Last summer, I spent a fortnight, in July, around Paris, in Joinville. Installed in an inn on the water’s edge, on an island, I had three friends there for dinner that evening, Monnier, Bruchard and Gainshlert, all three who had come by car.
Suddenly, rising from which we do not know where, a gust of wind raced across the island: a short light lit the twisted foliage. As under a giant hand, the poplars on the banks were disheveled, bent, twisted, like jets of water, rustling peaks swept over a sea.[Pg 2] lawn; there was a lapping of waves and the collisions of boats against the pontoons … a hail of pink petals had fallen on the table.
Forks fell, a glass was overturned which fell to the ground and shattered, the oleanders in crates had just rained their flowers; it was a panic. Shutters slammed:
“Close the windows,” the innkeeper yelled. At the pontoon! Moor the boats …
Shadows ran along the banks, the voices of women called out children, and in a livid sky laden with leaden clouds, dramatized by a beautiful moonlight, the gust was unleashed.
All the shade of the island rustled at the same time, it was like a whine of organs above the pastures and the gardens of villas; Along the pontoons, the boats and the moorings continued to moan a monotonous and sinister groan, and among the frightfully torn clouds a dirty and yellow light, like a luminous pus, sprang up and spread itself out; a day of agony devastated the landscape, the atmosphere[Pg 3] was always hotter, more ardent. A breath of furnace devoured the countryside and all nature gasped.
Under the threat of the downpour, which had remained suspended, the diners had taken refuge in a room in the inn. They were suffocating there behind the carefully closed shutters; at the windows that were left wide open the curtains fluttered in a breath of fire.
—And this sacred storm that will not burst! .. Rain, for the love of God! rain!
And fat Monnier, soaked as a sponge, jostled his table. Peaches rolled from a fruit bowl into a bowl of crawfish swimming. Nobody touched it. We all had our appetites cut and our stomachs hugged. You could feel the hurricane lurking like a thief above the suburbs, still hesitating where it would strike.
“And no way to leave before the rain!” Bruchard is far too nervous to drive in this electricity. As for me, I’m like[Pg 4] a soup, a real panade, I can’t take any more .
We let Monnier monologue in silence. As an anguish hovered, a frightened moth came to burn its wings on the glass of the lamp, large drops of rain tinkled against the wood of the shutters. A stir ran through the leaves and it was like a cataract, the downpour was finally falling, and the countryside breathed; but the rain did not beat down the wind, it still whirled around the island, frantically shaking the poplars and hitting with fury the fronts of the boats and skiffs against the pontoon piles.
-The blast! this mysterious outburst of an indomitable, capricious, whimsical element, unforeseen through the overwhelmed calm of a hot evening. Where does this wind come from which now upsets all beings and all things and ends up distressing us, us skeptics, before the threat of the unknown! The Rafale which is the Mistral of the Rhône valley, the Tramontane[Pg 5] from Italy, the Spanish wind from the Pyrenees and the Sirocco from Africa, the Simoun which lifts the sands and buries the caravans and sometimes even towns, like the Timgad found, after centuries, asleep and intact in gold burning of the Desert. ”
Barnsthert’s eyes had grown distant.
“Here you are,” sneered Bruchard. Visionary, go! I bet you’re staring at old triumphal arches and colonnades right now?
-Perhaps! In any case, these elementary phenomena remain very strange, very mysterious. Scientists believe they have said it all with the words electricity and magnetic currents. However, science indicates and does not explain …
And after a long enough silence :
“And this rush of the hurricane, it does not take place only in the atmosphere, the gust does not upset only the countries. There are moral and intellectual gusts, physiological hurricanes, and I have known lives for a long time[Pg 6] placid and honest, suddenly jostled and stirred from top to bottom by storms of unexpected passions. Twenty years of honest and conscientious labor do not suddenly prevent a man from becoming a thief, any more than twenty-five years of marriage and family life prevent a woman, until then deemed unsuspected, from pouring out everything. suddenly in gallantry, and the worst gallantry, that of mature women having passed the age of pleasing and reduced to attacking a partner who does not want it.
