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Title: Femmes d'artistes. English - Artists' Wives
Author: Daudet, Alphonse, 1840-1897
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.

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ARTISTS' WIVES

By Alphonse Daudet

Translated by Laura Ensor

Illustrated by De Bieler, Myrbach; And Rossi

[Illustration: Frontispiece]

[Illustration: Titlepage]

[Illustration: p007-018]



PROLOGUE.

_Stretched at full length, on the great divan of a studio, cigar in
mouth, two friends--a poet and a painter--were talking together one
evening after dinner_.

_It was the hour of confidences and effusion. The lamp burned softly
beneath its shade, limiting its circle of light to the intimacy of the
conversation, leaving scarcely distinct the capricious luxury of the
vast walls, cumbered with canvases, hangings, panoplies, surmounted by a
glass roof through which the sombre blue shades of the night penetrated
unhindered. The portrait of a woman, leaning slightly forward, as if to
listen, alone stood out a little from the shadow; young with intelligent
eyes, a grave and sweet mouth and a spirituel smile which seemed to
defend the husband's easel from fools and disparagers. A low chair
pushed away from the fire, two little blue shoes lying on the carpet,
indicated also the presence of a child in the house; and indeed from the
next room, within which mother and child had but just disappeared,
came occasional bursts of soft laughter, of childish babble; the
pretty flutterings of a nest going off to sleep. All this shed over the
artistic interior a vague perfume of family happiness which the poet
breathed in with delight:_

"_Decidedly, my dear fellow?" he said to his friend, "you were in the
right. There are no two ways of being happy. Happiness lies in this and
in nothing else. You must find me a wife!_"


THE PAINTER.

_Good Heavens, no! not on any account. Find one for yourself, if you are
bent upon it. As for me, I will have nothing to do with it._


THE POET.

_And why?_


THE PAINTER.

_Because--because artists ought never to marry._


THE POET.

_That's rather too good. You dare to say that, and the lamp does not
go out suddenly, and the walls don't fall down upon your head! But just
think, wretch, that for two hours past, you have been setting before me
the enviable spectacle of the very happiness you forbid me. Are you by
chance like those odious millionaires whose well-being is in-creased by
the sufferings of others, and who better enjoy their own fireside when
they reflect that it is raining out of doors, and that there are plenty
of poor devils without a shelter?_


THE PAINTER.

_Think of me what you will. I have too much affection for you to help
you to commit a folly--an irreparable folly._


THE POET.

_Come! what is it? You are not satisfied? And yet it seems to me that
one breathes in happiness here, just as freely as one does the air of
heaven at a country window._


THE PAINTER.

_You are right, I am happy, completely happy, I love my wife with all my
heart. When I think of my child, I laugh aloud to myself with pleasure.
Marriage for me has been a harbour of calm and safe waters, not one in
which you make fast to a ring on the shore, at the risk of rusting
there for ever, but one of those blue creeks where sails and masts are
repaired for fresh excursions into unknown countries, I never worked as
well as I have since my marriage. All my best pictures date from then._


THE POET.

_Well then!_


THE PAINTER.

_My dear fellow, at the risk of seeming a coxcomb, I will say that I
look upon my happiness as a kind of miracle, something abnormal and
exceptional. Yes! the more I see what marriage is, the more I look back
with terror at the risk I ran. I am like those who, ignorant of the
dangers they have unwittingly gone through, turn pale when all is over,
amazed at their own audacity._


THE POET.

_But what then are these terrible dangers?_


THE PAINTER.

_The first and greatest of all, is the loss or degradation of one's
talent. This should count, I think, with an artist. For observe that
at this moment, I am not speaking of the ordinary conditions of life. I
grant you, that in general marriage is an excellent thing, and that the
majority of men only begin to be of some account when the family circle
completes them or makes them greater. Often, indeed, it is necessary to
a profession. A bachelor lawyer cannot even be imagined. He would not
have the needful air of weight and gravity. But for all of us, painters,
poets, sculptors, musicians, who live outside of life, wholly occupied
in studying it, in reproducing it, holding ourselves always a little
remote from it, as one steps back from a picture the better to see it, I
say that marriage can only be the exception. To that nervous, exacting,
impressionable being, that child-man that we call an artist, a special
type of woman, almost impossible to find, is needful, and the safest
thing to do is not to look for her. Ah! how well our great Delacroix,
whom you admire so much, understood that! What a fine existence was his,
bounded by his studio wall, devoted exclusively to Art! I was looking
the other day at his cottage at Champrosay and the prim little garden
full of roses, where he sauntered alone for twenty years! It has the
calm and the narrowness of celibacy. Well now! think for a moment of
Delacroix married, father of a family, with all the preoccupations of
children to bring up, of money matters, of illnesses; do you believe his
work would have been the same?_


THE POET.

_You cite Delacroix, I reply Victor Hugo. Do you think that marriage
hampered him for instance, while writing so many admirable books?_


THE PAINTER.

_I think as a matter of fact, that marriage did not hamper him in
anything. But all husbands have not the genius that obtains pardon,
nor a halo of glory with which to dry the tears they cause to flow. It
cannot be very amusing to be the wife of a genius. There are plenty of
labourers' wives who are happier._


THE POET.

_A curious thing, all the same, this special pleading against marriage,
by a married man, who is happy in being so._


THE PAINTER.

_I repeat that I don't give myself as an example. My opinion is formed by
all the sad things I have seen elsewhere; all the misunderstandings
so frequent in the households of artists, and caused solely by their
abnormal life. Look at that sculptor who, in full maturity of age and
talent, has just exiled himself, leaving wife and children behind him.
Public opinion condemns him, and certainly I offer no excuse for him.
And, nevertheless, I can well understand how he arrived at such a point!
Here was a fellow who adored his art, and had a horror of the world, and
society. The wife, though amiable and intelligent, instead of shielding
him from the social obligations he loathed, condemned him for some
ten years to all the exactions they involved. Thus she induced him to
undertake a lot of official busts, horrible respectabilities in velvet
skull caps, frights of women utterly devoid of grace; she disturbed him
ten times a day with importunate visitors, and then every evening
laid out for him a dress suit and light gloves, and dragged him from
drawing-room to drawing-room. You will tell me he could have rebelled,
could have replied point-blank: "No!" But don't you know that the very
fact of our sedentary existences leaves us more than other men dependent
on domestic influence? The atmosphere of the home envelopes us, and if
some touch of the ideal does not lighten it, soon wearies and drags us
down. Moreover, the artist as a rule puts what force and energy he
has into his work, and after his solitary and patient struggles, finds
himself left with no will to oppose to the petty importunities of life.
With him, feminine tyrannies have free play. No one is more easily
conquered and subdued. Only, beware! He must not be made to feel the
yoke too heavily. If one day the invisible bonds with which he is
surreptitiously fettered are drawn too tight and arrest the artistic
effort, he will all at once tear them asunder, and, mistrusting his own
weakness, will fly like our sculptor, over the hills and far away._

_The wife of this sculptor was astounded at his flight. The unhappy
creature is still wondering: "What can I have done to him?" Nothing.
She simply did not understand him. For it is not enough to be good and
intelligent to be the true helpmate of an artist, A woman must also
possess infinite tact, smiling abnegation; and all this is found only by
a miracle in a young creature, curious though ignorant as regards life.
She is pretty, she has married a well-known man, received everywhere;
why should she not wish to show herself a little on his arm? Is it
not quite natural? The husband, on the contrary, growing intolerant
of society as his talent progresses, finding time short, and art
engrossing, refuses to be exhibited. Behold them both miserable, and
whether the man gives in or resists, his life is henceforward turned
from its course, and from its tranquillity. Ah! how many of these
ill-matched couples have I known, where the wife was sometimes
executioner, sometimes victim, but more often executioner, and nearly
always unwittingly so! The other evening I was at Dargenty's, the
musician. There were but a few guests, and he was asked to play. Hardly
had he begun one off those pretty mazurkas with a Polish rhythm, which
make him the successor of Chopin, when his wife began to talk, quite
low at first, then a little louder. By degrees the fire of conversation
spread. At the end of a minute I was the only listener. Then he shut the
piano, and said to me with a heart-rent smile: "It is always like this
here--my wife does not care for music." Can you imagine anything more
terrible than to marry a woman who does not care for your art? Take my
word for it, my friend, and don't marry. You are alone, you are free;
keep as precious things, your liberty and your loneliness._


THE POET.

_That is all very well! You talk at your ease of solitude. Presently,
when I am gone, if some idea occurs to you, you will gently follow it
by the side of your dying embers, without feeling around you that
atmosphere of isolation, so vast, so empty, that in it inspiration
evaporates and disperses. And one may yet fear to be alone in the hours
of work; but there are moments of discouragement and weariness, when
one doubts oneself ones art even. That is the moment when it must be
happiness to find a faithful and loving heart, ever ready to sympathize
with one's depression, to which one may appeal without fearing to
disconcert a confidence and enthusiasm that are, in fact, unalterable.
And then the child. That sweet unconscious baby smile, is not that the
best moral rejuvenescence one can have? Ah! I have often thought over
that. For us artists, vain as all must be who live by success, by that
superficial esteem, capricious and fleeting, that we call the vogue; for
us, above all others, children are indispensable. They alone can console
us for growing old. All that we lose, the child gains. The success we
have missed, we think: "He will have it" and in proportion as our hair
grows thin, we have the joy of seeing it grow again, curly, golden, full
of life, on a little fair head at our side._


THE PAINTER.

_Ah, poet! poet! have you thought also of all the mouthfuls by which
with the end of pen or brush we must nourish a brood?_


THE POET.

_Well! say what you like, the artist is made for family life, and
that is so true, that those among us who do not marry, take refuge in
temporary companionships, like travellers who, tired of being always
home-less, end by settling in a room in some hotel, and pass their lives
under the hackneyed notice of the signboard: "Apartments by the month or
night?"_


THE PAINTER.

_Such are all in the wrong. They accept the worries of wedlock and will
never know its joys._


THE POET.

_"You acknowledge then that there are some joys?"_


_Here the painter, instead of replying, rose, searched out from among
drawings and sketches a much-thumbed manuscript, and returning to his
companion:_

_"We might argue like this," said he, "for ever so long without either
convincing the other. But since, notwithstanding my observations, you
seem determined to try marriage, here is a little work I beg you to
read. It is written--I would have you note--by a married man, much in
love with his wife, very happy in his home, an observer who, spending
his life among artists, amused himself by sketching one or two such
households as I spoke of just now. From the first to the last line of
this book, all is true, so true that the author would never publish it.
Read it, and come to me when you have read it. I think you will have
changed your mind."_

_The poet took the manuscript and carried it home with him; but he did
not keep the little book with all the needful care, for I have been able
to detach a few leaves from it and boldly offer them to the public._

[Illustration: p023-034]



MADAME HEURTEBISE.

She was certainly not intended for an artist's wife, above all for
such an artist as this outrageous fellow, impassioned, uproarious and
exuberant, who, with his nose in the air and bristling moustaches,
rushed through life defiantly flaunting the eccentric and whirlwind-like
name of Heurtebise,* like a challenge thrown down to all the absurd
conventionalities and prejudices of the _bourgeois_ class. How, and by
what strange charm had the little woman, brought up in a jeweller's
shop, behind rows of watch chains and strings of rings, found the means
of captivating this poet?

* Hit the blast (literally).

Picture to yourself the affected graces of a shopwoman with
insignificant features, cold and ever-smiling eyes, complacent and
placid physiognomy, devoid of real elegance, but having a certain love
for glitter and tinsel, no doubt caught at her father's shopwindow,
making her take pleasure in many-coloured satin bows, sashes and
buckles; and her hair glossy with cosmetic, stiffly arranged by the
hairdresser over a small, obstinate, narrow forehead, where the total
absence of wrinkles told less of youth than of complete lack of thought.
Such as she was, however, Heurtebise loved and wooed her, and as he
happened to possess a small income, found no difficulty in winning her.

What pleased her in this marriage was the idea of wedding an author,
a well-known man, who would take her to the theatre as often as she
wished. As for him, I verily believe that her sham elegance born of the
shop, her pretentious manners, pursed up mouth, and affectedly uplifted
little finger, fascinated him and appeared to him the height, of
Parisian refinement; for he was born a peasant and in spite of his
intelligence remained one to the end of his days.

[Illustration: p025-036]

Tempted by a quiet happiness and the family life of which he had been so
long deprived, Heurtebise spent two years far from his friends, buried
in the country, or in out-of-way suburban nooks, within easy distance
of that great city Paris, which overexcited him even while he yet sought
its attenuated atmosphere, just like those invalids who are recommended
sea air, but who, too delicate to bear it in all its strength, are
compelled to inhale it from a distance of some miles. From time to time,
his name appeared in a newspaper or magazine at the end of an article;
but already the freshness of style, the bursts of eloquence, were
lacking by which he had been formerly known. We thought: "He is too
happy! his happiness has spoilt him."

However, one day he returned amongst us, and we immediately saw that he
was not happy. His pallid countenance, drawn features contracted by a
perpetual irritability, the violent manners degenerated into a nervous
rage, the hollow sound of his once fine ringing laugh, all showed that
he was an altered man. Too proud to admit that he had made a mistake,
he would, not complain, but the old friends who gathered round him
were soon convinced that he had made a most foolish marriage, and that
henceforth his life must prove a failure. On the other hand, Madame
Heurtebise appeared to us, after two years of married life, exactly the
same as we had beheld her in the vestry on her wedding day. She wore
the same calm and simpering smile, she had as much as ever the air of
a shopwoman in her Sunday clothes, only she had gained self-possession.
She talked now. In the midst of artistic discussions into which
Heurtebise passionately threw himself, with arbitrary assertions, brutal
contempt, or blind enthusiasm, the false and honeyed voice of his
wife would suddenly make irruption, forcing him to listen to some idle
reasoning or foolish observation invariably outside of the subject
of discussion. Embarrassed and worried, he would cast us an imploring
glance, and strive to resume the interrupted conversation. Then at last,
wearied out by her familiar and constant contradiction, by the silliness
of her birdlike brain, inflated and empty as any cracknel, he held his
tongue, and silently resigned himself to let her go on to the bitter
end. But this determined silence exasperated Madame, seemed to her
more insulting, more disdainful than anything. Her sharp voice became
discordant, and growing higher and shriller, stung and buzzed, like
the ceaseless teasing of a fly, till at last her enraged husband in his
turn, burst out brutal and terrific.

She emerged from these incessant quarrels, which always ended in tears,
rested and refreshed, as a lawn after a watering, but he remained
broken, fevered, incapable of work, Little by little his very violence
was worn out One evening when I was present at one of these odious
scenes, as Madame Heurtebise triumphantly left the table, I saw on her
husband's face bent downwards during the quarrel and now upraised, an
expression of scorn and anger that no words could any longer express.
The little woman went off shutting the door with a sharp snap, and he,
flushed, with his eyes full of tears, and his mouth distorted by an
ironical and despairing smile, made like any school-boy behind his
master's back, an atrocious gesture of mingled rage and pain. After a
few moments, I heard him murmur, in a voice strangled by emotion: "Ah,
if it were not for the child, how I would be off at once!"

