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Title: Ten Tales
Author: Coppée, François, 1842-1908
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Ten Tales" ***

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[Illustration: FRANÇOIS COPPÉE.]


Ten Tales


François Coppée

_Translated by WALTER LEARNED, with fifty pen-and-ink drawings
by ALBERT E. STERNER, and an introduction by BRANDER MATTHEWS_


Copyright, 1890, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

_All rights reserved._













The _conte_ is a form of fiction in which the French have always
delighted and in which they have always excelled, from the days of the
_jongleurs_ and the _trouvères_, past the periods of La Fontaine and
Voltaire, down to the present. The _conte_ is a tale, something more
than a sketch, it may be, and something less than a short story. In
verse it is at times but a mere rhymed anecdote, or it may attain almost
to the direct swiftness of a ballad. The _Canterbury Tales_ are
_contes_, most of them, if not all; and so are some of the _Tales of a
Wayside Inn_. The free-and-easy tales of Prior were written in imitation
of the French _conte en vers_; and that, likewise, was the model of more
than one of the lively narrative poems of Mr. Austin Dobson.

No one has succeeded more abundantly in the _conte en vers_ than M.
Coppée. Where was there ever anything better of its kind than _L'Enfant
de la Balle?_--that gentle portrait of the Infant Phenomenon, framed in
a chain of occasional gibes at the sordid ways of theatrical managers
and at their hostility towards poetic plays. Where is there anything of
a more simple pathos than _L'Épave?_--that story of a sailor's son whom
the widowed mother strives vainly to keep from the cruel waves that
killed his father. (It is worthy of a parenthesis that although the ship
M. Coppée loves best is that which sails the blue shield of the City of
Paris, he knows the sea also, and he depicts sailors with affectionate
fidelity.) But whether at the sea-side by chance, or more often in the
streets of the city, the poet seeks out for the subject of his story
some incident of daily occurrence made significant by his
interpretation; he chooses some character common-place enough, but made
firmer by conflict with evil and by victory over self. Those whom he
puts into his poems are still the humble, the forgotten, the neglected,
the unknown; and it is the feelings and the struggles of these that he
tells us, with no maudlin sentimentality, and with no dead set at our
sensibilities. The sub-title Mrs. Stowe gave to _Uncle Tom's Cabin_
would serve to cover most of M. Coppée's _contes_ either in prose or
verse; they are nearly all pictures of _life among the lowly_. But there
is no forcing of the note in his painting of poverty and labor; there is
no harsh juxtaposition of the blacks and the whites. The tone is always
manly and wholesome.

_La Marchande de Journaux_ and the other little masterpieces of
story-telling in verse are unfortunately untranslatable, as are all
poems but a lyric or two, now and then, by a happy accident. A
translated poem is a boiled strawberry, as some one once put it
brutally. But the tales which M. Coppée has written in prose--a true
poet's prose, nervous, vigorous, flexible, and firm--these can be
Englished by taking thought and time and pains, without which a
translation is always a betrayal. Ten of these tales have been rendered
into English by Mr. Learned; and the ten chosen for translation are
among the best of the two score and more of M. Coppée's _contes en
prose_. These ten tales are fairly representative of his range and
variety. Compare, for example, the passion in "The Foster Sister," pure,
burning and fatal, with the Black Forest _naïveté_ of "The Sabots of
Little Wolff." Contrast the touching pathos of "The Substitute,"
poignant in his magnificent self-sacrifice, by which the man who has
conquered his shameful past goes back willingly to the horrible life he
has fled from that he may save from a like degradation and from an
inevitable moral decay the one friend he has in the world, all unworthy
as this friend is--contrast this with the story of the gigantic deeds
"My Friend Meurtrier" boasts about unceasingly, not knowing that he has
been discovered in his little round of daily domestic duties, making the
coffee of his good old mother and taking her poodle out for a walk.

Among these ten there are tales of all sorts, from the tragic adventure
of "An Accident" to the pendent portraits of the "Two Clowns," cutting
in its sarcasm, but not bitter--from "The Captain's Vices," which
suggests at once George Eliot's _Silas Marner_ and Mr. Austin Dobson's
_Tale of Polypheme_, to the sombre revery of the poet "At Table," a
sudden and searching light cast on the labor and misery which underlies
the luxury of our complex modern existence. Like "At Table," "A Dramatic
Funeral" is a picture more than it is a story; it is a marvellous
reproduction of the factitious emotion of the good-natured stage folk,
who are prone to overact even their own griefs and joys. "A Dramatic
Funeral" seems to me always as though it might be a painting of M. Jean
Beraud, that most Parisian of artists, just as certain stories of M. Guy
de Maupassant inevitably suggest the bold freedom of M. Forain's
sketches in black-and-white.

An ardent admirer of the author of the stories in _The Odd Number_ has
protested to me that M. Coppée is not an etcher like M. de Maupassant,
but rather a painter in water-colors. And why not? Thus might we call M.
Alphonse Daudet an artist in pastels, so adroitly does he suggest the
very bloom of color. No doubt M. Coppée's _contes_ have not the
sharpness of M. de Maupassant's, nor the brilliancy of M. Daudet's--but
what of it? They have qualities of their own; they have sympathy,
poetry, and a power of suggesting pictures not exceeded, I think, by
those of either M. de Maupassant or M. Daudet. M. Coppée's street views
in Paris, his interiors, his impressionist sketches of life under the
shadows of Notre Dame, are convincingly successful. They are intensely
to be enjoyed by those of us who take the same keen delight in the
varied phases of life in New York. They are not, to my mind, really
rivalled either by those of M. de Maupassant, who is a Norman by birth
and a nomad by choice, or by those of M. Daudet, who is a native of
Provence, although now for thirty years a resident of Paris. M. Coppée
is a Parisian from his youth up, and even in prose he is a poet; perhaps
this is why his pictures of Paris are unsurpassable in their felicity
and in their verity.

It may be fancy, but I seem to see also a finer morality in M. Coppée's
work than in M. de Maupassant's or in M. Daudet's or in that of almost
any other of the Parisian story-tellers of to-day. In his tales we
breathe a purer moral atmosphere, more wholesome and more bracing. It is
not that M. Coppée probably thinks of ethics rather than æsthetics; in
this respect his attitude is undoubtedly that of the others; there is no
sermon in his song--or at least none for those who will not seek it for
themselves; there is never a hint of a preachment. But for all that I
have found in his work a trace of the tonic morality which inheres in
Molière, for example, also a Parisian by birth, and also in Rabelais,
despite his disguising grossness. This finer morality comes possibly
from a wider and a deeper survey of the universe; and it is as different
as possible from the morality which is externally applied and which
always punishes the villain in the fifth act.

It is of good augury for our own letters that the best French fiction of
to-day is getting itself translated in the United States, and that the
liking for it is growing apace. Fiction is more consciously an art in
France than anywhere else--perhaps partly because the French are now
foremost in nearly all forms of artistic endeavor. In the short story
especially, in the tale, in the _conte_, their supremacy is
incontestable; and their skill is shown and their æsthetic instinct
exemplified partly in the sense of form, in the constructive method,
which underlies the best short stories, however trifling these may
appear to be, and partly in the rigorous suppression of non-essentials,
due in a measure, it may be, to the example of Mérimee. That is an
example we in America may study to advantage; and from the men who are
writing fiction in France we may gain much. From the British fiction of
this last quarter of the nineteenth century little can be learned by any
one--less by us Americans in whom the English tradition is still
dominant. When we look to France for an exemplar we may find a model of
value, but when we copy an Englishman we are but echoing our own faults.
"The truth is," said Mr. Lowell in his memorable essay _On a Certain
Condescension in Foreigners_--"the truth is that we are worth nothing
except so far as we have disinfected ourselves of Anglicism."

                                                      BRANDER MATTHEWS.


[Illustration: THE CAPTAIN'S VICES]


It is of no importance, the name of the little provincial city where
Captain Mercadier--twenty-six years of service, twenty-two campaigns,
and three wounds--installed himself when he was retired on a pension.

It was quite like all those other little villages which solicit without
obtaining it a branch of the railway; just as if it were not the sole
dissipation of the natives to go every day, at the same hour, to the
Place de la Fontaine to see the diligence come in at full gallop, with
its gay cracking of the whips and clang of bells.

It was a place of three thousand inhabitants--ambitiously denominated
souls in the statistical tables--and was exceedingly proud of its title
of chief city of the canton. It had ramparts planted with trees, a
pretty river with good fishing, a church of the charming epoch of the
flamboyant Gothic, disgraced by a frightful station of the cross,
brought directly from the quarter of Saint Sulpice. Every Monday its
market was gay with great red and blue umbrellas, and countrymen filled
its streets in carts and carriages. But for the rest of the week it
retired with delight into that silence and solitude which made it so
dear to its rustic population. Its streets were paved with
cobble-stones; through the windows of the ground-floor one could see
samplers and wax-flowers under glass domes, and, through the gates of
the gardens, statuettes of Napoleon in shell-work. The principal inn was
naturally called the Shield of France; and the town-clerk made rhymed
acrostics for the ladies of society.

Captain Mercadier had chosen that place of retreat for the simple reason
that he had been born there, and because, in his noisy childhood, he had
pulled down the signs and plugged up the bell-buttons. He returned there
to find neither relations, nor friends, nor acquaintances; and the
recollections of his youth recalled only the angry faces of shop-keepers
who shook their fists at him from the shop-doors, a catechism which
threatened him with hell, a school which predicted the scaffold, and,
finally, his departure for his regiment, hastened by a paternal

For the Captain was not a saintly man; the old record of his punishment
was black with days in the guard-house inflicted for breaches of
discipline, absences from roll-calls, and nocturnal uproars in the
mess-room. He had often narrowly escaped losing his stripes as a
corporal or a sergeant, and he needed all the chance, all the license of
a campaigning life to gain his first epaulet. Firm and brave soldier, he
had passed almost all his life in Algiers at that time when our foot
soldiers wore the high shako, white shoulder-belts and huge
cartridge-boxes. He had had Lamoricière for commander. The Due de
Nemours, near whom he received his first wound, had decorated him, and
when he was sergeant-major, Père Bugrand had called him by his name and
pulled his ears. He had been a prisoner of Abd-el-Kader, bearing the
scar of a yataghan stroke on his neck, of one ball in his shoulder and
another in his chest; and notwithstanding absinthe, duels, debts of
play, and almond-eyed Jewesses, he fairly won, with the point of the
bayonet and sabre, his grade of captain in the First Regiment of

Captain Mercadier--twenty-six years of service, twenty-two campaigns,
and three wounds--had just retired on his pension, not quite two
thousand francs, which, joined to the two hundred and fifty francs from
his cross, placed him in that estate of honorable penury which the State
reserves for its old servants.

His entry into his natal city was without ostentation. He arrived one
morning on the imperiale of the diligence, chewing an extinguished
cigar, and already on good terms with the conductor, to whom, during his
journey, he had related the passage of the Porte de Fer; full of
indulgence, moreover, for the distractions of his auditor, who often
interrupted the recital by some oath or epithet addressed to the off
mare. When the diligence stopped he threw on the sidewalk his old
valise, covered with railway placards as numerous as the changes of
garrison that its proprietor had made, and the idlers of the
neighborhood were astonished to see a man with a decoration--a rare
thing in the province--offer a glass of wine to the coachman at the bar
of an inn near by.

He installed himself at once. In a house in the outskirts, where two
captive cows lowed, and fowls and ducks passed and repassed through the
gate-way, a furnished chamber was to let. Preceded by a
masculine-looking woman, the Captain climbed the stair-way with its
great wooden balusters, perfumed by a strong odor of the stable, and
reached a great tiled room, whose walls were covered with a bizarre
paper representing, printed in blue on a white background and repeated
infinitely, the picture of Joseph Poniatowski crossing the Elster on his
horse. This monotonous decoration, recalling nevertheless our military
glories, fascinated the Captain without doubt, for, without concerning
himself with the uncomfortable straw chairs, the walnut furniture, or
the little bed with its yellowed curtain, he took the room without
hesitation. A quarter of an hour was enough to empty his trunk, hang up
his clothes, put his boots in a corner, and ornament the wall with a
trophy composed of three pipes, a sabre, and a pair of pistols. After a
visit to the grocer's, over the way, where he bought a pound of candles
and a bottle of rum, he returned, put his purchase on the mantle-shelf,
and looked around him with an air of perfect satisfaction. And then,
with the promptitude of the camp, he shaved without a mirror, brushed
his coat, cocked his hat over his ear, and went for a walk in the
village in search of a café.


It was an inveterate habit of the Captain to spend much of his time at a
café. It was there that he satisfied at the same time the three vices
which reigned supreme in his heart--tobacco, absinthe, and cards. It was
thus that he passed his life, and he could have drawn a plan of all the
places where he had ever been stationed by their tobacco shops, cafés,
and military clubs. He never felt himself so thoroughly at ease as when
sitting on a worn velvet bench before a square of green cloth near a
heap of beer-mugs and saucers. His cigar never seemed good unless he
struck his match under the marble of the table, and he never failed,
after hanging his hat and his sabre on a hat-hook and settling himself
comfortably, by unloosing one or two buttons of his coat, to breathe a
profound sigh of relief, and exclaim,

"That is better!"

His first care was, therefore, to find an establishment which he could
frequent, and after having gone around the village without finding
anything that suited him, he stopped at last to regard with the eye of a
connoisseur the Café Prosper, situated at the corner of the Place du
Marché and the Rue de la Pavoisse.

It was not his ideal. Some of the details of the exterior were too
provincial: the waiter, in his black apron, for example, the little
stands in their green frames, the footstools, and the wooden tables
covered with waxed cloth. But the interior pleased the Captain. He was
delighted upon his entrance by the sound of the bell which was touched
by the fair and fleshy dame du comptoir, in her light dress, with a
poppy-colored ribbon in her sleek hair. He saluted her gallantly, and
believed that she sustained with sufficient majesty her triumphal place
between two piles of punch-bowls properly crowned by billiard-balls. He
ascertained that the place was cheerful, neat, and strewn evenly with
yellow sand. He walked around it, looking at himself in the glasses as
he passed; approved the panels where guardsmen and amazons were drinking
champagne in a landscape filled with red holly-hocks; called for his
absinthe, smoked, found the divan soft and the absinthe good, and was
indulgent enough not to complain of the flies who bathed themselves in
his glass with true rustic familiarity.

Eight days later he had become one of the pillars of the Café Prosper.

They soon learned his punctual habits and anticipated his wishes, while
he, in turn, lunched with the patrons of the place--a valuable recruit
for those who haunted the café, folks oppressed by the tedium of a
country life, for whom the arrival of that new-comer, past master in all
games, and an admirable raconteur of his wars and his loves, was a true
stroke of good-fortune. The Captain himself was delighted to tell his
stories to folks who were still ignorant of his repertoire. There were
fully six months before him in which to tell of his games, his feats,
his battles, the retreat of Constantine, the capture of Bou-Maza, and
the officers' receptions with the concomitant intoxication of rum-punch.


Human weakness! He was by no means sorry, on his part, to be something
of an oracle; he from whom the sub-lieutenants, new-comers at Saint-Cyr,
fled dismayed, fearing his long stories.


His usual auditors were the keeper of the café, a stupid and silent
beer-cask, always in his sleeved vest, and remarkable only for his
carved pipe; the bailiff, a scoffer, dressed invariably in black,
scorned for his inelegant habit of carrying off what remained of his
sugar; the town-clerk, the gentleman of acrostics, a person of much
amiability and a feeble constitution, who sent to the illustrated
journals solutions of enigmas and rebuses; and, lastly, the veterinary
surgeon of the place, the only one who, from his position of atheist and
democrat, was allowed to contradict the Captain. This practitioner, a
man with tufted whiskers and eye-glasses, presided over the radical
committee of electors, and when the curé took up a little collection
among his devotees for the purpose of adorning his church with some
frightful red and gilded statues, denounced, in a letter to the
_Siècle_, the cupidity of the Jesuits.

The Captain having gone out one evening for some cigars after an
animated political discussion, the aforesaid veterinary grumbled to
himself certain phrases of heavy irritation concerning "coming to the
point," and "a mere fencing-master," and "cutting a figure." But as the
object of these vague menaces suddenly returned, whistling a march and
beating time with his cane, the incident was without result.

In short, the group lived harmoniously together, and willingly permitted
themselves to be presided over by the new-comer, whose white beard and
martial bearing were quite impressive. And the small city, proud of so
many things, was also proud of its retired Captain.


Perfect happiness exists nowhere, and Captain Mercadier, who believed
that he had found it at the Café Prosper, soon recovered from his

For one thing, on Mondays, the market-day, the Café Prosper was

From early morning it was overrun with truck-peddlers, farmers, and
poultrymen. Heavy men with coarse voices, red necks, and great whips in
their hands, wearing blue blouses and otter-skin caps, bargaining over
their cups, stamping their feet, striking their fists, familiar with the
servant, and bungling at billiards.

