In the Jardin d'Acclimatation

   From the boat she threw a piece of bread, broke off another, held it up, threw it. The moment the bread fell - at almost the very moment at similarly regular intervals that the oar touched the water - the ducks took to their wings so as to get there more quickly in a noise of loudly splashing water, curving their flight over the water then falling back, scattering out to swim after the already disappearing bread. Then at the raised and already falling oar, at the hand about to throw they took to their wings anew. And one would have said on hearing their flight that swept the water at regular intervals, according to the rhythm of the oars, that these birds were invisibly harnessed to the oars and using all their strength to make the craft move forward, to draw the boat. At moments too, seeing at each side of the boat shooting forth, scattering, diffusing, not cascades of water droplets but wings, beaks and cries, one might have believed that, the water being thus animated, the rise and fall of the oars, in a clamorous surge of air, was creating a living foam.

   As the little duck pond in the Jardin d'Acclimatation shuddered in the uneasy splendour of evening, in that trembling gold between the lightly rocking little boats that seemed ready to sail out to the endless sea, stirred by a sea breeze, the music of the Estudiantina waltz began to play. At which point M. Cravant, his wife and his mother-in-law, delighted to recognize a piece of music, an object of passion, conspicuous from the crowd, that they were familiar and so to speak intimate with over a long period of time, which was often heard at their piano on an evening when they were "just us", that M. Cravant treated then with so little ceremony and going so far as to listen to it in his dressing gown, they began to listen with gestures of proud and protective happiness. And at every moment, after having concentrated their anxious attention as if the musicians were about to deceive them, they nodded their heads, seeming to say: that really is it, yes, that is it, it really is that one, still just the same, combining with a smile of approbation that vouched for the exactitude of its execution, a tender expression that implied the merits of "their" piece of music. They insisted that it be known that they knew it, that even if the piece had not been on the stage they would have recognized it, they had known it for such a long time, they had held it on their knees. They pretended to sing, without however emitting any distinctive sound, in such a way as to impress upon their neighbours the idea that they knew it and to not diminish that idea by giving an inexact account of it. So too they waited for the anticipated note to come, bowing their heads like those people who, vaunting their relations with the man of the hour, venture nothing, but when somebody says: "He has quite fair hair, you could call it blond" reply: "Oh, my word, yes, practically blond! Ah! well you see, he's a good friend of ours." In the same way, at the end of every bar or phrase, they lowered their heads in affirmation. In the meantime the little duck pond had now become quite dark. It was clear to see that the little boats would not be going out again today, and one beside the other like birds that do not come back up onto the earth to sleep, but suspended in the water fold their head between their wings, they merged more blackly into the darkness of the evening that little by little covered them over once again.


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