For they had a child, a poor little fellow, handsome and dirty, who
crawled all over the place, played with dogs bigger than himself, with
the spiders in the garden, and made mud-pies. His mother only noticed
him to declare him "disgusting" and that she had not put him out to
nurse.

[Illustration: p029-040]

She clung in fact to all the little shopkeeper traditions of her youth,
and the untidy home in which she went about from early morn in elaborate
costumes and astonishingly dressed hair, recalled the back-shops so dear
to her heart, rooms black with filth and want of air, where in the
short intervals of rest from commercial life, badly cooked meals were
hurriedly eaten, at a bare wooden table, listening all the while for the
tinkle of the shop-bell. With this class, nothing has importance but
the street, the street with its passing purchasers and idlers, and its
overflowing holiday crowd, that on Sundays throng the side walks and
pavements. And how bored she was, wretched creature, in the country, how
she regretted the Paris life! Heurtebise, on the contrary, required
the country for his mental health. Paris still bewildered him like some
countrified boor on his first visit. His wife could not understand it,
and bitterly complained of her exile. By way of diversion she invited
her old acquaintances, and when her husband was absent they amused
themselves by turning over his papers, his memoranda, and the work he
was engaged upon.

"Do look, my dear, how funny it is. He shuts himself up to write this.
He paces up and down, talking to himself. As for me, I understand
nothing of what he does."

And then came endless regrets, and recollections of her past life.

"Ah! if I had known. When I think that I might have married Aubertot and
Fajon, the linen-drapers." She always spoke of the two partners at the
same time, as though she would have married the firm. Neither did she
restrain her feelings in her husband's presence.

[Illustration: p031-042]

She disturbed him, prevented all work, settling down with her friends in
the very room he was writing in, and filling it with the silly
chatter of idle women, who talked loud, full of disdain for a literary
profession which brought in so little, and whose most laborious hours
always resemble a capricious idleness. From time to time Heurtebise
strove to escape from the life which he felt was daily becoming more
dismal. He rushed off to Paris, hired a small room at an hotel, tried to
fancy he was a bachelor; but suddenly he thought of his son, and with a
desperate longing to embrace him hurried back the same evening into the
country.

[Illustration: p032-043]

On these occasions, in order to avoid the inevitable scene on his
return, he took a friend back with him and kept him there as long as he
could. As soon as he was no longer alone face to face with his wife,
his fine intellect awoke and his interrupted schemes of work little by
little and one after the other came back to him. But what anguish it was
when his friends left! He would have kept his guests for ever, clinging
to them by all the strength of his _ennui_. With what sadness would he
accompany us to the stand of the little suburban omnibus which bore us
back to Paris! and when we left, how slowly he turned homewards over the
dusty road, with rounded shoulders and listless arms, listening to the
vanishing wheels.

In truth their _tête-à-tête_ life had become unbearable, and to avoid
it, he tried always to keep his house full. With his easy goodnature,
his weariness and indifference, he was soon surrounded by a lot of
literary starvelings. A set of scribblers, lazy, cracked day-dreamers,
settled down upon him and became more at home than himself; and as his
wife was but a fool, incapable of judging, because they talked more
loudly, she found them charming and very superior to her husband. The
days were spent in idle discussions. There was a clash of empty words,
a firing of smallest shot, and poor Heurtebise, motionless and silent
in the midst of the tumult, merely smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Sometimes, however, towards the end of an interminable repast, when all
his guests, elbows on table, began around the brandy flasks one of
those lengthy maundering conversations, benumbing like clouds of tobacco
smoke, an immense feeling of disgust would seize hold of him, and not
having the courage to turn out all these poor wretches, he would himself
disappear and remain absent for a week.

[Illustration: p034-045]

"My house is full of imbeciles," he said one day to me. "I dare not
return." With this kind of existence, he no longer wrote. His name was
never seen, and his fortune, squandered in a perpetual craving to have
people in his house, disappeared in the outstretched hands around him.

[Illustration: p035-046]

It was a long time since we had met when I received one morning a line
of his dear little handwriting, formerly so firm, now trembling and
uncertain. "We are in Paris. Come and see me. I am so dull." I found him
with his wife, his child and his dogs, in a lugubrious little apartment
in the Batignolles. The disorder which in this narrow space could not be
spread about, seemed more hideous even than in the country. While the
child and dogs rolled about in rooms the size of a chessboard
compartment, Heurtebise; who was ill, lay with his face to the wall, in
a state of utter prostration. His wife, dressed out as usual, and ever
placid, hardly looked at him. "I don't know what is the matter with
him," she said to me with a gesture of indifference. On seeing me he had
for a moment a return of gaiety, and a minute of his old hearty laugh,
but it was soon stifled. As they had kept up in Paris all their suburban
habits, there appeared at the breakfast hour, in the midst of this
household disorganized by poverty and illness, a parasite, a seedy
looking little bald man, cranky and peevish, of whom they always spoke
as "the man who has read Proudhon." It was thus that Heurtebise, who
probably had never known his name, introduced him to everybody. When he
was asked "Who is that?" he unhesitatingly replied, "Oh! a very clever
fellow, who has thoroughly studied Proudhon." His knowledge was
certainly not very apparent, for this deep thinker rarely made himself
heard except to complain at table of an ill-cooked roast or a spoilt
sauce. On this occasion, the man who had read Proudhon declared that the
breakfast was detestable, which however did not prevent his devouring
the larger half of it himself.

How long and lugubrious this meal by the bedside of my sick friend
appeared to me! The wife gossiped as usual, with a tap now and then to
the child, a bone to the dogs, and a smile to the philosopher. Not once
did Heurtebise turn towards us, and yet he was not asleep. I hardly know
whether he thought. Dear, valiant fellow! In those paltry and ceaseless
struggles, the mainspring of his strong nature had broken, and he was
already beginning to die. The silent death agony, which however was
rather an abandonment of life, lasted several months; and then Madame
Heurtebise found herself a widow. Then, as no tears had dimmed her clear
eyes, as she always bestowed the same care on her glossy locks, and as
Aubertot and Fajon were still available, she married Aubertot and Fajon.
Perhaps it was Aubertot, perhaps it was Fajon, perhaps even both of
them. In any case, she was able to resume the life she was fitted for,
and the voluble gossip and eternal smile of the shopwoman.

[Illustration: p038-049]

[Illustration: p041-052]



THE CREDO OF LOVE.

To be the wife of a poet! that had been the dream of her life! but
ruthless fate, instead of the romantic and fevered existence she sighed
for, had doomed her to a peaceful, humdrum happiness, and married her to
a rich man at Auteuil, gentle and amiable, perhaps indeed a trifle
old for her, possessed of but one passion,--perfectly inoffensive and
unexciting--that of horticulture. This excellent man spent his days
pruning, scissors in hand, tending and trimming a magnificent collection
of rose trees, heating a greenhouse, watering flower beds; and really it
must be admitted that, for a poor little heart hungering after an ideal,
this was hardly sufficient food. Nevertheless for ten years her life
remained straightforward and uniform, like the smooth sanded paths in
her husband's garden, and she pursued it with measured steps, listening
with resigned weariness to the dry and irritating sound of the
ever-moving scissors, or to the monotonous and endless showers that fell
from the watering pots on to the leafy shrubs. The rabid horticulturist
bestowed on his wife the same scrupulous attention he gave to his
flowers. He carefully regulated the temperature of the drawing-room,
overcrowded with nosegays, fearing for her the April frosts or March
sun; and like the plants in pots that are put out and taken in at stated
times, he made her live methodically, ever watchful of a change of
barometer or phase of the moon.

She remained like this for a long time, closed in by the four walls
of the conjugal garden, innocent as a clematis, full however of wild
aspirations towards other gardens, less staid, less humdrum, where the
rose trees would fling out their branches untrained, and the wild growth
of weed and briar be taller than the trees, and blossom with unknown and
fantastic flowers, luxuriantly coloured by a warmer sun. Such gardens
are rarely found save in the books of poets, and so she read many
verses, all unknown to the nurseryman, who knew no other poetry than a
few almanac distichs such as:

     Quand il pleut à la Saint-Médard,
     Il pleut quarante jours plus tard.*

     * When it rains on Saint Medard's day,
     It rains on for forty more days.

At haphazard, the unfortunate creature ravenously devoured the paltriest
rhymes, satisfied if she found in them lines ending in "love" and
"passion"; then closing the book, she would spend hours dreaming and
sighing: "That would have been the husband for me!"

It is probable that all this would have remained in a state of vague
aspiration, if at the terrible age of thirty, which seems to be the
decisive critical moment for woman's virtue, as twelve o'clock is for
the day's beauty, the irresistible Amaury had not chanced to cross her
path. Amaury was a drawing-room poet, one of those fanatics in dress
coat and grey kid gloves, who between ten o'clock and midnight, go
and recite to the world their ecstasies of love, their raptures, their
despair, leaning mournfully against the mantel-piece, in the blaze of
the lights, while seated around him women, in full evening dress, listen
entranced behind their fans.

This one might pose as the very ideal of his kind; with his vulgar but
irresistible countenance, sunken eye, pallid complexion, hair cut short
and moustaches stiffly plastered with cosmetic. A desperate man such
as women love, hopeless of life but irreproachably dressed, a lyric
enthusiast, chilled and disheartened, in whom the madness of inspiration
can be divined only in the loose and neglected tie of his cravat. But
also what success awaits him, when he delivers in a strident voice
a tirade from his poem, the _Credo of Love_, more especially the one
ending in this extraordinary line:

     Moi, je crois à l'amour comme je crois en Dieu! *

     * I believe in love as I believe in God.

[Illustration: p045-56]

Mark you, I strongly suspect the rascal cares as little for God, as for
the rest; but women do not look so closely. They are easily caught by
a birdlime of words, and every time Amaury recites his _Credo of Love_,
you are certain to see all round the drawing-room rows upon rows of
little rosy mouths, eagerly opening, ready to swallow the taking bait
of mawkish sentimentality. Just fancy! A poet who has such beautiful
moustaches and who believes in love as he believes in God.

For the nurseryman's wife this proved indeed irresistible. In three
sittings she was conquered. Only, as at the bottom of this elegiac
nature there was some honesty and pride, she would not stoop to any
paltry fault. Moreover the poet himself declared in his _Credo_, that
he only understood one way of erring: that which was openly declared and
ready to defy both law and society. Taking therefore the _Credo of Love_
for her guide, the young woman one fine day escaped from the garden at
Auteuil and went off to throw herself into her poet's arms.--"I can no
longer live with that man! Take me away!"

In such cases the husband is always _that man_, even when he is a
horticulturist.

For a moment Amaury was staggered. How on earth could he have imagined
that an ordinary little housewife of thirty would have taken in earnest
a love poem, and followed it out literally? However he put the best face
he could on his over-good fortune, and as the lady had, thanks to her
little Auteuil garden, remained fresh and pretty, he carried her off
without a murmur. The first days, all was delightful. They feared lest
the husband should track them. They thought it advisable to hide under
fictitious names, change hotels, inhabit the most remote quarters of the
town, the suburbs of Paris, the outlying districts.

[Illustration: p047-058]

In the evening they stealthily sallied forth and took sentimental walks
along the fortifications. Oh the wonderful power of romance! The more
she was alarmed, the more precautions, window blinds and lowered veils,
were necessary, the greater did her poet seem. At night, they opened the
little window of their room and gazing at the stars rising on high above
the signal lights of the neighbouring railway, she made him repeat again
and again his wonderful verses:

     Moi, je crois à l'amour comme je crois en Dieu.

And it was delightful!

[Illustration: p048-059]

Unfortunately it did not last. The husband left them too much
undisturbed. The fact is, _that man_ was a philosopher. His wife gone,
he had closed the green door of his oasis and quietly set about trimming
his roses again, happy in the thought that these at least, attached
to the soil by long roots, would not be able to run away from him. Our
reassured lovers returned to Paris and then suddenly the young woman
felt that some change had come over her poet. Their flight, fear of
detection, and constant alarms,--all these things which had fed
her passion existing no longer, she began to understand and see the
situation clearly.

[Illustration: p049-060]

Moreover, at every moment, in the settling of their little household,
in the thousand paltry details of every day life, the man she was living
with showed himself more thoroughly.

The few and scarce generous, heroic or delicate feelings he possessed
were spun out in his verses, and he kept none for his personal use.
He was mean, selfish, above all very niggardly, a fault love seldom
forgives. Then he had cut off his moustaches, and was disfigured by
the loss. How different from that fine gloomy fellow with his carefully
curled locks, as he appeared one evening declaiming his _Credo_, in the
blaze of two chandeliers! Now, in the enforced retreat he was undergoing
on her account, he gave way to all his crotchets, the greatest of which
was fancying himself always ill. Indeed, from constantly playing at
consumption, one ends by believing in it. The poet Amaury was fond of
decoctions, wrapped himself up in plaisters, and covered his chimney
piece with phials and powders. For some time the little woman took up
quite seriously her part of a nursing sister. Her devotion seemed to
excuse her fault and give an object to her life. But she soon tired of
it. In spite of herself, in the stuffy room where the poet sat wrapped
in flannel, she could not help thinking of her little garden so sweetly
scented, and the kind nurseryman seen from afar in the midst of
his shrubs and flowerbeds, appeared to her as simple, touching and
disinterested, as this other one was exacting and egotistical.

At the end of a month, she loved her husband, really loved him, not with
the affection induced by habit, but with a real and true love. One day
she wrote him a long letter full of passion and repentance. He did
not vouchsafe a reply. Perhaps he thought she was not yet sufficiently
punished. Then she despatched letter after letter, humbled herself,
begged him to allow her to return, saying she would die rather than
continue to live with that man. It was now the lover's turn to be called
"that man." Strange to say, she hid herself from him to write; for
she believed him still in love, and while imploring her husband's
forgiveness, she feared the exaltation of her lover.

"He will never allow me to leave," she said to herself.
Accordingly, when by dint of supplications she obtained forgiveness
and the nurseryman--I have already mentioned that he was a
philosopher,--consented to take her back, the return to her own home
bore all the mysterious and dramatic aspect of flight. She literally
eloped with her husband. It was her last culpable pleasure. One evening
as the poet, tired of their dual existence, and proud of his regrown
moustaches, had gone to an evening party to recite his _Credo of Love_,
she jumped into a cab that was awaiting her at the end of the street and
returned with her old husband to the little garden at Auteuil, for ever
cured of her ambition to be the wife of a poet. It is true that this
fellow was not much of a poet!

[Illustration: p055-066]



THE TRANSTEVERINA.

