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"My dear Octave," he added, "you are very young. You want many things, beautiful things, which do not exist. You believe in a singular sort of love; perhaps you are capable of it; I believe you are, but I do not envy you. You will have other mistresses, my friend, and you will live to regret what happened last night. If that woman came to you it is certain that she loved you; perhaps she does not love you at this moment--indeed, she may be in the arms of another; but she loved you last night in that room; and what should you care for the rest? You will regret it, believe me, for she will not come again. A woman pardons everything except such a slight. Her love for you must have been something terrible when she came to you knowing and confessing herself guilty, risking rebuff and contempt at your hands. Believe me, you will regret it, for I am satisfied that you will soon be cured." There was such an air of simple conviction about my friend's words, such a despairing certainty based on experience, that I shuddered as I listened. While he was speaking I felt a strong desire to go to my mistress, or to write to her to come to me. I was so weak that I could not leave my bed, and that saved me from the shame of finding her waiting for my rival or perhaps in his company. But I could write to her; in spite of myself I doubted whether she would come if I should write. When Desgenais left me I became so desperate that I resolved to put an end to my trouble. After a terrible struggle, horror got the better of love. I wrote my mistress that I would never see her again, and begged her not to try to see me unless she wished to be exposed to the shame of being refused admittance. I called a servant and ordered him to deliver the letter at once. He had hardly closed the door when I called him back. He did not hear me; I did not dare call again; covering my face with my hands, I yielded to an overwhelming sense of despair. CHAPTER IV THE PATH OF DESPAIR The next morning the first question that occurred to my mind was: "What shall I do?" I had no occupation. I had studied medicine and law without being able to decide on either of the two careers; I had worked for a banker for six months, and my services were so unsatisfactory that I was obliged to resign to avoid being discharged. My studies had been varied but superficial; my memory was active but not retentive. My only treasure, after love, was reserve. In my childhood I had devoted myself to a solitary way of life, and had, so to speak, consecrated my heart to it. One day my father, solicitous about my future, spoke to me of several careers among which he allowed me to choose. I was leaning on the window-sill, looking at a solitary poplar-tree that was swaying in the breeze down in the garden. I thought over all the various occupations and wondered which one I should choose. I turned them all over, one after another, in my mind, and then, not feeling inclined to any of them, I allowed my thoughts to wander. Suddenly it seemed to me that I felt the earth move, and that a secret, invisible force was slowly dragging me into space and becoming tangible to my senses. I saw it mount into the sky; I seemed to be on a ship; the poplar near my window resembled a mast; I arose, stretched out my arms, and cried: "It is little enough to be a passenger for one day on this ship floating through space; it is little enough to be a man, a black point on that ship; I will be a man, but not any particular kind of man." Such was the first vow that, at the age of fourteen, I pronounced in the face of nature, and since then I have done nothing, except in obedience to my father, never being able to overcome my repugnance. I was therefore free, not through indolence but by choice; loving, moreover, all that God had made and very little that man had made. Of life I knew nothing but love, of the world only my mistress, and I did not care to know anything more. So, falling in love upon leaving college, I sincerely believed that it was for life, and every other thought disappeared. My life was indolent. I was accustomed to pass the day with my mistress; my greatest pleasure was to take her through the fields on beautiful summer days, the sight of nature in her splendor having ever been for me the most powerful incentive to love. In winter, as she enjoyed society, we attended numerous balls and masquerades, and because I thought of no one but her I fondly imagined her equally true to me. To give you an idea of my state of mind I can not do better than compare it to one of those rooms we see nowadays in which are collected and mingled the furniture of all times and countries. Our age has no impress of its own. We have impressed the seal of our time neither on our houses nor our gardens, nor on anything that is ours. On the street may be seen men who have their beards trimmed as in the time of Henry III, others who are clean-shaven, others who have their hair arranged as in the time of Raphael, others as in the time of Christ. So the homes of the rich are cabinets of curiosities: the antique, the gothic, the style of the Renaissance, that of Louis XIII, all pell-mell. In short, we have every century except our own--a thing which has never been seen at any other epoch: eclecticism is our taste; we take everything we find, this for beauty, that for utility, another for antiquity, still another for its ugliness even, so that we live surrounded by debris, as if the end of the world were at hand.