In a men’s boudoir, that is to say in a smoking room adjoining an elegant gambling den, four men were smoking and drinking. They were precisely neither young nor old, neither beautiful nor ugly; but old or young, they wore that unrecognizable distinction of the veterans of joy, that indescribable je ne sais quoi, that cold, mocking sadness that clearly says: “We have lived strongly, and we are looking for what we might like and value.” “
One of them started the talk on the subject of women. It would have been more philosophical not to mention it at all; but there are people of spirit who, after drinking, do not despise ordinary conversations. We then listen to the speaker, as we would listen to dance music.
“All men,” said the latter, “have had the age of Cherubim: this is the time when, for lack of dryads, one embraces, without disgust, the trunk of the oaks. It is the first degree of love. In the second degree, we start to choose. Being able to deliberate is already a decline. It is then that we are definitely looking for beauty. For myself, gentlemen, I pride myself on having arrived, for a long time, in the climacteric period of the third degree when beauty itself is no longer sufficient, if it is not seasoned with perfume, adornment, and so on. . I will even admit that I sometimes aspire, as to an unknown happiness, to a certain fourth degree which should mark absolute calm. But throughout my life, except at Cherubin’s age, I have been more sensitive than any other to the irritating stupidity, to the irritating mediocrity of women. What I love most about animals is their candor. Judge how much I must have suffered through my last mistress.
“She was a prince’s bastard. Beautiful, it goes without saying; otherwise, why would I have taken it? But she spoiled this great quality with an unbecoming and misshapen ambition. She was a woman who always wanted to be the man. “You are not a man! Ah! if I was a man! Of us two, it is I who am the man! Such were the unbearable refrains which issued from that mouth from which I would have liked to see only songs fly away. About a book, a poem, an opera for which I let escape my admiration: “You think perhaps that this is very strong? she would say immediately; do you know each other in force? And she argued.
“One fine day she took up chemistry; so that between my mouth and hers I now found a glass mask. With all this, strong stammer. If sometimes I jostled her with a gesture that was a little too loving, she would convulse like a raped sensitive …
– How did it end? said one of the other three. I didn’t know you were so patient.
– God, he continued, put the remedy in the evil. One day I found this Minerva, starving for ideal strength, alone with my servant, and in a situation which obliged me to withdraw discreetly so as not to make them blush. In the evening I dismissed them both, paying them the arrears of their wages.
‘For me,’ the switch went on, ‘I have nothing to complain about but myself. Happiness came to live with me, and I did not recognize it. Fate had, in recent times, granted me the enjoyment of a woman who was indeed the sweetest, the most submissive and the most devoted of creatures, and always ready! and without enthusiasm! “I do not mind, since it is agreeable to you. It was his ordinary response. You would give the caning to that wall or that sofa, that you would draw more sighs from it than the outbursts of the most frenzied love drew from my mistress’s breast. After a year of living together, she confessed to me that she had never known pleasure. I grew disgusted with this unequal duel, and this incomparable girl got married. Later I had the fancy of seeing her again, and she said to me, showing me six beautiful children: “Well! my dear friend, the wife is still as virgin as your mistress was. Nothing was changed in this person. Sometimes I regret her: I should have married her. “
The others laughed, and a third said in turn:
“Gentlemen, I have known pleasures that you may have neglected. I want to bet on the comic in love, and on a comic that does not exclude admiration. I admired my last mistress more than you could, I believe, hate or love yours. And everyone admired him as much as I did. When we entered a restaurant, after a few minutes, everyone forgot to eat to contemplate her. The boys themselves and the lady at the counter felt this contagious ecstasy until they forgot their homework. In short, I lived for some time one-on-one with a living phenomenon. She ate, chewed, crushed, devoured, swallowed, but with the lightest and most carefree air in the world. She kept me in ecstasy for a long time. She had a sweet, dreamy, English, romantic way of saying, “I’m hungry! And she repeated these words day and night, showing the prettiest teeth in the world, which would have softened and enlivened you at the same time. – I could have made my fortune by showing it at fairs as a polyphagous monster. I fed her well; and yet she left me… – For a food supplier, no doubt? – Something similar, a sort of employee in the administration who, by some trick he knows, perhaps provides this poor child with the ration of several soldiers. At least that’s what I assumed.
– Me, said the fourth, I endured atrocious sufferings on the contrary of what is generally reproached to the female egoist. I find you unwelcome, too fortunate mortals, to complain about the imperfections of your mistresses! “
This was said in a very serious tone, by a man of a gentle and composed appearance, an almost clerical countenance, unfortunately illuminated by eyes of a light gray, those eyes whose gaze said: “I want to. ! “Or:” You have to! Or else: “I never forgive!” “
“If, nervous as I know you, you, G…, cowardly and light as you are, you two, K… and J…, you had been mated to a certain woman I know, or you would have run away, or you would be dead. I survived, as you can see. Imagine a person incapable of making a mistake of feeling or of calculation; imagine a distressing serenity of character; a devotion without comedy and without emphasis; gentleness without weakness; energy without violence. The story of my love is like an endless journey over a pure and mirror-polished surface, dizzyingly monotonous, which would have reflected all my feelings and gestures with the ironic accuracy of my own conscience, so that I could not allow me an unreasonable gesture or feeling without immediately perceiving the silent reproach of my inseparable specter. Love seemed to me like a guardianship. What nonsense she has prevented me from doing, which I regret not having committed! What debts paid in spite of myself! She deprived me of all the benefits that I could have derived from my personal madness. With a cold and insurmountable rule, she barred all my whims. To make matters worse, she did not demand recognition, the danger was over. How many times have I refrained from jumping at her throat, crying out: “Be imperfect, miserable!” so that I can love you without discomfort and without anger! For several years, I admired her, my heart full of hatred. Finally, it is not me who died of it!
– Ah! said the others, is she dead?
– Yes! it could not continue like this. Love had become an overwhelming nightmare for me. To win or to die, as the Politics says, such was the alternative imposed on me by destiny! One evening, in a wood… at the edge of a pond… after a melancholy walk where her eyes reflected the softness of the sky, and where my heart, to me, was tensed like hell…
– How? ‘Or’ What!
– What do you mean?
– It was inevitable. I have too much of a sense of fairness to beat, insult or dismiss a blameless servant. But I had to reconcile this feeling with the horror that this being inspired in me; get rid of this being without disrespecting him. What did you want me to do with her, since she was perfect? “
The other three companions looked at him with a vague and slightly dazed gaze, as pretending not to understand and as implicitly confessing that they did not feel themselves capable of such a rigorous action, although sufficiently explained to it. ‘elsewhere.
Then we brought in new bottles, to kill Time which has the life so hard, and to accelerate the life which flows so slowly.