“I looked at her, bewildered. Then I took her hand in mine, and tears came to my eyes. I wept for her lost youth. For I did not know this fat lady.
“She was also excited, and stammered:
“’I am greatly changed, am I not? What can you expect—everything has its time! You see, I have become a mother, nothing but a good mother. Farewell to the rest, that is over. Oh! I never expected you to recognize me if we met. You, too, have changed. It took me quite a while to be sure that I was not mistaken. Your hair is all white. Just think! Twelve years ago! Twelve years! My oldest girl is already ten.’
“I looked at the child. And I recognized in her something of her mother’s old charm, but something as yet unformed, something which promised for the future. And life seemed to me as swift as a passing train.
“We had reached. Maisons-Laffitte. I kissed my old friend’s hand. I had found nothing utter but the most commonplace remarks. I was too much upset to talk.
“At night, alone, at home, I stood in front of the mirror for a long time, a very long time. And I finally remembered what I had been, finally saw in my mind’s eye my brown mustache, my black hair and the youthful expression of my face. Now I was old. Farewell!”
This is what the old Marquis d’Arville told us after St. Hubert’s dinner at the house of the Baron des Ravels.
We had killed a stag that day. The marquis was the only one of the guests who had not taken part in this chase. He never hunted.
During that long repast we had talked about hardly anything but the slaughter of animals. The ladies themselves were interested in bloody and exaggerated tales, and the orators imitated the attacks and the combats of men against beasts, raised their arms, romanced in a thundering voice.
M. d Arville talked well, in a certain flowery, high-sounding, but effective style. He must have told this story frequently, for he told it fluently, never hesitating for words, choosing them with skill to make his description vivid.
Gentlemen, I have never hunted, neither did my father, nor my grandfather, nor my great-grandfather. This last was the son of a man who hunted more than all of you put together. He died in 1764. I will tell you the story of his death.
His name was Jean. He was married, father of that child who became my great-grandfather, and he lived with his younger brother, Francois d’Arville, in our castle in Lorraine, in the midst of the forest.
Francois d’Arville had remained a bachelor for love of the chase.
They both hunted from one end of the year to the other, without stopping and seemingly without fatigue. They loved only hunting, understood nothing else, talked only of that, lived only for that.
They had at heart that one passion, which was terrible and inexorable. It consumed them, had completely absorbed them, leaving room for no other thought.