When the Captain came, at eleven o'clock, for his first glass of
absinthe, he found this crowd gathered, and already half-drunk, ordering
a quantity of lunches. His usual place was taken, and he was served
slowly and badly. The bell was continually sounding, and the proprietor
and the waiter, with napkins under their arms, were running distractedly
hither and thither. In short, it was an ill-omened day, which upset his
entire existence.


Now, one Monday morning, when he was resting quietly at home, being sure
that the café would be much too full and busy, the mild radiance of the
autumn sun persuaded him to go down and sit upon the stone seat by the
side of the house. He was sitting there, depressed and smoking a damp
cigar, when he saw coming down the end of the street--it was a badly
paved lane leading out into the country--a little girl of eight or ten,
driving before her a half-dozen geese.

As the Captain looked carelessly at the child he saw that she had a
wooden leg.

There was nothing paternal in the heart of the soldier. It was that of a
hardened bachelor. In former days, in the streets of Algiers, when the
little begging Arabs pursued him with their importunate prayers, the
Captain had often chased them away with blows from his whip; and on
those rare occasions when he had penetrated the nomadic household of
some comrade who was married and the father of a family, he had gone
away cursing the crying babies and awkward children who had touched with
their greasy hands the gilding on his uniform.

But the sight of that particular infirmity, which recalled to him the
sad spectacle of wounds and amputations, touched, on that account, the
old soldier. He felt almost a constriction of the heart at the sight of
that sorry creature, half-clothed in her tattered petticoats and old
chemise, bravely running along behind her geese, her bare foot in the
dust, and limping on her ill-made wooden stump.

The geese, recognizing their home, turned into the poultry-yard, and the
little one was about to follow them when the Captain stopped her with
this question:

"Eh! little girl, what's your name?"

"Pierette, monsieur, at your service," she answered, looking at him with
her great black eyes, and pushing her disordered locks from her

"You live in this house, then? I haven't seen you before."

"Yes, I know you pretty well, though, for I sleep under the stairs, and
you wake me up every evening when you come home."

"Is that so, my girl? Ah, well, I must walk on my toes in future. How
old are you?"

"Nine, monsieur, come All-Saints day."

"Is the landlady here a relative of yours?"

"No, monsieur, I am in service."

"And they give you?"

"Soup, and a bed under the stairs."

"And how came you to be lame like that, my poor little one?"

"By the kick of a cow when I was five."

"Have you a father or mother?"

The child blushed under her sunburned skin. "I came from the Foundling
Hospital," she said, briefly. Then, with an awkward courtesy, she passed
limping into the house, and the Captain heard, as she went away on the
pavement of the court, the hard sound of the little wooden leg.

Good heavens! he thought, mechanically walking towards his café, that's
not at all the thing. A soldier, at least, they pack off to the
Invalides, with the money from his medal to keep him in tobacco. For an
officer, they fix up a collectorship, and he marries somewhere in the
provinces. But this poor girl, with such an infirmity,--that's not at
all the thing!

Having established in these terms the injustice of fate, the Captain
reached the threshold of his dear café, but he saw there such a mob of
blue blouses, he heard such a din of laughter and click of
billiard-balls, that he returned home in very bad humor.

His room--it was, perhaps, the first time that he had spent in it
several hours of the day--looked rather shabby. His bed-curtains were
the color of an old pipe. The fireplace was heaped with old
cigar-stumps, and one could have written his name in the dust on the
furniture. He contemplated for some time the walls where the sublime
lancer of Leipsic rode a hundred times to a glorious death. Then, for an
occupation, he passed his wardrobe in review. It was a lamentable series
of bottomless pockets, socks full of holes, and shirts without buttons.

"I must have a servant," he said.

Then he thought of the little lame girl.

"That's what I'll do. I'll hire the next little room; winter is coming,
and the little thing will freeze under the stairs. She will look after
my clothes and my linen and keep the barracks clean. A valet, how's

But a cloud darkened the comfortable picture. The Captain remembered
that quarter-day was still a long way off, and that his account at the
Cafe Prosper was assuming alarming proportions.

"Not rich enough," he said to himself. "And in the mean time they are
robbing me down there. That is positive. The board is too high, and that
wretch of a veterinary plays bezique much too well. I have paid his way
now for eight days. Who knows? Perhaps I had better put the little one
in charge of the mess, soup au café in the morning, stew at noon, and
ragout every evening--campaign life, in fact. I know all about that.
Quite the thing to try."

Going out he saw at once the mistress of the house, a great brutal
peasant, and the little lame girl, who both, with pitchforks in their
hands, were turning over the dung-heap in the yard.

"Does she know how to sew, to wash, to make soup?" he asked, brusquely.

"Who--Pierette? Why?"

"Does she know a little of all that?"

"Of course. She came from an asylum where they learn how to take care of

"Tell me, little one," added the Captain, speaking to the child, "I am
not scaring you--no? Well, my good woman, will you let me have her? I
want a servant."

"If you will support her."

"Then that is finished. Here are twenty francs. Let her have to-night a
dress and a shoe. To-morrow we'll arrange the rest."

And, with a friendly tap on Pierette's cheek, the Captain went off,
delighted that everything was concluded. Possibly he thought he would
have to cut off some glasses of beer and absinthe, and be cautious of
the veterinary's skill at bezique. But that was not worth speaking of,
and the new arrangement would be quite the thing.


Captain, you are a coward!

Such was the apostrophe with which the caryatides of the Café Prosper
hereafter greeted the Captain, whose visits became rarer day by day.

For the poor man had not seen all the consequences of his good action.
The suppression of his morning absinthe had been sufficient to cover the
modest expense of Pierette's keeping, but how many other reforms were
needed to provide for the unforeseen expenses of his bachelor
establishment! Full of gratitude, the little girl wished to prove it by
her zeal. Already the aspect of his room was changed. The furniture was
dusted and arranged, the fireplace cleaned, the floor polished, and
spiders no longer spun their webs over the deaths of Poniatowski in the
corner. When the Captain came home the inviting odor of cabbage-soup
saluted him on the staircase, and the sight of the smoking plates on the
coarse but white table-cloth, with a bunch of flowers and polished
table-ware, was quite enough to give him a good appetite. Pierette
profited by the good-humor of her master to confess some of her secret
ambitions. She wanted andirons for the fireplace, where there was now
always a fire burning, and a mould for the little cakes that she knew
how to make so well. And the Captain, smiling at the child's requests,
but charmed with the homelike atmosphere of his room, promised to think
of it, and on the morrow replaced his Londres by cigars for a sou each,
hesitated to offer five points at ecarté, and refused his third glass
of beer or his second glass of chartreuse.


Certainly the struggle was long; it was cruel. Often, when the hour came
for the glass that was denied him by economy, when thirst seized him by
the throat, the Captain was forced to make an heroic effort to withdraw
his hand already reaching out towards the swan's beak of the café; many
times he wandered about, dreaming of the king turned up and of quint and
quatorze. But he almost always courageously returned home; and as he
loved Pierette more through every sacrifice that he made for her, he
embraced her more fondly every day. For he did embrace her. She was no
longer his servant. When once she stood before him at the table, calling
him "Monsieur," and so respectful in her bearing, he could not stand it,
but seizing her by her two hands, he said to her, eagerly:

"First embrace me, and then sit down and do me the pleasure of speaking
familiarly, confound it!"

And so to-day it is accomplished. Meeting a child has saved that man
from an ignominious age.

He has substituted for his old vices a young passion. He adores the
little lame girl who skips around him in his room, which is comfortable
and well furnished.

He has already taught Pierette to read, and, moreover, recalling his
calligraphy as a sergeant-major, he has set her copies in writing. It is
his greatest joy when the child, bending attentively over her paper, and
sometimes making a blot which she quickly licks up with her tongue, has
succeeded in copying all the letters of an interminable adverb in
_ment_. His uneasiness is in thinking that he is growing old and has
nothing to leave his adopted child.

And so he becomes almost a miser; he theorizes; he wishes to give up his
tobacco, although Pierette herself fills and lights his pipe for him. He
counts on saving from his slender income enough to purchase a little
stock of fancy goods. Then when he is dead she can live an obscure and
tranquil life, hanging up somewhere in the back room of the small shop
an old cross of the Legion of Honor, her souvenir of the Captain.

Every day he goes to walk with her on the rampart. Sometimes they are
passed by folks who are strangers in the village, who look with
compassionate surprise at the old soldier, spared from the wars, and the
poor lame child. And he is moved--oh, so pleasantly, almost to
tears--when one of the passers-by whispers, as they pass:

"Poor father! Yet how pretty his daughter is."



[Illustration: TWO CLOWNS]

The night was clear and glittering with stars, and there was a crowd
upon the market-place. They crowded in gaping delight around the tent of
some strolling acrobats, where red and smoking lanterns lighted the
performance which was just beginning. Rolling their muscular limbs in
dirty wraps, and decorated from head to foot with tawdry ruffles of fur,
the athletes--four boyish ruffians with vulgar heads--were ranged in
line before the painted canvas which represented their exploits; they
stood there with their heads down, their legs apart, and their muscular
arms crossed upon their chests. Near them the marshal of the
establishment, an old sub-officer, with the drooping mustache of a
brandy-drinker, belted in at the waist, a heart of red cloth on his
leather breastplate, leaned on a pair of foils. The feminine attraction,
a rose in her hair, with a man's overcoat protecting her against the
freshness of the evening air over her ballet-dancer's dress, played at
the same time the cymbals and the big bass-drum a desperate
accompaniment to three measures of a polka, always the same, which were
murdered by a blind clarionet player; and the ringmaster, a sort of
Hercules with the face of a galley-slave, a Silenus in scarlet drawers,
roared out his furious appeal in a loud voice. Mixed with the crowd of
loafers, soldiers, and women, I regarded the abject spectacle with
disgust--the last vestige of the olympic games.

Suddenly the music ceased, and the crowd broke into roars of laughter.
The clown had just made his appearance.


He wore the ordinary costume of his kind, the short vest and
many-colored stockings of the peasants of the opera comique, the three
horns turned backward, the red wig with its turned-up queue and its
butterfly on the end. He was a young man, but alas, his face, whitened
with flour, was already seamed with vice. Planting himself before the
public, and opening his mouth in a silly grin, he showed bleeding gums
almost devoid of teeth. The ringmaster kicked him violently from behind.

"Come in," he said, tranquilly.

Then the traditional dialogue, punctuated by slaps in the face, began
between the mountebank and his clown, and the entire audience applauded
these souvenirs of the classic farce, fallen from the theatre to the
stage of the mountebank, and whose humor, coarse but pungent, seemed a
drunken echo of the laughter of Molière. The clown exerted his low
talent, throwing out at each moment some low jest, some immodest pun, to
which his master, simulating a prudish indignation, responded by thumps
on the head. But the adroit clown excelled in the art of receiving
affronts. He knew to perfection how to bend his body like a bow under
the impulse of a kick, and having received on one cheek a full-armed
blow, he stuffed his tongue at once in that cheek and began to whine
until a new blow passed the artificial swelling into the other cheek.
Blows showered on him as thick as hail, and, disappearing under a shower
of slaps, the flour on his face and the red powder of his wig enveloped
him like a cloud. At last he exhausted all his resources of low
scurrility, ridiculous contortions, grotesque grimaces, pretended aches,
falls at full length, etc., till the ringmaster, judging this gratuitous
show long enough, and that the public were sufficiently fascinated, sent
him off with a final cuff.

Then the music began again with such violence that the painted canvas
trembled. The clown, having seized the sticks of a drum fixed on one of
the beams of the scaffolding, mingled a triumphant rataplan with the
bombardment of the bass-drum, the cracked thunder of the cymbals, and
the distracted wail of the clarionet. The ringmaster, roaring again with
his heavy voice, announced that the show was about to begin, and, as a
sign of defiance, he threw two or three old fencing-gloves among his
fellow-wrestlers. The crowd rushed into the tent, and soon only a small
group of loungers remained in front of the deserted stage.

I was just going off, when I noticed by my side an old woman who looked
with strange persistence at the empty stage where the red lights were
still burning. She wore the linen bonnet and the crossed fichu of the
poorer class of women, and her whole appearance was that of neatness and
honesty. Asking myself what powerful interest could hold her in such a
place, I looked at her with more attention, and I saw that her eyes were
full of tears, and that her hands, which she had crossed over her
breast, were trembling with emotion.

"What is the matter with you?" I said, coming near to her, impelled by
an instinctive sympathy.

"The matter, good sir?" cried the old woman, bursting into tears.
"Passing by this market-place--oh, quite by chance, I tell you (I have
no heart for pleasure)--passing before that dreadful tent, I have just
seen in the wretch who has received all those blows my only son, sir, my
sole child! It is the grief of my life, do you see? I never knew what
had become of him since--oh, since my poor husband sent him away to sea
as a cabin-boy. He was apprenticed to an ironmonger, sir. He robbed his
master--he, the son of two honest people. As for me, I would have
pardoned him. You know what mothers are. But my man, when they came and
told him that his son had stolen, he was like a madman. It was that that
killed him, I am sure. I have never seen the unhappy child again. For
five years I have heard nothing from him. I sought to deceive myself. I
said experience will reform him, and there--there--just now--"

And the poor old woman sobbed in a pitiful way. A crowd had formed. It
was no longer to me that she spoke; it was not to the crowd; it was to
herself, to the bitterness of her own heart.

"He, my Adrien, the child that I nourished at my own breast, a
mountebank in a travelling theatre! struck and insulted before the whole
world! He, whom I saved at four when he was so ill, a clown in a tent!
He, the beautiful baby of whom I was so proud, whom I made the neighbors
admire when he was so small that he rolled naked on my knee, holding his
little foot in his hand!"

Suddenly at this point in her heart-breaking monologue the old woman
perceived the crowd listening to her. She looked on the spectators in
astonishment, as one who starts from sleep. She recognized me who had
questioned her, and became frightfully pale.

"What have I said?" she stammered. "Let me pass." And brusquely putting
us aside with an imperious gesture, she went off with a rapid step, and
disappeared in the night.

The adventure made a lively impression on me. I thought often of it, and
after that, when I saw before my eyes some wretched and degraded
creature, some woman of the street, trailing her light silk skirts in
the flare of a gas-jet, some drunken idler leaning on the bar of a café
and bending his bloated face over his glass of absinthe, I have thought,
"Is it possible that that being can ever have been a little child?"

Now, some little time after that _rencontre_--let us be careful not to
indicate the date--I was taken into a gallery of the Chamber of Deputies
to be present at a sensational sitting. The law that they were
discussing on that day is of no importance, but it was the old and
tedious story: a Ministerial candidate, formerly in the Opposition,
proposed to strike a blow at some liberty--I don't know what--which he
had formerly demanded with virulence and force. And, more than that, the
man in power was going to forfeit his word to the tribune. In good
French that is called "to betray," but in parliamentary language they
employ the phrase, "accomplish a change of base." Opinion was divided,
the majority uncertain; and upon his speech would depend the political
future of the speaker. Therefore, on that day, the legislators were in
their places, and the Chamber did not resemble, as usual, a class of
noisy boys presided over by a master without authority. The
lunch-counter was deserted, and the deputies of the Centre themselves
were not absorbed in their personal correspondence.

The orator mounted the tribune. He had the commonplace figure of a
verbose orator: bold eye, protruding lips, as enlarged by the abuse of
words. He began by fingering his notes with an important air, tasting
the glass of sweetened water, and settling himself in his place; then he
started a babble of words without sense, with the nauseous facility of
the bar; misusing vague ideas, abstract terms, and words in _ly_ and
_ion_, stereotyped words, and ready-made phrases. A flattering murmur
greeted the end of his exordium; for the French people in general, and
the political world in particular, manifest a depraved taste for that
sort of eloquence. Encouraged, the fine speaker entered the heart of his
subject, and cynically sang his recantation. He abjured none of his
opinions, he repudiated none of his acts; he would always remain liberal
(a blow on his chest), but that which was good yesterday might be
dangerous to-day; truth on the other side of the Alps, error on this
side. The forbearance of the Government was abused. And he threatened
the assembly; became prophet; let loose the dogs of war. He even risked
a bit of poetry, flourished old metaphors, which were worn out in the
time of Cicero, and compared by turn, in the same phrase, his political
career to a pilot, a steed, and a torch. So much poetry could only
accentuate his success. There was a salvo of bravos, and the Opposition
grumbled, foreseeing their defeat. Violent interruptions broke forth:
furious voices recalled the orator's past life, and threw as insults his
former professions in his face. He was unmoved, and stood with a
disdainful air, which was very effective. Then the bravos redoubled, and
he smiled vaguely, thinking, no doubt, of the proof-sheets of the
_Officiel_, where he could by-and-by insert in the margin, without too
much exaggeration, "profound sensation" and "prolonged applause." Then,
when quiet was re-established, sure of his success, he affected a serene
majesty. He took up again his discourse, soaring like a goose, launching
out with high doctrine, citing Royer-Collard.