The play was just over, and while the crowd, with its many varied
impressions, hurried away and poured out under the glare of the
principal portico of the theatre, a few friends, of whom I was one,
awaited the poet at the artists' entrance in order to congratulate him.
His production had not, indeed, been very successful. Too powerful to
suit the timid and trivial imagination of the public of our day, it
was quite beyond the range of the stage, limited as that is by
conventionalities and tolerated traditions. Pedantic criticism declared:
"It is not fit for the stage!" and the scoffers of the boulevards
revenged themselves for the emotion these magnificent verses had given
them by repeating: "It won't pay!" As for us, we were proud of the
friend who had dared to roll forth in a ringing peal, his splendid
golden rhymes, flashing the best product of his genius beneath the
artificial and murderous light of the lustres, and presenting his
personages in life-like size, heedless of the optical illusion of the
modern stage, of the dimness of opera-glass and defective vision.

Amid a motley crowd of scene shifters, firemen, and _figurants_ muffled
up in comforters, the poet approached us, his tall figure bent double,
his coat collar chillily turned up over his thin beard and long grizzled
hair. He seemed depressed. The scant applause of the hired claque and
literary friends confined to a corner of the house foretold a limited
number of representations, choice and rare spectators, and posters
rapidly replaced without giving his name a chance of being known. When
one has worked twenty of talent and life, this obstinate refusal of
the public to comprehend is wearying and disheartening, and one ends by
thinking: "Perhaps after all they are right." Fear paralyses and words
fail. Our acclamations and enthusiastic greetings somewhat cheered him.
"Really do you think so? Is it well done? 'Tis true I have given all I
knew." And his feverish hands anxiously clutched ours, his eyes full
of tears sought a sincere and reassuring glance. It was the imploring
anguish of the sick person, asking the doctor: "It is not true, I'm
not going to die?" No! poet, you will not die. The operettas and fairy
pieces that have had hundreds of representations and thousands of
spectators will be long since forgotten, scattered to the winds with
their last playbills, while your work will ever remain fresh and living.

As we stood on the now deserted pavement, exhorting and cheering him, a
loud contralto voice vulgarised by an Italian accent burst upon us.

"Hullo, artist! enough _pouégie_. Let's go and eat the _estoufato!_"

[Illustration: p058-069]

At the same moment a stout woman wrapped up in a hooded cape and a red
tartan shawl linked her arm in that of our friend, in a manner so
brutal and despotic that his countenance and attitude became at once
embarrassed.

"My wife," he said, then turning towards her with a hesitating smile:

"Suppose we take them home and show them how you make an _estoufato?_"

Flattered in the conceit of her culinary accomplishments, the Italian
graciously consented to receive us, and five or six of us started off
for the heights of Montmartre where they dwelt, to share their stewed
beef.

I confess I took a certain interest in the artist's home life. Since his
marriage our friend had led a very secluded existence, almost always in
the country; but what I knew of his life whetted my curiosity. Fifteen
years before, when in all the freshness of a romantic imagination,
he had met in the suburbs of Rome a magnificent creature with whom he
immediately fell desperately in love. Maria Assunta, her father, and a
brood of brothers and sisters inhabited one of those little houses of
the Transtevera with walls uprising from the waters of the Tiber, and an
old fishing boat rocking level with the door. One day he caught sight of
the handsome Italian girl, with bare feet in the sand, red skirt tightly
pleated around her, and unbleached linen sleeves tucked up to the
shoulders, catching eels out of a large gleaming wet net. The silvery
scales glistening through the meshes full of water, the golden river
and scarlet petticoat, the beautiful black eyes deep and pensive, which
seemed darkened in their musing by the surrounding sunlight struck the
artist, perhaps even rather trivially, like some coloured print on the
titlepage of a song in a music-seller's window.

[Illustration: p060-071]

It so chanced that the girl was heart-whole, having till now bestowed
her affections on a big tom-cat, yellow and sly, also a great fisher of
eels, who bristled up all over when anyone approached his mistress.

[Illustration: p061-072]

Beasts and men, our lover managed to tame all these folk, was married at
Santa-Maria of the Transtevera and brought back to France the beautiful
Assunta and her _cato_.

Ah! poor fellow, he ought also to have brought away at the same time
some of the sunlight of that country, a scrap of the blue sky, the
eccentric costume and the bulrushes of the Tiber, and the large swing
nets of the _Ponte Rotto_; in fact the frame with the picture. Then he
would have been spared the cruel disenchantment he experienced when,
having settled in a modest flat on the fourth storey, on the heights of
Montmartre, he saw his handsome Transteverina decked out in a crinoline,
a flounced dress, and a Parisian bonnet, which, constantly out of
balance on the top of her heavy braids, assumed the most independent
attitudes. Under the clear cold light of Parisian skies, the unfortunate
man soon perceived that his wife was a fool, an irretrievable fool. Not
a single idea even lurked in the velvety depths of those beautiful black
eyes, lost in infinite contemplation. They glittered like an animal's
in the calm of digestion, or in a chance gleam of light, nothing more.
Withal the lady was common, vulgar, accustomed to govern by a slap all
the little world of her native hut, and the least opposition threw her
into uncontrollable rages.

Who would have guessed that the fine mouth, straitened by silence into
the purest shape of an antique face, would suddenly open to let flow
torrents of vulgar abuse? Without respect for herself or for him, out
loud, in the street, at the theatre, she would pick a quarrel with him,
and indulge in scenes of fearful jealousy. To crown all, devoid of
any artistic feeling, she was completely ignorant of her husband's
profession and language, of manners, in fact of everything. The little
French she could be taught, only made her forget Italian, and the result
was that she composed a kind of half and half jargon which had the most
comical effect. In short this love story, begun like one of Lamartine's
poems, was ending like a novel of Champfleury's. After having for a long
time struggled to civilise this wild woman, the poet saw he must abandon
the task. Too honourable to leave her, probably still too much in love,
he made up his mind to shut himself up, see no one, and work hard. The
few intimate friends he admitted to his house, saw that they embarrassed
him and ceased to come.

[Illustration: p064-075]

Hence it was that for the last fifteen years he had been living boxed up
in his household like in a leper's cell.

As I pondered over this wretched existence, I watched the strange couple
walking before me. He, slender, tall and round-shouldered.

[Illustration: p065-076]

She, squarely built, heavy, shaking her shawl by an impatient shrug
of her shoulders, with a free gait like a man's. She was tolerably
cheerful, her speech was loud, and from time to time she turned round to
see if we followed, familiarly shouting and calling by name those of us
she happened to know, accentuating her words by much gesticulation as
she would have hailed a fishing boat on the Tiber. When we reached their
house, the _concierge_, furious at seeing so noisy a crew at such an
unearthly hour, tried to prevent our entry. The Italian and he had a
fearful row on the staircase. We were all dotted about on the winding
stairs dimly lighted by the dying gas, ill at ease, uncomfortable,
hardly knowing if we ought not to come down again.

"Come, quick, let us go up," said the poet in a low tone, and we
followed him silently, while, leaning over the banisters that shook
under her weight and anger, the Italian let fly a volley of abuse in
which Roman imprecations alternated with the vocabulary of the
back slums. What a return home for the poet who had just roused the
admiration of artistic Paris, and still retained in his fevered eyes
the dazzling intoxication of his first performance! What a humiliating
recall to every-day life!

It was only by the fireside in his little sitting room that the icy
chill caused by this silly adventure was dispelled, and we should soon
have completely forgotten it, had it not been for the piercing voice and
bursts of laughter of the signora whom we heard in the kitchen telling
her maid how soundly she had rated that _choulato!_ When the table was
laid and supper ready, she came and seated herself amongst us, having
taken off her shawl, bonnet and veil, and I was able to examine her at
my leisure. She was no longer handsome. The square face, the broad heavy
jaw, the coarse hair turning grey, and above all the vulgar expression
of the mouth, contrasted singularly with the eternal and meaningless
reverie of the dreamy gaze. Resting her elbows on the table, familiar
and shapeless, she joined in the conversation without for an instant
losing sight of her plate. Just over her head, proud amid all the
melancholy rubbish of the drawing-room, a large portrait signed by an
illustrious name, stood out of the surrounding shade,--it was Maria
Assunta at twenty. The purple costume, the milky white of the pleated
wimple, the bright gold of the over-abundant imitation jewelry, set off
magnificently the brilliancy of a sunny complexion, the velvety shades
of the thick hair growing low on the forehead, which seemed to be united
by an almost imperceptible down to the superb and straight line of
the eyebrows. How could such an exuberance of life and beauty have
deteriorated and become such a mass of vulgarity? And curiously while
the Transteverina talked, I interrogated her lovely eyes, so deep and
soft on the canvas.

[Illustration: p068-079]

The excitement of the meal had put her in a good humour. To cheer up
the poet, to whom his mingled failure and glory were doubly painful,
she thumped him on the back, laughed with her mouth full, saying in her
hideous jargon, that it was not worth while for such a trifle to fling
oneself head downwards from the _campanile del Duomo_.

[Illustration: p069-080]

"Isn't it true, _il cato?_" she added turning to the old tom-cat
crippled by rheumatism, snoring in front of the fire. Then suddenly, in
the middle of an interesting discussion, she screamed out to her husband
in a voice senseless and brutal as the crack of a rifle:

"Hey! artist! _la lampo qui filo!_"

The poor fellow immediately interrupted his conversation to wind up the
lamp, humble, submissive, anxious to avoid the scene he dreaded, and
which in spite of all, he did not escape.

On returning from the theatre we had stopped at the _Maison d'Or_ to get
a bottle of choice wine to wash down the _estoufato_. All along the road
Maria Assunta had piously carried it under her shawl, and on her arrival
she had placed it on the table where she could cast tender looks upon
it, for Roman women are fond of good wine. Already twice or three times
mistrustful of her husband's absence of mind, and the length of his
arms, she had said:

"Mind the _boteglia_--you're going to break it."

At last, as she went off to the kitchen to take up with her own hands
the famous _estoufato_, she again called out to him:

"Whatever you do, don't break the _boteglia_."

Unluckily, the moment his wife had disappeared, the poet seized the
opportunity to talk about art, theatres, success, so freely and with so
much gusto and vivacity, that--crash! By a gesture more eloquent than
the others, the wonderful bottle was thrown down and fell to the ground
in a thousand pieces. Never have I beheld such terror. He stopped short,
and became deadly pale. At the same moment, Assunta's contralto was
heard in the next room, and the Italian appeared on the threshold with
flashing eyes, lips swollen with rage, red with the heat of the kitchen
range.

"The _boteglia!_" she roared in a terrible voice.

Then timidly bending down to me, he whispered:

"Say it's you."

And the poor devil was so frightened, that I felt his long legs tremble
under the table.

[Illustration: p075-086]



A COUPLE OF SINGERS.

How could they help falling in love? Handsome and famous as they both
were, singing in the same operas, living each night during five whole
acts the same artificial and passionate existence. You cannot play with
fire without being burnt. You cannot say twenty times a month: "I love
you!" to the sighing of a flute or the tremolos of a violin, without at
last being caught by the emotion of your own voice. In course of time,
passion awoke in the surrounding harmonies, the rhythmical surprises,
the gorgeousness of costume and scenery. It was wafted to them through
the window that Elsa and Lohengrin threw wide open on a night vibrating
with sound and luminousness:

"Come let us breathe the intoxicating perfumes."

It slipped in between the white columns of the Capulets' balcony, where
Romeo and Juliet linger in the dawning light of day:

"It was the nightingale, and not the lark."

And softly it caught Faust and Marguerite in a ray of moonlight, that
rose from the rustic bench to the shutters of their little chamber, amid
the entangled ivy and blossoming roses:

"Let me once more gaze upon thy face."

Soon all Paris knew their love and became interested in it. It was the
wonder of the season. The world came to admire the two splendid stars
gently gravitating towards each other in the musical firmament of the
Opera House. At last one evening, after an enthusiastic recall, as the
curtain fell, separating the house full of noisy applause and the
stage littered with bouquets, where the white gown of Juliet swept
over scattered camellia blossoms, the two singers were seized with an
irresistible impulse, as though their love, a shade artificial, had but
awaited the emotion of a splendid success to reveal itself.

[Illustration: p077-088]

Hands were clasped, vows exchanged, vows consecrated by the distant
and persistent plaudits of the house. The two stars had made their
conjunction.

After the wedding, some time passed before they were again seen on the
stage. Then, when their holiday was ended, they reappeared in the
same piece. This reappearance was a revelation. Until then, of the two
singers, the man had been the most prized. Older and more accustomed to
the public, whose foibles and preferences he had studied, he held the
pit and boxes under the spell of his voice. Beside him, the other one
seemed but an admirably gifted pupil, the promise of a future genius;
but her voice was young and had angles in it, just as her shoulders were
too slight and thin. And when on her return she appeared in one of her
former parts, and the full rich, powerful sound poured out in the very
first notes, abundant and pure, like the water of some sparkling spring,
there ran through the house such a thrill of delight and surprise, that
all the interest of the evening was concentrated on her. For the young
woman, it was one of those happy days, in which the ambient atmosphere
becomes limpid, light and vibrating, wafting towards one all the
radiance and adulations of success. As for the husband, they almost
forgot to applaud him, and as a dazzling light ever seems to make the
shade around it darker, so he, found himself relegated, as it were, to
the most insignificant part of the stage, as if he were neither more nor
less than a mere walking gentleman.

After all, the passion that was revealed in the songstress's acting, in
her voice full of charm and tenderness, was inspired by him. He alone
lent fire to the glances of those deep eyes, and that idea ought to have
made him proud, but the comedian's vanity proved stronger. At the end
of the performance he sent for the leader of the _claque_ and rated him
soundly. They had missed his entry and his exit, forgotten the recall at
the third act; he would complain to the manager, &c.

Alas! In vain he struggled, in vain did the paid applause greet him,
the good graces of the public, henceforth bestowed on his wife, remained
definitively acquired to her. She was fortunate too in a choice of parts
appropriate to her talent and her beauty, in which she appeared with all
the assurance of a woman of the world entering a ball-room, dressed in
the colours best suited to her, and certain of an ovation. At each fresh
success the husband was depressed, nervous, and irritable. This vogue
which left him and so absolutely became hers only, seemed to him a kind
of robbery. For a long while he strove to hide from every one, more
especially from his wife, this unavowable anguish; but one evening, as
she was going up the stairs leading to her dressing-room, holding up
with both hands her skirt-laden with bouquets, carried away by her
triumphal success, she said to him with a voice still overcome by the
excitement of applause: "We have had a magnificent house to-night." He
replied: "You think so!" in such an ironical and bitter tone, that the
young wife suddenly understood all.

Her husband was jealous! Not with the jealousy of a lover, who will
only allow his wife to be beautiful for him, but with the jealousy of an
artist, cold, furious, implacable. At times, when she stopped at the end
of an air and multitudes of bravos were thrown to her from outstretched
hands, he affected an indifferent and absent manner, and his listless
gaze seemed to say to the spectators: "When you have finished
applauding, I'll sing."

Ah! the applause, that sound like hail reechoing so delightfully through
the lobbies, the house, and the side scenes, once the sweets of it are
tasted, it is impossible to live without it. Great actors do not die of
illness or old age, they cease to exist when applause no longer greets
them. At the indifference of the public, this one was really seized with
a feeling of despair. He grew thin, became peevish and bad-tempered. In
vain did he reason with himself, look his incurable folly well in the
face, repeat to himself before he came on the stage:

"And yet she is my wife, and I love her!"

