is a need of the soul of
my love itself. It comes over me sometimes as
tears come to my eyes when you are away, and I say
to myself, ‘I love him,’ and yet, Ben,
I shall not, I shall never give up my career, not
now, not for years to come.”
“No,” he said mechanically.
“We are two great idealists,
for that is what you have made me, Ben. Before
I was always laughing, and I believed in nothing.
I despised even what my sacrifice had won. Now,
when I am with you, I remain in a revery, and I am
happy happy with the happiness of things
I cannot understand. To-night, by your side,
it seems to me I have never felt the night before
or known the mystery of the silent, faint hours.
You have made me feel the loneliness of the human
soul, and that impulse it must have before these things
that are beyond us, that surround us, dominate us,
to cling almost in terror to another soul. You
have so completely made me over that it is as though
you had created me yourself. I am thirty-five.
I have known everything else but what you have awakened
in me, and because I have this knowledge and this
hunger I can see clearer what we must do. You
and I are a little romanesque, but remember that
even a great love may tire and grow stale, and that
is what I won’t have, what must not be.”
Her voice had risen with the intensity of her mood.
She said more solemnly: “You are afraid
of other men, of other moods of mine you
have no reason. This love which comes to some
as the awakening of life is to me the end of all things.
If anything should wound it or belittle it, I should
not survive it.”
She continued to speak, in a low unvarying
voice. He felt his mind clear and his doubts
dissipate, and impatiently he waited for her to end,
to show her that his weakness of the moment was gone
and that he was still the man of big vision who had
“There are people who can put
in order their love as they put in order their house.
We are not of that kind, Ben. I am a woman who
has lived on sensations. You, too, are a dreamer
and a poet at the bottom. If I should give up
the opera and become to you simply a housewife, if
there was no longer any difficulty in our having each
other, you would still love me yes, because
you are loyal but the romanticism, the mystery,
the longing we both need would vanish. Oh, I know.
Well, you and I, we are the same. We can only
live on a great passion, and to have fierce, unutterable
joys we must suffer also the suffering of
separation. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do.”
“That is why I shall never give
up my career. That is why I can bear the sadness
of leaving you. I want you to be proud of me,
Ben. I want you to think of me as some one whom
thousands desire and only you can have. I want
our love to be so intense that every day spent apart
is heavy with the longing for each other; every day
together precious because it will be a day nearer
the awful coming of another separation. Believe
me, I am right. I have thought much about it.
You have your diplomatic career and your ambitions.
You are proud. I have never asked you to give
that up to follow me. I would not insult you.
In January you will have a leave of absence, and we
will be together for a few wonderful weeks, and in
May I shall return here. Nothing will be changed.”
She extended her arm to where a faint red point still
showed on the unseen water. “And each night
we will wait, as we have waited, side by side, the
coming of our little boat, nôtre p’tit
“You are right,” he said,
placing his lips to her forehead. “I was
jealous. I am sorry. It is over.”
“But I, too, am jealous,” she said, smiling.
“Of course no one
can love without being jealous. Oh, I shall be
afraid of every woman who comes near you. It
will be an agony,” she said, and the fire in
her eyes brought him more healing happiness than all
“You are right,” he repeated.
He left her with a little pressure
of the hand, and walked to the edge of the veranda.
A nervous, sighing breeze had come with the full coming
of the moon, and underneath him he heard the troubled
rustle of leaves in the obscurity, the sifting and
drifting of tired, loose things, the stir of the night
which awakened a restless mood in his soul. He
had listened to her as she had proclaimed her love,
and yet this love, without illusions, sharply recalled
to him other passions. He remembered his first
love, a boy-and-girl affair, and sharply contrasting
it with a sudden ache to this absence of impulse and
illusions, of phrases, vows, without logic, thrown
out in the sweet madness of the moment. Why had
she not cried out something impulsive, promised things
that could not be. Then he realized, standing
there in the harvest moonlight, in the breaking up
of summer, that he was no longer a youth, that certain
things could not be lived over, and that, as she had
said, he too felt that this was the great love, the
last that he would share; that if it ended, his youth
ended and with his youth all that in him clung to life.