But I heard no more. The scandalous spectacle of that political
mountebank, who sacrificed eternal principles to the interests of the
day, recalled to my memory the tent of the acrobats. The cold rhetoric
of that harangue, vibrating with neither truth nor emotion, recalled to
me the patter, learned by heart, of the powdered clown on the stage. The
superb air which the orator assumed under the rain of reproaches and
insults singularly resembled the indifference of the clown to the loud
slaps on his face. Those sonorous phrases, whose echoes had just died
away, sounded as false as a strolling band. The word "liberty" rolled
like the bass-drum, "public interests" and "welfare of the State"
clanged discordantly like the cymbals, and when the comedian spoke of
his "patriotism" I almost heard the _couac_ of a clarionet.

A long uproar woke me from my revery. The speech was finished, and the
orator, having descended from the rostrum, was receiving
congratulations. They were about to vote: the urns were being passed
around, but the result was certain, and the crowd of tribunes was
already dispersing.

As I went across the vestibule I saw an elderly lady dressed in black.
She was dressed like a wealthy bourgeoise and appeared radiant. I
stopped one of the well-groomed little chaps whom one sees trotting
around in the Ministerial corridors. I knew him slightly, and I asked
him who that lady was.

"The mother of the orator," he replied, with official emotion. "She must
be very proud."

Very proud! The old mother who wept so bitterly in the market-place was
not that; and if the mother of his future Excellency had reflected, she
would have regretted--she too--the time when her boy was very small, and
rolled naked on her knee, holding his little foot in his hand.

But, bah! everything is relative, even shame.



[Illustration: A VOLUNTARY DEATH]

I knew the poet Louis Miraz very well, in the old times in the Latin
Quarter, where we used to take our meals together at a crémerie on the
Rue de Seine, kept by an old Polish woman whom we nicknamed the Princess
Chocolawska, on account of the enormous bowl of créme and chocolate
which she exposed daily in the show-window of her shop. It was possible
to dine there for ten sous, with "two breads," an "ordinaire for thirty
centimes," and a "small coffee."

Some who were very nice spent a sou more for a napkin.

Besides some young men who were destined to become geniuses, the
ordinary guests of the crémerie were some poor compatriots of the
proprietress, who had all to some extent commanded armies. There was,
above all, an imposing and melancholy old fellow with a white beard,
whose old befrogged cloak, shabby boots, and old hat, which looked as if
snails had crawled over it, presented a poem of misery, and whom the
other Poles treated with a marked respect, for he had been a dictator
for three days.

It was, moreover, at the Princess Chocolawska's that I knew a singular
fool, who gained his bread by giving German lessons, and declared
himself a convert to Buddhism. On the mantle of the miserable room,
where he lived with a milliner of Saint-Germain, was enthroned an ugly
little Buddha in jade, fixing his hypnotized eyes on his navel, and
holding his great toes in his hands. The German professor accorded to
the idol the most profound veneration, but on the epoch of quarter-day
he was sometimes forced to carry him to the Mont-de-piété, upon which
he fell into a state of sombre chagrin, and did not recover his serenity
until he was able to make amends for his impious act. He never failed,
moreover, to renew his avowals in prosperous times, and finally to take
his god out of pawn.

As to Louis Miraz, he had the deep eyes, the pale complexion, and the
long and dishevelled hair of all those young men who come to town in
third-class carriages to conquer glory, who spend more for midnight oil
than for beefsteaks, and who, rich already with some manuscripts, have
thrown out to great Paris from the height of some hill in its environs
the classic defiance of Rastignac. At that time my hair was archaic
enough in length to grease the collar of my coat. Thus we were made to
understand each other, and Louis Miraz soon took me to his attic-room in
the Rue des Quatre-Vents, where he dragged two thousand alexandrines
over me.


Seriously, they were fresh and charming verses, with the inspiration of
spring-tide, having the perfume of the first lilacs, and _Forest Birds_
(the title of that collection of poems which Louis Miraz published a
little while after he read them to me) will retain a place among the
volumes in the first rank of belles-lettres, by the side of those poets
of a single book--of the Daudet of the Amoureuses, for example.

For Miraz wrote no more verse. A young eaglet seeking the upper air, he
made his eyrie on the summit of Montmartre, and for quite a while we
lost sight of him. Then I found his name again in Sunday journals and
reviews, when he began to write those short and exquisite sketches which
have made his reputation. Thus five years passed, when I met him one day
in the editor's office of a journal for which I worked.

       *       *       *       *       *

Each of us was as much pleased as the other at thus meeting again; and
after the first "What, is that you? Is that you?" we stood facing each
other, shaking hands, and exposing, in a laugh of cordial delight, our
teeth, which in old times we used to exercise on the same crust of
poverty. He had not changed. He had not even sacrificed his long hair,
which he threw back with the graceful movement of a horse who tosses his
mane. Only he had the clear complexion and calm eye of a contented man,
and his slim figure was clad in most fashionable costume.

"We won't drift apart again, will we?" said he, affectionately, taking
me by the arm; and he led me out in the boulevard, where the April sun
gilded the young leaves of the plane-trees.

Ah, happy day! How we exhausted the "Don't you remembers?" "Do you
remember the fried eggs which tasted of straw, and the dreadful
rice-milk of the Princess Chocolawska? and the melancholy air of the old
dictator? and the German who used to pawn his god every three months?"
At last those days of hardship were finished. He had from afar applauded
my success, as I had watched his. But one thing I did not know, and that
was that he had married a woman whom he adored, and that he had a
charming little girl.

"Come and see them; you shall dine with me."

I let myself be persuaded, and he carried me down to the Enclos des
Ternes, where he lived in a cottage among the trees. There everything
made you welcome. No sooner had we opened the door of the garden than a
young dog frisked about our feet.

"Down, Gavroche! He will soil your clothes."

But at the sound of the bell Madame Miraz appeared at the steps with her
little daughter in her arms. An imposing and beautiful blond, her
well-moulded figure wrapped in a blue gown.

"Put on a plate more. I've an old comrade with me."

And the happy father, keeping his hat on his head and carrying his
little girl, showed me all over his establishment--the dining-room,
brightened by light bits of faience, the study, abounding in books, with
its window opening out on the green turf, so that a puff of wind had
strewn with rose-leaves the printer's proofs which were scattered on the

"This is only a beginning, you know. It wasn't so long ago that we were
working for three sous a line."

And while I luxuriated under a blossoming Judas-tree which I saw in the
garden, Miraz, at ease in his home, had slipped into his working-vest,
put on his slippers, and, lying on his sofa, caught little Helen in his
arms to toss her in the air--"Houp la! Houp la!"

I do not remember ever to have had a more perfect impression of
contentment. We dined pleasantly--two good courses, that was all; a
dinner without pretence, where we served ourselves with the pepper-mill.
The charming Madame Miraz presided with her bright smile, having her
child by her side in a high-chair. She spoke but little, but her sweet
and intelligent attention followed our light and paradoxical chat, the
good-humored fooling of men of letters; and at the dessert she took a
rose from the bouquet which ornamented the table, and placed it in her
hair near her ear with a supreme grace. She was indeed that lovely and
silent friend whom a dreamer requires.

We took our coffee in the study--they intended to furnish the salon very
soon with the price of a story to be published by Levy--then, as the
evening was cool, a fire of sticks and twigs was built, and while we
smoked, Miraz and I, recalling old memories, the mistress of the house,
holding on her knees little Helen, now ready for bed, made her repeat
"Our Father" and "Hail Mary," which the little one lisped, rubbing her
little feet together before the warm flame.

       *       *       *       *       *

We saw each other again, often at first, then less frequently, the
difficult and complicated life of literary labor taking us each his own
way. So the years passed. We met, shook hands. "Everything going well?"
"Splendidly." And that was all. Then, later, I found the name of Louis
Miraz but rarely in the journals and periodicals. "Happy man; he is
resting," I said to myself, remembering that he was spoken of as having
made a small fortune. Finally, last autumn, I learned that he was
seriously ill.

I hurried to see him. He still lived at the Enclos des Ternes; but on
this sombre day of the last of November the little house seemed cold,
and looked naked among the leafless trees. It seemed to me shrunken and
diminished, like everything that we have not seen for a long time.

The dog was probably dead, for his bark no longer answered the sound of
the bell when I passed the little gate and entered the garden, all
strewn with dead leaves where the night's frost had withered the last

It was not Madame Miraz--she was absent--it was Helen who received me,
Helen, who had grown to be a great girl of fourteen, with an awkward
manner. She opened for me the door of her father's study, and brusquely
lifting her great black eyelashes, turned on me a timid and distressed

I found Miraz huddled in an easy-chair in the corner of the fireplace,
wrapped in a sort of bed-gown, with gray locks streaking his long hair;
and by the cold, clammy hand which he reached towards me, by the pallid
face which he turned upon me, I knew that he was lost. Horrible! I found
in my unhappy comrade that worn and ruined look which used to strike us
formerly among the poor Poles of the crémerie.


"Ah, well, old man, things are not going well?"

"Deucedly bad, my boy," he answered, with a heart-breaking smile. "I am
going out stupidly with consumption, as they do in the fifth act, you
know, when the venerable doctor, with a head like Béranger, feels the
first walking gentleman's pulse, and lifts his eyes towards heaven,
saying, 'The death-struggle approaches!' Only the difference is that
with me it continues; it will not conclude, the death-struggle. Smoke
away; that doesn't disturb me," he added, seeing me put my cigar one
side, his cough sounding like a death-rattle.

I tried to find encouraging words. I talked with him, holding him by the
hand and patting him affectionately on the shoulder; but my voice had in
my own ears the empty hollowness of deceit, and Miraz, looking at me,
seemed to pity my efforts.

I was silent.

"Look," said he, pointing to his table; "see my work-bench. For six
months I have not been able to write."

It was true. Nothing could be more sad than that heap of papers covered
with dust, and in an old Roman plate there was a bundle of pens, crusted
with ink, and like those trophies of rusty foils which hang on the walls
of old fencers.

I made a new attempt to revive him. Die! at his age. Nonsense! He wasn't
taking care of himself. He must pass the winter in the South, drink a
good draught of sunlight. He could. He was easy in his money matters.

But he stopped me, putting his hand on my arm.

"Listen," he said, gravely, "we have seen each other seldom, but you are
my oldest, perhaps my best, friend. You have proved me pen in hand.
Well, I am going to tell you something in confidence, for you to keep to
yourself, unless it may serve on some occasion to discourage the young
literary aspirants who bring their manuscripts to you--always a
praiseworthy action. Yes, I have been successful. Yes, I have been paid
a franc a line. Yes, I have made money, and there in that drawer are a
certain number of yellow, green, and red papers from which a bit is
clipped every six months, and which represent three or four thousand
francs of income. It is rare in our profession, and to gain that poor
hoard I have been obliged--I, a poet--to imitate the unsociable virtues
of a bourgeois, know how to deny a jewel to my wife, a dress to my
daughter. At last I have that money. And I often said to myself, if I
should die their bread is assured, and here is a little marriage portion
for Helen! And I was content--I was proud!--for I know them, the stories
of our widows and our orphans, the fourpenny help of the government, the
tobacco shops for six hundred francs in the province, and, if the
daughter is intelligent and pretty like mine, the dramatic author, an
old friend of the father, who advises her to enter the Conservatoire,
and who makes of her--mercy of God! that shall never be. But for all
that, my boy, it is necessary that I should not linger. Sickness is
expensive, and already it has been necessary to sell one or two bonds
from that drawer. To seek the sunlight, as you suggest, to bask like a
lizard at Cannes or at Menton, one more bond must go, and there would
not be enough to last to the end, if I should wait for seven or eight
years more, now that I can no longer write. Happily, there is nothing to
fear. But what I have suffered since I have been incapable of writing,
and have felt my hoard of gold shrink and diminish in my hand like the
Magic Skin of Balzac, is frightful. Now you understand me, do you not?
and you will no longer bid me take care of myself. No; if you still pray
to God, ask him to send me speedily to the undertaker's."

       *       *       *       *       *

Fifteen days later some thirty of us followed the hearse which carried
Louis Miraz to the Cemetery Montmartre. It had snowed the day before,
and Doctor Arnould, the old frequenter of painters' studios, the friend
and physician of the dead man, walking behind me, called in his brusque

"Very commonplace, but always terrible the contrast: a burial in the
snow--black on white. The Funeral of the Poor, by the late Vigneron,
isn't to be ridiculed. Brr!"

At last we came to the edge of the grave. The place and the time were
sad. Under a cloudy sky the little yew-trees, swayed by the wind, threw
down their burdens of melted snow. The by-standers had formed a circle,
and were watching the grave-diggers, who were lowering the coffin by
cords. Near a cross-bearer, whose short surplice permitted the bottom of
his trousers to be seen, the priest waited with a finger in his book;
and, having grasped the rim of his hat under his left arm, the orator of
the Society of Men of Letters already held in his black-gloved hand the
funeral oration, hastily patched up by the aid of a comrade over a
couple of glasses at the corner of a café table.

Suddenly, as the priest began his Latin prayers, Doctor Arnould seized
me by the arm and whispered in my ear,

"You know that he killed himself?"

I looked at him with astonishment. But he pointed to the group in black,
composed of Madame Miraz and her daughter, who were sobbing under their
long veils and clasping each other in a tragic embrace, and he added,

"For them. Yes, for six months he threw all his medicines in the fire,
and designedly committed all sorts of imprudences. He confessed it to me
before his death. I had not understood it at all--I, who had expected to
prolong his life at least three years by creosote. At last the other
night, when it was freezing cold, he left his window open, as if by
forgetfulness, and was taken with bleeding at the lungs. Yes, that he
might leave bread for those two women. The curé does not dream that he
is blessing a suicide. But what of it, my good fellow? Miraz is in the
paradise of the brave. The details of such a death. Eh? It is tougher
than the passage of the Bridge of Arcole."



[Illustration: A DRAMATIC FUNERAL]

For twenty-five years he had played the role of the villain at the
Boulevard du Crime,[A] and his harsh voice, his nose like an eagle's
beak, his eye with its savage glitter, had made him a good player of
such parts. For twenty-five years, dressed in the cloak and encircled by
the fawn-colored leather belt of Mordaunt, he had retreated with the
step of a wounded scorpion before the sword of D'Artagnan; draped in the
dirty Jewish gown of Rodin, he had rubbed his dry hands together,
muttering the terrible "Patience, patience!" and, curled on the chair of
the Duc d'Este, he had said to Lucretia Borgia, with a sufficiently
infernal glance, "Take care and make no mistake. The flagon of gold,
madame." When, preceded by a tremolo, he made his entry in the scene,
the third gallery trembled, and a sigh of relief greeted the moment when
the first walking gentleman at last said to him: "Between us two, now,"
and immolated him for the grand triumph of virtue.

[Footnote A: A nickname given to the Boulevard du Temple, on account of
the numerous melodramatic theatres situated there.]


But this sort of success, which is only betrayed by murmurs of horror,
is not of the kind to make a dramatic career seductive; and besides the
old actor had always hidden in a corner of his heart the bucolic ideal
which is in the heart of almost all artists. He sighed for an old age of
leisure, and the comfortable dignity of a retired shopkeeper; the house
in the country, where he could live with his family, with melons, under
an arbor; cakes and wine in the winter evenings; his daughter a scholar
in a convent; his son in the uniform of the Polytechnique; and the cross
of the Legion.

Now, when we had occasion to know him, he had already nearly realized
his dreams.

After the failure of the theatre where he had been for a long time
engaged, some capitalists had thought of him to put the enterprise on
its feet again. With his systematic habits, his good sense, his thorough
and practical knowledge of the business, and a sufficiently correct
literary instinct, he became an excellent manager. He was the owner of
stocks and a villa at Montmorency; his son was a student at
Sainte-Barbe, and his daughter had just come out of Les Oiseaux; and if
the malice of small newspapers had retarded his nomination in the Legion
of Honor by recalling every year, about the first of January, his old
ranting on the stage, when he played formerly the villains' parts, he
could yet hope that it would not be long before the red ribbon would
flourish in his button-hole. He had still preserved some of the habits
of a strolling player, such as being very familiar with everybody, and
dyeing his mustaches; but as he was, on the whole, good, honest, and
serviceable, he conquered the esteem and friendship of those with whom
he came in contact.

So it was with sincere grief that the whole dramatic world learned one
day the terrible sorrow which had smitten that excellent man. His
daughter, a girl of seventeen, had died suddenly of brain-fever.

