Sometimes my friend Denis Claudion sometimes comes to Paris for a few days.
Denis, although he is my age, presides over an imposing English company that manufactures explosives of war in Scotland, near Aberdeen: it is a considerable personage, incessantly engaged in moving business with the War Office and the Admiralty, if not with the Balkan countries, or Chile, Argentina, Brazil. He sells enough to destroy millions of men, and break old Europe or skip young America.
No doubt Denis would have preferred to remain in France; my comrade did not appreciate the English, judging them lazy. However he is happy to live there all winter, because of a passion he has. After that, from April to September, he goes willingly to Champagne, where his mother lives retired. At this time, Denis crosses [Pg 2] often Paris: we spend together a few laughing evenings, and it is one of the cordial pleasures of the summer.
I admire and love that devil of Denis, whom I have known since childhood. What would I say about him, except that he is perfect? Well, yes, here is a perfect man. Shall it tremble so long before daring to use a word like this? Denis is perfect. Denis is terrible.
At the college of Reims, already a brilliant and healthy pupil, he spent in money the money his parents scarcely measured to a heir so flattering, and the kind and tender manner in which he kissed his mother’s hand marveled at me. One Monday morning, all the schoolboys, his classmates, were upset by some vertiginous whirlwind roaring in the distance: it was none other than a car, and we had never seen one. In addition, even more prodigious, our comrade was at the wheel, he led himself, with his small page handle, the formidable tank. The spirit of foaming rhetoric, as I was then, I thought I saw in person the young leader Machiavelli writes that he must be both man and beast, ready to jump as to gesture, according to the
Today, the life of Denis Claudion, esq., [Pg 3] is as adjusted to the compass: he does not care the first, by the way. The comforting companion! And that the bars, where he trains me, go well, to this boy so rough and so happy!
I believe there is an elegance peculiar to the taverns, and imposed by them. The decor is half-gala: everything shines properly, since mahogany, crystals and glassware iridescent by the smoke of cigars; from these high stools at the top of which the most stale drinker seems a stylite perched on reeds; from this bar of copper, placed three inches from the ground, and which compels anyone to put his feet well, one lifted slightly, the other bearing on the ground, as in the noble portraits of former days; and up to this imposing buffet, against which the awkward worst lurks with a delightful nonchalance, like a dilettante who has come in and does not settle, but will play with his glass for a moment. or his cigarette, and almost immediately will go away … And what do we drink? Liquid topaz, elixirs of chrysoprase, presented in dazzling cups, if not in light chalices where the bartender, by coquetry, bites a straw. We would like to handle that vulgarly that we would not succeed.
But Denis was doing a marvel, a cock-tail between his fingers: he was animated and spoke without reserve. [Pg 4] Our friendship, twenty years old and over, made us a little bit bored.
Ah! Francois, he said to me, my good friend Francois, I do not know what I would be worth for one of those eavesdrops who dream of so many things. But in sum, I believe that until today my life has succeeded. Our Aberdeen workers are not unhappy, as far as I know. Never the slightest strike there. My old mother does not complain about me, I guess. I make money, and would earn even more, were not the general managerand all kinds of administrators. Finally, good patriot, I once broke my arm to the maneuvers, and another time the foot on a military airfield, on duty. So, my life does not fail, all things considered. Where does this come from? Because I never lost my efforts or my time. From what I do not think, finally, and am a boor, and even a savage.
-Do not take more cock-tails, Denis.
-You think I’m crazy? No way. I exaggerate only: but this is a process of conversation, intended to ingeniously provoke the indignation of the listener; after which we rectify what we have just said. If you show yourself delicate and moderate the first time, who will listen to you? Nobody … Well, I wanted to say that I do not think as soon as it does not [Pg 5] I’m practically useful, that’s it. Do you want me to find out if it’s really God who pushes me to open the door when I have to go out? Not: I will rather think not to forget my revolver, if I know that a scoundrel is watching me in the street, as to smile my best if it is a friend who waits for me in the garden. What could be simpler? Shoot the enemy, and be good to the friend … Ah! for example, to kill others stiffly, or to make them deftly happy, that is the difficult thing; and this is where the thinkers stop, to let the good modest heads work … Yes, to work, to do things, to start immediately towards the goal! Far from sending the ambassadors to Congress without ceasing, start the war immediately, and begin with the shells …
– From your factory.
-Bible! … Go, he is tonic and healthy, my system! Act first, act always, believe me. Long live the great Emperor, when, in 1815, vanquished, crushed, hunted down at Malmaison, and almost already on the run, he convoked old Monge to consult him on the means of going to explore the Pole or the Tropics; and when, a few days later, when he heard some cannonade near Rueil, the Hero immediately went up to his apartments, and then came down again, booted, rammed, the frock coat on his back, commanding [Pg 6] to General Becker: “Run to Paris to say that I ask to try again to repel the enemy, no longer as emperor, but as a general whose name and reputation could still change the face of things! …” Hay timers, the hay of thinkers, “subject to their opinions,” as a man of old would write! The best ones just manage to explain pretty much what others have done. We can find in these chatterings only a pleasure of a very poor art. Better to look elsewhere for thrilling, poignant beauty! … Bartender, make us two more cock-tails. ”
When my friend pronounced the word “Beauty,” there was nothing vague about him. He knew. He would have told you without hesitation, in the voice of Polyeucte confessing his faith: “Exact and irreproachable beauty, the Beauty itself, is found in Rome and Naples, in the museums of antiquity; However, she is motionless and fixed in the bronze and the marble: instead she lives and leaps into my kennels of greyhounds! “And that’s it.
