Without tomorrow

The reasonable will have lasted,
the enthusiasts will have lived.
“Madame is not here?”

“No, sir, she is in the forest; but it will not be long before she returns.

“That’s fine, Ellen, I’ll wait for her.”

And the novelist sat down on the terrace.

So he, Paul Sourdière, had returned to Princess Outcharewska. He would come there every day now.

Yet had he cursed enough his coming to this mountainous country, the first time he had crossed the old Englishwoman’s victoria under the pines of the forest!

[Pg 108]

But he felt tamed by the need for expansion that loneliness develops in us; the extraordinary nullity of the people he met at Peïra-Cava, their vulgarity, their banality also had disposed him to all indulgences for Princess Outcharewska; it is true that in this grandiose and changing setting, he had found a completely different woman. The old coquette had turned out to be calm, as if melancholy at the sight of nature. In this mannequin of great couturiers he had believed to unravel if not a soul, at least a secret. Much was said about the princess’s past, but none was affirmed; in short, the psychologist asleep in Paul Sourdière had woken up, passionate about the game of discovery, and the novelist felt that he would now frequent the villa assiduously.

He would come there every evening, at sunset, to have tea with the princess and to enjoy the magic of the twilight with her.

-Excuse me. Did I make you wait?

[Pg 109]

It was the princess returning.

“I lingered in the forest of Turini.

And, dropping onto a rocking chair:

—This forest of Turini, what a setting! I walked up to La Calmette. What embalming and what flowers! The clearings are riddled with them. I found some amazing ones. Ellen, bring my flowers! ”

A maid came in and presented a tall wreath of long fluffy, pink ears of corn, the pink of a flaming cloud, and great bells of torrential blue.

“Yes, the landscape and the sky are reflected there,” said Paul Sourdière. But you often go to Turini, princess!

-Everyday. The place is wonderful, almost a corner of Tyrol: the forest of Hansel and Gretel. And the troops encamped in the barracks, eight days ago, put on such a movement, such a color!

– Artillerymen at the watering hole, the halt of the mules,[Pg 110] alpines in reconnaissance, alpines washing their clothes, as many Detaille and Neuville that you disturb by your learned underwear. Stories are already being told about your walks, princess! You are revolutionizing Turini. Three housekeepers have it seems …

“Ah! we told you! interrupted the princess with a smile. Yes! What an adventure! Three artillery non-commissioned officers followed me, yes, me, and separately. I had my veil; everything is explained. But these are adventures that no longer happen to me when I go on foot. These poor young people! They soon have two months of maneuvering in their legs, two months of mountain and privation, and, for their abstinence, my silk underwear, my linen dress represented the goal and the prey, the woman, the eternal feminine. But don’t worry, added the old Englishwoman, I did not lift my veil, I respected their … no, my last illusions.

“Ambulance service, no doubt,” the good letterhound thought maliciously.

[Pg 111]

“Don’t be mean, Sourdière. Look at these mountains. Peaks and clouds. Tonight, they are opal and bathed in vapors of eider, bluish opal like the one Lalique uses this year. If the sight of such horizons does not make you better and does not extinguish the easy irony in you, you must despair of you, Sourdière. Me, I feel here a transparent and calm soul.

“And drenched in happy gratitude.

“You are cruel, my friend. Yes, I was followed … not long, five minutes, until I turned around …, because as soon as they saw my poor face even under my triple veils … and I been pretty … ah! Would we laugh enough, in Nice, if we knew that the old Outcharewska was followed, on foot and in the forest, by three housekeepers … me, whom we only watch passing by by car. But the air is cooling; be careful not to be cold. Ellen, a coat. Take this shawl off your shoulders. ”

And when the princess had thrown on her dress[Pg 112] periwinkle blue muslin a long white cloth coat:

“You don’t understand anything, my dear Sourdière, nothing, you are a Latin and everything escapes you from the Anglo-Saxon soul. Your psychology struggling with our so-called extravagance is just blundering. You really pity me. So, just yesterday, when you were ironic about the marriage of Miss Eva Waston and dabbled with pleasure about the ease of American hotel women giving themselves between two waltzes to an unknown dancer two hours before the ball, I listened to you, taken for you by an indescribable feeling of pity. Like these women, one must have lived in lies and flat adulation, who crawl in Europe, around large fortunes, to understand their emotion, what am I saying, their tender gratitude in front of a sincere enthusiasm; and their weakness (s’

The American of which your beautiful artillery lieutenant has recounted, brazenly, the fall[Pg 113] unexpected and rapid in this evening of Palace-Hotel, yielded only to a movement of altruism. It is the true desire, the flash of passion read in the eyes of this boy, the stir of all his flesh and his vibrating voice that she wanted to reward. The gift she made of herself was also a movement of pride. Finally happy to be coveted, no longer for her name, her situation, her fortune, but for her very personality, she gave up her personality to the male who had wanted her as a female. These faults, my dear friend, are less a rattle than a neigh; there is more pride than lust, and the proof is that the guilty woman, with us, never follows up on her fault. No connection, no intrigue, no lie with these beautiful marches submitted only once to the stallion’s rut. In America, there are surprises and never adulteries.