He turned and saw her, chin in the
flat of her palm, steadily following his mood.
He had taken but a dozen steps, and yet he had placed
a thousand miles between them. He had almost
a feeling of treachery, and to dispel these new unquiet
thoughts he repeated to himself again:
“She is right.”
But he did not immediately return.
The memory of other loves, faint as they had been
in comparison with this all-absorbing impulse, had
yet given him a certain objective point of view.
He saw himself clearly, and he understood what of
pain the future had in store for him.
“How I shall suffer!” he said to himself.
“You are going so far away from
me,” she said suddenly, warned by some woman’s
He was startled at the conjunction
of her words and his moods. He returned hastily,
and sat down beside her. She took his head in
her hands and looked anxiously into his eyes.
“What is it?” she said. “You
“A little,” he said reluctantly.
“Of what of the months that will
“Of the past.”
“What do you mean?” she
said, withdrawing a little as though disturbed by
“When I am with you I know there
is not a corner of your heart that I do not possess,”
he began evasively.
“Only it’s the past the
habits of the past,” he murmured. “I
know you so well, Madeleine, you have need of strength,
you don’t go on alone. That is the genius
of women like you to reach out and attach
to themselves men who will strengthen them, compel
“Ah, I understand,” she said slowly.
“Yes, that is what I’m afraid of,”
he said rapidly.
“You are thinking of the artist, not the woman.”
“Ah, there is no difference not
to a man who loves,” he said impulsively.
“I know how great your love is for me, and I
believe in it. I know nothing will come to efface
it. Only you will be lonely, you’ll have
your trials and annoyances, days of depression, of
doubt, when you will need some one to restore your
faith in yourself, your courage in your work, and
then, I don’t say you will love any one else,
but you will need some one near you who loves you,
always at your service ”
“If you could only understand
me,” she said, interrupting him. “Men,
other men, are like actors to me. When I am on
the stage, when I am playing Manon, do you think I
see who is playing Des Grieux? Not at all.
He is there, he gives me my réplique, he excites
my nerves, I say a thousand things under my breath,
when I am in his arms I adore him, but when the curtain
goes down, I go off the stage and don’t even
say good night to him.”
“But he, he doesn’t know that.”
“Of course not; tenors never
do. Well, that is just the way I have lived,
that is just what men have meant to me. They give
the réplique to my moods, to my needs, and
when I have no longer need of them, I go off tranquilly.
That is all there is to it. I take from them what
I want. Of course they will be around me, but
they will be nothing to me. They will be like
managers, press-agents, actors. Don’t you
“Yes, yes, I understand,”
he said without sincerity. Then he blurted out,
“I wish you had not said it, all the same.”
“I cannot see it as you see
it, and besides, you put a doubt in my mind that I
never wish to feel.”
“Do I really have you, or only a mood of yours?”
“I know. I know. No,
I am not going to think such things. That would
be unworthy of what we have felt.” He paused
a moment, and when he spoke again his voice was under
control. “Madeleine, remember well what
I say to you now. I shall probably never again
speak to you with such absolute truth, or even acknowledge
it to myself. I accept the necessity of separation.
I know all the sufferings it will bring, all the doubts,
the unreasoning jealousies. I am big enough in
experience to understand what you have just suggested
to me, but as a man who loves you, Madeleine, I will
never understand it. I know that a dozen men may
come into your life, interest you intensely, even
absorb you for a while, and that they would still
mean nothing to you the moment I come. Well, I
am different. A man is different. While
you are away, I shall not see a woman without resentment;
I shall not think of any one but you, and if I did,
I would cease to love you.”
“Because I cannot share anything
of what belongs to you. That is my nature.
There is no use in pretending the contrary. Yours
is different, and I understand why it is so.
I have listened to many confidences, understood many
lives that others would not understand. I have
always maintained that it is the natural thing for
a human being to love many times even that
there might he in the same heart a great, overpowering
love and a little one. I still believe it with
my mind. I know it is so. These are the
things we like to analyze in human nature together.
