You were sitting with some friends at the next table, regarding me with an admiring glance. I trembled, and my hand shook so violently that I nearly let my wineglass fall. Fortunately my companions did not notice my condition, for their perceptions were confused by the noise of laughter and music.
My cheeks were flushed, and I talked at random. You could not help noticing the effect your glance had on me.
You made an inconspicuous movement of the head, to suggest my coming into the anteroom for a moment. Then, having settled your bill, you took leave of your associates, and left the table, after giving me a further sign that you intended to wait for me outside. I shook like one in the cold stage of a fever. I could no longer answer when spoken to, could no longer control the tumult of my blood. Standing up, I told my friend that I would be back in a moment, and followed you.
You were waiting for me in the lobby, and your face lighted up when I came. With a smile on your lips, you hastened to meet me. It was plain that you did not recognise me, neither the child, nor the girl of old days. Again, to you, I was a new acquaintance.
“Tell me when we can meet,”you said. “When ever you like,”I replied, for I knew nothing of shame where you were concerned.
You looked at me with a little surprise, with a surprise which had in it the same flavour of doubt mingled with curiosity which you had shown before when you were astonished at the readiness of my acceptance. “Now?”You enquired, after a moment’s hesitation. “Yes,”I replied, “let’s go.”
There was a car at the door, and we drove to your room. Once more I could listen to your voice, once more I felt the ecstasy of being near you, and was almost as intoxicated with joy and confusion as I had been so long before. But I cannot describe it all to you, what I had felt ten years earlier was now renewed as we went up the well-known stairs together; how I lived simultaneously in the past and in the present.
In your rooms, little was changed. There were a few more pictures, a great many more books, one or two additions to your furniture——but the whole had the friendly look of an old acquaintance. On the writing-table was the vase with the roses——my roses, the ones I had sent you the day before as a memento of the woman whom you did not remember, whom you did not recognise, not even now when she was close to you, when you were holding her hand and your lips were pressed on hers. But it comforted me to see my flowers there, to know that you had cherished something that was an emanation from me, was the breath of my love for you. you asked me to stay for breakfast……
over the tea, which an unseen hand had discreetly served in the dining room, we talked quietly. as of old, you displayed a cordial frankness; and, as of old, there were no tactless questions, there was no curiosity about myself. You did not ask my name, nor where I lived. To you I was, as before, a casual adventure, a nameless woman, an ardent hour which leaves no trace when it is over. Standing at the glass, I saw in it—I was overcome with shame and horror—that you were surreptitiously slipping a couple of banknotes into my muff. I could hardly refrain from crying out; I could hardly refrain from slapping your face.
You were paying me for the night I had spent with you, me who had loved you since childhood, me the mother of your son. To you I was only a prostitute picked up at a dancing-hall. It was not enough that you should forget me; you had to pay me, and to debase me by doing so. I hurried away, for my eyes were filling with tears, and I did not want you to see.
In the entry, as I precipitated myself from the room, I almost cannoned into John, your servant. Embarrassed but zealous, he got out of my way, and opened the front door for me. Then, in this fugitive instant, as I looked at him through my tears, a light suddenly flooded the old man’s face. In this fugitive instant, I tell you, he recognised me, the man who had never seen me since my childhood. I was so grateful, that I could have kneeled before him and kissed his hands. I tore from my muff the banknotes with which you had scourged me, and thrust them upon him. He glanced at me in alarm—in this instant I think he understood more of me than you have understood in your whole life.
Everyone, everyone, has been eager to spoil me; everyone has loaded me with kindness. But you, only you, forgot me. You, only you, never recognised me. My boy, our boy, is dead. I have no one left to love; no one in the world, except you. But what can you be to me—you who have never, never recognised me; you who stepped across me as you might step across a stream, you who trod on me as you might tread on a stone; you who went on your way unheeding, while you left me to wait for all eternity?
I shall not summon you in my last hour; I shall go my way leaving you ignorant of my name and my appearance. Death will be easy to me, for you will not feel it from afar. I could not die if my death were going to give you pain. I cannot write any more. My head is so heavy; my limbs ache; I am feverish. I must lie down. Perhaps all will soon be over. Perhaps, this once, fate will be kind to me, and I shall not have to see them take away my boy. . . . I cannot write any more. Farewell, dear one, farewell. All my thanks go out to you. What happened was good, in spite of everything. I shall be thankful to you till my last breath.
But who, ah who, will now send you white roses on your birthday? The vase will be empty. No longer will come that breath, that aroma, from my life, which once a year was breathed into your room. I have one last request—the first, and the last. Do it for my sake. Always on your birthday—get some roses and put them in the vase.
Only in you do I wish to go on living—just one day in the year, softly, quietly, as I have always lived near you. Please do this, my darling, please do it. . . . My first request, and my last . . . . Thanks, thanks. . . . I love you, I love you. . . . Farewell. . . .