We knew how he adored the child; how he had brought her up in the
strictest principles of family and religion, far from the theatre,
something as Triboulet hid his daughter Blanche in the little house of
the cul-de-sac Bucy. We understood that all the hopes and ambitions of
the man rested on the head of that charming girl, who, near all the
corruption of the theatre, had grown up in innocence and purity, as one
sees sometimes in the scanty grass of the faubourgs a field-flower
spring up by the door of a hovel.


We were among the first at the funeral, to which we had been summoned by
a black-bordered billet.

A crowd of the people of the neighborhood encumbered the street before
the house of the dead, attracted by the pomps of the first-class funeral
ordered by the old comedian, who had preserved the taste of the _mise en
scène_ even in his grief. The magnificent hearse and cumbrous
mourning-coaches were already drawn up to the sidewalk, and under the
door, and in the shade of the heavy fringed and silvered draperies, amid
the twinkling of burning candles, between two priests reading prayers in
their Prayer-books, the form of the massive coffin could be seen under
its white cloth, covered with Parma violets.

As we walked among the crowd we noticed the groups formed of those who,
like us, were waiting the departure of the cortége. There were almost
all the actors, men and women, of Paris, who had come to pay their last
respects to the daughter of their comrade. Undoubtedly nothing could be
more natural; but we experienced not the less a strange sensation on
seeing, around the coffin of that pure young girl who had breathed away
her last breath in a prayer, the gathering of all those faces marked by
the brand of the theatre.


They were all there: the stars, the comedians, the lovers, the traitors;
nobody was lacking: soubrettes, duennas, coquettes, first walking
ladies. Wearing a sack-coat and a felt hat on his long gray hair, the
superb adventurer of all the cloak and sword dramas leaned against the
shutter of a shop in his familiar attitude, and crossed his arms to show
his handsome hands; while a little old fellow with the wrinkled face of
a clown spoke to him briskly in the broad, harsh voice which had so
often made us explode with laughter. By the side of the aged first young
man, who, pinched in his scanty frock-coat, and with trousers trailing
under foot, twirled in his gloved hands his locks of over-black hair,
stood a great handsome fellow, beautiful as a model, who had not been
able to renounce even for that day his eccentricities of costume, and
strutted in a black velvet cape and the boots of an equerry. Oh, how
sad, tired, and old they seemed in the gray light of that winter
morning, all those pathetic heads, graceful or laughable, which we were
only in the habit of seeing when transfigured by the prestige of the
stage. Chins had become blue-black under too frequent shaving; hair thin
and dry under the hot iron of the hair-dresser; skins rough under the
injurious action of unguents and vinegar; eyes dull, burned by the glare
of foot-lights--blinded, almost fixed, like those of an owl in the


The women were especially to be pitied. Obliged by the occasion to rise
at a very early hour, and not having had the time for a careful and
minute toilet, they gathered in groups of four or five, chilled and
shivering in their fur mantles, muffs, and triple black veils.
Notwithstanding the hasty rouge and powder of the morning, they were
unrecognizable, and it required an effort of imagination to find in them
a memory of that sublime seraglio of the Parisian theatres, exposed
every evening to the desires of several thousand men. On all of these
charming types appeared the mark of weariness and age. Some ossified
into faded skeletons, others grew dull with an unhealthy weight of fat;
wrinkles crossed the foreheads and starred the temples; lips were livid
and eyes circled with dark rings; the complexions were particularly
frightful--that uniform tint, morbid and sickly, the work of rouge and
grease-paints. That heavy woman, with the head and neck of a farmer's
wife (one almost sees a basket on her shoulder), is the terrible and
fatal queen of grand, romantic dramas; and that small blonde and pale
creature, so faded under her laces, and who would have completely filled
a music-teacher's carrying roll, was the artless young woman whom all
the vaudevillists married at the dénouement of their pieces. There were
the dying glances of the lorette in the hospital, the pose of the old
copyist of the Louvre, and the theatrical sneer.


Soon the cabs drove up with the functionaries connected with the
administration of the theatre, in black hats and coats, with an official
air of sadness; young reporters, the outflow of journalism, staring at
everybody and taking notes; dramatic authors, Monday feuilletonists--in
short, all of those nocturnal beings, tired and worn-out, who are
properly called the actives of Paris.

The groups became more compact, and talked animatedly. Old friends found
each other; they shook hands, and, in view of the circumstances, smiled
cordially, while the women saluted each other through their veils.

In passing, we could catch fragments of conversation like this:

"When will the affair begin?"

"Were you at the opening of the Variétès yesterday?"

Theatrical terms were heard--"My talents," "My charms," "My physique."
Some business, even, was done. A new manager was quite surrounded; an
old actress organized her benefit.

Suddenly there was a movement in the crowd. The undertaker's men had
just placed the coffin in the hearse, and the young girls of the
Sisterhood of the Virgin, to which the dead girl had belonged, arranged
themselves in two lines, in their white veils, at the sides of the
funeral-car. Preceded by the master of ceremonies, in silk stockings and
a wand of office in his hand, the poor father appeared on the pavement
in full mourning, with a white cravat, broken down by grief and
sustained by his friends.

The procession set out and came to the parish church, fortunately near.

There was a grand mass, with music which was not finished. It was too
warm in the church stuffed with people, and the inattention was general.
Men who recognized each other saluted with a light movement of the head;
conversation was exchanged in a low voice; some young actors struck
attitudes for the benefit of the women, and the pious responded to
Dominus Vobiscum droned by the priest. At the elevation, from behind the
altar, rang out a magnificent Pié Jesu, sung by a celebrated baritone,
who had never put in his voice so much amorous languor. Outside the
church-yard the small boys of the quarter stood on tiptoe, and, hanging
on to the railings, pointed out the celebrities with their fingers.

The office finished, the long defile commenced; and every one went to
the entrance of the church to sprinkle some drops of holy-water on the
bier, and press the hand of the old actor, who, broken by grief, and
having hardly strength to hold his hat, leaned against a pillar.

That was the most horrible moment.

Carried away by the habit of playing up to the situation, all these
theatrical people put into the token of sympathy which they gave to
their friend the character of their employment. The star advanced
gravely, and with a three-quarter inclination of his head flashed out
the "Look of Fate." The old tragedian with a gray beard assumed a
stoical expression, and did not forget to "vibrate" in pronouncing a
masculine "Courage!" The clown approached with a short, trotting step,
and shaking his head until his cheeks trembled, he murmured, "My poor
old fellow." And the fairy queen, with the sensibility of a sensitive
female, threw herself impulsively on the neck of the unhappy father,
who, with swollen face, bloodshot eyes, and hanging lip, blackened his
face and his gloved hands with the dye of his mustache, diluted by

And all the time, a few steps from this grotesque and sinister scene, we
could see--last word of this antithesis--the white figures of the young
girls of the sisterhood, kneeling on the chairs nearest the coffin of
their companion, and who undoubtedly were beseeching God, in their
naïve and original prayers, to grant her the paradise of their dreams:
a pretty paradise in the Jesuitical style, all in carved and gilded
wood, and many-colored marble, where one could see at the end a tableau
in a transparent light; the Virgin crowned with stars, with a serpent
under her feet, while little cherubs suspended in mid-air over her head
an azure streamer flaming with these words: "_Ecce Regina Angelorum._"



[Illustration: THE SUBSTITUTE]

He was scarcely ten years old when he was first arrested as a vagabond.

He spoke thus to the judge:

"I am called Jean François Leturc, and for six months I was with the
man who sings and plays upon a cord of catgut between the lanterns at
the Place de la Bastille. I sang the refrain with him, and after that I
called, 'Here's all the new songs, ten centimes, two sous!' He was
always drunk, and used to beat me. That is why the police picked me up
the other night. Before that I was with the man who sells brushes. My
mother was a laundress; her name was Adéle. At one time she lived with
a man on the ground-floor at Montmartre. She was a good work-woman and
liked me. She made money because she had for customers waiters in the
cafés, and they use a good deal of linen. On Sundays she used to put me
to bed early so that she could go to the ball. On week-days she sent me
to Les Fréres, where I learned to read. Well, the sergeant-de-ville
whose beat was in our street used always to stop before our windows to
talk with her--a good-looking chap, with a medal from the Crimea. They
were married, and after that everything went wrong. He didn't take to
me, and turned mother against me. Every one had a blow for me, and so,
to get out of the house, I spent whole days in the Place Clichy, where I
knew the mountebanks. My father-in-law lost his place, and my mother her
work. She used to go out washing to take care of him; this gave her a
cough--the steam.... She is dead at Lamboisière. She was a good woman.
Since that I have lived with the seller of brushes and the catgut
scraper. Are you going to send me to prison?"

He said this openly, cynically, like a man. He was a little ragged
street-arab, as tall as a boot, his forehead hidden under a queer mop of
yellow hair.

Nobody claimed him, and they sent him to the Reform School.

Not very intelligent, idle, clumsy with his hands, the only trade he
could learn there was not a good one--that of reseating straw chairs.
However, he was obedient, naturally quiet and silent, and he did not
seem to be profoundly corrupted by that school of vice. But when, in his
seventeenth year, he was thrown out again on the streets of Paris, he
unhappily found there his prison comrades, all great scamps, exercising
their dirty professions: teaching dogs to catch rats in the the sewers,
and blacking shoes on ball nights in the passage of the Opera--amateur
wrestlers, who permitted themselves to be thrown by the Hercules of the
booths--or fishing at noontime from rafts; all of these occupations he
followed to some extent, and, some months after he came out of the house
of correction, he was arrested again for a petty theft--a pair of old
shoes prigged from a shop-window. Result: a year in the prison of Sainte
Pélagie, where he served as valet to the political prisoners.

He lived in much surprise among this group of prisoners, all very young,
negligent in dress, who talked in loud voices, and carried their heads
in a very solemn fashion. They used to meet in the cell of one of the
oldest of them, a fellow of some thirty years, already a long time in
prison and quite a fixture at Sainte Pélagie--a large cell, the walls
covered with colored caricatures, and from the window of which one could
see all Paris--its roofs, its spires, and its domes--and far away the
distant line of hills, blue and indistinct upon the sky. There were upon
the walls some shelves filled with volumes and all the old paraphernalia
of a fencing-room: broken masks, rusty foils, breast-plates, and gloves
that were losing their tow. It was there that the "politicians" used to
dine together, adding to the everlasting "soup and beef," fruit, cheese,
and pints of wine which Jean François went out and got by the can--a
tumultuous repast interrupted by violent disputes, and where, during the
dessert, the "Carmagnole" and "Ca Ira" were sung in full chorus. They
assumed, however, an air of great dignity on those days when a newcomer
was brought in among them, at first entertaining him gravely as a
citizen, but on the morrow using him with affectionate familiarity, and
calling him by his nickname. Great words were used there: Corporation,
Responsibility, and phrases quite unintelligible to Jean François--such
as this, for example, which he once heard imperiously put forth by a
frightful little hunchback who blotted some writing-paper every night:

"It is done. This is the composition of the Cabinet: Raymond, the Bureau
of Public Instruction; Martial, the Interior; and for Foreign Affairs,

His time done, he wandered again around Paris, watched afar by the
police, after the fashion of cockchafers, made by cruel children to fly
at the end of a string. He became one of those fugitive and timid beings
whom the law, with a sort of coquetry, arrests and releases by
turn--something like those platonic fishers who, in order that they may
not exhaust their fish-pond, throw immediately back in the water the
fish which has just come out of the net. Without a suspicion on his part
that so much honor had been done to so sorry a subject, he had a special
bundle of memoranda in the mysterious portfolios of the Rue de
Jérusalem. His name was written in round hand on the gray paper of the
cover, and the notes and reports, carefully classified, gave him his
successive appellations: "Name, Leturc;" "the prisoner Leturc," and, at
last, "the criminal Leturc."

He was two years out of prison, dining where he could, sleeping in night
lodging-houses and sometimes in lime-kilns, and taking part with his
fellows in interminable games of pitch-penny on the boulevards near the
barriers: He wore a greasy cap on the back of his head, carpet slippers,
and a short white blouse. When he had five sous he had his hair curled.
He danced at Constant's at Montparnasse; bought for two sous to sell for
four at the door of Bobino, the jack of hearts or the ace of clubs
serving as a countermark; sometimes opened the door of a carriage; led
horses to the horse-market. From the lottery of all sorts of miserable
employments he drew a goodly number. Who can say if the atmosphere of
honor which one breathes as a soldier, if military discipline might not
have saved him. Taken, in a cast of the net, with some young loafers who
robbed drunkards sleeping on the streets, he denied very earnestly
having taken part in their expeditions. Perhaps he told the truth, but
his antecedents were accepted in lieu of proof, and he was sent for
three years to Poissy. There he made coarse playthings for children, was
tattooed on the chest, learned thieves' slang and the penal-code. A new
liberation, and a new plunge into the sink of Paris; but very short this
time, for at the end of six months at the most he was again compromised
in a night robbery, aggravated by climbing and breaking--a serious
affair, in which he played an obscure role, half dupe and half fence. On
the whole his complicity was evident, and he was sent for five years at
hard labor. His grief in this adventure was above all in being separated
from an old dog which he had found on a dung-heap, and cured of the
mange. The beast loved him.

Toulon, the ball and chain, the work in the harbor, the blows from a
stick, wooden shoes on bare feet, soup of black beans dating from
Trafalgar, no tobacco money, and the terrible sleep in a camp swarming
with convicts; that was what he experienced for five broiling summers
and five winters raw with the Mediterranean wind. He came out from there
stunned, was sent under surveillance to Vernon, where he worked some
time on the river. Then, an incorrigible vagabond, he broke his exile
and came again to Paris. He had his savings, fifty-six francs, that is
to say, time enough for reflection. During his absence his former
wretched companions had dispersed. He was well hidden, and slept in a
loft at an old woman's, to whom he represented himself as a sailor,
tired of the sea, who had lost his papers in a recent shipwreck, and who
wanted to try his hand at something else. His tanned face and his
calloused hands, together with some sea phrases which he dropped from
time to time, made his tale seem probable enough.


One day when he risked a saunter in the streets, and when chance had led
him as far as Montmartre, where he was born, an unexpected memory
stopped him before the door of Les Frères, where he had learned to
read. As it was very warm the door was open, and by a single glance the
passing outcast was able to recognize the peaceable school-room. Nothing
was changed: neither the bright light shining in at the great windows,
nor the crucifix over the desk, nor the rows of benches with the tables
furnished with ink-stands and pencils, nor the table of weights and
measures, nor the map where pins stuck in still indicated the operations
of some ancient war. Heedlessly and without thinking, Jean François
read on the blackboard the words of the Evangelist which had been set
there as a copy:

"Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over
ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."

It was undoubtedly the hour for recreation, for the Brother Professor
had left his chair, and, sitting on the edge of a table, he was telling
a story to the boys who surrounded him with eager and attentive eyes.
What a bright and innocent face he had, that beardless young man, in his
long black gown, and white necktie, and great ugly shoes, and his badly
cut brown hair streaming out behind! All the simple figures of the
children of the people who were watching him seemed scarcely less
childlike than his; above all when, delighted with some of his own
simple and priestly pleasantries, he broke out in an open and frank peal
of laughter which showed his white and regular teeth, a peal so
contagious that all the scholars laughed loudly in their turn. It was
such a sweet, simple group in the bright sunlight, which lighted their
dear eyes and their blond curls.

Jean François looked at them for some time in silence, and for the
first time in that savage nature, all instinct and appetite, there awoke
a mysterious, a tender emotion. His heart, that seared and hardened
heart, unmoved when the convict's cudgel or the heavy whip of the
watchman fell on his shoulders, beat oppressively. In that sight he saw
again his infancy; and closing his eyes sadly, the prey to torturing
regret, he walked quickly away.

Then the words written on the blackboard came back to his mind.

"If it wasn't too late, after all!" he murmured; "if I could again, like
others, eat honestly my brown bread, and sleep my fill without
nightmare! The spy must be sharp who recognizes me. My beard, which I
shaved off down there, has grown out thick and strong. One can burrow
somewhere in the great ant-hill, and work can be found. Whoever is not
worked to death in the hell of the galleys comes out agile and robust,
and I learned there to climb ropes with loads upon my back. Building is
going on everywhere here, and the masons need helpers. Three francs a
day! I never earned so much. Let me be forgotten, and that is all I

He followed his courageous resolution; he was faithful to it, and after
three months he was another man. The master for whom he worked called
him his best workman. After a long day upon the scaffolding, in the hot
sun and the dust, constantly bending and raising his back to take the
hod from the man at his feet and pass it to the man over his head, he
went for his soup to the cook-shop, tired out, his legs aching, his
hands burning, his eyelids stuck with plaster, but content with himself,
and carrying his well-earned money in a knot in his handkerchief. He
went out now without fear, since he could not be recognized in his white
mask, and since he had noticed that the suspicious glances of the
policeman were seldom turned on the tired workman. He was quiet and
sober. He slept the sound sleep of fatigue. He was free!