I know it is true, but it is not true for me.
No, I would never understand it in you. I know
myself too well, I am jealous of everything of the
past oh, insanely jealous. I know that
no sooner are you gone than I will be tortured by
the most ridiculous doubts. I will see you in
the moonlight all across that endless sea with other
men near you. I will dream of other men with
millions, ready to give you everything your eyes adore.
I will imagine men of big minds that will fascinate
you. I will even say to myself that now that
you have known what a great love can mean you will
all the more be likely to need it, to seek something
to counterfeit it ”
“Ben, my poor Ben frightful,”
“That is how it is. Shall I tell you something
“I wish devoutly you had never told me a word
of of the past.”
“But how can you say such things?
We have been honest with each other. You yourself ”
“I know, I know, I have no right
myself, and yet there it is. It is something
fearful, this madness of possession that comes to me.
No, I have no fear that I will not always be first
in your heart, only I understand the needs, the habits,
of your nature. I understand myself now as I
have not before, and that’s why I say to you
solemnly, Madeleine, if ever for a moment another
man should come into your life never, never,
let me know.”
“No, don’t say anything that I may remember
to torture me. Lie to me.”
“I have never lied.”
“Madeleine, it is better to
be merciful than to tell the truth, and, after all,
what does such a confession mean? It only means
that you free your conscience and that the wound the
ache remains with the other. Whatever
happens, never tell me. Do you understand?”
This time she made no answer.
She even ceased to look at him, her head dropped back,
her arms motionless, one finger only revolving slowly
on the undulating arm of her chair.
“I shall try by all the strength
that is in me never to ask that question,” he
rushed on. “I know I shall make a hundred
vows not to do so, and I know that the first time
I look into your face I shall blurt it out. Ah,
if if if it must be so, never
let me know, for there are thoughts I cannot bear
now that I’ve known you.” He flung
himself at her side and took her roughly in his arms.
“Madeleine, I know what I am saying. I
may tell you the contrary later. I may say it
lightly, pretending it is of no importance. I
may beg the truth of you with tears in my eyes I
may swear to you that nothing but honesty counts between
us, that I can understand, forgive, forget everything.
Well, whatever I say or do, never, never let me know if
you value my happiness, my peace of mind, my life
She laid her hand on his lips and
then on his forehead to calm him, drawing his head
to her shoulder.
“Listen, Ben,” she said,
gently. “I, the Madeleine Conti who loves
you, am another being. I adore you so that I
shall hate all other men, as you will hate all other
women. There will never be the slightest deceit
or infidelity between us. Ask any questions of
me at any time. I know there can be from now
on but one answer. Have no fear. Do not tire
yourself in a senseless fever. There is so little
time left. I love you.”
Never had he heard her voice so deep
with sincerity and tenderness, and yet, as he surrendered
to the touch of her soft hands, yielding up all his
doubts, he was conscious of a new alarm creeping into
his heart; and, dissatisfied with what he himself
had a moment before implored, in the breath with which
he whispered, “I believe you,” he said
“Does she say that because she
believes it or has she begun to lie?”
For seven years they lived the same
existence, separated sometimes for three months, occasionally
for six, and once because of a trip taken to South
America for nearly a year.
The first time that he joined her,
after five months of longing, he remained a week without
crying out the words that were heavy on his heart.
One day she said to him:
“What is there back
of your eyes, hidden away, that you are stifling?”
“You know,” he blurted out.
“Ah, I have tried not to say
it, to live it down. I can’t it’s
beyond me. I shall have no peace until it is
“Then say it.”
He took her face in his two hands and looked into
“Since I have been away,”
he said brutally, “there has been no one else
in your heart? You have been true to me, to our
“I have been true,” she answered with
a little smile.
He held his eyes on hers a long while,
hesitating whether to be silent or to continue, and
then, all at once, convinced, burst into tears and
begged her pardon.
“Oh, I shouldn’t have asked it forgive
“Do whatever is easiest for
you, my love,” she answered. “There
is nothing to forgive. I understand all.
I love you for it.”