In the artificial atmosphere of the stage the true sentiment of life
vanished at once. He still loved the wife, but detested the singer. She
realized it, and as one nurses an invalid, watched the sad mania. At
first she thought of lessening her success, of making a sparing use and
not giving the full power of her voice and talent; but her resolutions
like those of her husband could not withstand the glare of the
footlights. Her talent, almost unconsciously, overstepped her will. Then
she humbled herself before him, belittled herself. She asked his advice,
inquired if he thought her interpretation correct, if he understood the
part in that way.

Of course he was never satisfied. With assumed goodnature, in the tone
of false friendship that comedians use so much amongst each other, he
would say, on the evenings of her greatest successes:

"You must watch yourself, dear, you are not doing very well just now,
not improving."

At other times he tried to prevent her singing:

"Take care, you are lavishing yourself. You are doing too much. Don't
wear out your luck. Believe me, you ought to take a holiday."

He even condescended to the most paltry pretexts. Said she had a cold,
was not in good voice. Or else he would try to pick some mean stage
quarrel:

"You took up the end of the duet too quickly; you spoilt my effect. You
did it on purpose."

He never saw, poor wretch, that it was he who hindered her bye play,
hurrying on with his cue in order to prevent any applause, and in his
anxiety to regain the public ear, monopolizing the front of the stage,
leaving his wife in the background. She never complained, for she loved
him too well; moreover success makes us indulgent and every evening
she was compelled to quit the shade in which she strove to conceal and
efface herself, to obey the summons enthusiastically calling her to the
footlights. This singular jealousy was soon noticed at the theatre, and
their fellow actors made fun of it. They overwhelmed the singer with
compliments about his wife's singing. They thrust under his eyes the
newspaper article in which after four long columns devoted to the star,
the critic bestowed a few lines to the fast fading vogue of the husband.
One day, having just read one of these articles, he rushed into his
wife's dressing-room, holding the open paper in his hand and said to
her, pale with rage:

"The fellow must have been your lover." He had indeed reached this
degree of injustice. In fact the unhappy woman, praised and envied,
whose name figured in large type on the play bills and might be read on
all the walls of Paris, who was seized upon as a successful advertising
medium and placed on the tiny gilt labels of the confectioner or
perfumer, led the saddest and most humiliating of lives. She dared not
open a paper for fear of reading her own praises, wept over the flowers
that were thrown to her and which she left to die in a corner of her
dressing-room, that she might avoid perpetuating at home the cruel
memories of her triumphant evenings. She even wanted to quit the stage,
but her husband objected.

[Illustration: p084-095]

"It will be said that I make you leave it." And the horrible torture
continued for both.

One night of a first representation, the songstress was going to the
front, when somebody said to her: "Mind what you are about. There is
a cabal in the house against you." She laughed at the idea. A cabal
against her? And for what reason, Good Heavens! She who only met with
sympathy, who did not belong to any coterie! It was true however. In
the middle of the opera, in a grand duet with her husband, at the moment
when her magnificent voice had reached the highest pitch of its compass,
finishing the sound in a succession of notes, even and pure like the
rounded pearls of a necklace, a volley of hisses cut her short. The
audience was as much moved and surprised as herself. All remained
breathless, as though each one felt prisoner within them the passage
she had not been able to finish. Suddenly a horrible, mad idea flashed
across her mind. He was alone on the stage, in front of her. She gazed
at him steadily and saw in his eyes the passing gleam of a cruel smile.
The poor woman understood all. Sobs suffocated her.

She could only burst into tears and blindly disappear through the
crowded side scenes.

It was her own husband who had had her hissed!

[Illustration: p086-097]

[Illustration: p088-099]



A MISUNDERSTANDING -- THE WIFE'S VERSION.

What can be the matter with him? What can he complain of? I cannot
understand it. And yet I have done all I could to make him happy. To be
sure, I don't say that instead of a poet I would not rather have married
a notary or a lawyer, something rather more serious, rather less vague
as a profession; nevertheless, such as he was he took my fancy.
I thought him a trifle visionary, but charming all the same, and
well-mannered; besides he had some fortune, and I thought that once
married poetizing would not prevent him from seeking out some good
appointment which would set us quite at ease.

[Illustration: p089-100]

[Illustration: p090-101]

He, too at that time seemed to find me to his taste. When he came to see
me at my aunt's in the country, he could not find words enough to admire
the order and arrangement of our little house, kept like a convent, "It
is so quaint!" he used to say. He would laugh and call me all sorts of
names taken from the poems and romances he had read. That shocked me a
little I confess; I should have liked him to be more serious. But it
was not until we were married and settled in Paris, that I felt all the
difference of our two natures.

I had dreamed of a little home kept scrupulously bright and clean;
instead of which, he began at once to encumber our apartment with
useless old-fashioned furniture, covered with dust, and with faded
tapestries, old as the hills. In everything it was the same. Would you
believe that he obliged me to put away in the attic a sweetly
pretty Empire clock, which had come to me from my aunt, and some
splendidly-framed pictures given me by my school friends. He thought
them hideous. I am still wondering why? For after all, his study was one
mass of lumber, of old smoky pictures; statuettes I blushed to look at,
chipped antiquities of all kinds, good for nothing; vases that would not
hold water, odd cups, chandeliers covered with verdigris.

[Illustration: p094-105]

By the side of my beautiful rosewood piano, he had put another, a little
shabby thing with all the polish off, half-the notes wanting, and so
old and worn that one could hardly hear it. I began to think: "Good
gracious! is an artist then, really a little mad? Does he only care for
useless things, and despise all that is useful?"

When I saw his friends', the society he received, it was still worse.
Men with long hair, great beards, scarcely combed, badly dressed, who
did not hesitate to smoke in my presence, while to listen to them made
me quite uncomfortable, so widely opposed were their ideas to mine. They
used long words, fine phrases, nothing natural, nothing simple. Then
with all this, not a notion of ordinary civilities: you might ask them
to dinner twenty times running, and there would be never a call, never
a return of any kind. Not even a card or a bonbon on New Year's day.
Nothing. Some of these gentry were married and brought their wives to
see us. You should have seen the style of these persons! For every day
wear, superb toilettes such as thank heaven, I would wear at no time!
And so ill-arranged, without order or method. Hair loose, skirts
trailing, and such a bold display of their talents! There were some who
sang like actresses, played the piano like professors, all talked on
every subject just like men. I ask you, is this reasonable?

Ought serious women once married to think of anything but the care of
their household? This is what I tried to make my husband understand,
when he was vexed at seeing me give up my music. Music is all very well
when one is a little girl and has nothing better to do. But candidly,
I should consider myself very ridiculous if I sat down every day to the
piano.

[Illustration: p098-109]

Oh! I am quite aware that his great complaint against me is that I
wished to draw him from the strange society I considered so dangerous
for him. "You have driven away all my friends?" he often used to say
reproachfully. Yes, I did do so, and I don't regret it. Those creatures
would have ended by driving him crazy. After leaving them, he would
often spend the night in making rhymes and in marching up and down and
talking aloud. As if he were not already sufficiently eccentric and
original in himself without being excited by others! What caprices, what
whims have I not put up with! Suddenly one morning, he would appear in
my room: "Quick, get your hat--we are off to the country." Then one
must leave everything, sewing, household affairs, take a carriage, go
by rail, spend a mint of money! And I, who only thought of economy! For
after all, it is not with fifteen thousand francs (six hundred pounds)
a year that one can be counted rich in Paris or make any provision for
one's children. At first he used to laugh at my observations, and try
to make me laugh; then when he saw how firmly I was resolved to remain
serious, he found fault with my simplicity and my taste for home. Am
I to blame because I detest theatres and concerts, and those artistic
soirées to which he wished to drag me, and where he met his old
acquaintances, a lot of scatterbrains, dissipated and Bohemian?

At one time, I thought he was becoming more reasonable. I had managed to
with-draw him from his good-for-nothing circle of friends, and to gather
round us a society of sensible people, well-settled in life, who might
be of use to us. But no! Monsieur was bored. He was always bored,
from morning till night. At our little soirees, where I was careful to
arrange a whist table and a tea table, all as it should be, he would
appear with such a face! in such a temper! When we were alone, it was
just the same. Nevertheless, I was full of little attentions. I used to
say to him: "Read me something of what you are doing." He recited to me
verses, tirades, of which I understood nothing, but I put on an air of
interest, and here and there made some little remark, which by the way,
inevitably had the knack of annoying him. In a year, working night and
day, he could only make of all his rhymes, one single volume which never
sold, I said to him: "Ah! you see," just in a reasoning spirit, to bring
him to something more comprehensible, more remunerative, He got into a
frightful rage, and afterwards sank into a state of gloomy depression
which made me very unhappy. My friends advised me as well as they could:
"You see, my dear, it is the ennui and bad temper of an unoccupied man.
If he worked a little more, he would not be so gloomy."

Then I set to work, and all my belongings too, to seek him an
appointment, I moved heaven and earth, I made I don't know how many
visits to the wives of government officials, heads of departments; I
even penetrated into a minister's office. It was a surprise I reserved
for him, I said to my-self: "We shall see whether he will be pleased
this time," At length, the day when I received his nomination in a
lovely envelope with five big seals, I carried it myself to his table,
half wild with joy. It was provision for the future, comfort, self
content, the tranquillity of regular work. Do you know what he did? He
said: "He would never forgive me." After which he tore the minister's
letter into a thousand pieces, and rushed out, banging the doors. Oh!
these artists, poor unsettled brains taking life all the wrong way! What
could be done with such a man? I should have liked to talk to him, to
reason with him. In vain. Those were indeed right, who had said to me:
"He is a madman." Of what use moreover to talk to him? We do not
speak the same language. He would not understand me, any more than I
understand him. And now, here we must sit and look at each other. I see
hatred in his glance, and yet I have true affection for him. It is very
painful.


   *   *   *   *   *


A MISUNDERSTANDING -- THE HUSBAND'S VERSION.

I had thought of everything, taken all my precautions. I would not have
a Parisian, because Parisian women alarm me. I would not have a rich
wife because she might be too exacting and extravagant. I also
dreaded family ties, that terrible network of homely affections, which
monopolizes, imprisons, dwarfs and stifles. My wife was the realization
of my fondest dreams. I said to myself: "She will owe me everything."

[Illustration: p091-102]

What pleasure to educate this simple mind to the contemplation of
beauty, to initiate this pure soul to my enthusiasms and hopes, to give
life, in short, to this statue! The fact is she had the air of a
statue, with her great serious calm eyes, her regular Greek profile, her
features, which although rather too marked and severe, were softened by
the rose-tinted bloom of youth and the shadow of the waving hair. Added
to all this was a faint provincial accent that was my especial joy, an
accent to which with closed eyes, I listened as a recollection of happy
childhood, the echo of a tranquil life in some far away, utterly unknown
nook. And to think that now, this accent has become unbearable to me!
But in those days, I had faith. I loved, I was happy, and disposed to
be still more so. Full of ardour for my work, I had as soon as I was
married begun a new poem, and in the evening I read to her the verses
of the day. I wished to make her enter completely into my existence. The
first time or two, she said to me: "Very pretty," and I was grateful
to her for this childish approbation, hoping that in time she would
comprehend better what was the very breath of my life.

Poor creature! How I must have bored her! After having read her my
verses, I explained them to her, seeking in her beautiful astonished
eyes the hoped-for gleam of light, ever fancying I should surprise it.

[Illustration: p095-106]

I obliged her to give me her opinion and I passed over all that was
foolish to retain only what a chance inspiration might contain of good.
I so longed to make of her my true help mate, the real artist's wife!
But no! She could not understand. In vain did I read to her the great
poets, choosing the strongest, the tenderest,--the golden rhymes of the
love poems fell upon her ear as coldly and tediously as a hailstorm.
Once I remember, we were reading _la Nuit d'Octobre_; she interrupted
me, to ask for something more serious! I tried then to explain to her
that there is nothing in the world more serious than poetry, which is
the very essence of life, floating above it like a glory of light,
in the % vibrations of which words and thoughts are elevated and
transfigured. Oh! what a disdainful smile passed over her pretty mouth
and what condescension in her glance! As though a child or a madman had
spoken to her.

What have I not thus wasted of strength and useless eloquence! Nothing
was of any use. I stumbled perpetually against what she called good
sense, reason, that eternal excuse of dried up hearts and narrow minds.
And it was not only poetry that bored her. Before our marriage, I had
believed her to be a musician. She seemed to understand the pieces
she played, aided by the underlinings of her teacher. Scarcely was she
married when she closed her piano, and gave up her music.

[Illustration: p099-110]

Can there be anything more melancholy than this abandonment by the young
wife of all that had pleased in the young girl? The reply given, the
part ended, the actress quits her costume. It was all done with a view
to marriage; a surface of petty accomplishments, of pretty smiles, and
fleeting elegance. With her the change was instantaneous. At first I
hoped that the taste I could not give her, an artistic intelligence and
love of the beautiful, would come to her in spite of herself, through
the medium of this wonderful Paris, with its unconscious refining
influence on eyes and mind. But what can be done with a woman who does
not know how to open a book, to look at a picture, who is always bored
and refuses to see anything? I soon understood that I must resign myself
to have by my side nothing but a housewife, active and economical,
indeed very economical. According to Proudhon, a woman, nothing more. I
could have shaped my course accordingly; so many artists are in the same
plight! But this modest rôle was not enough for her.

Little by little, slyly, silently, she managed to get rid of all my
friends. We had not made any difference in our talk because of * her
presence. We talked as we always had done in the past, but she never
understood the irony or the fantasy of our artistic exaggerations, of
our wild axioms, or paradoxes, in which-an idea is travestied only to
figure more brilliantly. It only irritated and puzzled her. Seated in
a quiet corner of the drawing-room, she listened and said nothing,
planning all the while how she should eliminate one by one those who
so much shocked her. Notwithstanding the seeming friendliness of the
welcome, there could already be felt in my rooms that thin current
of cold air, which warns that the door is open and that it is time to
leave.

My friends once gone, she replaced them by her own. I found myself
surrounded by an absurd set of worthies, strangers to art, who hated
poetry and scorned it because "it made no money." On purpose the names
of fashionable writers who manufacture plays and novels by the dozen
were cited before me, with the remark: "So and so makes a great deal of
money!"

Make money! this is the all-important point for these creatures, and
I had the pain of seeing my wife think with them. In this fatal
atmosphere, her provincial habits, her mean and narrow views were made
still more odious by an incredible stinginess.

Fifteen thousand francs (six hundred pounds) a year! It seemed to me
that with this income we could live without fear of the morrow. Not
at all! She was always grumbling, talking of economy, reform, good
investments. As she overpowered me with these dull details, I felt all
desire and taste for work ebb away from me. Sometimes she came to
my table and scornfully turned over the scattered half-written
pages:--"Only that!" she would say, counting the hours lost upon the
insignificant little lines. Ah I if I had listened to her, my glorious
title of poet, which it has taken me so many years to win, would be now
dragged through the black mire of sensational literature. And when
I think that to this selfsame woman I had at first opened my heart,
confided all my dreams; and when I think that the contempt she now
shows me because I do not make money dates from the first days of our
marriage; I am indeed ashamed, both of myself and of her.

