Read CHAPTER XCI of Raphael Pages Of The Book Of Life At Twenty, free online book, by Alphonse de Lamartine, on

In the morning, a carriage, which I had hired for the day, conveyed us to Monceau. The windows were down, the blinds closed. We traversed the almost deserted streets of the more elevated parts of Paris, leading to the high walls of the park. This garden was at that time almost exclusively reserved for their own use by the princes to whom it belonged, and could only be entered on presenting tickets of admission, which were very parsimoniously distributed to a few foreigners or travellers desirous of admiring its wonderful vegetation. I had obtained some of these tickets, through one of my mother’s early friends who was attached to the prince’s household. I had selected this solitude because I knew its owners were absent, that no admissions were then given, and that the very gardeners would be away enjoying the leisure of a holiday.

This magnificent desert, studded with groves of trees, interspersed with meadows, and traversed by limpid streams, is also embellished by monuments, columns, and ivy-covered ruins, imitations of time in which art has copied the old age of stone. That day we knew it would be visited only by the bright sunbeams, the insects, the birds, and us. Alas, never were its leaves and its green turf to be watered by so many tears!

The warm and glowing sky, the light and shade dancing fitfully on the grass driven by the summer breeze, as the shadow of the wings of one bird pursuing another; the clear note of the nightingale ringing through the sonorous air; the distinctness with which the lilies of the valley, the daisies, and the blue periwinkles which carpeted the sloping banks of the clear waters, were reflected in their polished mirror, all this gladness of Nature saddened us, and this luminous serenity of a spring morning only seemed to contrast the more with the dark cloud which weighed upon our hearts. In vain we sought to deceive ourselves even for a moment by expatiating on the beauty of the landscape, the brilliant tints of the flowers, the perfumes of the air, the depth of the shade, the stillness of those solitudes in which the happiness of a whole world of love might have been sheltered. We carelessly threw on them an unheeding glance, which quickly fell to the ground; our voices, when answering with their vain formulas of joy and admiration, betrayed the hollowness of words and the absence of our thoughts, which were elsewhere. It was in vain we sought a resting-place to pass the long hours of this our last interview; seating ourselves alternately beneath the most fragrant lilacs, or the green branches of the loftiest cedars, on the fluted fragments of columns half-buried in ivy, or by the side of those waters that lay most still within their grassy banks, for scarcely had we chosen one of these sites when some vague disquietude drove us away in search of another. Here it was the shade, and there the light; further on, the importunate murmur of the cascade, or the persisting song of the nightingale over our heads, that turned into bitterness all this exuberance of joy, and made it odious in our eyes. When our heart is sad within us, all creation jars upon our feelings, and it could but have added fresh pangs to the grief of two lovers, had the garden of Eden been the scene of their parting.

At last, worn out by wandering for two hours, and finding no shelter against ourselves, we sat down near a small bridge across a stream; a little apart, as if the very sound of each other’s breathing had been painful, or as if we had wished instinctively to conceal from one another the suppressed sobs which were bursting from our hearts. We long watched abstractedly the green and slimy water as it was slowly swept beneath the narrow arch of the bridge. It carried along on its surface sometimes the white petals of the lily, and sometimes an empty and downy bird’s nest which the wind had blown from a tree. We soon saw the body of a poor little swallow, turned on its back, and with extended wings, floating down. It had, doubtless, been drowned when skimming over the water before its wings were strong enough to bear it on the surface; it reminded us of the swallow which had one day fallen at our feet, from the top of the dismantled tower of the old castle on the borders of the lake, and which had saddened us as an omen. The dead bird passed slowly before us, and the unruffled sheet of water rolled and engulfed it in the deep darkness below the bridge. When the bird had disappeared, we saw another swallow pass and repass a hundred times beneath the bridge, uttering its little sharp cry of distress, and dashing against the wooden beams of the arch. Involuntarily we looked at each other; I cannot tell what our eyes expressed as they met, but the despair of the poor bird found us with our eyelids so overcharged, and our hearts so nearly bursting, that we both turned away at the same moment, and throwing ourselves with our faces to the ground, sobbed aloud. One tear called forth another tear, one thought another thought, one foreboding another foreboding, each sob another sob. We often strove to speak, but the broken voice of the one only made that of the other still more inaudible, and we ended by yielding to nature, and pouring forth in silence, during hours marked by the shadows alone, all the tears that rose from their hidden springs. They fell on the grass, sank into the earth, were dried by the winds of heaven, absorbed by the rays of the sun, God took them into account! No drop of anguish remained in our hearts when we rose face to face though almost hidden from each other by the tearful veil of our eyes. Such was our farewell, a funereal image, an ocean of tears, an eternal silence. Thus we parted without another look, lest that look should strike us to the earth. Never will the mark of my footsteps be again traced in that desert scene of our love and of our parting.