At last--oh, supreme recompense!--he had a friend!

He was a fellow-workman like himself, named Savinien, a little peasant
with red lips who had come to Paris with his stick over his shoulder and
a bundle on the end of it, fleeing from the wine-shops and going to mass
every Sunday. Jean François loved him for his piety, for his candor,
for his honesty, for all that he himself had lost, and so long ago. It
was a passion, profound and unrestrained, which transformed him by
fatherly cares and attentions. Savinien, himself of a weak and
egotistical nature, let things take their course, satisfied only in
finding a companion who shared his horror of the wine-shop. The two
friends lived together in a fairly comfortable lodging, but their
resources were very limited. They were obliged to take into their room a
third companion, an old Auvergnat, gloomy and rapacious, who found it
possible out of his meagre salary to save something with which to buy a
place in his own country. Jean François and Savinien were always
together. On holidays they together took long walks in the environs of
Paris, and dined under an arbor in one of those small country inns where
there are a great many mushrooms in the sauces and innocent rebusses on
the napkins. There Jean François learned from his friend all that lore
of which they who are born in the city are ignorant: learned the names
of the trees, the flowers, and the plants; the various seasons for
harvesting; he heard eagerly the thousand details of a laborious country
life--the autumn sowing, the winter chores, the splendid celebrations of
harvest and vintage days, the sound of the mills at the water-side, and
the flails striking the ground, the tired horses led to water, and the
hunting in the morning mist; and, above all, the long evenings around
the fire of vine-shoots, that were shortened by some marvellous stories.
He discovered in himself a source of imagination before unknown, and
found a singular delight in the recital of events so placid, so calm, so

One thing troubled him, however: it was the fear lest Savinien might
learn something of his past. Sometimes there escaped from him some low
word of thieves' slang, a vulgar gesture--vestiges of his former
horrible existence--and he felt the pain one feels when old wounds
re-open; the more because he fancied that he sometimes saw in Savinien
the awakening of an unhealthy curiosity. When the young man, already
tempted by the pleasures which Paris offers to the poorest, asked him
about the mysteries of the great city, Jean François feigned ignorance
and turned the subject; but he felt a vague inquietude for the future of
his friend.

His uneasiness was not without foundation. Savinien could not long
remain the simple rustic that he was on his arrival in Paris. If the
gross and noisy pleasures of the wine-shop always repelled him, he was
profoundly troubled by other temptations, full of danger for the
inexperience of his twenty years. When spring came he began to go off
alone, and at first he wandered about the brilliant entrance of some
dancing-hall, watching the young girls who went in with their arms
around each others' waists, talking in low tones. Then, one evening,
when lilacs perfumed the air and the call to quadrilles was most
captivating, he crossed the threshold, and from that time Jean François
observed a change, little by little, in his manners and his visage. He
became more frivolous, more extravagant. He often borrowed from his
friend his scanty savings, and he forgot to repay. Jean François,
feeling that he was abandoned, jealous and forgiving at the same time,
suffered and was silent. He felt that he had no right to reproach him,
but with the foresight of affection he indulged in cruel and inevitable

One evening, as he was mounting the stairs to his room, absorbed in his
thoughts, he heard, as he was about to enter, the sound of angry voices,
and he recognized that of the old Auvergnat who lodged with Savinien and
himself. An old habit of suspicion made him stop at the landing-place
and listen to learn the cause of the trouble.

"Yes," said the Auvergnat, angrily, "I am sure that some one has opened
my trunk and stolen from it the three louis that I had hidden in a
little box; and he who has done this thing must be one of the two
companions who sleep here, if it were not the servant Maria. It concerns
you as much as it does me, since you are the master of the house, and I
will drag you to the courts if you do not let me at once break open the
valises of the two masons. My poor gold! It was here yesterday in its
place, and I will tell you just what it was, so that if we find it again
nobody can accuse me of having lied. Ah, I know them, my three beautiful
gold pieces, and I can see them as plainly as I see you! One piece was
more worn than the others; it was of greenish gold, with a portrait of
the great emperor. The other was a great old fellow with a queue and
epaulettes; and the third, which had on it a Philippe with whiskers, I
had marked with my teeth. They don't trick me. Do you know that I only
wanted two more like that to pay for my vineyard? Come, search these
fellows' things with me, or I will call the police! Hurry up!" "All
right," said the voice of the landlord; "we will go and search with
Maria. So much the worse for you if we find nothing, and the masons get
angry. You have forced me to it."


Jean François' soul was full of fright. He remembered the embarrassed
circumstances and the small loans of Savinien, and how sober he had
seemed for some days. And yet he could not believe that he was a thief.
He heard the Auvergnat panting in his eager search, and he pressed his
closed fists against his breast as if to still the furious beating of
his heart.

"Here they are!" suddenly shouted the victorious miser. "Here they are,
my louis, my dear treasure; and in the Sunday vest of that little
hypocrite of Limousin! Look, landlord, they are just as I told you. Here
is the Napoleon, the man with a queue, and the Philippe that I have
bitten. See the dents? Ah, the little beggar with the sanctified air. I
should have much sooner suspected the other. Ah, the wretch! Well, he
must go to the convict prison."

At this moment Jean François heard the well-known step of Savinien
coming slowly up the stairs.

He is going to his destruction, thought he. Three stories. I have time!

And, pushing open the door, he entered the room, pale as death, where he
saw the landlord and the servant stupefied in a corner, while the
Auvergnat, on his knees, in the disordered heap of clothes, was kissing
the pieces of gold.

"Enough of this," he said, in a thick voice; "I took the money, and put
it in my comrade's trunk. But that is too bad. I am a thief, but not a
Judas. Call the police; I will not try to escape, only I must say a word
to Savinien in private. Here he is."

In fact, the little Limousin had just arrived, and seeing his crime
discovered, believing himself lost, he stood there, his eyes fixed, his
arms hanging.

Jean François seized him forcibly by the neck, as if to embrace him; he
put his mouth close to Savinien's ear, and said to him in a low,
supplicating voice,

"Keep quiet."

Then turning towards the others:

"Leave me alone with him. I tell you I won't go away. Lock us in if you
wish, but leave us alone."

With a commanding gesture he showed them the door. They went out.


Savinien, broken by grief, was sitting on the bed, and lowered his eyes
without understanding anything.

"Listen," said Jean François, who came and took him by the hands. "I
understand! You have stolen three gold pieces to buy some trifle for a
girl. That costs six months in prison. But one only comes out from there
to go back again, and you will become a pillar of police courts and
tribunals. I understand it. I have been seven years at the Reform
School, a year at Sainte Pélagie, three years at Poissy, five years at
Toulon. Now, don't be afraid. Everything is arranged. I have taken it on
my shoulders."

"It is dreadful," said Savinien; but hope was springing up again in his
cowardly heart.

"When the elder brother is under the flag, the younger one does not go,"
replied Jean François. "I am your substitute, that's all. You care for
me a little, do you not? I am paid. Don't be childish--don't refuse.
They would have taken me again one of these days, for I am a runaway
from exile. And then, do you see, that life will be less hard for me
than for you. I know it all, and I shall not complain if I have not done
you this service for nothing, and if you swear to me that you will never
do it again. Savinien, I have loved you well, and your friendship has
made me happy. It is through it that, since I have known you, I have
been honest and pure, as I might always have been, perhaps, if I had
had, like you, a father to put a tool in my hands, a mother to teach me
my prayers. It was my sole regret that I was useless to you, and that I
deceived you concerning myself. To-day I have unmasked in saving you. It
is all right. Do not cry, and embrace me, for already I hear heavy boots
on the stairs. They are coming with the _posse_, and we must not seem to
know each other so well before those chaps."

He pressed Savinien quickly to his breast, then pushed him from him,
when the door was thrown wide open.

It was the landlord and the Auvergnat, who brought the police. Jean
François sprang forward to the landing-place, held out his hands for
the handcuffs, and said, laughing, "Forward, bad lot!"

To-day he is at Cayenne, condemned for life as an incorrigible.



[Illustration: AT TABLE]

When the _maître d'hôtel_--oh, what a respectable paunch in an ample
kerseymere vest! What a worthy and red face, well framed by white
whiskers! (an English physique, I assure you)--when the imposing
_maître d'hôtel_ opened with two raps the door of the salon, and
announced in his musical bass voice, at the same time sonorous and
respectful, "The dinner of madame la comtesse is served," hats were hung
on the corners of brackets, while the more distinguished of the guests
offered their arms to the ladies, and all passed into the dining-room,
silent, almost meditative, like a procession.

The table glittered. What flowers! What lights! Each guest found his
place without difficulty. As soon as he had read his name on the glazed
card, a grand lackey in silk stockings pushed gently behind him a
luxurious chair embroidered with a count's coronet. Fourteen at the
table, not more: four young women in full toilets, and ten men belonging
to the aristocracy of blood or of merit, who had put on that evening all
their orders in honor of a foreign diplomat sitting at the right hand of
the mistress of the house. Clusters of jewelled decorations hung from
button-holes, plaques of diamonds glittered in the lapel of one or two
black coats, a heavy commander's cross sparkled on the starched front of
a general with a red cravat. As to the ladies, they bore all the
splendors of their jewel-boxes.


An elegant and exquisite reunion! What an atmosphere of good-living in
the high hall--splendidly decorated and ornamented on its four panels
with studies for a dining-hall in the fine style of olden days--where
were fruits, venison, and eatables of all sorts. The service of the
table was noiseless; the domestics seemed to glide upon the thick
carpet. The butler whispered the wines in the ears of the guests with a
confidential tone, and as if he were revealing a secret upon which life

At the soup--a _consommé_ at the same time mild and stimulating, giving
force and youthful vigor to the digestion--chat between neighbors began.
Undoubtedly these were the merest trifles that were at first so low
spoken. But what politeness in the grave gestures! What affability in
looks and smiles! Soon after the Chateâu-yquem, wit sparkled. These
men, for the most part old or very mature, all remarkable through birth
or through talent, had lived much; full of experience and memories, they
were made for conversation, and the beauty of the women present inspired
them with a desire to shine, and excited them to a courteous rivalry.
There was a snapping of bright words, a flight of sudden sallies, and
the conversationalists broke into groups of two or three. A famous
voyager with bronzed skin, recently returned from the farthest deserts,
told his two neighbors of an elephant hunt, without any boasting, with
as much tranquillity as though he were speaking of shooting rabbits.
Farther off, the fine profile and white hair of an illustrious savant
was gallantly inclined towards the comtesse, who listened to him
laughing--a very slender blonde, her eyes young and intent, with a
collar of splendid emeralds on a bosom like a professional beauty, and
the neck and shoulders of the Venus de Medici.

       *       *       *       *       *

Decidedly the dinner promised to be charming as well as sumptuous.
Ennui, that too frequent guest at mundane feasts, would not come to sit
at that table. These fortunate ones were going to pass a delicious hour,
drinking enjoyment through every pore, by every sense.


Now, at that same table, at the lower end, in the most modest place, a
man still young, the least qualified, the most obscure of all who were
there, a man of reverie and imagination, one of those dreamers in whom
is something of philosophy, something of poetry, sat silent.

Admitted into that high society by virtue of his renown as an artist,
one of nature's aristocrats but without vanity, sprung from the people
and not forgetting it, he breathed voluptuously that flower of
civilization which is called good company.

He knew--none better than he--how everything in this environment--the
charm of the women, the wit of the men, the glittering table, the
furnishing of the hall, to the exquisite wine which he had just touched
to his lips--how everything was choice and rare, and he rejoiced that a
concourse of things so lovely and so harmonious existed. He was plunged
in a bath of optimism; it seemed to him good that there should be,
sometimes and somewhere in the weary world, beings almost happy.
Provided that they were accessible to pity, charitable--and these happy
people probably were that--who could distress them? what could injure
them? Ah, beautiful and consoling chimera to believe that for such as
these life is pleasant; that they retain always--or almost always--that
gay, happy light in the eye, that half-blossomed smile upon the lips;
that they have blotted out, as far as possible, from their existence,
imperious and discreditable desires and abject infirmities.

He whom we will call the Dreamer was pursuing that train of thought,
when the _maître d'hôtel_--the superb _maître d'hôtel_--entered with
solemnity, carrying in a great silver plate a turbot of fabulous
dimensions--one of those phenomenal fish which are only seen in the old
paintings representing the miraculous draught of fish, or perhaps in the
window of Chevet, before a row of astonished street-boys who flatten
their noses against the glass window.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dinner is served. But when the Dreamer had before him on his plate a
portion of the monstrous turbot, the light odor of the sea evoked in his
mind, prone to unexpected suggestions, that corner of Breton, that poor
village of sailors, where he had been belated the other autumn until the
equinox, and where he had rendered assistance in some dreadful storms.
He suddenly called to mind that terrible night when the fishing-boats
could not come back to port, the night that he had passed on the mole
amid a group of frightened women, standing where the sea-spray streamed
down his face, and the cold and furious wind seemed striving to tear his
clothes from his back. What a life was theirs, those poor men! Down
there how many widows, young and old, wearing always the black shawl,
went at break of day, with their swarms of children, to earn their
bread--oh, nothing but bread!--working in the sickening smell of hot oil
in the sardine factories! He saw again in memory the church above the
village, half-way up the cliff, the steeple painted white to show to the
distant boats the passage between the reefs; and he saw, also, in the
short grass of the cemetery nibbled by the sheep, the gravestones on
which this sinister inscription was so often repeated: "_Lost at sea._"
"_Lost at sea._" "_Lost at sea._"

The enormous turbot was of savory and delicate taste, and the shrimp
sauce with which it was served proved that the _chef_ of the comte had
followed a course in cooking at the Café Anglais and profited by it.
For our refined civilization reaches even this point. One takes degrees
in culinary science. There are doctors in roasts and bachelors in
sauces. All of the guests eat as if they appreciated, and with delicate
gestures, but without showing special favor for exceptional dishes,
through good form and because they were habituated to exquisite food.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Dreamer himself had no appetite. He was still in thought with the
Bretons, with the sons of the sea, who had caught, perhaps, this
magnificent turbot. He remembered the day that followed the
tempest--that morning, rainy and gray--when, walking by the heavy,
leaden sea, he had found a body at his feet and recognized it as that of
an old sailor, the father of a family, who had been lost at sea three
days before--mournful jetsam, stranded in the wrack and foam, so
heart-rending to see, with the gray hair of the drowned full of sand and

A shudder passed over his heart.


But the lackeys had already removed the plates; every trace of the giant
fish had disappeared, and while they were serving another course, the
diners, elegant triflers, had taken up their chat again. Hunger being
already somewhat appeased, they were more animated, they spoke with more
abandon--light laughs ran round. Oh, charming and gracious company!

       *       *       *       *       *

Then the Dreamer, the silent guest, was seized with an infinite sadness;
for all the work and distress that were required to create this comfort
and well-being came surging on his imagination.

That these men of the world might wear light dress-coats in
mid-December, that these women might expose their arms and their
shoulders, the temperature of the room was that of a spring morning. And
who furnished the coal? The poor devils of the black country, the
subterranean workmen who lived in hellish mines. How white and fresh is
the complexion of that young woman against her corsage of pink satin!
But who had woven that satin? The human spider of Lyons, the weaver,
always at his trade in the leprous houses of the Croix Rousse. She wears
in her tiny ears two beautiful pearls. What brilliancy! what opaline
transparence! Almost perfect spheres! The pearl which Cleopatra
dissolved in vinegar and swallowed, and which was worth ten thousand
sesterces, was not more pure. But does she know, that young woman, that
in far-off Ceylon, on the pearl-oyster banks of Arripo and Condatchy,
the Indians of the Indian Company plunge heroically down in twelve
fathoms of water, one foot in the heavy stone weight which drags them
down to the bottom, a knife in the left hand for defence against the

       *       *       *       *       *

But what of that? One is lovely and coquettish. The air of the
dining-hall is warm and perfumed. There one can dine gaily, adorned and
half nude, flirting with one's neighbors. What has one to do, I ask you,
with a dark workman, who digs fifty feet under the ground, with a weaver
sitting with stiffened joints before the loom, with a savage who emerges
from the sea and sometimes reddens it with his blood? Why should one
think of things so sad, so ugly? What an absurdity!

Meanwhile the Dreamer pursued his train of thought.

