Gamiani, or Two Passionate Nights/Extract from the memoirs of the countess of C*** concerning the author of Gamiani
EXTRACT FROM THE MEMOIRS
COUNTESS OF C***
CONCERNING THE AUTHOR
During my stay in a certain house, I had occasion to exercise my quarrelsome disposition against a man whose glory, although it may have been brilliant, scarcely sufficed to atone for his manners.
It goes without saying that I shall not say who he was; if anyone recognizes him, my conscience will be perfectly easy on that point, for it will be rather his fault than mine. I do not feel at all shy of mentioning my connection with him, for, as we shall see, the story of our amours is not an exchange of mere caresses, but a rapid succession of brutal attacks, of quarrels and ugly pleasantries.
The first time I set eyes on him was, I think, the day after we had been to the Chaumière, and I was not at all in a good temper—the impression he made on me is almost impossible to describe. I was asked to follow Fanny into the small boudoir and did so. There was a man sitting by the fire with his back turned to me. He had very fair hair, and was thin, but of medium stature.
I went forward a little; he was beating time on his knee with his fingers: his hands were thin, his fingers white and long. I went and sat opposite him: he raised his eyes and looked me in the face. I gazed at this juvenile wreck. One should have called him a ghost rather than a man, for he could hardly have been thirty years of age, in spite of the wrinkles that furrowed his face.
"Where have you come from?" he asked as though waking from a dream. "I don't know you!"
I made no answer, he began to curse.
"Will you answer me, when I do you the honor of addressing you?" I blushed furiously and said:
"Do I ask you who you are or where you come from? Am I obliged to show you all my papers to stand before you? I tell you at once that I haven't got any."
He continued to look at me with a stupified air.
I moved away towards the door.
"Stay here!" he cried, "I order it."
I did not stop to hear more, but went out.
I went to tell the fat woman what had just happened. She shrugged her shoulders and said that I had been wrong, that this gentleman was her greatest friend; she wanted him to be treated well, that he often came to spend a week in her house; furthermore that he was very interesting, in fact one of the greatest literary men of the age.
"What! That fellow?" I cried, astonished.
"Yes, that fellow."
"Well then, I should advise him to write less and to speak more politely."
Denise was there. She bent down and whispered in my ear: "Oh, she's quite taken up with him because he has lots of money; but he's a rotten fellow, brutal, rude, and always the worse for drink. I am sorry for those who fall in love with him."
A furious ring at the bell resounded through the house. It was my enemy who was angry because I had left him alone.
"Don't go back," said Denise.
"On the contrary, I shall," I replied, casting an ironical glance at the fat woman. "I was rather glad to have an opportunity of coming into contact with a genius. There is always something to be gained in the society of clever people."
I returned to the boudoir.
"Ah, there you are again," he said. "In this house, everyone obeys me. So you will do the same."
"There's no perhaps about it, and to begin with, you have got to have a drink with me!"
He rang the bell. Fanny quickly appeared.
"Bring something to drink!" he ordered.
She came back with three bottles and two glasses.
"Well, what would you like? Will you take a drop of rum, brandy or absinthe?"
"Thanks very much, but I only drink wine with water in it, and I am not at all thirsty just now."
"What the devil has that got to do with me? You've got to drink with me!"
"No!" I answered, most decidedly.
He swore like a trooper, and having filled up a glass with absinthe, tossed it off at a gulp.
"Now its your turn. Drink, or I'll beat you."
He filled up both glasses, and brought one to me, with tottering steps. I watched him, rather frightened by his threat, as he came towards me, but I was determined not to give way.
I calmly took the glass he offered me, and threw the contents into the fire.
"Oh," he cried, as he took hold of my hand and twisted me round, but without hurting me, "you are disobedient. Well, well, so much the better, I prefer that!"
He took a handful of gold from his pocket in one hand, and a glass of liquor in the other:
"Drink," he cried, "and I will give you all this."
"I will not drink it." I answered.
"Oh" he said, laughing and bowing a little, "what a splendid character! Touched neither by fear nor cupidity! That doesn't matter, I like you as you are."
"Come and sit by me on the sofa and tell me your story." I sat down without a word.
"You have been unhappy and persecuted, have you not? I will wager that like your companions here, your father was at least a general. Be perfectly frank about it, do you like me?"
"I dislike you very much."
"All right. You are not like other girls. They are all crazy about me. But what will you? One cannot control one's sympathies. I can't bear the others, but as to you, you seem to be out of the ordinary, and I like you. Take this gold. You have done nothing to earn it! I make you a present of it. Take it and go away. Leave me!"
I made haste to take him at his word. I turned as I was going out, just in time to see him pouring himself out a glass of brandy.
Denise was waiting for me at the door.
"I was afraid he might hurt you," she said; "it seems that when anyone makes him cross, he strikes them, so I was listening in case I should have to come to your assistance."
I thanked her, smiling. At that time, I was holding my life very cheaply, and if he had struck me for the pleasure of torturing me, of humiliating me, I think he would have run greater danger than I. I had snubbed him so terribly that he seemed lost without me. He used to come to see me three or four times a day. He had his mad moments in which he said the most frightful things without rhyme or reason.—That exasperated me, and I declared I would no longer go down when he called. But I was soon given to understand that I was no longer my own mistress. I began to positively hate the fat woman, I went down in a perfect fury, and without giving him the time to say a word, I began:
"What do you want with me? What do you want to insist on seeing me for? The very sight of you disgusts me. If it's in your drunken nights that you write the beautiful things which I read this morning, I am really sorry for you, for the next morning you surely are not able to recognize the author, and that's a pity! It doesn't become you to slight women and run them down! You are less than a libertine, you are only a drunkard! If one woman has served you badly, that's no excuse for hating the others."
"Perhaps you are right to disdain us, but in that case, let us alone!" I was rather worried as to how he would take this speech the beginning of which made him open his haggard eyes. But I soon had reason for calming my nerves, for he had dropped off to sleep in the armchair."
I crept out on tiptoe.
It appeared that he was not offended with me, for the next day he came and asked leave to take me out to dine with him. Madame quickly said he might do so, without consulting me. I comforted myself with the thought that he kept his vulgar eccentricities for inside the house, and that in other places he would show more self-respect.
So the shameless libertine would give way to the man of taste, to the eminent writer. He came at six o'clock and took me to the celebrated restaurant the "Rocher de Cancale." I was simply dressed in a new hat and frock. I was pleased with my appearance; I did not feel quite so sad, because for the second time I had got away from that dreadful house. At first, there was not so much to complain of in his behaviour, except a few jokes of rather poor taste, which I reproved as well as I could.
The waiter brought us a bottle of soda water.
I could never have conceived the mad idea that had suddenly possessed this extraordinary man who had chosen me as the victim of his caprice. He took the bottle of soda water to open it as if he was going to drink some, turned it towards me, and drenched me with it from head to foot.
There may be times in one's life and moments of good temper when one might have taken it for a joke. But I was so miserable that this seeming fit of madness set me in a rage.
I burst into a torrent of tears; my tears were the tears of anger. But the more I sobbed, the more he laughed.
- ↑ Farewell to the World, or Memoirs of Celeste Mogador, Countess Morton de Chabrillan.