Only she never asked him any questions, and that alarmed
The second time report had coupled
her name with a Gabriel Lombardi, a great baritone
with whom she was appearing. When he arrived,
as soon as they were alone, he swung her about in
his arms and cried in a strangled voice:
“Swear to me that you have been faithful.”
“I can’t abide him”.
“Ah, if I had never told you to lie to me fool
that I was.”
Then she said calmly, with that deep
conviction which always moved him: “Ben,
when you asked me that, I told you I would never lie.
I have told you the truth. No man has ever had
the pressure of my fingers, and no man ever will.”
So intense had been his emotion that
he had almost a paroxysm. When he opened his
eyes he found her face wet with tears.
“Ah, Madeleine,” he said, “I am
brutal with you. I cannot help it.”
“I would not have you love me
differently,” she said gently, and through her
tears he seemed to see a faint, elusive smile, that
was gone quickly if it was ever there at all.
Another time, he said to himself:
“No, I will say nothing. She will come
to me herself, put her arms around me, and tell me
with a smile that no other thought has been in her
heart all this while. That’s it. If
I wait she will make the move, she will make the move
each time and that will be much better.”
He waited three days, but she made
no allusion. He waited another, and then he said
“You see, I am reforming.”
“Why, I don’t ask foolish questions any
“Well?” she said, looking up.
“Still, you might have guessed
what I wanted,” he answered, a little hurt.
She rose quickly and came lightly
to him, putting her hand on his shoulder.
“Is that what you wish?” she said.
She repeated slowly her protestations
and when she had ended, said, “Take me in your
arms hurt me.”
“Now she will understand,”
he thought; “the next time she will not wait.”
But each time, though he martyrized
his soul in patience, he was forced to bring up the
question that would not let him rest.
He could not understand why she did
not save him this useless agony. Sometimes when
he wanted to find an excuse he said to himself it was
because she felt humiliated that he should still doubt.
At other times, he stumbled on explanations that terrified
him. Then he remembered with bitterness the promise
that he had exacted from her, a promise that, instead
of bringing him peace, had left only an endless torment,
and forgetting all his protestations he would cry
to himself, in a cold perspiration:
“Ah, if she is really lying, how can I ever
In the eighth year, Madeleine Conti
retired from the stage and announced her marriage.
After five years of complete happiness she was taken
suddenly ill, as the result of exposure to a drenching
storm. One afternoon, as he waited by her bedside,
talking in broken tones of all that they had been
to each other, he said to her in a voice that he tried
nervously to school to quietness:
“Madeleine, you know that our
life together has been without the slightest shadow
from the first. You know we have proved to each
other how immense our love has been. In all these
years I have grown in maturity and understanding.
I regret only one thing, and I have regretted it bitterly,
every day that I once asked you, if if
ever for a moment another man came into your life
to hide it from me, to tell me a lie. It was
a great mistake. I have never ceased to regret
it. Our love has been so above all worldly things
that there ought not to be the slightest concealment
between us. I release you from that promise.
Tell me now the truth. It will mean nothing to
me. During the eight years when we were separated
there were there must have been times, times
of loneliness, of weakness, when other men came into
your life. Weren’t there?”
She turned and looked at him steadily,
her large eyes seeming larger and more brilliant from
the heightened fever of her cheeks. Then she made
a little negative sign of her head, still looking
“You don’t understand,
Madeleine,” he said, dissatisfied, “or
you are still thinking of what I said to you there
in Etretat. That was thirteen years ago.
Then I had just begun to love you, I feared for the
future, for everything. Now I have tested you,
and I have never had a doubt. I know the difference
between the flesh and the spirit. I know your
two selves; I know how impossible it would have been
otherwise. Now you can tell me.”
“There is nothing to tell,”
she said slowly.
“I expected that you would have
other men who loved you about you,” he said,
feverishly. “I knew it would be so.
I swear to you I expected it. I know why you
continue to deny it. It’s for my sake, isn’t
it? I love you for it. But, believe me,
in such a moment there ought nothing to stand between
us. Madeleine, Madeleine, I beg you, tell me the
She continued to gaze at him fixedly,
without turning away her great eyes, as forgetting
himself, he rushed on:
“Yes, let me know the truth that
will be nothing now. Besides, I have guessed
it. Only I must know one way or the other.