An instant ago, without taking thought, mechanically he crumbled on the
cloth a bit of the gilded bread which was placed near his napkin. As a
viand, a mere bit of fancy, insignificant in such a repast, it made him
think of the _naïf_ phrase of the great lady concerning the starving
wretches--"Let them eat cake." Nevertheless, this little cake is bread
all the same--bread made of flour, which in turn is made of wheat. Great
heaven! yes, it is bread, simply bread, like the loaf of the peasant,
like the bran-roll of the soldier; and that it might be here, on the
table of the rich, required the patient labor of many poor.

The peasant labored, sowed, reaped. He pushed his plough or led his
harrow across the fertile field, under the cold needles of the autumn
rain; he started from sleep, full of terror for his crop, when it
thundered by night; he trembled, seeing the passage of great violet
clouds charged with hail; he went forth, dissatisfied and gloomy, to the
heavy work and exhausting labor of harvest.

And when the old miller, twisted by rheumatism which he has caught in
the river fogs, has sent the flour to Paris, the market-porters with the
great white hats have carried the crushing sacks on their broad backs,
and last night, even, in the baker's cellar the workmen toiled until

Verily, yes! It has cost all these efforts, all these pains--the bit of
bread carelessly broken by the white hands of these patricians.

And now the incorrigible Dreamer was possessed by these things. The
delicacies of the repast only recalled to him the suffering of humanity.
Presently, when the butler poured for him a glass of Chambertin, did he
not remember that certain glass-blowers became consumptive through
blowing bottles?

Let it pass--it is absurd. He well knows that so the world is made. An
economist would have laughed in his face. Would he become a Socialist,
perhaps? There will always be rich and poor, as there will always be
well-formed men and hunchbacks.

Besides, the fortunates before him were not unjustly so. These were not
vulgar favorites of the Gilded Calf--parvenus gross and conceited. The
nobleman who presides at the table bears with honor and dignity a name
associated with all the glories of France; the general with the gray
mustache is a hero, and charged at Rezonville with the intrepidity of a
Murat; the painter, the poet, have faithfully served Art and Beauty; the
chemist, a self-made man who began life as a shop-boy in a drug-store,
and to whom the learned world listens to-day as to an oracle, is simply
a man of genius; these high-born dames are generous and good, and they
will often dip their fair hands courageously in the depth of misfortune.
Why should not these members of the _élite_ have exceptional enjoyment?

The Dreamer said to himself that he had been unjust. These were old
sophisms--good, at the best, for the clubs of the faubourgs, which had
been awakened in his memory, and by which he had been duped. Is it
possible? He was ashamed of himself.

But the dinner neared its end; and while the lackeys refilled for the
last time the champagne-glasses, the table grew silent--the guests felt
the apathy of digestion. The Dreamer looked at them, one after the
other, and all the faces had satiated, _blasé_ expressions which
disturbed and disquieted him. A sentiment, obscure, inexplicable, but so
bitter! protested even from the depth of his soul against that repast;
and when they rose at last from the table, he repeated softly and
stubbornly to himself:

"Yes; they are within their rights. But do they know, do they
understand, that their luxury is made from many miseries? Do they think
of it sometimes? Do they think of it as often as they should? Do they
think of it?"



[Illustration: AN ACCIDENT.]


Saint Medard, the old church of the Rue Mouffetard, once well known as
the scene of the Convulsionnaires, is a very poor parish. The "Faubourg
Marceau," as they call it there, has not much religion, and the
vestry-board must have hard work to make both ends meet. On Sundays, at
the hours of service, there are but few there, and they are for the most
part women: some twenty of the folk of the quarter and some servants in
their round caps. As for the men, there are not at the most more than
three or four--old men in peasant jackets, who kneel awkwardly on the
stone floor, near a pillar, their caps under their arms, rolling a great
chaplet of beads between their fingers, moving their lips, and raising
their eyes towards the arched roof, with an air as if they had given the
stained-glass windows. On week days, nobody. On Thursdays, in the
winter, the aisles resounded for an instant with the clang of wooden
shoes, when the students of the catechism came and went. Sometimes a
poor woman, leading one or two children and carrying a baby in her arms,
came to burn a little candle on the stand at the chapel of the Virgin,
or perhaps one heard by the baptismal font the wailing of a new-born
babe; or, more often, the funeral of some poor wretch: a deal box,
covered with a black cloth and resting on two trestles, hastily blessed
by the priest, before a little group of women, the men being
free-thinkers, and waiting the conclusion of the ceremony in the
drinking-shop across the way, where they played bagatelle for drinks.

Therefore, the old Abbé Faber, one of the vicars of the parish, is sure
that twice out of three times he will find no penitent before his
confessional, and has only to hear, for the most part of the time, the
uninteresting confession of some good women. But he is conscientious,
and on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at seven o'clock precisely,
he betakes himself regularly to the chapel of St. John, only to make a
short prayer and return should there be nobody there.


One day last winter, struggling against a heavy wind with his open
umbrella, the Abbé Faber toiled painfully up the Rue Mouffetard, on the
way to his parish, and, almost certain that his toil was useless, he
regretted to himself the warm fire he had just quitted in his little
room in the Rue D'homond, and the folio _Bollandiste_ which he had left
lying on the table, with his eye-glasses on its open pages. But it was
Saturday night, the day when certain old widows, who earned their scant
income in the neighboring boarding-houses, sometimes sought absolution
for the morrow's communion. The honest priest could not, therefore,
excuse himself from entering his oak box and opening, with the
punctuality of a cashier, that wicket where the devotees, for whom the
confessional is a spiritual savings-bank, make a weekly deposit of their
venial sins.

The Abbé Faber was the more sorry to go out, because that particular
Saturday was pay-day, and on such occasions the Rue Mouffetard swarmed
with people, and a people not well disposed toward his cloth. However
good a man one may be, it is far from agreeable to be forced to lower
the eyes to avoid malevolent looks, and to stop the ears against
insolent words heard in passing. There was a certain drinking-shop which
the abbé particularly dreaded--a shop brilliant with gas and exhaling
an odor of alcohol through its open doors, through which one could see a
perspective of barrels labelled: "Absinthe," "Bitter," "Madère,"
"Vermouth," etc. Here, leaning against the bar, were always a band of
loafers in long blouses and high hats, who saluted the poor abbé,
walking quickly along the pavement, with ribald jests.

However, on this night the streets were deserted on account of the bad
weather, and the abbé reached his church without interruption. He
dipped his finger in the holy water, crossed himself, made a brief
reverence before the grand altar, and went towards his confessional. At
least he had not come for nothing. A penitent was waiting.


A male penitent! a rare and exceptional thing at Saint Médard. But,
distinguishing by the red light of the lamp hanging from the roof of the
chapel the short white jacket and the heavy nailed shoes of the kneeling
man, the Abbé Faber believed him to be some workman who had kept his
rustic faith and his early habits of religious observance. Without doubt
the confession that he was about to hear would be as stupid as that of
the cook of the Rue Monge, who, after having accused himself of petty
thefts, exclaimed loudly against a single word of restitution. The
priest even smiled to himself as he remembered the formal confession of
one of the inhabitants of the faubourg, who came to ask for a billet of
confession that he might marry. "I have neither killed or robbed. Ask me
about the rest." And so the vicar entered very tranquilly into his
confessional, and, after having taken a copious pinch of snuff, opened
without emotion the little curtain of green serge which closed the

"Monsieur le curé," stammered a rough voice, which was making an effort
to speak low.

"I am not a curé, my friend. Say your _confiteor_, and call me father."

The man, whose face the abbé could not see among the shadows, stumbled
through the prayer, which he seemed to have great difficulty in
recalling, and he began again in a hoarse whisper:

"Monsieur le curé--no--my father--excuse me if I do not speak properly,
but I have not been to confession for twenty-five years--no, not since I
quitted the country--you know how it is--a man in Paris, and yet I have
not been worse than other people, and I have said to myself, 'God must
be a good sort of fellow.' But to-day what I have on my conscience is
too heavy to carry alone, and you must hear me, monsieur le curé: I
have killed a man!"

The abbé half rose from his seat. A murderer! There was no longer any
question of his mind wandering from the duties of his office, of half
annoyance at the garrulity of the old women, to whom he listened with a
half attentive ear, and whom he absolved in all confidence. A murderer!
That head which was so near his had conceived and planned such a crime!
Those hands, crossed on the confessional, were perhaps still stained
with blood! In his trouble, perhaps not unmixed with a certain amount of
fear, the Abbé Faber could only speak mechanically.

"Confess yourself, my son. The mercy of God is infinite."

"Listen to my whole story," said the man, with a voice trembling with
profound grief. "I am a workingman, and I came to Paris more than twenty
years ago with a fellow-countryman, a companion from childhood. We
robbed birds'-nests, and we learned to read in school together--almost a
brother, sir. He was called Philip; I am called Jack, myself. He was a
fine big fellow; I have always been heavy and ill-formed. There was
never a better workman than he--while I am only a 'botcher'--and so
generous and good-natured, wearing his heart on his sleeve. I was proud
to be his friend, to walk by his side--proud when he clapped me on the
back and called me a clumsy fellow. I loved him because I admired him,
in fact. Once here, what an opportunity! We worked together for the same
employer, but he left me alone in the evenings more than half the time.
He preferred to amuse himself with his companions--natural enough, at
his age. He loved pleasure, he was free, he had no responsibilities. All
this was impossible for me. I was forced to save my money, for at that
time I had an invalid mother in the country, and I sent her all my
savings. As for me, I stayed at the fruiterer's where I lodged, and who
kept a lodging-house for masons. Philip did not dine there; he used to
go somewhere else, and, to tell the truth, the dinners were not
particularly good. But the fruiterer was a widow, far from happy, and I
saw that my payments were of help to her; and then, to be frank, I fell
at once in love with her daughter. Poor Catherine! You will soon know,
monsieur le curé, what came from it all. I was there three years
without daring to tell her of the love I had for her. I have told you
that I am not a good workman, and the little that I gained hardly
sufficed for me and for the support of my mother. There could be no
thought of marrying. At last my good mother left this world for a
better. I was somewhat less pressed for money, and I began to save, and
when it seemed to me that I had enough to begin with, I told Catherine
of my love. She said nothing at first--neither yes nor no. Well, I knew
that no one would fall upon my neck; I am not attractive. In the mean
time Catherine consulted her mother, who thought well of me as a steady
workman, as a good fellow, and the marriage was decided upon. Ah, I had
some happy weeks! I saw that Catherine barely accepted me, and that she
was by no means carried away with me; but as she had a good heart, I
hoped that she would love me some day--I would make her love me. As a
matter of course, I told everything to Philip, whom I saw every day at
the work-yard, and as Catherine and I were engaged, I wanted him to meet
her. Perhaps you have already guessed the end, monsieur le curé. Philip
was handsome, lively, good-tempered--everything that I was not; and
without attempting it, innocently enough, he fascinated Catherine. Ah,
Catherine had a frank and honest heart, and as soon as she recognized
what had happened she at once told me everything. Ah, I can never forget
that moment! It was Catherine's birthday, and in honor of it I had
bought a little cross of gold which I had arranged in a box with cotton.
We were alone in the back shop, and she had just brought me my soup. I
took my box from my pocket, and, opening it, I showed her the jewel.
Then she burst into tears.


"'Forgive me, Jack,' she said, 'and keep that for her whom you will
marry. As for me, I can never become your wife. I love another--I love


"Believe me, I had trouble enough then, monsieur le curé; my soul was
full of it. But what could I do, since I loved them both? Only what I
believed was for their happiness--let them marry. And as Philip had
always lived freely, and spent as he made, I lent him my hoard to buy
the furniture.

"Then they were married, and for a while all went well. They had a
little boy, and I stood sponsor for him and named him Camille, in
remembrance of his mother. It was a little after the birth of the baby
that Philip began to go wrong. I was mistaken in him--he was not made
for marriage; he was too fond of frivolity and pleasure. You live in a
poor quarter, monsieur le curé, and you must know the sad story by
heart--the workman who glides little by little from idleness into
drunkenness, who is off on a spree for two or three days, who does not
bring home his week's wages, and who only returns to his home, broken up
by his spree, to make scenes and to beat his wife. In less than two
years Philip became one of these wretches. At first I tried to reform
him, and sometimes, ashamed of himself, he would attempt to do better;
but that did not last long. Then my remonstrances only irritated him;
and when I went to his house, and he saw me look sadly around the
chamber made bare by the pawn-shop, at poor Catherine, thin and pale
with grief, he became furious. One day he had the audacity to be jealous
of me on account of his wife, who was as pure as the blessed Virgin,
reminding me that I was once her lover and accusing me of still being
so, with slanders and infamies that I should be ashamed to repeat. We
almost flew at each other's throats. I saw what I must do. I would see
Catherine and my godson no more; and as for Philip, I would only meet
him when by chance we worked on the same job.

"Only, you will understand, I loved Catherine and little Camille too
well to lose sight of them entirely. On Saturday evenings, when I knew
that Philip was drinking up his wages with his comrades, I used to prowl
about the quarter, and chat with the boy when I found him; and if it was
too miserable at home, he did not return with empty hands, you know. I
believe that the wretched Philip knew that I was helping his wife, and
that he closed his eyes to the fact, finding it rather convenient. I
will hurry on, for the story is too miserable. Some years have passed;
Philip plunging deeper in vice; but Catherine, whom I had helped all I
could, has educated her son, who is now a fellow of twenty years, good
and courageous like herself. He is not a workman; he is educated; he has
learned to draw at the evening schools, and he is now with an architect,
where he gets good wages. And though the house is saddened by the
presence of the drunkard, things go fairly well, for Camille is a great
comfort to his mother; and for a year or two, when I see Catherine--she
is so changed, the poor woman!--leaning on the arm of her manly son, it
warms my heart.

"But yesterday evening, coming out of my cook-shop, I met Camille; and
shaking hands with him--oh, he is not ashamed of me, and he doesn't
blush at a blouse covered with plaster--I saw that something was the

"'Let's see--what's the matter now?'

"'I drew the lot yesterday,' he replied, 'and I drew the number ten--a
number that sends you to die with fever in the colonies with the
marines. That will, at all events, send me there for five years, to
leave mother alone, without resources, with father, who has never been
drinking so much, who has never been so wicked. And it will kill her--it
will kill her! How cursed it is to be poor!'

"Oh, what a horrible night I passed! Think of it, monsieur le curé,
that poor woman's labor for twenty years destroyed in a minute by an
unhappy chance; because a child, rummaging in a sack, has drawn an
unfortunate number! In the morning I was broken as by age when I went to
the house we were building on the Boulevard Arago. Of what use is
sorrow? we must work all the same. So I mounted the scaffolding. We had
already built the house to the fourth story, and I began to place my
mortar. Suddenly I felt some one strike me on the shoulder. It was
Philip. He only worked now when the inclination seized him, and he was
apparently putting in a day's work to get something to drink; but the
builder, having a forfeit to pay if the building was not finished by a
certain date, accepted the first-comers.


"I had not seen Philip for a long time, and it was with difficulty that
I recognized him. Burned and fevered by brandy, his beard gray, his
hands trembling, he was more than an old man--he was a ruin.

"'Well,' I said to him, 'the boy has drawn a bad number.'

"'What of it?' he replied, with an angry look. 'Are you going to worry
me about that, too, like Catherine and Camille? The boy will do as
others have done: he will serve his country. I know what worries them,
both my wife and son. If I were dead he would not have to go. But, so
much the worse for them, I am still solid at my post, and Camille is not
the son of a widow.'

"The son of a widow! Ah, monsieur le curé, why did he use that unhappy
phrase? The evil thought came to me at once, and it never quitted me all
the morning that I worked at the wretch's side. I imagined all that she
was about to suffer--poor Catherine!--when she no longer had her son to
care for and protect her, and she must be alone with the miserable
drunkard, now completely brutalized, ugly, and capable of anything. A
neighboring clock struck eleven, and the workmen all descended to lunch.
We remained until the last, Philip and I, but in stepping on the ladder
to descend, he turned to me with a leer, and said, in his hoarse,
dissipated voice:

"'You see, steady as a sailor; Camille is not nearly the son of a

"The blood mounted to my head. I was beside myself. I seized with both
hands the rounds of the ladder to which Philip clung shouting 'Help!'
and with a single effort I toppled it over.

"He was instantly killed--by an accident, they said--and now Camille is
the son of a widow and need not go.

"That is what I have done, monsieur le curé, and what I want to tell to
you and to the good God. I repent, I ask pardon, of course; but I must
not see Catherine in her black dress, happy on the arm of her son, or I
could not regret my crime. To prevent that I will emigrate--I will lose
myself in America. As to my penance--see, monsieur le curé, here is the
little cross of gold that Catherine refused when she told me that she
was in love with Philip. I have always kept it, in memory of the only
happy days that I ever knew in my life. Take it and sell it. Give the
money to the poor."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jack rose absolved by the Abbé Faber.

