“If this continues I shall lose my mind,” murmured Durtal as he sat in front of his table reperusing the letters which he had been receiving from that woman for the last week. She was an indefatigable letter-writer, and since she had begun her advances he had not had time to answer one letter before another arrived.
“My!” he said, “let’s try and see just where we do stand. After that ungracious answer to her first note she immediately sends me this:
“’This is a farewell. If I were weak enough to write you any more letters they would become as tedious as the life I lead. Anyway, have I not had the best part of you, in that hesitant letter of yours which shook me out of my lethargy for an instant? Like yourself, monsieur, I know, alas! that nothing happens, and that our only certain joys are those we dream of. So, in spite of my feverish desire to know you, I fear that you were right in saying that a meeting would be for both of us the source of regrets to which we ought not voluntarily expose ourselves....’
“Then what bears witness to the perfect futility of this exordium is the way the missive ends:
“’If you should take the fancy to write me, you can safely address your letters “Mme. Maubel, rue Littre, general delivery.” I shall be passing the rue Littre post-office Monday. If you wish to let matters remain just where they are—and thus cause me a great deal of pain—will you not tell me so, frankly?’
“Whereupon I was simple-minded enough to compose an epistle as ambiguous as the first, concealing my furtive advances under an apparent reluctance, thus letting her know that I was securely hooked. As her third note proves:
“’Never accuse yourself, monsieur—I repress a tenderer name which rises to my lips—of being unable to give me consolation. Weary, disabused, as we are, and done with it all, let us sometimes permit our souls to speak to each other—low, very low—as I have spoken to you this night, for henceforth my thought is going to follow you wherever you are.’
“Four pages of the same tune,” he said, turning the leaves, “but this is better:
“’Tonight, my unknown friend, one word only. I have passed a horrible day, my nerves in revolt and crying out against the petty sufferings they are subjected to every minute. A slamming door, a harsh or squeaky voice floating up to me out of the street.... Yet there are whole hours when I am so far from being sensitive that if the house were burning I should not move. Am I about to send you a page of comic lamentations? Ah, when one has not the gift of rendering one’s grief superbly and transforming it into literary or musical passages which weep magnificently, the best thing is to keep still about it.
“’I bid you a silent goodnight. As on the first day, I am harassed by the conflict