CHAPTER 1

I was thirty years of age when I made the acquaintance of Violette.

I lived at the time on the fourth floor of a rather fine house in the Rue de Rivoli, just beneath rooms occupied by domestics and young girls employed in a linen drapery establishment on the ground floor under the arcades.

I was then on intimate terms with a very handsome and aristocratic lady. Her complexion was of that description which Theophile Gautier celebrates in his Emaux et Camees. Her hair was such as that with which Aeschylus adorns Electra's head and which compares to the fair corn of Argolide. But the lady had become rather too plump and stout at an early period of her career, and highly incensed at her premature embonpoint, displeased with herself and all the world, she worried all those who approached her, as if they should be made responsible for her misfortune.

As a consequence our intimacy went on the decline, and though I duly provided for all her wants and whims, I made no effort to bring into closer vicinity our respective bedchambers, situated at opposite ends of the suite of rooms. I had made choice of my own for the sake of the fine view on the Tuileries. I aspired already to be an author, and truly nothing can be finer, sweeter, more refreshing for a writer than the sight of this sombre mass of foliage formed by the ancient trees of the garden.

In summer the wood pigeons sport and frolic about the tall bough till twilight, when calm and silence begin to reign in their aerial abodes.

At ten o'clock the tattoo is heard and the gates are closed, and when the night is fine the moon slowly sails along the heavens, leaving its silvery track on the lofty tree tops.

Sometimes a light breeze makes the pale light tremble in the rustling leaves, which then seem to awaken, to live, and breathe of love and pleasure.

And by degrees, the noises of the big city grow more and more faint and distant to the ear which rests in the enjoyment of this delightful silence, while the eye gazes admiringly on the chateau and the dark, deep majestic masses of the huge trees. Often I would thus remain for hours at my window, dreaming and wrapped in thought.

What were the subjects of my dreams? I could hardly tell. I probably dreamt of what one dreams when one is thirty years of age; of love, of the women one has seen, and more often still, of those unseen as yet.

And in truth, are not the charms of the unknown fair ones the most potent of all?

There are men unfavoured by nature, whose hearts never thrill under a ray of sunlight. They live on as if in a kind of semi-darkness and accomplish as a duty, not as a joy, the act which is the supreme happiness of life, and which brings such rapture to the senses that if it lasted a minute instead of lasting five seconds it would kill even a Hercules.

These men in their passage through life, eat, drink and sleep; they indeed beget children, but they will never be able to say: "I have loved!" And surely is there anything worth living for, unless it be love?

I was wrapped in one of those dreams which have neither horizon nor limits, in which heaven and earth are mingled; I had just heard the bell in the neighbouring clock tower chime two o'clock, when I thought I heard a knock at my door. But perhaps I was mistaken, so I listened. The knock was repeated. Wondering who could come to visit me at this unwonted hour I ran to the door and opened it.

A young girl, almost a child slipped in and said:

"Oh, let me take refuge here, monsieur, I beseech you!"

I motioned her to be silent and softly shut the door. I then encircled her waist to my arm and took her to my bedroom. There I was enabled to have a view of the bird just escaped from its cage and which had flown to me for protection.

My supposition was correct; it was indeed a lovely girl, barely fifteen, straight and pliant as a reed, though her form already showed signs of womanhood.

I placed my hand on her bosom by chance, and I felt a living globe as firm as marble.

The mere contact sent a thrill through my veins. .....