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قراءة كتاب Letters to an Unknown

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Letters to an Unknown

Letters to an Unknown

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 7

People lose their breath preaching to a young girl, and the result is that this young girl desires to know the identical immoral being for whom people flatter themselves they have given her an aversion. What an admirable story is that of the serpent! I wish Lady M—— could read this letter. Fortunately, she would faint about the tenth line.

Turning the page, I have reread what I have just written, and it seems to me that there is very little coherence and connection of ideas. That is a fault of mine, but I write just as I think, and as my thoughts are more rapid than my pen, the consequence is that I am forced to omit all the transitions. I should, perhaps, follow your example, and erase all the first page; but I prefer to resign it to you for reflection and curl-papers. I must confess, too, that just at this moment I am deeply absorbed in an affair which, I avow to my shame, dwells stubbornly in one-half of my brain, while the other half is entirely filled with you. The portrait which you draw of yourself I like tolerably well. It does not flatter you any too much, and all that I know of you pleases me prodigiously....

I am studying you with the liveliest curiosity. I have theories about the most trifling things, about gloves, about boots, about curls, etc., and I attach great importance to such things, because I have discovered that there is an actual relation between the temperament of women and the caprice (or, to express it better, the connection of ideas and the reasoning) which causes them to choose such and such a fabric. Thus, for instance, it is for me to have demonstrated that a woman who wears blue gowns is a coquette, and poses as a sentimentalist. The demonstration is easy, but it would take too long. How should you like it if I were to send you a wretchedly bad water-colour, larger than this sheet, and which could be neither rolled nor folded? Wait until I can make you a smaller one, that can be sent in a letter.

The other day I went sailing. On the river there were any number of little sail-boats, carrying all sorts of people. There was one very large boat in which were several women of questionable manners. All these boats had landed, and from the largest stepped a man about forty years old, who was amusing himself by playing on a tambourine. While I was admiring the musical talent of this creature, a woman of perhaps twenty-three, approached him, calling him a monster, telling him that she had followed him from Paris, and that if he would not allow her to join him he would repent it. All this occurred on the bank, about twenty feet from our boat. The man with the tambourine continued playing while the deserted woman was thus holding forth, and with the utmost indifference replied that he did not intend to have her in his boat; whereupon she climbed out to the boat moored farthest from the bank, and threw herself into the river, splashing us abominably. Although she had extinguished my cigar, indignation did not deter me, or my friends either, from pulling her out of the water before she had been in it long enough to swallow two glasses. The beauteous object of all this despair had not so much as budged, and murmured between his teeth, “Why rescue her, when she wished to drown herself?” We took the woman to an inn, and as it was getting late, and it was almost dinner-time, we left her to the care of the tavernkeeper’s wife.

How does it happen that the most indifferent men are the best beloved by women? This is what I asked myself as I sailed down the Seine, what I am still asking myself, and what I beg you to tell me, if you know.

Good-bye. Write to me often; let us be friends, and pardon the incoherence of my letter. Some day I will explain the reason.

IV

Mariquita de mi alma (it is thus that I should commence if we were in Granada), I received your letter in one of those moments of melancholy when one views life only through dark glasses. As your epistle is not as amiable as it might be—pardon my frankness—it has contributed not a little to the continuance of my sulky mood. I wished to answer your letter Sunday, promptly and sharply; promptly, because you had censured me in an indirect sort of way, and sharply, because I was furious with you.

I was interrupted at the first word of my letter, and this interruption prevented me from writing to you. Thank the good Lord for this, for the weather is fine to-day, and my ill-humour has become mollified to such an extent that I no longer wish to write to you save in a style of honey and sugar. I shall not quarrel with you, therefore, about thirty or forty passages in your last letter, which gave me a terrible shock, and which I am quite willing to forget. I forgive you, and with so much the more pleasure because I really believe that, in spite of my wrath, I like you better when you are pouting than in any other mood. One passage in your letter made me laugh all by myself for ten minutes. You tell me short and sweet: “My love is promised” and thus you bring on the great knock-down blow without any preliminary skirmishes.

You say you are engaged for life as you would say, “I am engaged for the quadrille.” Very well. I have apparently employed my time to advantage in discussing with you questions of love, marriage, and the like; you are still on the point of believing, or at least of saying, that when you are told to love a certain gentleman, you love him. Have you promised by a contract signed before a notary, or on vignetted paper?

When I was a school-boy I received once from a seamstress a note surmounted by two hearts aflame, united as follows: image of two parallel hearts pierced by an arrow; there was, besides, a declaration of the most affectionate kind. My teacher first confiscated my letter, and then locked me in my room. The object of this budding passion proceeded to console herself with my cruel teacher.

Nothing is so fatal as engagements to those in whose behalf they are made. Do you know that if your love were already promised, I should believe confidently that it would be possible for you to love me? Why should you not love me? for you have made me no promises, since the first law of nature is to take a dislike to everything that has the appearance of an obligation. And, indeed, every obligation is in its nature irksome. In short, if I had less modesty I should come to the conclusion that if you have pledged your love to some one, you will give it to me, to whom you have promised nothing. Joking aside, and speaking of promises, since you do not care to have my water-colour, I have a strong desire to send it to you. I was dissatisfied with it, and began a copy of an infant Marguerite of Velasquez, which I wished to give you. Velasquez is not easy to copy, especially for daubers like myself. Twice I have begun my Marguerite, but now I am even more discontented with it than I was with the monk. The latter is still subject to your orders. I will send it whenever you wish, but it will not carry conveniently. Not only this, the spirits which sometimes amuse themselves by intercepting our letters might possibly take care of my picture. What reassures me is that it is so bad that no one but I could have made it, and no one but you be blamed for it. Let me know your pleasure.

I hope you will be in Paris about the middle of October, at which time I shall have two or three weeks’ leisure. I should not care to spend them in France, and for a long time I have intended to see the Rubens pictures at Antwerp, and the Art Gallery at Amsterdam. If I were sure of seeing you, however, I should renounce Rubens and Van Dyck with the greatest cheerfulness. You see that the sacrifice costs me

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