Nothing more sad and less explicable than these sudden collapses of a whole past of righteousness and virtue in a whim or a blow of heart, which are unfortunately only thrusts, in women especially. In fact, with these, when the fire starts in the fireplace, all the old soot blazes up; and nothing less poetic and less platonic, alas! than the so-called sentimentality of old lovers. La Rafale, the southerly wind[Pg 7] and Lust that shakes the autumn of old women!
I have been given the opportunity to observe very closely the signs of a mad as much as unforeseen passion, a kind of senile erotomania case in a woman of the highest society and who, until over fifty years old , had kept herself above all suspicion. The Rafale, with this widow, American, four times millionaire and widow without children, the Rafale was unleashed in the middle of summer, during the summer holidays, in a castle in Touraine, where I myself was, a guest with my parents.
About ten years ago. I was fresh out of college, and in this vast castle of Lormeril the two sons of the house, a little younger than me (Marcel was eighteen, and Albert, sixteen), were actively pushed towards their end of life. studies by Count Adalbert de Lormeril, their father, who wanted them both at Saint-Cyr, for the start of the October school year, and feverishly hurried their last exams.
For this purpose a young professor from the Ecole des Chartes had been called, as tutor, to the two future Saint-Cyrians. Mr. Daniel was a man of rest, highly recommended for his special knowledge of mathematics and the higher studies, subjects of the exam. To a solid and serious instruction, M. Daniel added exquisite tact and the best manners. A reassuring urbanity and good nature corrected in him the coldness of an exterior that was a little stiff at first. He was less a tutor than a comrade, but a comrade who did not let an inch of his authority be compromised. He admitted no familiarity, no jokes at the time of studies and lessons.
I had just passed my exams in a poor fashion, and my father had obtained from M. de Lormeril that I would follow the lessons of his sons. I needed, claimed my author, to consolidate my knowledge. This is how I became the student of Mr. Daniel and spent quite[Pg 9] studious summer vacation … I resigned myself badly, and, charming as the tutor was, I was not long in getting angry with this great castle of Lormeril, where the hours of toil and study were regulated as in college . And with that, we announced the arrival of Lormeril’s aunt.
She was an inherited aunt, four times a millionaire and widow for ten years of the same brother of the squire. She was born Annie Bloosevelt and daughter of an oil well owner. Henri de Lormeril, the eldest of the family, had known Miss Annie during a stay in Boston; his French chic, his long blond mustache and his title of count had seduced the young Yankee. The flattered tanker hadn’t said no; Miss Annie Bloosevelt had become Countess Henri de Lormeril.
Countess Henri de Lormeril had never been pretty, nor had she ever been a coquettish woman, and in the ten years that her widowhood lasted, she had never once left mourning. It was a[Pg 10] aunt at ease and whose millions were not to go to anyone but her grand-nephews. Lormeril was highly esteemed by Aunt Annie. She came there to spend the holidays with her family, showed herself more than generous, and to receive her we put the small dishes in the big ones.
It is this American galleon whose arrival Albert and Marcel announced to me with such importance and compunction that I did not have enough eyes to look at this extraordinary aunt.
M me Henry Lormeril seemed, indeed, very simple. Well dressed, but severe, she still wore the white widows headband over her hair streaked with numerous silver threads; she had the blurred complexion of an old maid and rather beautiful black eyes from which a nose clip removed all expression; very beautiful rings on her fingers alone revealed her opulence.
Aunt Annie kissed her nephews passionately, put her brother-in-law’s arms into those of her sister-in-law’s, got for all of us[Pg 11] a day off in honor of his coming and settled among us. He had been vaguely introduced to Mr. Daniel.
I was only nineteen, but I was already pretty savvy. From the third day on, it seemed to me that the Countess Henri de Lormeril stopped her gaze for a long time on M. Daniel.
