Yes, it was him, my friend Jacques, whom I had just passed in this setting, both grandiose and melancholy, that is the park of Saint-Cloud in the off-season. It was in the part between the Sèvres gate and the waterfall, all in lawns and long alleys of chestnut trees and plane trees all foliated with pale gold at that time.
And in the pink shadow of twilight, that evening, inflamed with flickering clouds as if a huge pyre was burning invisible behind the high staircase of the waterfall, all these yellow foliage, attenuated, light, put out like a luminous smoke of gold; and it was in truth a[Pg 302] the fictitious sunshine of this park illuminated by dead leaves, in the fleeting conflagration of this dying autumn sky, flushed with flame and blood, is a delightful enchantment.
Yes, it was indeed my friend Jacques, his weary gait, his distant eyes, his dull pallor and all his physiognomy of the elegant boredom of a man of thirty-five, already cured of clubs and boudoirs. He was not alone. He was walking beside a long, slender woman draped from neck to heels in a supple, shimmering coat of short velvet, a tone both warm and dark. What it seemed to weigh, this sumptuous garment loaded with heavy trimmings, straps and tassels on the shoulders, with long cords around the loins which caught on the pockets, then fell intertwined and dragged down to the feet like snakes’ knots: he smelled at the same time, this coat, the theater woman and the adventurer, reminded me to make me shout the prestigious ones[Pg 303] Sarah Bernhardt pelisses in Fedora and the Foreigner and was worth at least three thousand francs. The one who wore it, moreover, had the greatest air and, from her insolently bleached hair to her almost equine profile and the way she carried a tiny creature with pink hairs under her arm, evoked the resemblance of the Princess of S …; but she was also old enough, in her fifties at least three or four years ago: and this half-century of pretty woman, everything cruelly proclaimed it in her, and the deep bruising of the blue eyelids, and the apparent muscles of the neck , and the outrageous make-up of the face with carmine lips, thin painted eyebrows.
Oh! the portrait was worth the frame and the decor had been chosen with a master’s hand. This dilapidated November park, as if painted pink by the setting sun, the very neighborhood of these ruins that appeared flesh-colored against this blazing sky, were well in harmony with this luxurious elegance of an old woman, and I recognized[Pg 304] well there the dilettantism and the delicate esthetics of my friend Jacques de Livran.
Jacques had not seen me; I could therefore follow them from a distance and see them going up, to the Saint-Cloud gate, in a discreet myrtle-green coupe, harnessed by two chestnuts.
Some time later, having met Jacques at the club, I had the bad taste to intrigue and joke him, giving him to think that I had recognized the woman whose rider he was that day, and, Complimenting him ironically on his latest conquest, I even risked, I believe, the name of Malvina Brach. To which Jacques with great seriousness: “Malvina Brach! if you want, and why not? At the time of the year when we are, the day after All Saints’ Day and the Feast of the Dead, the soul mourning the farewell of sunny days and recent visits to dear graves, if we have some cleanliness moral and that one finds oneself, like me, not liking cards, neither horses, nor girls, what to do? Yes, tell me, what to do if not[Pg 305] than to relive in the midst of cruelly familiar landscapes some dead love whose evocation sometimes gives you back the intoxicating and painful intoxication of the past (which is a subtle selfishness), or else embellish with an illusion of love, to galvanize a semblance of court and revive with the mirage of a flash in the pan the resigned sadness of some poor pretty woman who has doubled the cap and who feels herself growing old. This is pure charity, my dear friend, and of the most beautiful, a charity which commits nothing, because, as long as you know how to choose, your grateful partner, who has good reasons to be wary of her – even, will always postpone the hour of failures, however longing it may have to fail.
“You will taste with the intellectual and the refined, what is always an ex-pretty woman of fifty years, the purest joys of platonic love, and then is not it another? joy and the rarest, than to read in a woman’s eyes the perpetual fear she has of[Pg 306] lose us, and in her smile the unexpected rapture of a happiness she no longer expected. Think about it: being the last lover of a woman who no longer believed that she would ever be loved, had almost resigned herself to her fate and whom we woke up from the tomb, to be the risen Christ of a Magdalen withdrawn into the desert, or of the less cut off from love! But all this forms a stew of extremely delicate sensations and, from October 15 to December 1, I assure you that, for a distinguished soul, old darlings alone have their reason for being in love. “