Robert Tronge 19

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robert tronge
Robert Tronge

I arose and tried to go out, but my feet refused to support me. At the same time my eyes failed me, a mortal weakness took possession of me and I fell over a stool. "You are not well," she said, taking me by the arm, "you have drunk, like the child that you are, without knowing what you were doing. Sit down in this chair and wait until a cab passes. You will tell me where you live and I will order the driver to take you home to your mother, since," she added, "you really find me ugly." As she spoke I raised my eyes. Perhaps my drunkenness deceived me, or perhaps I had not seen her face clearly before, but suddenly I detected in that unfortunate girl a fatal resemblance to my mistress. I shuddered at the sight. There is a certain shudder that affects the hair; some say it is death passing over the head, but it was not death that passed over mine. It was the malady of the age, or rather was it that girl herself; and it was she who, with her pale, halfmocking features and rasping voice, came and sat with me at the end of the tavern room. The moment I perceived her resemblance to my mistress a frightful idea occurred to me; it took irresistible possession of my muddled mind, and I put it into execution at once. I escorted that girl to my home; and I arranged my room just as I had been wont to do when my mistress was with me, for I was dominated by a certain recollection of past joys. Having arranged my room to my satisfaction, I gave myself up to the intoxication of despair. I probed my heart to the bottom in order to sound its depths. A Tyrolean song that my loved one used to sing began to run through my head: Altra volta gieri biele, Blanch' a rossa com' un flore, Ma ora no. Non son piu biele Consumatis dal' amore. [Once I was beautiful, white and rosy as a flower; but now I am not. I am no longer beautiful, consumed by the fire of love.] I listened to the echo of that song as it reverberated through the desert of my heart. I said: "Behold the happiness of man; behold my little Paradise; behold my queen Mab, a girl from the streets. My mistress is no better. Behold what is found at the bottom of the glass when the nectar of the gods has been drained; behold the corpse of love." The unfortunate creature heard me singing and began to sing herself. I turned pale; for that harsh and rasping voice, coming from the lips of one who resembled my mistress, seemed a symbol of my experience. It sounded like a gurgle in the throat of debauchery. It seemed to me that my mistress, having been unfaithful, must have such a voice. I was reminded of Faust who, dancing at the Brocken with a young sorceress, saw a red mouse emerge from her throat. "Stop!" I cried. I arose and approached her. Let me ask you, O men of the time, bent upon pleasure, who attend the balls and the opera and who, upon retiring this night, will seek slumber with the aid of some threadbare blasphemy of old Voltaire, some sensible satire by Paul Louis Courier, or some essay on economics, you who dally with the cold substance of that monstrous water-lily that Reason has planted in the hearts of our cities-let me ask, if by some chance this obscure book falls into your hands, not to smile with noble disdain or shrug your shoulders. Be not too sure that I complain of an imaginary evil; be not too sure that human reason is the most beautiful of faculties, that there is nothing real here below but quotations on the Bourse, gambling in the salon, wine on the table, the glow of health, indifference toward others, and the pleasures of the night. For some day, across your stagnant life, a gust of wind will blow. Those beautiful trees, that you water with the stream of oblivion, Providence will destroy; despair will overtake you, heedless ones, and tears will dim your eyes. I will not say that your mistresses will deceive you-- that would not grieve you so much as the loss of a horse--but you can lose on the Bourse. For the first plunge is not the last, and even if you do not gamble, bethink you that your moneyed tranquillity, your golden happiness, are in the care of a banker who may fail. In short, I tell you, frozen as you are, you are capable of loving something; some fibre of your being can be torn and you can give vent to cries that will resemble a moan of pain. Some day, wandering about the muddy streets, when daily material joys shall have failed, you will find yourself seated disconsolately on a deserted bench at midnight. O men of marble! sublime egoists, inimitable reasoners, who have never given way to despair or made a mistake in arithmetic, if this ever happens to you, at the hour of your ruin you will remember Abelard when he lost Heloise. For he loved her more than you love your horses, your money, or your mistresses; and in losing her he lost more than your monarch Satan would lose in falling again from the battlements of Heaven. He loved her with a love of which the gazettes do not speak, the shadow of which your wives and your daughters do not perceive in our theatres and in our books. He passed half of his life kissing her white forehead, teaching her to sing the psalms of David and the canticles of Saul; he had but her on earth alone; and God consoled him. Believe me, when in your distress you think of Abelard you will not look with the same eye upon the rich blasphemy of Voltaire and the badinage of Courier; you will feel that human reason can cure illusions but can not heal sorrows; that God has use for Reason but that He has not made her a sister of Charity. You will find that when the heart of man said: "I believe in nothing, for I see nothing," it did not speak the last word on the subject. You will look about you for something like hope, you will shake the doors of churches to see if they still swing, but you will find them walled up; you will think of becoming Trappists, and destiny will mock at you, and for reply will give you a bottle of wine and a courtesan. And if you drink the wine, and take the courtesan, you will learn how such things come to pass.