HOW THE DREAM ENDED Edit
A Widower's Romance,
by E. Benezit. Edit
Published in Short Stories 1903 Translated from the French by Lawrence B. Fletcher
After the wedding there was a supper at a boulevard restaurant and, after the supper, a dance. Early in the evening Marius Lournier approached the radiant young bride and extended his hand.
"Good-by, my child," he said. "Are you going so soon, father? Please stay a little longer," C6cile coaxed, looking at him affectionately.
"No, you cannot persuade me. I feel — rather tired."
And he added with a dismal smile:
" 1 am not so young as I used to be."
He made his adieux to the bridal pair and walked slowly home to his cottage at Montrouge. The theaters were closing and the streets were full of animation, but he walked through the crowds unseeing and unheeding with his hands thrust deep in his overcoat pockets and his head bowed in a gloomy revery.
Mariu& Lournier was fifty years old, and possessed of a modest fortune and a philosophical disposition. He had long been a widower, and his experience of matrimony had not been pleasant enough to tempt him to repeat it.
He lived alone in the suburb of Montrouge in a little cottage surrounded by a garden, ate at restaurants and passed his evenings at a convenient caf6, smoking his pipe and playing cards with a select group of friends and neighbors.
A woman came every day to do his housework and went away when it was finished. One drizzling November night as he entered his garden his attention was attracted by the vaguely outlined figure of a woman who at that instant sank rather than sat down upon the public bench hard by. He peered through the darkness at the shadowy form and seeing that it did not move, mechanically re-opened the gate and walked toward it.
He found a girl of perhaps twenty, poorly clad but with an appearance of distinction. She seemed utterly exhausted and her face was bathed in tears. He questioned her gently but her replies were vague and unsatisfactory.
"But you cannot stay here in the rain," said Marius.
In spite of her resistance — which was but feeble, poor thing! — Marius raised her from the bench and drew her toward the house. When at last she was seated before a cheery fire she consented to tell her sad story.
Her name was Cecile Martel, and she was the daughter of an army captain who had died in the service. With her mother she had come to Paris in the hope of obtaining a tobacco-shop license which had been promised to the widow long ago.
Their last articles of furniture, their few trinkets, had been sacrificed to obtain funds for the journey.
Soon after their arrival the mother had died very suddenly, leaving Cécile alone and almost penniless in the great city in which she did not know a human soul.
By dint of great economy the girl had contrived to live for a few weeks on the little money remaining in her purse; but, that morning, her landlady had informed her with great politeness that she must either pay her arrears of rent or go elsewhere.
She had wandered through the streets all day, without eating or resting, and at night had turned her steps instinctively toward the cemetery at Montrouge where her mother lay at rest.
This pitiful tale, told in almost inaudible tones, and interrupted by fits of shivering and weeping, affected Marius very deeply.
" And you have no relatives, no friends, to whom you can apply?" he asked.
"Not one — except my father's old friends and they are oh! so far away!"
"Well, my child," said Marius, impulsively, "you have one friend, at least. But first you must rest and refresh yourself. Afterward we will see what is best to be done."
He hastily got together the elements of a rudimentary banquet, but Cécile, in spite of her desire to show her appreciation of this unhoped-for succor, could not eat a mouthful. Though the room was warm, she shivered more and more, until at last, overcome by fatigue, she closed her eyes and fell asleep.
"This will never do," thought Marius. "She will get pneumonia or something in her damp clothes."
"If only there were a woman in the house! Then we could put the poor child to bed."
He wrapped a big cloak about her and fell to studying her face. It was not strikingly pretty, but it was a pleasing face and a good face. Its greatest beauty was now veiled — the large, velvety black eyes, tender and passionate. Suddenly she moaned, and then Marius saw that her face was scarlet and her breathing labored.
"Ah! Just what I feared!" he exclaimed and ran to fetch a physician. The doctor pronounced the case very serious and sent a nurse to take care of the girl during the night. In the morning she must be sent to the hospital.
"The hospital!" thought Marius, who had a horror of hospitals.
"Hasn't the poor child suffered enough already?"
He lay awake all night, thinking, and when the ambulance came in the morning he curtly sent it away.
Months elapsed before C^cile was pronounced out of danger. Marius Lournier found himself intensely interested in the battle of life and death, and was overjoyed when the physician informed him that the crisis was passed.
The childless widower felt drawn toward his protegee by an almost paternal affection. When he guided the faltering steps of the convalescent to the arm chair installed in the sunniest nook of the little garden and she said: " How good you are to me!" He felt his eyes moisten, but all he said was:
" It is so easy to be good to you, my dear."