I make no money! That explains everything, the reproach of her glance,
her admiration for fruitful commonplaces, culminating in the steps she
took but lately to obtain for me I don't know what post in a government
office.

At this, however, I resisted. No defence remains to me but this, a force
of inertia, which yields to no assault, to no persuasion. She may speak
for hours, freeze me with her chilliest smile, my thought ever escapes
her, will always escape her. And we have come to this! Married and
condemned to live together, leagues of distance separate us; and we are
both too weary, too utterly discouraged, to care to make one step that
might draw us together. It is horrible!

[Illustration: p108-119]

[Illustration: p111-122]



ASSAULT WITH VIOLENCE.


MR. PETITBRY, Chamber Counsel.

_To Madame Nina de B., at her Aunt's house, in Moulins_.

Madame, conformably to the wishes of Madame your aunt, I have looked
into the matter in question. I have noted down one by one all the
different points and submitted your grievances to the most scrupulous
investigation. Well, on my soul and conscience, I do not find the
fruit ripe enough, or to speak plainly, I do not consider that you have
sufficient grounds to justify your petition for a judicial separation.
Let us not forget that the French law is a very downright kind of thing,
totally devoid of delicate feeling for nice distinctions. It recognizes
only acts, serious, brutal acts, and unfortunately it is these acts
we lack. Most assuredly I have been deeply touched while reading the
account of the first year of your married life, so very painful to you.
You have paid dearly for the glory of marrying a famous artist, one of
those men in whom fame and adulation develop monstrous egotism, and who
under penalty of shattering the frail and timid life that would attach
itself to theirs, must live alone. Ah! madame, since the commencement of
my career, how many wretched wives have I not beheld in the same cruel
position as yourself! Artists who live only by and for the public, carry
nothing home to their hearth but fatigue from glory, or the melancholy
of their disappointments. An ill-regulated existence, without compass
or rudder, subversive ideas contrary to all social conventionality,
contempt of family life and its happiness, cerebral excitement sought
for in the abuse of tobacco and strong drink, without mentioning
anything else, this constitutes the terrible artistic element from which
your dear Aunt is desirous of withdrawing you; but I must repeat, that
while I fully comprehend her anxiety, nay her remorse even at having
consented to such a marriage, I cannot see that matters have reached a
point calculated to warrant your petition.

I have, however, set down the outlines of a judicial memorandum, in
which your principal grievances are grouped and skilfully brought into
prominence. Here are the principal divisions of the work:

1°. _Insulting conduct of Monsieur towards Madame's family_.--Refusal
to receive our Aunt from Moulins, who brought us up, and is tenderly
attached to us.--Nicknames such as _Tata Bobosse_, Fairy Carabossa,
and others, bestowed on that venerable old maid, whose back is slightly
bent.--Jests and quips, drawings in pen and pencil of the aforesaid and
her infirmity.

2°. _Unsociableness_.--Refusal to see Ma-dame's friends, to make wedding
calls, to send cards, to answer invitations, etc.

3°. _Wanton extravagance_.--Money lent without acknowledgment to all
kinds of Bohemians.--Open house and free quarters, turning the house
into an inn.--Constant subscriptions for statues, tombs, and productions
of unfortunate fellow artists.--Starting an artistic and literary
magazine!!!

4°. _Insulting conduct to Madame_.--Having said out loud when alluding
to us: "What a fool!"

5°. _Cruelty and violence_.--Excessive brutality on the part of
Monsieur.--Rage on the slightest pretext.--Breakage of china and
furniture.--Scandalous rows, offensive expressions.


All this, as you see, dear Madame, constitutes a somewhat respectable
amount of evidence, but is not however sufficient. We lack assault with
violence. Ah! if we had only an assault with violence, a tiny little
assault before witnesses, our case would be grand! But now that you have
put a hundred and fifty miles between your husband and yourself we can
scarcely hope for an incident of this kind. I say "hope" because in the
present state of affairs, a brutal act on the part of this man would be
the most fortunate thing that could befall you.

I remain, Madame, awaiting your commands, your devoted and obedient
servant,

Petitbry.

PS.--Violence before witnesses, of course!

[Illustration: p115-126]


_To Monsieur Petitbry, in Paris_.

What, Sir! have we come to such a pass as this! Is this what your laws
have made of antique French chivalry! So then, when a misunderstanding
is often sufficient to separate two hearts for ever, your law courts
require acts of violence to justify such a separation. Is it not
scandalous, unjust, barbarous, outrageous? To think that in order to
regain her freedom, my poor darling will be obliged to run her neck
into the halter, to abandon herself to all the fury of that monster,
to excite it even. But no matter, our mind is made up. An assault with
personal violence is necessary. Well! we will have it. No later than
to-morrow, Nina will return to Paris, How will she be received? What
will take place there? I cannot think of it without a shudder. At this
idea my hand trembles, my eyes become dimmed. Ah! Monsieur. Ah! Monsieur
Petitbry. Ah!

Nina's unhappy Aunt.



MR. MARESTANG, ATTORNEY At the Law Court of the Seine.

_To Monsieur Henri de B., Literary man in Paris_.

Be calm, be calm, be calm! I forbid your going to Moulins or rushing off
in pursuit of the fugitive. It is more judicious and safer to await her
return in your own house, by your fireside. In point of fact, what has
taken place? You refused to receive that ridiculous and ill-natured old
maid; your wife has gone to join her. You should have expected as much.
Family ties are very strong in the heart of such an extremely youthful
bride. You were in too great a hurry. Remember that this Aunt brought
her up, that she has no other relations in the world. She has her
husband, you will say. Ah! my dear fellow, between ourselves we may
admit that husbands are not always amiable. I know one more especially
who in spite of his good heart is so nervous, so violent! I am well
aware that hard work and artistic preoccupations have a good deal to do
with it. Be that as it may, the bird has been scared, and has flown back
to its former cage. Don't be alarmed, it won't stay there long. Either
I am very much mistaken or the Parisian of yesterday will soon weary of
the antiquated surroundings, and ere long regret the vivacities of her
poet. Above all don't stir.

Your old friend,

Marestang.


_To Monsieur Marestang, attorney in Paris_.

At the same moment with your rational and friendly letter, I received a
telegram from Moulins, announcing Nina's return. Ah! what a true prophet
you were! She is coming back this evening, all alone, just as she left
me, without the slightest advance on my part. The thing now will be to
arrange so easy and agreeable a life for her, that she shall never
again be tempted to leave me. I have laid in a stock of tenderness and
patience during her week's absence. There is only one point on which
I remain inflexible: I will not again receive that horrible _Tata
Bobosse_, that blue stocking of 1820, who gave me her niece only in the
hopes that my modest fame would serve to heighten hers. Remember, my
dear Marestang, that ever since my marriage this wicked little old woman
has always come between my wife and me, pushing her hump into all our
amusements at the theatres, the exhibitions, in society, in the country,
everywhere in fact. And you wonder after that, at my having displayed
a certain haste in getting rid of her, and packing her off to her good
town of Moulins. Indeed, my dear fellow, you have no idea of all the
harm those old maids, suspicious and ignorant of life, are capable of
doing in a young household. This one had stuffed my wife's pretty
little head full of false, old fashioned, preposterous ideas, trumpery
sentimentality of the time of Ipsiboé or young Florange: "Ah! if my
lady love saw me!" For her, I was a poâte, the poâte one sees on the
frontispieces of Renduel or Ladvocat, crowned with laurels, a lyre
on his hips, and his short velvet-collared cloak blown aside by a
Parnassian gust of wind. That was the husband she had promised her
niece, and you may fancy how terribly my poor Nina must have been
disappointed. Nevertheless I admit that I was very bungling with the
dear child. As you say, I wanted to go ahead too rapidly, I frightened
her. It was my part gently to modify all that the rather narrowing and
false education of the convent and the sentimental dreams of the Aunt
had effected, leaving the provincial perfume time to evaporate. However
all this can be repaired since she is returning. She is returning, my
dear friend! This evening, I shall go and meet her at the station and we
shall walk home arm in arm, reconciled and happy.

Henri de B.


_Nina de B. to her Aunt in Moulins_.

He was waiting for me at the station and greeted me with a smile and
open arms, as though I were returning from some ordinary journey. You
can imagine that I put on my iciest appearance. Directly I reached home,
I shut myself up in my room, where I dined alone, pleading fatigue.
After which, I locked myself in. He came to bid me good-night through
the key-hole, and to my great surprise, went away on tiptoe without
anger or importunity. This morning, I called on Monsieur Petitbry, who
gave me detailed instructions as to the way I was to act, the hour,
place, witnesses. Ah! my dear Aunt, if you knew how frightened I am as
the hour draws near.

[Illustration: p121-132]

His violence is so dreadful. Even when he is gentle like yesterday, his
eyes have flashes of lightning. However, I will try and be courageous in
thinking of you, my darling Aunt. Besides, as Monsieur Petitbry said to
me, it is only a short painful moment to get over, and then we will both
resume our former quiet life, so calm and happy.

Nina de B.

[Illustration: p122-134]

[Illustration: p123-134]


_From the same to the same_.

Dear Aunt, I am writing to you from my bed, torn by the emotions of
that terrible scene. Who could have supposed that things would take this
turn? Nevertheless I had taken every precaution. I had warned Marthe and
her sister, who were to come at one o'clock, and I had chosen for the
great scene the moment when on leaving the table, the servants are
clearing away in the dining-room next to the study. From early morn
my plans were laid; an hour of scales and exercises on the piano, the
_Cloches du Monastère_, the _Rêveries de Rosellen_, all the pieces
he hates. This did not prevent his working away without betraying the
slightest irritability. At breakfast, the same patience. A detestable
breakfast, scraps, and the sweet dishes he loathes. And if you had seen
my costume! A dress with a cape some five years out of date, a little
black silk apron, and uncurled hair! In vain I sought for some signs
of irritation, that well-known straight line that Monsieur hollows out
between his eyebrows at the least annoyance. Well no! nothing! Really I
might have thought they had changed my husband. He said to me in a calm
and rather sad tone:

"Ah, you have done your hair in the old way."

I hardly answered, not wishing to hurry on matters before my witnesses
had arrived, and then, strangely enough, I felt somewhat moved and upset
beforehand by the scene I was trying to get up. At last, after a few
still shorter replies on my part, he rose from the table and went into
his own room. I followed him trembling. I heard my friends stationing
themselves in the little drawing-room, and Pierre who came and went,
arranging the glasses and silver. The decisive moment had arrived. He
must now be brought to the needful point of violence, and it seemed
to me this would be easy, after all I had done since the morning to
irritate him.

When I entered his study I must have been very pale. I felt myself in
the lion's cage. The thought flashed across me: "Suppose he killed me!"
He did not present a very terrible appearance, however, leaning back on
his divan, a cigar in his mouth.

"Do I disturb you?" I asked in my most ironical voice.

He replied gently:

"No. You see. I am not working."

Myself, viciously:

"Ah! indeed you don't work then at all, now?"

He still very mild.

"You are mistaken, my dear. On the contrary, I work a great deal. Only
our craft is one in which a great deal of work can be done without
having a tool in hand."

"And what may you be doing at this moment? Ah! yes, I know, your play
in verse; always the same thing for the last two years. It is certainly
lucky that your wife had a fortune! That allows you to idle at your
ease."

I thought he would have sprung upon me at this. Not a bit of it. He came
up to me and took hold of my hands gently:

"Come, is it to be always the same thing? Are we to begin our life of
warfare again? If so, why did you come back?"

I confess I felt rather moved by his sad and affectionate tone; but
I thought of you, my poor Aunt, of your exile, of his harsh conduct
towards us, and that gave me courage. I said to him the bitterest, most
wounding things I could think of--I know not what--that I wished to
heaven I had never married an artist; that at Moulins, every one pitied
me; that I found my friends married to magistrates, serious, influential
men, in good positions, while he--If even he made money--But no,
Monsieur would work for fame only! and what fame!

[Illustration: p127-138]

At Moulins no one knew him; at Paris, his pieces were hissed. His books
did not sell. And so on, and so on. My brain seemed to whirl round as
all the malicious words came from me one after the other. He looked
at me without replying, in chilly anger. Of course this coldness
exasperated me still more. I was so much excited, that I no longer
recognized my own voice, raised to an extraordinary pitch, and the last
words I screamed at him--I can't remember what unjust and mad remark
it was--seemed to buzz indistinctly in my ears. For a moment, I thought
Monsieur Petitbry's assault with violence was an accomplished fact.
Pallid, with set teeth Henri made two steps towards me:

"Madame!"

Then suddenly, his anger fell, his face became impassive again, and
he looked at me with so scornful, insolent and calm a glance, that my
patience came to an end. I raised my hand, and gave him the best box on
the ear I ever gave in my life. At the noise, the door opened, and my
witnesses appeared solemn and indignant.

"Monsieur! this is infamous!"

"Yes, isn't it?" said the poor fellow, showing his red cheek.

You can imagine my confusion. Happily, I took the line of fainting, and
melting into torrents of tears, which relieved me greatly. At present,
Henri is in my room. He watches by me, nurses me, and is really
most kind. What can I do? What a checkmate! This will not prove very
satisfactory to Monsieur Petitbry.

Nina de B.

[Illustration: p129-140]

[Illustration: p130-141]

[Illustration: p133-144]



BOHEMIA AT HOME.

I hardly fancy it would be possible to find in the whole of Paris, a
more lively and peculiar house than that of the sculptor Simaise. Life
there is one continual round of festivities. At whatever hour you drop
in upon them, a sound of singing and laughter, or the jingle of a piano,
guitar, or tamtam greets you. You can never enter the studio without
finding a waltz going on, or a set of quadrilles, or a game of
battledore and shuttlecock, or else it is cumbered with all the litter
and preparations for a ball; shreds of tulle and ribbons lying scattered
among the sculptor's chisels; artificial flowers hanging over the busts,
and spangled skirts spreading over groups of moist clay.

[Illustration: p134-145]

The fact is that four big t daughters of sixteen to twenty-five years
of age, all very pretty indeed, take up a great deal of room; and when
these young ladies whirl round with their hair streaming down their
backs, with floating ribbons, long pins, and showy ornaments, it really
seems as if instead of four there were eight, sixteen, thirty-two Misses
Simaise, as dashing the one as the other, talking and laughing loudly,
with the hoydenish manner peculiar to artists' daughters, with the
studio jests, the familiarity of students, and knowing also better than
anyone how to dismiss a creditor or blow up a tradesman impertinent
enough to present his bill at an inopportune moment.

[Illustration: p135-146]

These young damsels are the real mistresses of the house. From early
dawn the father works, chisels, models unceasingly, for he has no
settled income. At first he was ambitious and strove to do good work;
some early successful exhibitions promised him future fame; but the
necessity of providing for the support of his family, the clothing,
feeding and future establishment of his children, threw him back
into the ordinary work of the trade. As for Madame Simaise, she never
attended to anything.

