I was then five-and-twenty,--that was a sufficient indication that I
a past, said he, beginning. My own master for some little time, I
resolved to travel,--not to complete my education, as they said at the
time, but to see the world. I was young, light-hearted, in good
free from every care, with a well-filled purse; I gave no thought to
future; I indulged every whim,--in fact, I lived like a flower that
expands in the sun. The idea that man is but a plant, and that its
flower can only live a short time, had not yet occurred to me.
says a Russian proverb, "lives upon gilded gingerbread, which it
ingenuously takes for bread; then one day even bread fails." But of
use are these digressions?
I travelled from place to place, with no definite plan, stopping where
it suited me, moving at once when I felt the need of seeing new
The men alone interested me; I abhorred remarkable monuments,
collections, and _ciceroni_; the _Galerie Verte_ of Dresden almost
me mad. As to nature, it gave me some very keen impressions, but I did
not care the least in the world for what is commonly called its
beauties,--mountains, rocks, waterfalls, which strike me with
astonishment; I did not care to have nature impose itself upon my
admiration or trouble my mind. In return, I could not live without my
fellow-creatures; their talk, their laughter, their movements, were
me objects of prime necessity. I felt superlatively well in the midst
a crowd; I followed gayly the surging of men, shouting when they
shouted, and observing them attentively whilst they abandoned
to enthusiasm. Yes, the study of men was, indeed, my delight; and yet
study the word? I contemplated them, enjoying it with an intense
But again I digress.
So, then, about five-and-twenty years ago I was living in the small
of Z., upon the banks of the Rhine. I sought isolation: a young widow,
whose acquaintance I made at a watering-place, had just inflicted upon
me a cruel blow. Pretty and intelligent, she coquetted with every one,
and with me in particular; then, after some encouragement, she jilted
for a Bavarian lieutenant with rosy cheeks.
This blow, to tell the truth, was not very serious, but I found it
advisable to give myself up for a time to regrets and solitude, and I
established myself at Z.
It was not alone the situation of this small town, at the foot of two
lofty mountains, that had impressed me; it had enticed me by its old
walls, flanked with towers, its venerable lindens, the steep bridge,
which crossed its limpid river, and chiefly by its good wine.
After sundown (it was then the month of June), charming little German
girls, with yellow hair, came down for a walk in its narrow streets,
greeting the strangers whom they met with a gracious _guten abend_.
of them did not return until the moon had risen from behind the peaked
roofs of the old houses, making the little stones with which the
were paved scintillate by the clearness of its motionless rays. I
then to wander in the town of Z.; the moon seemed to regard it
steadfastly from the depths of a clear sky, and the town felt this
and remained quiet and on the alert, inundated by the clearness that
filled the soul with a trouble mingled with sweetness. The cock at the
top of the gothic steeple shone with a pale reflection of gold; a
similar reflection crept in little golden serpents over the dark
of the river; at narrow windows, under slated roofs, shone the
lights. The German is economical! The vine reared its festoons
mysteriously over the walls. At times a rustling could be heard in the
obscurity near an old empty well upon the public square of the town;
watchman replied to it by a prolonged whistle, and a faithful dog
uttered a deep growl. Then a breath of air came so softly caressing
face, the lindens exhaled a perfume so sweet, that involuntarily the
chest dilated more and more, and the name of Marguerite, half in
exclamation, half in appeal, arose to the lips.
The town of Z. is about a mile from the Rhine. I often went to admire
that magnificent river, and I whiled away entire hours at the foot of
gigantic ash, dwelling, in my reveries, upon many things, among
but not without a certain effort, upon the image of my faithless
A little madonna, with almost infantine features, whose breast showed
red heart, pierced with swords, looked at me in a melancholy way from
the midst of the branches. Upon the opposite ...