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36. The Apple of Discord
Besides Fifine Beck's mother, another power had a word to say to M. Paul and me, before
that covenant of friendship could be ratified. We were under the surveillance of a
sleepless eye; Rome watched jealously her son through that mystic lattice at which I had
knelt once, and to which M. Emanuel drew nigh month by month -- the sliding panel of
the confessional.
'Why were you so glad to be friends with M. Paul?' asks the reader. 'Had he not long been
a friend to you? Had he not given proof on proof of a certain partiality in his feelings?'
Yes, he had; but still I liked to hear him say so earnestly -- that he was my close, true
friend; I liked his modest doubts, his tender deference -- that trust which longed to rest,
and was grateful when taught how. He had called me 'sister.' It was well. Yes; he might
call me what he pleased, so long as he confided in me. I was willing to be his sister, on
condition that he did not invite me to fill that relation to some future wife of his; and
tacitly vowed as he was to celibacy, of this dilemma there seemed little danger.
Through most of the succeeding night I pondered that evening's interview. I wanted much
the morning to break, and then listened for the bell to ring; and, after rising and dressing,
I deemed prayers and breakfast slow, and all the hours lingering, till that arrived at last
which brought me the lesson of literature. My wish was to get a more thorough
comprehension of this fraternal alliance: to note with how much of the brother he would
demean himself when we met again; to prove how much of the sister was in my own
feelings; to discover whether I could summon a sister's courage, and he a brother's
He came. Life is so constructed, that the event does not, cannot, will not, match the
expectation. The whole day he never accosted me. His lesson was given rather more
quietly than usual, more mildly and also more gravely. He was fatherly to his pupils, but
he was not brotherly to me. Ere he left the classe, I expected a smile, if not a word; I got
neither: to my portion fell one nod -- hurried, shy.
This distance, I argued, is accidental -- it is involuntary; patience, and it will vanish. It
vanished not; it continued for days; it increased. I suppressed my surprise, and swallowed
whatever other feelings began to surge.
Well might I ask when he offered fraternity -- 'Dare I rely on you?' Well might he,
doubtless knowing himself, withhold all pledge. True, he had bid me make my own
experiments -- tease and try him. Vain injunction! Privilege nominal and unavailable!
Some women might use it! Nothing in my powers or instinct placed me amongst this
brave band. Left alone, I was passive; repulsed, I withdrew; forgotten -- my lips would
not utter, nor my eyes dart a reminder. It seemed there had been an error somewhere in
my calculations, and I waited for time to disclose it.