Very handsome when she married, very much admired in the artistic world
into which her husband introduced her, at first satisfied with being
only a pretty woman, later on she resigned herself to the part of a
woman who had been pretty. A créole by birth, at least such was her
pretension--although it was asserted that her parents had never left
Courbevoie,--she spent the days from morning to night in a hammock swung
up in turn in all the different rooms of the house, fanning herself and
taking siestas, full of contempt for the material details of everyday
life. She had so often sat to her husband as model for Hebes and Dianas,
that she fancied her only duty was to pass through life carrying some
emblem of a goddess, such as a crescent on her head or a goblet in her
hand. Indeed the disorder of the establishment was a sight in itself.
The least thing necessitated a full hour's search.

"Have you seen my thimble? Marthe, Eva, Geneviève, Madeleine, who has
seen my thimble?"

The drawers, in which books, powder, rouge, spangles, spoons and fans
are tossed at haphazard, though crammed full, contain absolutely nothing
useful; moreover they belong to strange pieces of furniture, curious,
battered and incomplete. And how peculiar is the house itself! As they
are constantly changing their residence, they never have time to settle
anywhere, and this merry household seems to be perpetually awaiting the
setting to rights indispensable after a ball. Only so many things are
lacking, that it is not worth while settling, and as long as they can
put on a bit of finery, display themselves out of doors with something
of a meteor flash, a semblance of style and appearance of luxury, honour
is saved! Encampment does not in any way distress this migratory tribe.
Through the half-opened doors, their poverty is betrayed by the four
bare walls of an unfurnished chamber, or the litter of an overcrowded
room. It is bohemianism in the domestic circle, a life full of
improvidence and surprises.

At the very moment when they sit down to table, they suddenly perceive
that everything is wanting, and that the breakfast must be sent out for
at once. In this manner hours are spent rapidly, bustling and idling,
and herein lies a certain advantage. After a late breakfast, one does
not need to dine, but can sup at the ball, which fills up nearly every
evening. These ladies also give evening parties. Tea is drunk out of
all kinds of queer receptacles, goblets, old tankards, ancient glasses,
Japanese shells, the whole chipped and cracked by the constant moves.

[Illustration: p138-149]

The serene calm of both mother and daughters in the midst of this
poverty is truly admirable. They have indeed other ideas running through
the brain than mere housekeeping details. One has plaited her hair
like a Swiss girl, another is curled like any English baby, and Madame
Simaise, from the top of her hammock, lives in the beatitude of her
former beauty. As for father Simaise, he is always delighted. As long
as he hears the merry laugh of his daughters around him, he is ready
cheerfully to assume all the weight of this disorderly existence. To him
are addressed in a coaxing manner such requests as: "Papa, I want a
bonnet. Papa, I must have a dress." Sometimes the winter is severe. They
are in such request, receive so many invitations. Pooh! the father has
but to get up a couple of hours earlier. They will have a fire only in
the studio, where all the family will gather. The girls will cut out and
make their own dresses, while the hammock ropes swing slowly to and fro,
and the father works on, perched upon his high stool.

[Illustration: p139-150]

Have you ever met these ladies in society? The moment they appear there
is a commotion. It is long since the first two came out, but they are
always so well adorned and so smart, that they are in great request as
partners. They have as much success as the younger sisters, almost as
much as the mother in former days; moreover they carry off their tawdry
jewelry and finery so well, and have such charming easy manners, with
the giddy laugh of spoilt children, and such a Spanish way of flirting
with a fan. Nevertheless they do not get married. No admirer has ever
been able to get over the sight of that singular home. The wasteful and
useless extravagance, the want of plates, the profusion of old tapestry
in holes, of antique and ungilt lustres, the draughty doors, the
constant visits of creditors, the slatternly appearance of the young
ladies in slipshod slippers and dressing gowns, put to flight the best
intentioned. In truth, it is not everyone who could resign himself to
hang up the hammock of an idle woman in his home for the rest of his
life.

I am very much afraid that the Misses Simaise will never marry. They
had, however, a golden and unique opportunity during the Commune. The
family had taken refuge in Normandy, in a small and very litigious town,
full of lawyers, attorneys, and business men. No sooner had the father
arrived, than he looked out for orders. His fame as a sculptor was of
service to him, and as in the public square of the town there happened
to be a statue of Cujas done by him, all the notabilities of the place
wanted to have their busts done.

[Illustration: p141-152]

The mother at once fastened up the hammock in a corner of the studio,
and the young ladies organized a few parties. They at once met with
great success. Here at least, poverty seemed but an accident due to
exile; the disorder of the establishment was accounted for. The handsome
girls laughed loudly themselves at their destitution.

[Illustration: p142-153]

They had started off without anything; and nothing could be had now
Paris was closed. It lent to them an extra charm. It called to mind
travelling gipsies, combing their beautiful hair in barns, and quenching
their thirst in streams. The least poetical compared them in their minds
to the exiles of Coblentz, those ladies of Marie-Antoinette's court who,
obliged to fly in haste, without powder or hoops, or bedchamber women,
were driven to all sorts of makeshifts, learning to wait upon themselves,
and keeping up the frivolity of the French court, the piquant smile of
the lost patches.

[Illustration: p143-154]

Every evening a throng of dazzled lawyers crowded Simaise's studio. To
the sounds of a hired piano, all this little world danced the polka,
waltzed, schottisched,--they still schottische in Normandy. "I shall
end by marrying off one," thought old Simaise; and the fact is if one
had gone off, all the others would have followed suit. Unluckily the
first never went off, but it was a near touch. Amongst the numerous
partners of these young ladies, in that corps de ballet of lawyers,
attorneys and solicitors, the most rabid dancer was a widowed lawyer,
who was extremely attentive to the eldest daughter. He was called by
them "the first dancing attorney," in memory of Moliere's ballets, and
certainly, considering the rate at which the fellow whirled round, Papa
Simaise might well build the greatest hopes on him. But then business
men do not dance like everybody else. This fellow, all the time he was
waltzing, reflected silently: "The Simaise family is charming. Tra, la
la, la la la, but it's useless their trying to hurry me on, la la la, la
la la. I shall not propose till the gates of Paris are reopened. Tra la
la, and I shall be able to make all necessary inquiries, la la la!" Thus
thought the first dancing attorney, and in fact, directly the blockade
of Paris was raised, he got his information about the family, and the
marriage did not come off.

Since then, the poor little creatures have missed many other chances.
However, this has in no way spoilt the happiness of the singular
household. On the contrary, the more they live, the merrier they are.
Last winter they changed quarters three times, were sold up once, and
notwithstanding all this, gave two large fancy balls!

[Illustration: p145-156]

[Illustration: p146-157]

[Illustration: p149-160]



FRAGMENT OF A WOMAN'S LETTER FOUND IN THE RUE NOTRE-DAME-DES-CHAMPS

... What it has cost me to marry an artist! Oh, my dear! if I had known!
but young girls have singular ideas about so many things. Just imagine
that at the Exhibition, when I read in the catalogue the addresses of
far-away quiet streets at the further end of Paris, I pictured to myself
peaceable, stay-at-home lives, devoted to work and the family circle,
and I said to myself (feeling beforehand a certainty that I should be
dreadfully jealous), "That is the sort of husband to suit me. He will
always be with me. We shall spend our days together; he at his picture
or sculpture, while I read or sew beside him, in the concentrated light
of the studio." Poor dear innocent! I had not the faintest idea then
what a studio really was, nor of the singular creatures one meets there.
Never, in gazing at those statues of bold undressed goddesses had the
idea occurred to me that there were women daring enough to--and that
even I myself----. Otherwise, I can assure you I should never have
married a sculptor. No, indeed, most decidedly not! I must own, they
were all against this marriage at home; notwithstanding my husband's
fortune, his already famous name, and the fine house he was having built
for us two. It was I alone who would have it so. He was so elegant, so
charming, so eager. I thought, however, he meddled a little too much
about my dress, and the arrangement of my hair: "Do your hair like this;
so," and he would amuse himself by placing a flower in the midst of
my curls with far greater skill than any one of our milliners. So much
experience in a man was alarming, wasn't it? I ought to have distrusted
him. Well, you will see. Listen.

[Illustration: p151-162]

We returned from our honeymoon. While I was busy settling myself in my
pretty and charmingly furnished rooms, that paradise you know so well,
my husband, from the moment of his arrival, had set to work and spent
the days at his studio, which was away from the house. When he returned
in the evening, he would talk to me with feverish eagerness of his next
subject for exhibition.

[Illustration: p152-163]

The subject was "a Roman lady leaving the bath." He wanted the marble
to reproduce that faint shiver of the skin at the contact of air, the
moisture of the delicate textures clinging to the shoulders, and all
sorts of other fine things which I no longer remember. Between you and
me, when he speaks to me of his sculpture, I do-not always understand
him very well. However, I used to say confidently: "It will be very
pretty," and already I saw myself treading the finely sanded walks
admiring my husband's work, a beautiful marble sculpture gleaming white
against the green hangings; while behind me I heard whispered: "the wife
of the sculptor."

[Illustration: p153-164]

At last one day, curious to see how our Roman lady was getting on, the
idea occurred to me, to go and take him by surprise in his studio, which
I had not yet visited. It was one of the first times I had gone out
alone, and I had made myself very smart, I can tell you. When I arrived,
I found the door of the little garden leading to the ground floor, wide
open. So I walked straight in; and, conceive my indignation, when I
beheld my husband in a white smock like a stone mason, with ruffled
hair, hands grimed with clay, and in front of him, upright on a
platform, a woman, my dear, a great creature, almost undressed,
and looking just as composed in this airy costume as though it were
perfectly natural.

[Illustration: p154-165]

Her wretched clothes covered with mud, thick walking boots, and a round
hat trimmed with a feather out of curl, were thrown beside her on a
chair. All this I saw in an instant, for you may imagine how I fled.
Etienne would have spoken to me--detained me; but with a gesture of
horror at the clay-covered hands, I rushed off to mama, and reached her
barely alive. You can imagine my appearance.

[Illustration: p155-166]

"Good heavens, dear child! what is the matter?"

I related to mama what I had seen, where this dreadful woman was, and
in what costume. And I cried, and cried. My mother, much moved, tried to
console me, explained to me that it must have been a model.

"What! but it is abominable; no one ever told me about that before I was
married!"

Hereupon Etienne arrived, greatly distressed, and tried in his turn to
make me understand that a model is not a woman like other women, and
that besides sculptors cannot get on without them; but these reasons
had no effect upon me, and I stoutly declared I would have nothing to
do with a husband who spent his days _tête-à-tête_ with young ladies in
such a costume.

"Come, my dear Etienne," said poor mama, trying hard to arrange
everything peaceably, "could you not out of respect for your wife's
feelings, replace this creature by a dummy, a lay figure?"

My husband bit his moustaches furiously.

"Quite impossible, dear mother."

"Still, my dear, it seems to me--a bright idea! milliners have
pasteboard heads on which they trim bonnets. Well, what can be done for
a head, could it not be done for----?" It seems this is not possible.

At least, this was what Etienne tried to demonstrate at great length,
with all sorts of details and technical words. He really looked very
unhappy. I watched him out of the corner of my eye while I dried my
tears, and I saw that my grief affected him deeply. At last, after
an endless discussion, it was agreed that since the model was
indispensable, I should be there whenever she came. There chanced to
be on one side of the studio a very convenient little lumber-room, from
which I could see without being seen. I ought to be ashamed, you will
say, of being jealous of such kind of creatures, and of showing my
jealousy. But, my pet, you must have gone through these emotions before
you can offer an opinion about them.

Next day, the model was to be there. I therefore summoned up my courage,
and installed myself in my hiding-place, with the express condition that
at the least tap at the partition my husband should come to me at once.
Scarcely had I shut myself in, when the dreadful model I had seen
the other day arrived, dressed Heaven knows how, and so wretched in
appearance, that I asked myself how I could have been jealous of a woman
who could walk abroad without a scrap of white cuff at her wrists,
and in an old shawl with green fringe. Well, my dear, when I saw this
creature throw off shawl and dress in the middle of the studio, and
begin to undress in the coolest and boldest manner, it had an effect
upon me I cannot describe. I choked with rage. I thumped at the
partition. Etienne came to me. I trembled; I was pale. He laughed at me,
gently re-assured me, and returned to his work. By this time the woman
was standing up, half-naked, her thick hair loosened and hanging down
her back in glossy heaviness. It was no longer the poor wretch of a
moment ago, but already almost a statue, notwithstanding her common and
listless air. My heart died within me. However, I said nothing. All at
once, I heard my husband cry: "The left leg; the left leg forward." And
as the model did not understand him at once, he went to her, and--Oh! I
could contain myself no longer. I knocked. He did not hear me. I knocked
again, furiously. This time he ran to me, frowning a little at being
disturbed in the heat of work. "Come, Armande, do be reasonable!"
Bathed in tears, I leant my head upon his shoulder, and sobbed out: "I
can't bear it, my dear, I can't; indeed, I can't!"

[Illustration: p159-170]

At this, without answering me, he went sharply into the studio, and made
a sign to that horror of a woman, who dressed herself and departed.

For several days, Etienne did not return to the studio. He remained
at home with me, would not go out, refused even to see his friends;
otherwise he was quite kind and gentle, but he had such a melancholy
air. Once I asked him timidly: "You are not working any more?" which
earned me this reply: "One can't work without a model." I had not the
courage to pursue the subject, for I felt how much I was to blame,
and that he had a right to be vexed with me. Nevertheless, by dint of
caresses and endearments, I cajoled him into returning to his studio and
trying to finish the statue--how do they say it? out of his head, from
imagination, in short, by mama's process. To me, this seemed quite
feasible; but it gave the poor fellow endless trouble. Every evening
he came in, with irritated nerves and more and more discouraged; almost
ill, indeed. To cheer him up, I used often to go and see him. I always
said: "It is charming." But, as a fact, the statue made no progress
whatever. I don't even know if he worked at it. When I arrived, I would
find him always smoking on his divan, or perhaps, rolling up pellets of
clay, which he angrily threw against the opposite wall.

One afternoon, when I was gazing at the unfortunate Roman lady, who,
half modelled, had been so long in stepping out of her bath, an idea
occurred to me. The Roman lady was about the same figure as myself;
perhaps at a pinch I might----

"What do you mean by a well-turned leg?" I asked my husband suddenly.

He explained it to me at great length, showing me all that was still
lacking to his statue, and which he could by no means give it without a
model. Poor fellow! He had such a heart-broken air as he said this. Do
you know what I did? Well, I bravely picked up the drapery which was
lying in a corner, I went into my hiding-place; then, very softly
without saying a word, while he was still looking at his statue, I
placed myself on the platform in front of him, in the costume and
attitude in which I had seen that abominable model. Ah my dear I What
emotion I felt when he raised his eyes! I could have laughed and
cried. I was blushing all over. And that tiresome muslin took so
much arranging. Never mind! Etienne was so delighted that I was soon
re-assured. Indeed, to hear him, my dear, you might suppose----.

