Like all men, I have often been
in love, but most especially once.
I met her at the seashore, at Etretat, about twelve
years ago, shortly after the war. There is nothing prettier than this beach
during the morning bathing hour. It is small, shaped like a horseshoe,
framed by high while cliffs, which are pierced by strange holes called the 'Portes,'
one stretching out into the ocean like the leg of a giant, the other short
and dumpy. The women gather on the narrow strip of sand in this frame of
high rocks, which they make into a gorgeous garden of beautiful gowns. The
sun beats down on the shores, on the multicolored parasols, on the
blue-green sea; and all is gay, delightful, smiling. You sit down at the
edge of the water and you watch the bathers. The women come down, wrapped in
long bath robes, which they throw off daintily when they reach the foamy
edge of the rippling waves; and they run into the water with a rapid little
step, stopping from time to time for a delightful little thrill from the
cold water, a short gasp.
Very few stand the test of the bath. It is there that they can be
judged, from the ankle to the throat. Especially on leaving the water are
the defects revealed, although water is a powerful aid to flabby skin.
The first time that I saw this young woman in the water, I
was delighted, entranced. She stood the test well. There are faces whose
charms appeal to you at first glance and delight you instantly. You seem to
have found the woman whom you were born to love. I had that feeling and that
I was introduced, and was soon smitten worse than I had ever
been before. My heart longed for her. It is a terrible yet delightful thing
thus to be dominated by a young woman. It is almost torture, and yet
infinite delight. Her look, her smile, her hair fluttering in the wind, the
little lines of her face, the slightest movement of her features, delighted
me, upset me, entranced me. She had captured me, body and soul, by her
gestures, her manners, even by her clothes, which seemed to take on a
peculiar charm as soon as she wore them. I grew tender at the sight of her
veil on some piece of furniture, her gloves thrown on a chair. Her gowns
seemed to me inimitable. Nobody had hats like hers.
She was married, but her husband came only on Saturday, and
left on Monday. I didn't cencern myself about him, anyhow. I wasn't jealous
of him, I don't know why; never did a creature seem to me to be of less
importance in life, to attract my attention less than this man.
But she! how I loved her! How beautiful, graceful and young
she was! She was youth, elegance, freshness itself! Never before had I felt
so strongly what a pretty, distinguished, delicate, charming, graceful being
woman is. Never before had I appreciated the seductive beauty to be found in
the curve of a cheek, the movement of a lip, the pinkness of an ear, the
shape of that foolish organ called the nose.
This lasted three months; then I left for America,
overwhelmed with sadness. But her memory remained in me, persistent,
triumphant. From far away I was as much hers as I had been when she was near
me. Years passed by, and I did not forget her. The charming image of her
person was ever before my eyes and in my heart. And my love remained true to
her, a quiet tenderness now, something like the beloved memory of the most
beautiful and the most enchanting thing I had ever met in my life.
Twelve years are not much in a lifetime! One does not feel
them slip by. The years follow each other gently and quickly, slowly yet
rapidly, each one is long and yet so soon over! They add up so rapidly, they
leave so few traces behind them, they disappear so completely, that, when
one turns round to look back over bygone years, one sees nothing and yet one
does not understand how one happens to be so old. It seemed to me, really,
that hardly a few months separated me from that charming season on the sands
Last spring I went to dine with some friends at
Just as the train was leaving, a big, fat lady, escorted by
four little girls, got into my car. I hardly looked at this mother hen, very
big, very round, with a face as full as the moon framed in an enormous,
She was puffing, out of breath from having been forced to
walk quickly. The children began to chatter. I unfolded my paper and began
We had just passed Asnieres, when my neighbor suddenly turned
to me and said:
'Excuse me, sir, but are you not Monsieur Garnier?'
Then she began to laugh, the pleased laugh of a good woman;
and yet it was sad.
'You do not seem to recognize me.'
I hesitated. It seemed to me that I had seen that face
somewhere; but where? when? I answered:
'Yes--and no. I certainly know you, and yet I cannot recall
She blushed a little:
'Madame Julie Lefevre.'
Never had I received such a shock. In a second it seemed to
me as though it were all over with me! I felt that a veil had been torn from
my eyes and that I was going to make a horrible and heartrending discovery.
So that was she! That big, fat, common woman, she! She had
become the mother of these four girls since I had last her. And these little
beings surprised me as much as their mother. They were part of her; they
were big girls, and already had a place in life. Whereas she no longer
counted, she, that marvel of dainty and charming gracefulness. It seemed to
me that I had seen her but yesterday, and this is how I found her again! Was
it possible? A poignant grief seized my heart; and also a revolt against
nature herself, an unreasoning indignation against this brutal, infariious
act of destruction.
I looked at her, bewildered. Then I took her hand in mine,
and tears came to my eyes. I wept for her lost youth. For I did not know
this fat lady.
She was also excited, and stammered:
'I am greatly changed, am I not? What can you
expect--everything has its time! You see, I have become a mother, nothing
but a good mother. Farewell to the rest, that is over. Oh! I never expected
you to recognize me if we met. You, too, have changed. It took me quite a
while to be sure that I was not mistaken. Your hair is all white. Just
think! Twelve years ago! Twelve years! My oldest girl is already ten.'
I looked at the child. And I recognized in her something of
her mother's old charm, but something as yet unformed, something which
promised for the future. And life seemed to me as swift as a passing train.
We had reached. Maisons-Laffitte. I kissed my old friend's
hand. I had found nothing utter but the most commonplace remarks. I was too
much upset to talk.
At night, alone, at home, I stood in front of the mirror for
a long time, a very long time. And I finally remembered what I had been,
finally saw in my mind's eye my brown mustache, my black hair and the
youthful expression of my face. Now I was old. Farewell!