All these years I have lived in doubt. You see
what it means to me. You must understand what
is due me after all our life together. Madeleine,
did you lie to me?”
“Listen,” he said, desperately.
“You never asked me the same question why,
I never understood but if you had questioned
me I could not have answered truthfully what you did.
There, you see, there is no longer the slightest reason
why you should not speak the truth.”
She half closed her eyes wearily.
“I have told the truth.”
“Ah, I can’t believe it,”
he cried, carried away. “Oh, cursed day
when I told you what I did. It’s that which
tortures me. You adore me you don’t
wish to hurt me, to leave a wound behind, but I swear
to you if you told me the truth I should feel a great
weight taken from my heart, a weight that has been
here all these years. I should know that every
corner of your soul had been shown to me, nothing withheld.
I should know absolutely, Madeleine, believe me, when
I tell you this, when I tell you I must know.
Every day of my life I have paid the penalty, I have
suffered the doubts of the damned, I have never known
an hour’s peace! I beg you, I implore you,
only let me know the truth; the truth I
must know the truth!”
He stopped suddenly, trembling all
over, and held out his hands to her, his face lashed
“I have not lied,” she
said slowly, after a long study. She raised her
eyes, feebly made the sign of the cross, and whispered,
“I swear it.”
Then he no longer held in his tears.
He dropped his head, and his body shook with sobs,
while from time to time he repeated, “Thank God,
The next day Madeleine Conti had a
sudden turn for the worse, which surprised the attendants.
Doctor Kimball, the American, doctor, and Pere Francois,
who had administered the last rites, were walking together
in the little formal garden, where the sun flung short,
brilliant shadows of scattered foliage about them.
“She was an extraordinary artist
and her life was more extraordinary,” said Dr.
Kimball. “I heard her debut at the Opera
Comique. For ten years her name was the gossip
of all Europe. Then all at once she meets a man
whom no one knows, falls in love, and is transformed.
These women are really extraordinary examples of hysteria.
Each time I know one it makes me understand the scientific
phenomenon of Mary Magdalene. It is really a
case of nerve reaction. The moral fever that is
the fiercest burns itself out the quickest and seems
to leave no trace behind. In this case love came
also as a religious conversion. I should say the
phenomena were identical.”
“She was happy,” said the cure, turning
“Yes, it was a great romance.”
“A rare one. She adored him. Love
is a tide that cleanses all.”
“Yet she was of the stage up
to the last. You know she would not have her
husband in the room at the end.”
“She had a great heart,”
said the cure quietly. “She wished to spare
him that suffering.”
“She had an extraordinary will,”
said the doctor, glancing at him quickly. He
added, tentatively: “She asked two questions
that were curious enough.”
“Indeed,” said the cure,
lingering a moment with his hand on the gate.
“She wanted to know whether
persons in a delirium talked of the past and if after
death the face returned to its calm.”
“What did you say to her about
the effects of delirium?” said the cure with
his blank face.
“That it was a point difficult
to decide,” said the doctor slowly. “Undoubtedly,
in a delirium, everything is mixed, the real and the
imagined, the memory and the fantasy, actual experience
and the inner dream-life of the mind which is so difficult
to classify. It was after that, that she made
her husband promise to see her only when she was conscious
and to remain away at the last.”
“It is easily understood,”
said the cure quietly, without change of expression
on his face that held the secrets of a thousand confessionals.
“As you say, for ten years she had lived a different
life. She was afraid that in her delirium some
reference to that time might wound unnecessarily the
man who had made over her life. She had a great
courage. Peace be with her soul.”
Kimball hesitated, as though considering the phrasing
of a delicate question; but Father Francois, making
a little amical sign of adieu, passed out of the garden,
and for a moment his blank face was illumined by one
of those rare smiles, such as one sees on the faces
of holy men; smiles that seem in perfect faith to
look upon the mysteries of the world to come.