[Illustration: p162-173]

[Illustration: p164-175]

[Illustration: p165-176]



A GREAT MAN'S WIDOW

No one was astonished at hearing she was going to marry again.
Notwithstanding all his genius, perhaps even on account of his genius,
the great man had for fifteen years led her a hard life, full of
caprices and mad freaks that had attracted the attention of all
Paris. On the high road to fame, over which he had so triumphantly and
hurriedly travelled, like those who are to die young, she had sat behind
him, humbly and timidly, in a corner of the chariot, ever fearful of
collisions. Whenever she complained, relatives, friends, every one was
against her: "Respect his weaknesses," they would say to her, "they are
the weaknesses of a god. Do not disturb him, do not worry him. Remember
that your husband does not belong exclusively to you. He belongs much
more to Art, to his country, than to his family. And who knows if
each of the faults you reproach him with has not given us some sublime
creation?" At last, however, her patience was worn out, she rebelled,
became indignant and even unjust, so much indeed, that at the moment of
the great man's death, they were on the point of demanding a judicial
separation and ready to see their great and celebrated name dragged into
the columns of a society paper.

After the agitation of this unhappy match, the anxieties of the last
illness, and the sudden death which for a moment revived her former
affection, the first months of her widowhood acted on the young woman
like a healthy calming water-cure. The enforced retirement, the quiet
charm of mitigated sorrow, lent to her thirty-five years a second youth
almost as attractive as the first.

[Illustration: p167-178]

Moreover black suited her, and then she had the responsible and rather
proud look of a woman left alone in life, with all the weight of a great
name to carry honourably. Mindful of the fame of the departed one, that
wretched fame that had cost her so many tears, and now grew day by day,
like a magnificent flower nourished by the black earth of the tomb, she
was to be seen draped in her long sombre veils holding interviews with
theatrical managers and publishers, busying herself in getting her
husband's operas put again on the stage, superintending the printing of
his posthumous works and unfinished manuscripts, bestowing on all these
details a kind of solemn care and as it were the respect for a shrine.

It was at this moment that her second husband met her. He too was a
musician, almost unknown it is true, the author of a few waltzes
and songs, and of two little operas, of which the scores, charmingly
printed, were scarcely more played than sold. With a pleasant
countenance, a handsome fortune that he owed to his exceedingly
_bourgeois_ family, he had above all an infinite respect for genius,
a curiosity about famous men, and the ingenuous enthusiasm of a still
youthful artist. Thus when he met the wife of the great man, he was
dazzled and bewildered. It was as though the image of the glorious muse
herself had appeared to him. He at once fell in love, and as the widow
was beginning to receive a few friends, he had himself presented to her.
There his passion grew in the atmosphere of genius that still lingered
in all the corners of the drawing-room. There was the bust of the
master, the piano he composed on, his scores spread over all the
furniture, melodious even to look at, as though from between their
half-opened pages, the written phrases re-echoed musically. The actual
and very real charm of the widow surrounded by those austere memories as
by a frame that became her, brought his love to a climax.

[Illustration: p169-180]

After hesitating a long time, the poor fellow at last proposed, but
in such humble and timid terms! "He knew how unworthy he was of her. He
understood all the regret she would feel, in exchanging her illustrious
name for his, so unknown and insignificant." And a thousand other
artless phrases in the same style. In reality, the lady was indeed very
much flattered by her conquest; however, she played the comedy of a
broken heart, and assumed the disdainful, wearied airs of a woman whose
life is ended without hopes of renewal. She, who had never in her life
been so quiet and comfortable as since the death of her great man, she
actually found tears with which to mourn for him, and an enthusiastic
ardour in speaking of him. This, of course, only inflamed her youthful
adorer the more and made him more eloquent and persuasive.

In short, this severe widowhood ended in a marriage; but the widow did
not abdicate, and remained--although married--more than ever the widow
of a great man; well knowing that herein lay, in the eyes of her second
husband, her real prestige. As she felt herself much older than he, to
prevent his perceiving it, she overwhelmed him with her disdain, with
a kind of vague pity, and unexpressed and offensive regret at her
condescending marriage. However, he was not wounded by it, quite the
contrary. He was so convinced of his inferiority and thought it so
natural that the memory of such a man should reign despotically in her
heart! In order the better to maintain in him this humble attitude, she
would at times read over with him the letters the great man had
written to her when he was courting her. This return towards the past
rejuvenated her some fifteen years, lent her the assurance of a handsome
and beloved woman, seen through all the wild love and delightful
exaggeration of written passion. That she had since then changed her
young husband cared little, loving her on the faith of another, and
drawing therefrom I know not what strange kind of vanity. It seemed
to him that these passionate appeals added to his own, and that he
inherited a whole past of love.

A strange couple indeed! It was in society, however, that they presented
the most curious spectacle. I sometimes caught sight of them at the
theatre. No one would have recognized the timid and shy young woman, who
formerly accompanied the _maestro_, lost in the gigantic shadow he cast
around him. Now, seated upright in the front of the box, she displayed
herself, attracting all eyes by the pride of her own glance. It might be
said that her head was surrounded by her first husband's halo of glory,
his name re-echoing around her like a homage or a reproach. The other
one, seated a little behind her, with the subservient physiognomy of one
ready for every abnegation in life, watched each of her movements, ready
to attend to her slightest wish.

At home, the peculiarity of their attitude was still more noticeable. I
remember a certain evening party they gave a year after their marriage.
The husband moved about among the crowd of guests, proud but rather
embarrassed at gathering together so many in his own house. The wife,
disdainful, melancholy, and very superior, was on that evening more than
ever the widow of a great man! She had a peculiar way of glancing at her
husband from over her shoulder, of calling him "my poor dear friend," of
casting on him all the wearisome drudgery of the reception, with an air
of saying: "You are only fit for that." Around her gathered a circle of
former friends, those who had been spectators of the brilliant debuts of
the great man, of his struggles, and his success. She simpered to them;
played the young girl! They had known her so young! Nearly all of
them called her by her Christian name, "Anaïs." They formed a kind of
conaculum, which the poor husband respectfully approached, to hear his
predecessor spoken of. They recalled the glorious first nights, those
evenings on which nearly every battle was won, and the great man's
manias, his way of working; how, in order to summon up inspiration, he
insisted on his wife being by his side, decked out in full ball dress.
"Do you remember, Anaïs?" And Anaïs sighed and blushed.

It was at that time that he had written his most tender pieces, above
all _Savonarole_, the most passionate of his creations, with a grand
duet, interwoven with rays of moonshine, the perfume of roses and the
warbling of nightingales. An enthusiast sat down and played it on the
piano, amid a silence of attentive emotion. At the last note of the
magnificent piece, the lady burst into tears. "I cannot help it," she
said, "I have never been able to hear it without weeping." The great
man's old friends surrounded his unhappy widow with sympathetic
expressions, coming up to her one by one, like at a funereal ceremony,
to give a thrilling clasp to her hand. "Come, come, Anaïs, be
courageous." And the drollest thing was to see the second husband,
standing by the side of his wife, deeply touched and affected, shaking
hands all round, and accepting, he too, his share of sympathy. "What
genius! what genius!" he repeated as he mopped his eyes. It was at the
same time ridiculous and affecting.

[Illustration: p174-185]

[Illustration: p177-188]



THE DECEIVER.

I have loved but one woman in my life, the painter D------ said one day
to us.

I spent five years of perfect happiness and peaceful and fruitful
tranquillity with her. I may say that to her I owe my present celebrity,
so easy was work, and so spontaneous was inspiration by her side. Even
when I first met her, she seemed to have been mine from time immemorial.
Her beauty, her character were the realization of all my dreams. That
woman never left me; she died in my house, in my arms, loving to the
last. Well, when I think of her, it is with a feeling of rage. If I
strive to recall her, the same as I ever saw her during those five
years, in all the radiance of love, with her lithe yielding figure, the
gilded pallor of her cheeks, her oriental Jewish features, regular and
delicate in the soft roundness of her face, her slow speech as velvety
as her glance, if I seek to embody that charming vision, it is only in
order the more fiercely to cry to it: "I hate you!"

Her name was Clotilde. At the house of the mutual acquaintances where we
met, she was known under the name of Madame Deloche, and was said to be
the widow of a captain in the merchant service. Indeed, she appeared to
have travelled a great deal. In the course of conversation, she would
suddenly say: When I was at Tampico; or else: once in the harbour at
Valparaiso. But apart from this, there was no trace in her manners or
language of a wandering existence, nothing betrayed the disorder or
precipitation of sudden departures or abrupt returns. She was a thorough
Parisian, dressed in perfect good taste, without any of those bur-nooses
or eccentric _sarapés_ by which one recognizes the wives of officers and
sailors who are always arrayed in travelling costume.

[Illustration: p179-190]

When I found that I loved her, my first, my only idea was to ask her in
marriage. Someone spoke on my behalf. She simply replied that she would
never marry again. Henceforth I avoided meeting her; and as my thoughts
were too wholly absorbed and occupied by her to allow me to work,
I determined to travel. I was busily engaged in preparations for my
departure, when one morning, in my own apartment, in the midst of all
the litter of opened drawers and scattered trunks, to my great surprise,
I saw Madame Deloche enter.

"Why are you leaving?" she said softly. "Because you love me? I also
love. I love you. Only (and here her voice shook a little) only, I am
married." And she told me her history.

It was a romance of love and desertion. Her husband drank, struck her!
At the end of three years they had separated Her family, of whom she
seemed very proud, held a high position in Paris, but ever since her
marriage had refused to receive her. She was the niece of the Chief
Rabbi. Her sister, the widow of a superior officer, had married for the
second time a Chief Ranger of the woods and forests of Saint-Germain. As
for her, ruined by her husband, she had fortunately had a very thorough
education and possessed some accomplishments, by which she was able to
augment her resources. She gave music lessons in various rich houses
of the Chaussée d'Antin and Faubourg Saint Honoré, and gained an ample
livelihood.

The story was touching, although somewhat lengthy, full of the
pretty repetitions, the interminable incidents that entangle feminine
discourse.

[Illustration: p181-192]

Indeed she took several days to relate it. I had hired for us two, a
little house in the Avenue de l'Impératrice, standing between the silent
streets and peaceful lawns. I could have spent a year listening to and
looking at her, without a thought for my work. She was the first to send
me back to my studio, and I could not prevent her from again taking up
her lessons. I was touched by her concern for the dignity of her life.
I admired the proud spirit, notwithstanding that I could not help being
rather humiliated at her expressed determination to owe nothing save to
her own exertions. We were therefore separated all day long, and only
met in the evening in our little house.

With what joy did I not return home, what impatience I felt when she was
late, and how happy I was when I found her there before me! She would
bring me back bouquets and choice flowers from her journeys to Paris.
Often I pressed upon her some present, but she laughingly said she was
richer than I; and in truth her lessons must have been very well paid,
for she always dressed in an expensively elegant manner, and the black
dresses which, with coquettish care for her complexion and style of
beauty she preferred, had the dull softness of velvet, the brilliancy
of satin and jet, a confusion of silken lace, which revealed to the
astonished eye, under an apparent simplicity, a world of feminine
elegance in the thousand shades contained in a single colour.

[Illustration: p183-194]

Moreover her occupation was by no means laborious, she said. All her
pupils, daughters of bankers or stock brokers, loved and respected her;
and many a time she would show me a bracelet or a ring, that had been
presented as a mark of gratitude for her care. Except for our work, we
never left one another, and we went nowhere. Only on Sundays she went
off to Saint-Germain to see her sister, the wife of the Chief Ranger,
with whom she was now reconciled. I would accompany her to the station.
She would return the same evening, and often in the long summer days, we
would agree to meet at some station on the way, by the riverside or in
the woods. She would tell me about her visit, the children's good looks,
the air of happiness that reigned in the household. My heart bled for
her, deprived of the pleasures of family life as she was doomed to be;
and my tenderness increased tenfold in order to make her forget the
falseness of her position, so painful to a woman of her character.

What a happy time of perfect confidence, and how well I worked! I
suspected nothing. All she said seemed so true, so natural. I could only
reproach her with one thing. When talking of the houses she frequented,
and the different families of her pupils, she would indulge in a
superabundance of imaginary details and fancied intrigues, which she
invented without any _apropos_.

[Illustration: p185-196]

Calm herself, she was ever conjuring up romances around her, and her
life was spent in composing dramatic situations. These idle fancies
disturbed my happiness. I, who longed to leave the world and society, in
order to devote myself exclusively to her, found her too much taken up
by indifferent subjects. However, I could easily excuse this defect in a
young and unhappy woman, whose life had been hitherto a sad romance, the
issue of which could not be foreseen.

Once only did a suspicion or rather a presentiment cross my mind. One
Sunday evening she failed to return home. I was in despair. What could
I do? Go to Saint-Germain? I might compromise her. Nevertheless, after a
dreadful night of anguish, I had decided on starting, when she arrived,
looking pale and worried. Her sister was ill, she had been obliged to
stay and nurse her. I believed all she told me, not distrusting the
overflow of words called forth by the slightest question, which swamped
the principal matter in a deluge of idle details: such as the hour of
arrival, the rudeness of a guard, the lateness of the train. Twice or
three times in the same week, she returned to Saint-Germain and slept
there; then, her sister's illness over, she resumed her regular and
peaceful existence.

[Illustration: p187-198]

Unfortunately, shortly after this, she in her turn fell ill. She came
back one day from her lessons, shivering, wet, and fevered. Inflammation
of the lungs set in; from the first her case was serious, and soon--the
doctor told me--hopeless. My despair was maddening. Then I thought only
of soothing her last moments. The family she loved so well, of which she
was so proud, I would bring to her deathbed. Without letting her know,
I first wrote to her sister at Saint-Germain, and I went off at
once myself to her uncle, the Chief Rabbi. I hardly remember at what
unreasonable hour I reached his house. Great catastrophes throw such a
confusion into life and upset every detail. I fancy the good Rabbi was
dining. He came out into the hall, wondering and amazed, to speak to me.

"Monsieur," I said to him, "there are moments when all hatred must
cease."

He turned his venerable face towards me with a bewildered look.

I resumed:

"Your niece is dying!"

"My niece! But I have no niece; you are mistaken."

"Oh, Sir! I implore you, lay aside all foolish family rancour. I am
speaking of Madame Deloche, the wife of Captain----"

"I do not know Madame Deloche. You are mistaken, my son, I assure you."

And he gently pushed me toward the door, taking me for a hoaxer or
a madman. I must in fact have appeared very odd. What I heard was so
unexpected, so terrible. She had lied to me then. Wherefore?

Suddenly an idea flashed across me. I directed the cabman to drive me
to the address of one of those pupils of whom she had so often spoken to
me, the daughter of a well-known banker.

I inquired of the servant: "Madame Deloche?"

"There is no one here of that name."

"Yes, I know that. It is a lady who gives music lessons to your young
ladies."

"We have no young ladies here, not even a piano. I don't know what you
mean."