If Denis Claudion lived in England during the six months of autumn and winter, his business, as one might think, did not force him alone, but rather the racing greyhounds, which delighted him in a kind of ecstasy. He had nearly a hundred in [Pg 7] his famous kennel, sent them running in all counties of England, and spent days drunkenness monitor, contemplate and select. When, in 1907, he had won the famous Waterloo Cup in the meadows of Altcar, with his dog Claude Silvere, pride and joy would have put him to death: such had been, by his own admission, the most violent emotion of his life. I wanted him two beautiful dogs, Claude Marsyas and Claude Marion,
It was a pleasure to see Denis palpating with a learned hand the Herculean muscles of his champions: “You see,” he said, “it is the divine beauty: the highest point of grace, united to the highest point of strength. Slenderness and power. The athlete finally, according to Lysippus and Praxiteles. The irreproachable being: here it is, it exists! ”
Denis often came to see me in Chantilly, where my profession forced me to stay, before returning to Champagne. We went for long walks through my drunken summer forests. We had to trot then, or gallop to escape the warlike dance of flies. How many animals, everywhere! The wood swarmed, quivered, jumped, the birds distrusted each other to sing.
“Take care of me, Francois, treat me as a maniac! exclaimed my friend. But he [Pg 8] must act, act! … Look around us: what fights between all these critters who want to live, and for that kill each other! How many duels under the grass and in the branches, how many attacks, piracies, what a universal raid! The war is sublime, I am happy to sell the frightening explosives! … If the strength takes precedence? Do I know! This is a very silly problem. In fact, the fait accompli has the force of law, because it is a fact, and we are afraid of it. Do not procrastinate … ”
Having said, Denis was starting a trot, a good trot well paced, straight ahead. After which, he went on to say :
-My dogs, yes, my dogs teach a morality to whom they love. In the park or in the castle, here they stroll, strew the grass or the carpets, their swan necks raised peacefully, as if they were installed in a princely lodge, for the spectacle: and their painted eyes close little to little … But a game passes away, and suddenly thrown upright, our courtiers change into raptors! They rush, their feet claw the ground until tearing the nails, they would break their bones to turn shorter on their prey who flees! Then, did they seize-sometimes on the horizon-this one between their terrible fangs … Pooh! they leave it there, it’s dead, it’s over, it does not interest them anymore. They did not have [Pg 9] wanted to run, seize and kill, in short act, once again, to act, and with what crazy suddenness, what furious impulse, thanks to what great flight of eagle! Here, Francois, how to behave. The most radiant era of the world must have been the quattrocento of the gold-platted condottieres, the century of those irresistible Italian tyrants, who, threatened every day with daggers and poisons, still reigned at all costs … Did not they? we did not know how to covet and live in the time of Vinci and Sforza, Michelangelo and Malatesta?
“But, Denis,” I said, “it was an atrocious time! Your princes of the quattrocento used them as well as bandits and scoundrels: they lied incessantly. Not one of those crowned bastards who would have made a game of violating his word …
“Come on, then! say they were cunning. As soon as it is necessary and beautiful, the trick becomes permissible to anyone who feels braver enough to carry it out. He was cunning, the condottiere who swore by spreading his ringed hand on the Bible: then he entered the city by surprise, and the latter, under his reign, covered himself with works of art. He used to cajole the fort Ulysses, when he turned his enemies away with perilous stratagems. They rusaient, small Spartans, a proud blood, who were stealing [Pg 10] their food, and were being beaten until they bleed when they allowed themselves.
-Alas! he was also cunning, the Jesuit Father, who, having sacrificed his reputation to his superior, shamelessly captured an inheritance for the greater glory of the Order.
“Yes, he was cunning, and did well! He was risking big: discovered, he faced shame. Soldier of a cohort active among all, founded in full century of virtù, the brave Jesuit Father perfectly fulfilled his quasi-military duty. He perpetrated a business, as the clever scout made to war, on the orders of his captain, for the greater glory of his country. The honest and perhaps heroic Jesuit Father, who had faith, worked with every soul to be industrious, for the glory of God! What is there to reproach there? And what is more magnificent, on the contrary? A fearless cunning is still a fight: and the nobility of purpose takes everything away! ”
On the platform of the station, when Denis was returning to Paris, I watched my friend walk up and down. His boots trod the ground calmly. His overcoat thrown over his shoulder, he breathed health, strength and patience.
Or it may be that this kind of gladiator is me, without his even doubted, pushed to take sides in the most painful anxiety [Pg 11] my life. Even if simple indeed, such harangues disturb in the long run, and one remembers it.
Once, then, I saw myself so unhappy, and especially such suffering surrounded me, pressed me, I had done so much harm finally, that a moment came when, being unable any more, I said to myself: “Halt! Even at the price of your blood, you must not go further. You will repair everything now: not tomorrow, but immediately, as soon as possible. Come, according to the harsh principles of Denis Claudion, we must act-right away! ”
It turned out that in order to act promptly, usefully, and well, there was only one way open to me: and it was an impudent ruse, impious, laborious, ungrateful! An energy of every moment was necessary for me to support it without failure. I had to lie to the foot of the altars. He is an exquisite and martyred heart that would have broken with stupor and terror if it had ever been pierced. There is a love that I had to ruin too, and that love was all my life; a happiness-mine-which I put in pieces; an existence-mine still-that I condemned to despair without remission, and worse, to old age.
However, it does not matter! I did my duty, I’m sure. Perhaps I am a little pitched [Pg 12] before this huge lie. But the rustic Denis would have told me that this weakness was not according to the virtues. I thought more than once of hearing her serene voice, which repeated: “A beautiful trick, a beautiful action …”
To occupy the dreadful sadness that now grips me, and will not cease, I told my story. Here, my confession. Whoever opens it can be sure to read the truth here without ornaments or songs. He is presented with a document, one would like it neat and naked.