One thing is certain, and that is that the priest never sold the little
cross of gold. After having paid its price into the Treasury of the
Church, he hung the jewel, as an _ex-voto_, on the altar of the chapel
of the Virgin, where he often went to pray for the poor mason.



[Illustration: The Sabots of little Wolff.

(a Christmas Story).]

Once upon a time--it was so long ago that the whole world has forgotten
the date--in a city in the north of Europe--whose name is so difficult
to pronounce that nobody remembers it--once upon a time there was a
little boy of seven, named Wolff, an orphan in charge of an old aunt who
was hard and avaricious, who only embraced him on New-Year's Day, and
who breathed a sigh of regret every time that she gave him a porringer
of soup.

But the poor little chap was naturally so good that he loved the old
woman just the same, although she frightened him very much, and he could
never see without trembling the great wart, ornamented with four gray
hairs, which she had on the end of her nose.

As the aunt of Wolff was known through all the village to have a house
and an old stocking full of gold, she did not dare send her nephew to
the school for the poor. But she so schemed to obtain a reduction of the
price with the school-master whose school little Wolff attended, that
the bad teacher, vexed at having a scholar so badly dressed and who paid
so poorly, punished him very often and unjustly with the backboard and
fool's cap, and even stirred his fellow-pupils against him, all sons of
well-to-do men, who made the orphan their scapegoat.

The poor little fellow was therefore as miserable as the stones in the
street, and hid himself in out-of-the-way corners to cry; when Christmas

The night before Christmas the school-master was to take all of his
pupils to the midnight mass, and bring them back to their homes.

Now, as the winter was very severe that year, and as for several days a
great quantity of snow had fallen, the scholars came to the rendezvous
warmly wrapped and bundled up, with fur caps pulled down over their
ears, double and triple jackets, knitted gloves and mittens, and good
thick nailed boots with strong soles. Only little Wolff came shivering
in the clothes that he wore week-days and Sundays, and with nothing on
his feet but coarse Strasbourg socks and heavy sabots, or wooden shoes.

His thoughtless comrades made a thousand jests over his sad looks and
his peasant's dress. But the orphan was so occupied in blowing on his
fingers, and suffered so much from his chilblains, that he took no
notice of them; and the troop of boys, with the master at their head,
started for the church.


It was fine in the church, which was resplendent with wax-candles; and
the scholars, excited by the pleasant warmth, profited by the noise of
the organ and the singing to talk to each other in a low voice. They
boasted of the fine suppers that were waiting for them at home. The son
of the burgomaster had seen, before he went out, a monstrous goose that
the truffles marked with black spots like a leopard. At the house of the
first citizen there was a little fir-tree in a wooden box, from whose
branches hung oranges, sweetmeats, and toys. And the cook of the first
citizen had pinned behind her back the two strings of her cap, as she
only did on her days of inspiration when she was sure of succeeding with
her famous sugar-candy. And then the scholars spoke, too, of what the
Christ-child would bring to them, of what he would put in their shoes,
which they would, of course, be very careful to leave in the chimney
before going to bed. And the eyes of those little chaps, lively as a
parcel of mice, sparkled in advance with the joy of seeing in their
imagination pink paper bags of burnt almonds, lead soldiers drawn up in
battalions in their boxes, menageries smelling of varnished wood, and
magnificent jumping-jacks covered with purple and bells.

Little Wolff knew very well by experience that his old miserly aunt
would send him supperless to bed. But in the simplicity of his soul, and
knowing that he had been all the year as good and industrious as
possible, he hoped that the Christ-child would not forget him, and he,
too, looked eagerly forward by-and-by to putting his wooden shoes in the
ashes of the fireplace.

The midnight mass concluded, the faithful went away, anxious for supper,
and the band of scholars, walking two by two after their teacher, left
the church.

Now, under the porch, sitting on a stone seat under a Gothic niche, a
child was sleeping--a child covered by a robe of white linen, and whose
feet were bare, notwithstanding the cold. He was not a beggar, for his
robe was new and nice, and near him on the ground were seen, lying in a
cloth, a square, a hatchet, a pair of compasses, and the other tools of
a carpenter's apprentice. Under the light of the stars, his face, with
its closed eyes, bore an expression of divine sweetness, and his long
locks of golden hair seemed like an _auréole_ about his head. But the
child's feet, blue in the cold of that December night, were sad to see.


The scholars, so well clothed and shod for the winter, passed heedlessly
before the unknown child. One of them, even, the son of one of the
principal men in the village, looked at the waif with an expression in
which could be seen all the scorn of the rich for the poor, the well-fed
for the hungry.

But little Wolff, coming the last out of the church, stopped, full of
compassion, before the beautiful sleeping infant.

"Alas!" said the orphan to himself, "it is too bad: this poor little one
going barefoot in such bad weather. But what is worse than all, he has
not to-night even a boot or a wooden shoe to leave before him while he
sleeps, so that the Christ-child could put something there to comfort
him in his misery."

And, carried away by the goodness of his heart, little Wolff took off
the wooden shoe from his right foot, and laid it in front of the
sleeping child; and then, as best he could, limping along on his poor
blistered foot and dragging his sock through the snow, he went back to
his aunt's.

"Look at the worthless fellow!" cried his aunt, full of anger at his
return without one of his shoes. "What have you done with your wooden
shoe, little wretch?"

Little Wolff did not know how to deceive, and although he was shaking
with terror at seeing the gray hairs bristle up on the nose of the angry
woman, he tried to stammer out some account of his adventure.

But the old woman burst into a frightful peal of laughter.

"Ah, monsieur takes off his shoes for beggars! Ah, monsieur gives away
his wooden shoe to a barefoot! That is something new for example! Ah,
well, since that is so, I am going to put the wooden shoe which you have
left in the chimney, and I promise you the Christ-child will leave there
to-night something to whip you with in the morning. And you shall pass
the day to-morrow on dry bread and water. We will see if next time you
give away your shoes to the first vagabond that comes."

And the wicked woman, after having given the poor boy a couple of slaps,
made him climb up to his bed in the attic. Grieved to the heart, the
child went to bed in the dark, and soon went to sleep on his pillow
steeped with tears.

But on the morrow morning, when the old woman, awakened by the cold and
shaken by her cough, went down stairs--oh, wonderful sight!--she saw the
great chimney full of beautiful playthings, and sacks of magnificent
candies, and all sorts of good things; and before all these splendid
things the right shoe, that her nephew had given to the little waif,
stood by the side of the left shoe, that she herself had put there that
very night, and where she meant to put a birch-rod.

And as little Wolff, running down to learn the meaning of his aunt's
exclamation, stood in artless ecstasy before all these splendid
Christmas presents, suddenly there were loud cries of laughter
out-of-doors. The old woman and the little boy went out to know what it
all meant, and saw all the neighbors gathered around the public
fountain. What had happened? Oh, something very amusing and very
extraordinary. The children of all the rich people of the village, those
whose parents had wished to surprise them by the most beautiful gifts,
had found only rods in their shoes.

Then the orphan and the old woman, thinking of all the beautiful things
that were in their chimney, were full of amazement. But presently they
saw the curé coming with wonder in his face. Above the seat, placed
near the door of the church, at the same place where in the evening a
child, clad in a white robe, and with feet bare notwithstanding the
cold, had rested his sleeping head, the priest had just seen a circle of
gold incrusted with precious stones.

And they all crossed themselves devoutly, comprehending that the
beautiful sleeping child, near whom were the carpenter's tools, was
Jesus of Nazareth in person, become for an hour such as he was when he
worked in his parents' house, and they bowed themselves before that
miracle that the good God had seen fit to work, to reward the faith and
charity of a child.



[Illustration: THE FOSTER SISTER]


Sitting in her office at the end of the shop, shut off from it by glass
windows, pretty Madame Bayard, in a black gown and with her hair in
sober braids, was writing steadily in an enormous ledger with leather
corners, while her husband, following his morning custom, stopped at the
door to scold his workmen, who had not finished unloading a dray from
the Northern Railway, which blocked the road, and carried to the
druggist of the Rue Vieille du Temple a dozen casks of glucose.


"I have bad news to tell you," said Madame Bayard, sticking her pen in a
cup of leaden shot, when her husband had entered the glass cage. "Poor
Voisin is dead."

"The nurse of Leon? Poor woman! And her little daughter?"

"That is the saddest part, my dear. A relative of poor Voisin writes me
that they are too poor to take charge of the child, and she must be sent
to an orphan asylum."

"Oh, those peasants!"

The druggist was silent for a moment, rubbing his thick blond beard;
then suddenly looking at his wife with kindly eyes:

"Say, Mimi, the child is the foster sister of our Leon. Suppose we give
her a home?"

"I should think so," was the quiet reply of the pretty wife.

"Well done," cried Bayard, as, caring little if he were seen by his
clerks and store-boys, he leaned towards his wife and kissed her
forehead, "well done! you're a good woman, Mimi. We will take little
Norine with us, and bring her up with Leon. That won't ruin us, eh?
Besides, I have just made a good stroke in quinine. We will go after the
child Sunday to Argenteuil, sha'n't we?"

"We will make that our Sunday excursion."


Good people, these Bayards; an honor to the drug trade. Their marriage
had united two houses which had been for a long time rivals; for Bayard
was the son of _The Silver Pill_, founded by his great-great-grandfather
in 1756 in the Rue Vieille du Temple, and had espoused the daughter of
the _Offering to Esculapius_, of the Rue des Lombards, an establishment
which dated from the First Empire, as was shown by the sign, copied from
the celebrated painting of Guérin. Honest people, excellent people--and
there are many more, like them, whatever folks may say, among the older
Paris houses, conservators of old traditions; going to the second tier,
on Sunday, at the opera comique, and ignorant of false weights and
measures. It was the curé of Blancs-Manteaux who had managed that
marriage with his confrère of Saint-Merry. The first had ministered at
the death-bed of the elder Bayard, and was dismayed to see a young man
of twenty-five all alone in a house so gloomy as that of _The Silver
Pill_, justly famed for its ipecac; and the second was anxious to
establish Mademoiselle Simonin, to whom he had administered her first
communion, and whose father was one of his most important parishioners,
old Simonin of the _Offering to Esculapius_, celebrated for its camphor.
The negotiations were successful; camphor and ipecac, two excellent
specialties, were united in the holy bonds of matrimony, there was a
dinner and ball at the Grand Véfour, and now for ten years, tranquilly
working every day, summer and winter, in her glass cage, Madame Bayard,
with her pale brown face and her plaited hair, had smitten the hearts of
all the young clerks of the quarter Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie.

And yet for a long time there had been a disappointment in that happy
household, a cloud in that bright sky. An heir was wanted, and it was
five years before little Leon came into the world. One can imagine with
what joy he was received. Now one day they might write over the door of
_The Silver Pill_ these words, "Bayard & Son." But as the infant arrived
at the time of a boom in isinglass, Madame Bayard, whose presence in the
shop was indispensable, could not think of nursing him. She even gave up
the idea of taking a nurse in the house, fearing for the new-born the
close air of that corner of old Paris, and contented herself with taking
every Sunday with her husband a little excursion to Argenteuil to see
her son with his nurse Voisin, who was overwhelmed with coffee, sugar,
soap, and other dainties. At the end of eighteen months Mother Voisin
brought back the baby in a magnificent state, and for two years a
child's nurse, chosen with great care, had taken the child out for his
airings in the square of the Tour Saint-Jacques, and had exhibited for
the admiration of her companion-nurses, the pouting lips, the high
color, and the dimpled back of the future druggist.

And now these good Bayards, learning of the death of Mother Voisin,
could not bear the thought that the little girl who had been nourished
at the same breast with their boy should be abandoned to public charity,
so they went to Argenteuil for Norine.

Poor little one! Since the fifteen days that her mother slept in the
cemetery she had been taken charge of by a cousin who kept a
billiard-saloon; and though she was not yet five years old, she had been
put to work washing the beer-glasses.


The Bayards found her charming, with great eyes as blue as the summer
sun, and her thick blond tresses escaping from her ugly black bonnet.
Leon, who had been brought with his nurse, embraced his foster sister;
and the cousin, who that very morning had boxed the orphan's ears for
negligence in sweeping out the hall, appeared before the Parisians to be
as much touched as if parting with Norine was a heart-breaking affair.

The order for an ample breakfast restored his serenity.

It was a beautiful Sunday in June, and they were in the country--"an
occasion which should be improved," declared Bayard, "by taking the air;
shouldn't it, Mimi?"

And while pretty Madame Bayard, having pinned up her skirts, went out
with the children and the nurse to pick flowers in a neighboring field,
the druggist, who was less ambitious, treated the saloon-keeping cousin
to a glass of vermouth, seated at the billiard-table, which was covered
with dead flies. They breakfasted under a vineless arbor, which the hot
noonday sun riddled with its rays. But what of that? They were pleased
and contented all the same. Madame Bayard had hung her hat on the
lattice; and her husband, wearing a bargeman's straw helmet, which had
been lent to him by the saloon-keeper, cut up the duck in the best of
spirits. Little Leon and Norine, who had immediately become the best of
friends, emptied the salad-bowl of its cream-cheese. Then they all
romped in the grass, went boating on the stream, and, intoxicated with
the fresh country air, the indwellers of the city, coming from the close
Paris streets, pushed to its fullest extreme this idyl in the fashion of
Paul de Kock.


For, yes; there was a moment, as they came back in the boat, in a
delicious sunset, when tinted clouds floated in a glowing sky, when
Madame Bayard--the serious Madame Bayard--whose frown turned to stone
the shop-boys of the druggist, sang the air called "To the Shores of
France," to the rhythmic fall of the oars, plied by her husband in his
shirt-sleeves. They dined in the arbor where they had breakfasted, but
the second repast was a shade less happy. The night-moths, which dashed
in to burn themselves at the candles, frightened the children; and
Madame Bayard was so tired that she could not even guess the simple
rebus on her dessert napkin.

Never mind; it has been a good day; and on their return in a first-class
carriage--this was not a time for petty economies--Madame Bayard, with
her head on her husband's shoulder, watching Leon and Norine, limp with
sleep on the lap of the nurse, half asleep herself, murmured to her
husband, in a happy voice:

"See, Ferdinand; we have done well to take the little one. She will be a
comrade for Leon. They will be like brother and sister."


In fact, they did thus grow up together.

They were most kind-hearted people, these Bayards. They made no
difference between the humble orphan and their own dear boy, who would
one day in the firm of "Bayard & Son" work monopolies in rhubarb and
corners in castor-oil; indeed, they loved as their own child little
Norine, who was as intelligent as she was charming, as fair in mind as
she was delicate in body.

Now the nurse took the two children to the square of the Tour
Saint-Jacques when the weather was pleasant, and in the evening at the
family table there were two high-chairs side by side for the boy and his
foster sister.

In addition to which, the Bayards were not slow to perceive the good
influence which Norine had upon Leon. Quicker, of a more nervous
temperament, more easy of comprehension than the lymphatic boy, whose
wits were "wool-gathering," according to his father, she seemed to
communicate to him something of her own spirit and fire. "She jogs him
up," said Madame Bayard.

And since he had lived with his foster sister Leon had perceptibly grown
brighter and quicker. When they were of an age to learn to read, Leon,
who made but little progress, and stumbled along with one of those
alphabets with pictures where the letter E is by the side of an elephant
and the letter Z by the side of a zouave, was the despair of his mother.
But as soon as Norine, who in a very short time learned to spell and
read, came to the aid of the little man, he immediately made rapid

So things went on, until both children were sent to a school for little
children kept by a gentlewoman named Merlin, in the Rue de l'Homme
Armé. According to the fallacious circular which Mademoiselle Merlin
sent to the folks of the quarter, there was a garden--that is to say,
four broomsticks in a sandy court; and it was there, the first day
during recess, that the innocent Leon burst into cries of terror when he
saw the school-mistress, forced by some accident to interrupt her
knitting, stick one of her great knitting-needles in her capacious
head-dress. A "senior," who was more familiar with her head-dress,
explained the phenomenon in vain to Leon and Norine, for the boy, none
the less, preserved in the presence of Mademoiselle Merlin an impression
of superstitious terror.


She would have paralyzed his infant faculties, and have prevented him in
the class from following the pointer of Mademoiselle Merlin, as she
sniffled through her sing-song lecture before the map of Europe, or the
table of weights and measures, if Norine had not been there to reassure
and encourage him. She was at once the first scholar in the school, and
became for slow and lazy Leon a sort of sisterly counsellor and
affectionate under-teacher. Towards four o'clock Madame Bayard had the
two children, whom the nurse had brought back to the store, placed near
her in the glass office; and Norine, opening a copy-book or a book,
explained to Leon the uncomprehended task or made him repeat the lesson
that he had not understood.