“She examines the tutor of her nephews,” I said to myself, “and tries to form a judgment on him …”
M. Daniel had a very beautiful voice and read miraculously. In the evening, M. de Lormeril sometimes asked him to do some reading of Racine or even of André Chénier in the privacy of the living room. At the sixth reading, Aunt Annie, until then so silently attentive, was suddenly ecstatic at the preceptor’s purity of diction.
“Monsieur Daniel must sing beautifully!” she exclaimed. You have a very pretty tenor voice, you would have succeeded in the theater. I’m sure you’re a musician? ”
M. Daniel could defend himself against it, Aunt Annie sat down at the piano and M. Daniel had to sing. He had a rather beautiful voice, indeed, but after eight bars Aunt Annie stood up quite pale and retired to her room. She was choking, she said, her head was spinning, her heart ached.
And Aunt Annie became nervous: she had lost her appetite. We saw her isolate herself for whole days in the park. She looked for the shade of the covered alleys or the solitude of the meadows, on the side of the farms, outside the walls of the domain, and then she complained of insomnia, and, one fine morning, at table, asked that Mr. Daniel come to her. read in his room in the evening. His calm and pure diction would ease his nervousness.
We had nothing to refuse Aunt Annie. Some of his vigils lasted very late. But Aunt Annie did not calm down. On the contrary, his agitation increased. His pupils now, behind the glasses of his nose clip, threw[Pg 13] thunderstorm lightning. Hot flashes rose to his face, which forced him to exit abruptly on the porch before the end of the meals. The old lady even had a few fits of tears. The Lormerils were alarmed. Obviously Aunt Annie was having a hard time putting up with her widowhood; but who was the chosen one of his old heart? She now spent her days in her room botching up a furious correspondence … Who was she writing to? surely to the beloved; and then we had the word of the enigma. Heaps of packages arrived from Paris, and Aunt Annie transformed. She left her mourning, put on a toilet …; lace bodices molded a suddenly thinned waist, and tumultuous underwear escorted her henceforth with a rustle of silk. Aunt Annie was in love, since she had become a flirtatious, and the loved object was there. No one dared to name it yet and everyone had guessed it. A relentless need for locomotion now obsessed the old lady. She had harnessed in the morning, she had harnessed[Pg 14] during the day, she had her harnessed up in the evening. Sometimes it was the station wagon, sometimes it was the pram, sometimes the victoria. And, in all his trips in the car, M. Daniel had to accompany him. The restless Lormerils always required the presence of one of their sons on these sentimental tours. They were determined to wait until the end rather than raising a shard.
Albert returned one day, outraged from one of these walks :
“My aunt is crazy,” he said to his brother and to me, “do you think she showed us her garters, to both of us, Mr. Daniel; big bouffettes of mauve satin, real cockades, and all scented with iris. “They’re purple,” she said to Mr. Daniel, “it’s your favorite color, don’t defend yourself.” And then, very quickly, between his teeth: “And, you know, I don’t have any pants.” Mr. Daniel was very embarrassed and so was I. ”
The danger for old ladies of going out so scantily clad! Five days later, Aunt Annie[Pg 15] went to bed with thirty-two degrees of fever. The doctor, called in haste, prescribed the diet and decided on a few injections. Aunt Annie revolted against the ugliness of Doctor Désambrois, against his clumsiness and his shamelessness too; the doctor lingered luxuriantly in palpating the nudities offered with the Pravaz syringe, and in a fit of delirium Aunt Annie asked for M. Daniel from her. Mr. Daniel (she was sure) would sting her much better than the doctor!
It was a flash of light for the Lormerils. M. Daniel was asked to take a vacation and to carry elsewhere the purity of his diction and the charm of his voice.
The announcement of departure instantly healed the patient. Once again, Countess Henri de Lormeril had a very lively explanation with her brother-in-law and that very evening left the castle.
M me de Lormeril is, today, M me Daniel Lecœur, the legitimate wife of Mr. Daniel who[Pg 16] beats, eats her income and cheats on her with her chambermaids. And Aunt Annie still loves her handsome tutor. The Rafale has rekindled the embers that we thought were extinguished within it. The Lormerils lost four million there.