“You preach so well, princess, that you would convert a pope. So here I am convinced of the benefits of altruism.

[Pg 114]

“No, because you are a Latin, atavistic persuaded of the inferiority of women; and what bothers you and humiliates you in this theory of the lover giving herself without hope of return and because the opportunity pleases her, is the kind of equality into which we then enter with you other men, by making we also have a choice. You admit that we are ceding to you, but you deny us the right of selection. A Frenchman will never be resigned to recognizing us as an equal.

“It is with your theories, princess, it is we who descend on the moral ladder.” We become men of joy, we are chosen, then we are left. It remains to be established whether Messalin raised his lovers to her or lowered himself to them.

“Another stupidity, Sourdière. Love is on the same level.

“What conviction, princess! You are exposing theories of pure anarchy!

“Anarchy! Yes maybe. The civilization[Pg 115] Saddens me and fills me with disgust, yes and the princess stifled a sigh, then, recovering immediately: – Yes, you saw clearly in my soul. His voice had gathered a little.

If I love the savagery of this country so much, it is because I have felt human desires floating around me: it has been a long time since such a thing had happened to me. Think about it, I’m seventy, sighed the princess, suddenly sincere. For the whole of the Riviera I am the old Outcharewska, a plumed and painted mad old woman, a jewelry stand, a fashion model, who could, if necessary, serve as a scarecrow for birds … Oh! don’t try to deny me, I would be even more awful without all these frills and makeup. This desire to prolong a finished beauty, this need to please and still deceive is only a courtesy towards the world and especially to friends. Women, very surrounded by family, sons and grandchildren, alone have the right to grow old; white hair only suits the ancestors, and I am alone in life. I[Pg 116] I must therefore defend myself there, hence all this ridiculous coquetry perhaps, but which is still delusional. ”

Paul Sourdière had never seen such sadness in the princess.

“To grow old, what a dreadful thing to grow old, especially when one has been young, pretty and feted, desired, adored, adored! And I was all of that.

I was born without fortune, my dear Sourdière, and my situation, it was I alone who made it. I was very beautiful, and I have not kept a portrait of myself: there are no longer those who could have attached any value to my image. Very quickly initiated by poverty, worse than poverty, by embarrassment to the implacable cruelties of life and aware of my beauty, warned by many experiences of the empire exercised over males by the clarity of my eyes and my flesh (I was a luminous blonde), I banked on the desires of men and I built my fortune on them. I was lucky to always avoid the theater[Pg 117] and official gallantry; I had lovers whom I knew how to choose and was a courtesan clever enough to get me to marry for my beauty. I was thirty years old when Lord Meredith took me for his wife. I was an irreproachable lady, and when Meredith died leaving me the life annuity of her eight million, I was just forty years old. I had given ten years of virtue to my husband: he paid for them. His generosity went so far as not to require my widowhood. I was free to remarry.

I had known desires, then I knew greed. Afflicted with four hundred thousand francs in income, I was besieged with demands; I ceased to read the sensuality in the eyes from now on; I was, however, still very beautiful. I had kept an incomparable size; my throat had not moved, and, under hair so thin that it surrounded me with golden smoke, I still had, in my forties, the face of a virgin. But what did the freshness of my skin and my eyes matter to the bridegroom! I was the widow to[Pg 118] four hundred thousand francs in income, the goose that lays golden eggs. Very big names a little crazy and real glories a little faded swirled around me. I lived in the intrigue and weariness of outrageous flirtations and haunting pursuits; it was then that I learned to know men. Interest alone shows them to you as they are. In love, they are rarely beautiful animals … Love! I was no longer to know him! … and I suffered atrociously from this sudden disappearance in my life of sexuality and desire.

I had lived twenty years in the poignant intoxication of being wanted and solicited for the sole splendor of my body … The fall was cruel and the awakening abominable; I paid dearly for the enjoyment of my eight millions.