But soon youth and health resumed their sway. C^cile wrought a wonderful transformation in the lonely cottage. Thoroughly feminine in taste, she loved everything that is pretty and delicate, and Marius, enchanted by the simple elegance which had succeeded to the former disorder of his home, smiled gratefully upon the fairy who had brought about the change.
He took his meals at home, and long conversations with his Chatelaine replaced the nightly sessions at the cardtable. He was so happy, basking in this mild and wholesome physical and moral atmosphere, that he took no account of the flight of time. But Cécile was less blind. After some months of this idyllic existence she suddenly became very serious and sad. Marius, greatly surprised, questioned her, and finally she said:
"I think that I ought not to live any longer at your "
But Marius frowned so fiercely that she checked herself.
''Oh, do not doubt my affection," she exclaimed. "I am not ungrateful, believe me. But I must earn my own living. My self-respect demands that."
"Well, well!" said Marius, impatiently. "We will speak of that to-morrow."
His face was very suggestive of a bull-dog's, and all that day he never opened his lips — not even to reply to Chile's timid and contrite "Good-night."
Next morning he said, abruptly:
"You say you are not ungrateful. Prove it."
"By not leaving me to die of loneliness. Oh! I am selfish, I know, but I cannot help it. I have become accustomed to you. If you abandon me my life will be so horribly empty!"
He was so humble and so evidently sincere that Cécile yielded.
But, that very day, a friendly neighbor, an old lady, said to him:
"My dear M. Lournier, I feel it my duty to tell you that people are beginning to talk. I know that you are the soul of honor and that Cécile is an angel, but evil tongues will wag. Why don't you stop them?"
"How can I?"
"By marrying Cécile."
"What! Do you imagine that she "
"I imagine nothing. I know she is in love with you. Trust a woman's intuition." And the old lady added with a smile : "What if you are fifty, so long as you don't look it." Marry Cécile? He? What an absurd idea! But the more he thought about it the less absurd it appeared. And, looking squarely into his heart, he saw that he loved the girl passionately. The little fairy had given him back his youth and awakened the heart that he had thought dead for ever.
Ah! if the old lady's intuition were correct! Then he began to pay great attention to his dress and manners. He even gave up his pipe. C6cile noticed his. rejuvenation and complimented him upon it, frankly, and then he felt inspired to tell his love and ask her to be his wife.
She listened in smiling silence and, in a burst of grateful affection, put her hand in that of her benefactor and said: "Yes."
She loved him — or thought so. Was he not the pattern of goodness, of honor? Did she not owe him more than life? In return, the simple-hearted girl felt that she was glad to give him the happiness he asked.
The wedding was arranged to take place in the autumn.
Meanwhile Marius lived at a hotel, but came every day to his old house to see his young sweetheart, who always welcomed him with a smile of tender affection. The summer wore on, and there came a time when the smile gave place to grief and tears as soon as the unconscious lover's back was turned.
Then, one evening, he came and heard Chile's voice and another's coming from the unlighted parlor. He recognized the other voice as that of a young architect who was spending his vacation with his mother, the lady who had suggested the marriage of Marius and Cécile.
The situation at once became horribly clear to Marius. He listened.
"Ydu are unkind," C^cile was saying. "I cannot be your wife; you know that."
" 1 only know that I hate the old fool," the young man replied.
" Hush, Robert! You shall not insult him."
" I hate him, I say! He has ruined my life."
"He loves me, Robert, and I owe him everything. I have given him my promise — and I will keep it."
"But it is enough to drive one mad! I will tell him to his face that I love you — and that you love me!"
"If you love me as you say you do, Robert, you will let me do my simple duty."
Marius had heard enough. He went back to his hotel, staggering like a drunken man.
He was an old fool, then?
An old fool?
He asked his mirror and it told him the truth.
How had he came to forget his thin gray hair and the crows' feet about his eyes and to fancy that C6cile could really love him?
Yes! He was an old fool.
To a night of agony succeeded a heroic resolve.
He sought C^cile and said:
"My child, I have come to the conclusion that an old fellow like me who has been single so long had better remain single. I give you back your promise."
Chile's heart leaped for joy, but she replied:
"I do not understand you, dear Marius."
"Hush!" said he. "Call me 'Father,' won't you, my dear?"
She comprehended the admirable self-abnegation expressed in these words, and cried:
" Oh, how good you are to me always — Father!"
"And now," said Mantis with his old-time good-humored smile, "suppose we ask our neighbors to dinner."
Cecile put her head on her benefactor's shoulder, but closed her eyes to hide the joy that was in them.
Maritts Lournier, after leaving his adopted child and her husband, returns to his lonely cottage.
As he opens the gate he sees, in fancy, a slender form sink exhausted on the bench as it did on that other night, a year ago. He enters the house. It is silent, for the first time within a year. The bird has flown. The dream is over.