"The good God has rewarded us," Madame Bayard sometimes whispered to her
husband in the evening. "That little Norine is a treasure, and so good,
so industrious! Only to-day I listened to her helping Leon again. I
believe that without her he would never have learned the

"I believe you, Mimi," responded Bayard. "I have observed it. Things go
on marvellously well with us, and we will portion her and marry her,
shall we not, when she comes to a suitable age?"


Age comes--ah, how fast age comes! And behold! now in the glass cage of
the shop there is a slender and beautiful young girl sitting at the side
of Madame Bayard, who already shows some silver threads in her black
bands. It is Norine now who writes in the great ledger with leather
corners, while her adopted mother plies her needles on some embroidery.

Seven o'clock! Time that they came home, and the shop must be closed
against the November wind which is twisting and turning the flames of
the gas-jets.

Look at them now: Bayard grown stout, portly, and covered with trinkets,
while Leon, who has just entered the first class in pharmacy, has
actually become a fine-looking young fellow.

"Good-day, Mimi; good-day, Norine! Let us go right in to dinner. I will
tell you all the news while we are eating the soup," said the druggist.

They went up to the dining-room, and while Madame Bayard, sitting under
a barometer in the shape of a lyre, served the thick soup, Bayard,
tucking his napkin in his vest and regarding his wife with a knowing
look, said,

"You know it is all right."

"The Forgets agree?"

"Exactly; and Leon will espouse Hortense in six months, and our
daughter-in-law will come and live with us. Yes, Norine, you have known
nothing about it, because one does not speak of such things before young
girls; but for more than a year Leon has been in love with Hortense
Forget, and has been teasing us to arrange the marriage--not such a
difficult thing after all, since it only required a word. Leon is a good
catch. The only difficulty was that we wanted to keep our son with us.
At last it is all arranged, and your foster brother will have the wife
he wants. I hope you are pleased."

"Very much pleased," replied Norine.

Oh, deaf and blind! They never heard the voice of Norine when she
replied to them--that low, pathetic tone, which is the echo of a broken
heart. Nor did they see how pale she became, and that her head, suddenly
grown heavy, swayed from side to side as if Norine were about to faint.
They saw nothing, comprehended nothing; and for a long time they had
seen and comprehended nothing. Yet they dearly loved this Norine, who
was the grace, the charm of the house. They dreamed, these good people,
of marrying her one of these days to their head-clerk, a widower of
prudent and economical habits, and "all that is necessary to make a
woman happy." Leon loved her, too, with all his heart; but as a dear,
good sister. Nor did the great spoiled boy suspect that Norine loved
him, and suffered from her love--aye, to death itself. No; even that
evening, when they had unconsciously inflicted upon her the worst of
torture, they never suspected the truth; and they would sleep
peacefully, indulging in beautiful dreams of the future, at the very
hour when, shut in her chamber--the chamber separated by such a thin
partition from that of her adopted parents--Norine would fall upon her
bed, fainting with grief, and bury her head in her pillow to stifle her


The ball is finished; and in the empty rooms the candles, burned to the
very end, have broken some of the sconces and the fragments lie upon the
waxed floors.

The Bayards have insisted that the wedding should be celebrated at their
house; but by the aid of many flowers (it is midsummer) they have given
a holiday appearance to the apartment in the Rue Vieille du Temple where
they have triumphantly installed their daughter-in-law.

At last it is finished; the young couple have retired to their nuptial
chamber, where Madame Bayard has gone for a moment with them. Coming out
she found Norine still in the little salon, helping the servants
extinguish the lights. She embraced the young girl tenderly, saying,

"Go to bed, my child. You must be very tired." And she added, with a
smile, "Well, it will be your turn before long."

And Norine was at last alone in the room, now so gloomy, and lighted
only by her single candle resting on the piano.

Heavens! how heavy was the odor of the flowers, and how her head ached.

Ah, that horrible day! What torment she had endured since the moment
when she knelt, impressed into service as a lady's-maid, with pins in
her lips, at the feet of her rival Hortense, and arranged her white
satin train, to the hour when Leon, holding his wife by the waist, drew
her towards her, Norine, and the lips of the young couple met almost
upon her very forehead!


Oh, the odor of the flowers is insupportable, and she is so giddy and

She fell upon a sofa, unnerved by a frightful headache, her head thrown
back, clasping her forehead with her two hands, but with open eyes
staring always at the door--the door of that chamber which was shut upon
the young couple, closed upon the mystery which was breaking her heart.
A sort of delirium overwhelmed her. How the heavy perfume of those
flowers overpowered her, and how a thousand memories assailed her at
once. She was a child again in the saloon at Argenteuil, and the kind
Parisians came and caressed her. She was embraced by the dear little boy
wearing a white plume in his hat. Rapid pictures flashed upon her soul.
The _pension_ of the Rue de l'Homme Armé, and Mademoiselle Merlin, with
her knitting-needle stuck in her head-dress, pointed with the end of her
stick to the table of weights and measures. The drug-store on Sundays,
all dark, the shutters closed, and she playing catch with Leon among the
barrels and sacks.

Good God! was she losing her head? She could not help humming that
waltz, during which Leon once held her in his arms. She was stifled. Oh,
the flowers! She must go out, or at least open a window. But she could
not rise; her strength had deserted her. Could she die thus? Two iron
fingers seemed to be pressing her temples. Oh, the roses and the
orange-flowers--those orange-flowers above all!

At last she made a great effort. She rose upright and pale--pale as her
white robe. But suddenly her strength left her, and falling first upon
her knees, and then with her head and shoulders upon the wood floor,
poor Norine lay stretched at the threshold of the bridal chamber, killed
by disappointed love and by the flowers.



[Illustration: MY FRIEND MEURTIER]


I was at one time employed in a government office. Every day from ten
o'clock until four I became a voluntary prisoner in a depressing office,
adorned with yellow pasteboard boxes, and filled with the musty odor of
old papers. There I lunched on Italian cheese and apples which I roasted
at the grate. I read the morning papers, even to the advertisements; I
rhymed verses, and I attended to the affairs of state to the extent of
drawing at the end of each month a salary which barely kept me from

I recall to-day one of my companions in captivity at that epoch.

He was called Achille Meurtrier, and certainly his fierce look and tall
form seemed to warrant that name. He was a great big fellow, about forty
years old, not too much chest or shoulders, but who increased his
apparent size by wearing felt hats with wide brims, ample and short
coats, large plaid trousers, and neckties of a sanguine red under
rolling collars. He wore a full beard, long hair, and was very proud of
his hairy hands.

The chief boast of Meurtrier, otherwise the best and most amiable of
companions, was to trifle with an athletic constitution, to possess the
biceps of a prize-fighter, and, as he said himself, not to know his own
strength. He never made a gesture, even in the exercise of his peaceful
profession, that did not have for its object to convince the spectators
of his prodigious vigor. Did he have to take from its case a half-empty
pasteboard box, he advanced towards the shelf with the heavy step of a
street porter, grasped the box solidly with a tight hand, and carried it
with a stiff arm as far as the next table, with a shrugging of shoulders
and frowning of brow worthy of Milo of Crotona. He carried this manner
so far that he never used less apparent effort even to lift the lightest
objects, and one day when he held in his right hand a basket of old
papers I saw him extend his left arm horizontally as if to make a
counterpoise to the tremendous weight.

I ought to say that this robust creature inspired me with a profound
respect, for I was then, even more than to-day, physically weak and
delicate, and in consequence filled with admiration for that energetic
physique which I lacked.

The conversations of Meurtrier were not of a nature to diminish the
admiration with which he inspired me.

In the summer, above all, on Monday mornings, when we had returned to
the office after our Sunday holiday, he had an inexhaustible fund of
stories concerning his adventures and feats of strength. After taking
off his felt-hat, his coat, and his vest, and wiping the perspiration
from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt, to indicate his sanguine
and ardent temperament, he would thrust his hands deep in the pockets of
his trousers, and, standing near me in an attitude of perpendicular
solidity, begin a monologue something as follows:

"What a Sunday, my boy! Positively no fatigue can lay me up. Think of
it: yesterday was the regatta at Joinville-le-Pont; at six o'clock in
the morning the rendezvous at Bercy, at The Mariners, for the crew of
the _Marsouin_; the sun is up; a glass of white wine and we jump into
our rowing suits, seize an oar and give way--one-two, one-two--as far as
Joinville; then overboard for a swim before breakfast--strip to swimming
drawers, a jump overboard, and look out for squalls. After my bath I
have the appetite of a tiger. Good! I seize the boat by one hand and I
call out, 'Charpentier, pass me a small ham.' Three motions in one time
and I have finished it to the bone. 'Charpentier, pass me the
brandy-flask.' Three swallows and it is empty."


So the description would continue--dazzling, Homeric.

"It is the hour for the regatta--noon--the sun just overhead. The boats
draw up in line on the sparkling river, before a tent gaudy with
streamers. On the bank the mayor with his staff of office, gendarmes in
yellow shoulder-belts, and a swarm of summer dresses, open parasols, and
straw hats. Bang! the signal-gun is fired. The _Marsouin_ shoots ahead
of all her competitors and easily gains the prize--and no fatigue! We go
around Marne, and, returning, dine at Créteil. How cool the evening in
the dusky arbor, where pipes glow through the darkness, and moths singe
their wings in the flame of the _omelette au kirsch_. At the end of a
dessert, served on decorated plates, we hear from the ball-room the call
of the cornet--'Take places for the quadrille!' But already a rival
crew, beaten that same morning, has monopolized the prettiest girls. A
fight!--teeth broken, eyes blackened, ugly falls, and whacks below the
belt; in a word, a poem of physical enthusiasm, of noisy hilarity, of
animal spirits, without speaking of the return at midnight, through
crowded stations, with girls whom we lift into the cars, friends
separated calling from one end of the train to the other, and fellows
playing a horn upon the roof."

And the evenings of my astonishing companion were not less full of
adventure than his Sundays. Collar-and-elbow wrestling in a tent, under
the red light of torches, between him--simple amateur--and Du Bois, the
iron man, in person; rat-chases near the mouths of sewers, with dogs as
fierce as tigers; sanguinary encounters at night, in the most dangerous
quarters, with ruffians and nose-eaters, were the most insignificant
episodes of his nightly career. Nor do I dare relate other adventures of
a more intimate character, from which, as the writers of an earlier day
would say in noble style, a pen the least timorous would recoil with

However painful it may be to confess an unworthy sentiment, I am obliged
to say that my admiration for Meurtrier was not unmixed with regret and
bitterness. Perhaps there was mingled with it something of envy. But the
recitation of his most marvellous exploits had never awakened in me the
least feeling of incredulity, and Achille Meurtrier easily took his
place in my mind among heroes and demigods, between Roland and


At this time I was a great wanderer in the suburbs, and I occupied the
leisure of my summer evenings by solitary walks in those distant
regions, as unknown to the Parisians of the boulevards as the country of
the Caribbees, and of whose sombre charm I endeavored later to tell in

One evening in July, hot and dusty, at the hour when the first
gas-lights were beginning to twinkle in the misty twilight, I was
walking slowly from Vaugirard through one of those long and depressing
suburban streets lined on each side by houses of unequal height, whose
porters and porteresses, in shirt sleeves and in calico, sat on the
steps and imagined that they were taking the fresh air. Hardly any one
passing in the whole street; perhaps, from end to end, a mason, white
with plaster, a sergeant-de-ville, a child carrying home a four-pound
loaf larger than himself, or a young girl hurrying on in hat and cloak,
with a leather bag on her arm; and every quarter-hour the half-empty
omnibus coming back to its place of departure with the heavy trot of its
tired horses.

Stumbling now and then on the pavement--for asphalt is an unknown luxury
in these places--I went down the street, tasting all the delights of a
stroller. Sometimes I stopped before a vacant lot to watch, through the
broken boards of the fence, the fading glories of the setting sun and
the black silhouettes of the chimneys thrown against a greenish sky.
Sometimes, through an open window on the ground-floor, I caught sight of
an interior, picturesque and familiar: here a jolly-looking laundress
holding her flat-iron to her cheek; there workmen sitting at tables and
smoking in the basement of a cabaret, while an old Bohemian with long
gray hair, standing before them, sang something about "Liberty,"
accompanying himself on a guitar about the color of bouillon--the scenes
of Chardin and Van Ostade.

Suddenly I stopped.

One of these personal pictures had caught my eye by its domestic and
charming simplicity.


She looked so happy and peaceful in her quiet little room, the dear old
lady in her black gown and widow's cap, leaning back in an easy-chair
covered with green Utrecht velvet, and sitting quietly with her hands
folded on her lap. Everything around her was so old and simple, and
seemed to have been preserved, less through a wise economy than on
account of hallowed memories, since the honey-moon with monsieur of the
high complexion, in a frock-coat and flowered waistcoat, whose oval
crayon ornamented the wall. By two lamps on the mantle-shelf every
detail of the old-fashioned furniture could be distinguished, from the
clock on a fish of artificial and painted marble to the old and
antiquated piano, on which, without doubt, as a young girl, in
leg-of-mutton sleeves and with hair dressed _à la Grecque_, she had
played the airs of Romagnesi.

Certainly a loved and only daughter, remaining unmarried through her
affection for her mother, piously watched over the last years of the
widow. It was she, I was sure, who had so tenderly placed her dear
mother; she who had put the ottoman under her feet, she who had put near
her the inlaid table, and arranged on it the waiter and two cups. I
expected already to see her coming in carrying the evening coffee--the
sweet, calm girl, who should be dressed in mourning like the widow, and
resemble her very much.

Absorbed by the contemplation of a scene so sympathetic, and by the
pleasure of imagining that humble poem, I remained standing some steps
from the open window, sure of not being noticed in the dusky street,
when I saw a door open and there appeared--oh, how far he was from my
thoughts at that moment--my friend Meurtrier himself, the formidable
hero of tilts on the river and frays in unknown places.

A sudden doubt crossed me. I felt that I was on the point of discovering
a mystery.

It was indeed he. His terrible hairy hand held a tiny silver coffee-pot,
and he was followed by a poodle which greatly embarrassed his steps--a
valiant and classic poodle, the poodle of blind clarionet-players, a
poor beggar's poodle, a poodle clipped like a lion, with hairy ruffles
on his four paws, and a white mustache like a general of the Gymnase.

"Mamma," said the giant, in a tone of ineffable tenderness, "here is
your coffee. I am sure that you will find it nice to-night. The water
was boiling well, and I poured it on drop by drop."

"Thank you," said the old lady, rolling her easy-chair to the table with
an air; "thank you, my little Achille. Your dear father said many a time
that there was not my equal at making coffee--he was so kind and
indulgent, the dear, good man--but I begin to believe that you are even
better than I."

At that moment, and while Meurtrier was pouring out the coffee with all
the delicacy of a young girl, the poodle, excited no doubt by the
uncovered sugar, placed his forepaws on the lap of his mistress.

"Down, Médor," she cried, with a benevolent indignation. "Did any one
ever see such a troublesome animal? Look here, sir! you know very well
that your master never fails to give you the last of his cup.
By-the-way," added the widow, addressing her son, "you have taken the
poor fellow out, have you not?"


"Certainly, mamma," he replied, in a tone that was almost infantile. "I
have just been to the creamery for your morning milk, and I put the
leash and collar on Médor and took him with me."

"And he has attended to all his little wants?"

"Don't be disturbed. He doesn't want anything."

Reassured on this point, important to canine hygiene, the good dame
drank her coffee, between her son and her dog, who each regarded her
with an inexpressible tenderness.

It was assuredly unnecessary to see or hear more. I had already descried
what a peaceful family life--upright, pure, and devoted--my friend
Meurtrier hid under his chimerical gasconades. But the spectacle with
which chance had favored me was at once so droll and so touching that I
could not resist the temptation to watch for some moments longer. That
indiscretion sufficed to show me the whole truth.

Yes, this type of roisterers, who seemed to have stepped from one of the
romances of Paul de Kock--this athlete, this despot of bar-rooms and
public-houses--performed simply and courageously, in these lowly rooms
in the suburbs, the sublime duties of a sister of charity. This intrepid
oarsman had never made a longer voyage than to conduct his mother to
mass or vespers every Sunday. This billiard expert knew only how to play
bézique. This trainer of bull-dogs was the submissive slave of a
poodle. This Mauvaise-Philibert was an Antigone.


The next morning, on arriving at the office, I asked Meurtrier how he
had employed the previous evening, and he instantly improvised, without
a moment's hesitation, an account of a sharp encounter on the boulevard
at two in the morning, when he had knocked down with a single blow of
his fist, having passed his thumb through the ring of his keys, a
terrible street rough. I listened, smiling ironically, and thinking to
confound him; but remembering how respectable a virtue is which is
hidden even under an absurdity, I struck him amicably on the shoulder,
and said, with conviction:

"Meurtrier, you are a hero!"


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