And repulsed, disgusted, very saddened above all, I married Prince Serge Outcharewski. He was the oldest of my suitors; he was ruined in health and reduced by his family to the minimum portion. It’s his age and his decay[Pg 119] physics that decided me. With him I had every chance of being a widow soon, and then, with this patient, I did not have to endure the lie of caresses. It was stipulated between us that we would live completely apart. I would be at his place in Paris, and he would be at my house in Nice; I gave him sixty thousand francs a year for his travels and his cigars and pledged to respect his name; I kept my word. The suitors had healed my lovers.

The prince wanted to be regretted: he died six years after our marriage. I became a widow again and found, more enraged than ever, the hideous pack of pursuers.

“What bitterness, princess! You have these words! Are you an anarchist?

-Perhaps. I hate money. Young, he domesticated me to the whims of others so, at the age when I could have shared the desires, to prevent me from complicit joy. I will never forgive my millions for taking my love away from me. ”

[Pg 120]

Sourdière felt the princess in the vein of confidences.

‘So, princess,’ he asked her, ‘since your marriage to Lord Meredith, you have never? …

“No, I haven’t cheated on any of my husbands; I owed my fortune to one, my title to the other: I paid cash.

“But since your widowhood?”

“Since then (the expertly made-up eyes of the Englishwoman plunged intensely into the writer’s eyes), since… Listen to me, Sourdière. I have never told anyone what I am going to tell you; but, when you will have heard me, you will understand what harsh and delicious pleasure I found in wandering, elegant and veiled, in these forests filled with bivouacs and alpine camps.

Twenty years ago I was fifty, and, at fifty, a luxurious woman who wants to remain pretty can still delude herself. It was at the end of May, a Sunday, in Nice. Friends[Pg 121] I had come to see me at the villa, I had kept them for a snack, and, around six o’clock, I had the fancy of escorting them back to the port, to the cabs and trams station. In May, you will know what a magical nature the Mont Boron cross-country trails are! I was very simply put on: a white leather belt over a linen dress, a garden hat. For a boor I was as much a well-groomed maid as a princess overwhelmed with millions.

It was six o’clock, and in front of the church, a whole crowd of sailors were lazing about, sitting or lying on the parapet of the quay.

“What a look, mastiff! made me a friend of mine. Oh! that one, princess, you impressed him.

“Who, that one?

“But that sailor lying over there on the parapet. Here, he’s still looking at you. ”

I hadn’t even noticed it. I turned around.

It was a harbor sled, of which I made a[Pg 122] Sicilian or Corsican, a sun-tanned seafarer with a bold profile. Sprawled on the granite ramp, he still stared at me with his fiery eyes.

I took leave of my friends; a curiosity held me. I retraced my steps and walked past the man. But as I passed I smiled at him and slowed down. In these cases, we all have eyes in the back of our heads. The man hadn’t moved. Suddenly I started; a step followed my step: the man was coming.

I did not turn around and took the small staircase paths that climb between the walls of the villas. The man climbed up behind me. In the gardens, the blossoming honeysuckles and syringas poured intoxicating scents that made me faint. The man stopped when I stopped and didn’t approach me.

Arrived in front of the gate of my villa, I had an inspiration of love. Instead of entering, I continued along the wall of my property,[Pg 123] and, turning a corner, stopped in front of the small back door. Chance wanted me to have the key with me. I slowly took this key out of my pocket and put it in the lock. Only then did the man approach, and, in this Italian language (do you understand Italian?), Which seemed divine to me, this simple dialogue began:

– Avete la chiave? You have the key.
– Yes. Yes.
– State cui? Are you staying here?
– Yes. Yes.
– E possibile di viderla? Can we see you?
– No adesso. Not now.
– Perch. Why?
– Piu tarde. Later.
– Quando? When?
– Alle otto, questa sera. At eight o’clock this evening.
– Sicuro? Surely?
– Sicuro, questa sera, cui. Surely, tonight, here.
And I entered the garden. How did i[Pg 124] could speak thus to a stranger, to a barefoot — because he was barefoot! My emotion had answered for me.

And I went to the meeting, Sourdière.

“Of course!

“Shivering, frightened, my heart pounding with unspeakable anguish, I escaped the table and ran, through the beds, to the little garden gate. He was there! With what violent gentleness he drew me to him, and in what eloquent silence! It vibrated like a rod; his mouth crushed mine and drank me all. He was dragging me under the jasmines of an arbor: petals peeled off on us. “ Te amo! I love you! He stammered in the bewilderment of a grateful brute. And it was hugs and kisses, and sobs. And when it was time to leave, he said: ” Quando te revedrai?” »I had the courage to answer:« Sono camerista. Partiro domani. (I’m a maid. We’re leaving tomorrow.)

What would this man have done, and what would he be[Pg 125] had he known how to hold Princess Utcharewska in his arms?

I never saw him again. Having come to Nice on some tartane, he left as he had come.