She is a woman of no more than thirty years of age, though she looks older. She comes here at irregular intervals, once a week or once a month, but when she comes she sits down to get solidly drunk on that alternation of beer and gin which the best authorities in England deem so efficacious.
As to her story, it is simplicity itself. She was kept in luxury for some years by a wealthy cotton broker, crossed to Europe with him, and lived in London and Paris like a Queen. Then she got the idea of "respectability" and "settling down in life"; so she married a man who could keep her in mere comfort. Result: repentance, and a periodical need to forget her sorrows. She is still "respectable"; she never tires of repeating that she is not one of "those girls" but "a married woman living far uptown," and that she "never runs about with men."
It is not the failure of marriage; it is the failure of men to recognize what marriage was ordained to be. By a singular paradox it is the triumph of the bourgeois. Only the hero is capable of marriage as the church understands it; for the marriage oath is a compact of appalling solemnity, an alliance of two souls against the world and against fate, with invocation of the great blessing of the Most High. Death is not the most beautiful of adventures, as Frohman said, for death is unavoidable; marriage is a voluntary heroism. That marriage has today become a matter of convenience is the last word of the commercial spirit. It is as if one should take a vow of knighthood to combat dragons — until the dragons appeared.
So this poor woman, because she did not understand that respectability is a lie, that it is love that makes marriage sacred and not the sanction of church or state, because she took marriage as an asylum instead of as a crusade, has failed in life, and now seeks alcohol under the same fatal error.
Wine is the ripe gladness which accompanies valor and rewards toil; it is the plume on a man's lancehead, a fluttering gallantry — not good to lean upon.
Therefore her eyes are glassed with horror as she gazes uncomprehending upon her fate. That which she did all to avoid confronts her: she does not realize that, had she faced it, it would have fled with all the other phantoms. For the sole reality of this universe is God.
The Old Absinthe House is not a place. It is not bounded by four walls. It is headquarters to an army of philosophies. From this dim corner let me range, wafting thought through every air, salient against every problem of mankind: for it will always return like Noah's dove to this ark, this strange little sanctuary of the Green Goddess which has been set down not upon Ararat, but by the banks of the "Father of Waters."