And he angrily shut the door in my face.

I made no further inquiries. I felt sure of meeting with the same
answer, the same disappointment. On my return to our little house,
they gave me a letter with the postmark of Saint-Germain. I opened
it, instinctively guessing the contents. The Chief Ranger also had no
knowledge of Madame Deloche. Moreover he had neither wife nor child.

This was the last blow. Thus for five years each of her words had been
a lie. A thousand jealous thoughts took possession of me, and madly,
hardly knowing what I was about, I entered the room in which she was
dying. All the questions that were torturing me burst forth over that
bed of suffering: "Why did you go to Saint-Germain on Sundays? Where did
you spend your days? Where did you spend that night? Come, answer
me." And I bent over her, seeking in the depths of her still proud and
beautiful eyes answers that I awaited with anguish; but she remained
mute and impassive.

I resumed, trembling with rage: "You never gave any lessons. I have been
everywhere. Nobody knows you. Whence came that money, those laces, those
jewels?" She threw me a glance full of despairing sadness, and that was
all. In truth, I ought to have spared her, and allowed her to die in
peace. But I had loved her too well. My jealousy was stronger than my
pity. I continued: "For five years you have deceived me, lying to me
every day, every hour. You knew my whole life, and I knew nothing of
yours. Nothing, not even your name. For it is not yours, is it, the name
you bear? Ah liar! liar! What, she is going to die, and I do not even
know by what name to call her! Come, tell me who you are? Whence come
you? Why did you intrude into my life? Speak! Tell me something!"

Vain efforts! Instead of answering, she with difficulty turned her face
to the wall, as though she feared that her last glance might betray her
secret. And thus the unhappy creature died! Died without a word, liar to
the last.

[Illustration: p191-202]

[Illustration: p195-206]



THE COMTESSE IRMA.

"_M. Charles d'Athis, literary man, has the honour to inform you of the
birth of his son Robert._

"_The child is doing well._"

Some dozen years ago, all literary and artistic Paris received this
little note on the glossiest of paper, embossed with the arms of the
Counts of d'Athis-Mons, of whom the last Charles d'Athis had--while
still young--succeeded in making for himself a genuine reputation as a
poet.

"The child is doing well." And the mother? Of her there was no mention
in the note. Every one knew her but too well. She was the daughter of an
old poacher of Seine et Oise; a quondam model, named Irma Salle, whose
portrait had figured in every exhibition, as the original had in every
studio. Her low forehead, lip curled like an antique, this chance return
of the peasant's face to primitive lines--a turkey herd with Greek
features--the slightly tanned skin common to all whose childhood
is spent in the open air, giving to fair hair reflections of pale
silkiness, adorned this minx with a kind of wild originality, completed
by a pair of magnificently green eyes, burning beneath heavy eyebrows.

[Illustration: p196-207]

One night, on leaving a _bal de l'Opéra_, d'Athis had taken her to sup
with him, and though this was two years ago, the supper still continued.
But, whereas Irma had become completely a part of the poet's life,
this intimation of the child's birth, curt and haughty as it was,
sufficiently indicated how little she was considered by him. And in
truth, in this temporary household, the woman was scarcely more than a
housekeeper, showing in the management of the gentleman-poet's house
the hard shrewdness of her dual nature of peasant and courtesan; and
endeavouring, at no matter what price, to render herself indispensable.

[Illustration: p197-208]

Too rustic, and too stupid to understand anything of d'Athis' genius, of
those fine verses, fashionable and refined, which made of him a sort of
Parisian Tennyson, she nevertheless understood how to bend to all his
whims, and be silent under his contempt; as if in the depths of that
peasant nature lurked something of the boor's humble admiration for his
lord. The birth of the child only served to accentuate her unimportance
in the house.

When the dowager Comtesse d'Athis-Mons, the mother of the poet, a
distinguished and very great lady, learned that a grandson was born to
her, a sweet little Vicomte, duly recognized and authenticated by the
author of his being,* she was seized with a wish to see and kiss the
child. It was, to be sure, a rather bitter reflection for the former
reader to Queen Marie-Amélie to think that the heir of such a great name
should have such a mother; but, keeping strictly to the terms of
the _billets de faire pari_ the venerable lady could forget that the
creature existed.

* According to French law, an unmarried man recognizing his illegitimate
child, thereby confers on him all the rights of a legitimate one,
including both title and fortune.

When she went to see the child out at nurse, she chose the days on which
she would be sure not to meet any one; she admired him, spoilt him, took
him to her heart, worshipped him with that grandmotherly adoration which
is the last love of a woman's life, giving her an excuse for living
a few years longer in order to see the little ones springing up and
growing around her. Then when the baby Vicomte was a little bigger and
returned to live with his father and mother, a treaty was made, for
the Comtesse could not give up her beloved visits; at the sound of the
grandmother's ring, Irma humbly and silently disappeared, or else the
child was taken to his grandmother's house, and thus spoilt by his
two mothers. He loved them equally, somewhat astonished to feel in
the warmth of their caresses, a kind of exclusive-ness, a wish to
monopolize. D'Athis, careless of everything but his verses, absorbed by
his growing fame, was content to adore his little Robert, to talk of him
to everyone and to imagine that the child belonged to him, and him only.
This illusion did not last.

"I should like to see you married," his mother said to him one day.

"Yes, but how about the child?" "Don't worry yourself about that. I have
picked out for you a young girl of good family but poor, who adores you.
I have introduced Robert to her, and they are already great friends.
Besides, the first year I will keep the darling with me. Afterwards, we
shall see."

[Illustration: p200-211]

"And--the mother?" hesitated the poet, reddening a little, for it was
the first time that he had spoken of Irma to his mother.

[Illustration: p201-212]

"Pooh!" replied the old dowager, laughing, "we will settle something
handsome on her, and I am quite sure she will soon be married also. The
_bourgeois_ of Paris is not particular."

That very evening, d'Athis, who had never been desperately in love
with his mistress, spoke to her of these arrangements and found her as
usual--submissive and apparently docile to his will. But the next
day, when he returned home, he found that mother and child had flown.
Finally, they were discovered in a wretched hut on the borders of the
Forest of Rambouillet, with Irma's father; and when the poet arrived he
found his son, his young prince, in his velvet and lace, jumping on
the old poacher's knee, playing with his pipe, running after the hens,
delighted to shake his fair curls in the fresh air. D'Athis, though much
upset by emotion, pretended to laugh the affair off, and wished at once
to take his fugitives home with him. But Irma did not see the matter
in the same light. She had been dismissed; she took her child with her.
What more natural? Nothing short of the poet's promise that he would
give up all thoughts of marriage decided her to return. Moreover, she
made her own conditions. It had been too long forgotten that she was
Robert's mother. Always to disappear and hide whenever Madame d'Athis
appeared, was no longer possible for her. The child was growing too old
for her to be exposed to such humiliations before him. It was therefore
agreed that as Madame d'Athis had refused to be brought into contact
with her son's mistress, she should no longer go to his house, but that
the child should be brought to her every day.

Then began for the old grandmother a regular torture. Every day fresh
pretexts were made to keep the child away; he had coughed, it was too
cold, it was raining. Then came his walks, rides, gymnastic exercises.
The poor old lady never saw her grandson. At first she tried complaining
to d'Athis; but women alone have the secret of carrying on these little
warfares. Their ruses remain invisible, like the hidden stitches which
catch back the folds and laces of their dress. The poet could see
nothing of it; and the saddened grandmother spent her life in waiting
for her darling's visit, in watching for him in the street, when he
walked out with a servant; and these furtive kisses and hasty glances
only augmented her maternal passion without satisfying it.

During this time, Irma Salle--always by means of the child--succeeded in
gaining ground in the father's heart. She was the recognized head of the
house now, received visitors, gave parties, settled herself as a woman
who means to remain where she is. Still she took care to say from time
to time to the little Vicomte, before his father: "Do you remember the
chickens at Grandpapa Salle's? Shall we go back and see them?"

[Illustration: p204-215]

And by this everlasting threat of departure, she paved the way to the
end she had in view--marriage.

It took her five years to become a Comtesse, but at length she gained
her point. One day, the poet came in fear and trembling to announce to
his mother that he had decided to marry his mistress, and the old lady,
instead of being indignant hailed the calamity as a deliverance, seeing
but one thing in the marriage; the possibility of once more entering her
son's door, and of freely indulging her affection for her little Robert.

[Illustration: p205-216]

In truth, the real honeymoon was for the grandmother. D'Athis, after
this rash act, wished to be away from Paris for a time. He felt uneasy
there. And as the child, clinging to his mother's skirts ruled the
house, they all established themselves in Irma's native country, within
hail of old father Salle's chickens. It was indeed the most curious, the
most ill-assorted household that could be imagined. Grandmama d'Athis
and Grandpapa Salle met each night at the evening toilet of their
grandson. The old poacher, his short black pipe wedged into the corner
of his mouth; and the former reader at the Tuileries, with her silvery
hair, and her imposing manner, together watched the lovely child rolling
before them on the carpet, and admired him equally. The one brought
him from Paris the newest, most expensive, most showy toys; the other
manufactured for him the most splendid whistles from bits of elder; and,
by Jove! the Dauphin hesitated between them!

Upon the whole, among all these beings grouped as it were by force
around a cradle, the only really unhappy one was Charles d'Athis. His
elegant and patrician inspiration suffered from this life in the depths
of a forest, like a delicate Parisian woman for whom the country air is
too strong. He could no longer work, and far from that terrible Paris
who shuts her gates so quickly against the absent, he felt himself
already nearly forgotten. Fortunately the child was there, and when the
child smiled, the father thought no more of his successes as a poet, nor
of the past of Irma Salle.

And now, would you know the finale of this singular drama? Read the
brief note bordered with black, that I received only a few days ago, and
which is the last page of this truly Parisian adventure:

"_M. le Comte and Mme. la Comtesse d'Athis grieve to inform you of the
death of their son Robert!_"

Unhappy creatures! Imagine them all four gazing at each other before
that empty cradle!

[Illustration: p207-218]

[Illustration: p208-219]

[Illustration: p211-222]



THE CONFIDENCES OF AN ACADEMIC COAT.

That morning was the dawn of a glorious day for the sculptor Guillardin.

Elected on the previous day a member of the _Institut_, he was about
to inaugurate before the five Academies gathered together in solemn
concourse, his academic coat, a magnificent garment ornamented with
green palm-leaves, resplendent in its new cloth and silken embroidery,
colour of hope. The blessed coat, opened ready to slip on, lay spread on
an arm-chair, and Guillardin contemplated it tenderly as he arranged the
bow of his white tie.

"Above all no hurry," thought the good fellow. "I have plenty of time."

The fact is that in his feverish impatience he had dressed a couple of
hours too soon; and the beautiful Madame Guillardin--always very slow
over her dressing--had positively declared that on this day she would
only be ready at the precise moment--not a minute earlier, do you hear!

Unfortunate Guillardin! What could he do to kill the time?

"Well, all the same, I will try on my coat," he said, and gently as
though he were handling tulle and lace, he lifted the precious frippery,
and having donned it with infinite precaution, he placed himself in
front of his looking-glass. Oh! what a charming picture the
mirror disclosed to him! What an amiable little Academician, freshly
hatched, happy, smiling, grizzled, and protuberant, with arms too short
in proportion to his figure, which in the new sleeves acquired a stiff
and automatic dignity!

[Illustration: p213-224]

Thoroughly satisfied with his appearance, Guillardin marched up and
down, bowed as though entering the Academy, smiled to his colleagues of
the fine arts, and assumed academical attitudes. Nevertheless, whatever
pride one may feel at one's personal appearance, it is impossible to
remain two hours in full dress, before a looking-glass. At last our
Academician felt somewhat fatigued, and fearful lest he should rumple
his coat, made up his mind to take it off and lay it back very carefully
on the arm-chair. Then seating himself opposite on the other side of the
fireplace, with his legs stretched out and his two hands crossed over
his dress waistcoat, he began to indulge in sweet dreams as he gazed at
the green coat.

Like the traveller who, arrived at the end of his journey, likes
to remember the dangers and difficulties that have beset his path,
Guillardin retraced his life, year by year, from the day when he began
to learn modelling in Jouffroy's studio. Ah! the outset is hard in that
confounded profession. He remembered the fireless winters, the sleepless
nights, the endless walks in search of work, the desperate rage
experienced at feeling so small, so lost, and unknown in the immense
crowd that pushes, hustles, upsets, and crushes. And yet all alone,
without patronage or money, he had managed to rise. By sheer talent,
sir! And his head thrown back, and eyes half-shut, the worthy man kept
repeating out loud to himself: "By sheer talent. Nothing but talent."

[Illustration: p215-226]

A long burst of laughter, dry and creaky like an old man's laugh,
suddenly interrupted him. Slightly startled, Guillardin glanced around
the room. He was alone, quite alone, _tête-à-tête_ with his green coat,
the ghost of an Academician solemnly spread out opposite him, on the
other side of the fire. And still the insolent laugh rang on. Then as
he looked at it more intently, the sculptor almost fancied that his coat
was no longer in the place where he had put it, but really seated in the
arm-chair, with tails turned up, and sleeves resting on the arms of the
chair, the fronts puffed out with an appearance of life. Incredible as
it may seem, it was this thing that was laughing. Yes, it was from this
singular green coat that arose the uncontrollable fits of laughter by
which it was agitated, shaken and convulsed, causing it to jerk its
tails, throw itself back in the chair, and at moments place its two
sleeves against its sides, as though to check this supernatural and
inextinguishable excess of mirth. At the same time, a feeble voice, sly
and mischievous, could be heard saying between two hiccups: "Oh dear,
oh dear, how it hurts one to laugh like this! How it hurts one to laugh
like this!" "Who the devil is there, for mercy's sake?" asked the poor
Academician with wide staring eyes.

The voice continued still more slyly and mischievously:

"But it's I, Monsieur Guillardin, I, your palm-embroidered coat, waiting
for you to start for the reception. I must crave pardon for having so
unseasonably interrupted your musing; but really it is too funny to hear
you talk of your talent! I could not restrain myself. Come, you can't be
serious? Can you conscientiously believe that your talent has sufficed
to raise you so rapidly to the point you have attained in life; that it
has given you all you possess: honours, position, fame, fortune? Do
you really think that possible, Guillardin? Examine yourself, my dear
friend, before answering; go down, far, far down, into your inmost
conscience. Now, answer me? Don't you see you dare not?"

"And yet," stammered Guillardin, with comical hesitation, "I've.... I've
worked a great deal."

"Oh yes, a great deal, you have fagged tremendously. You are a toiler,
a drudge, you knock off a great deal of work. You count your task by the
hour, like a cabdriver. But the spark, my dear boy, which, like a golden
bee flits through the brain of the true artist, and emits from its wings
both light and music, when has it ever visited you? Not once, and you
are well aware of it. It has always frightened you, that divine little
bee! And yet it is this only that gives real talent. Ah! I know many who
also work, but very differently from you, with all the anxiety and fever
of sincere research, and yet who will never reach the point you have
attained. Look here, acknowledge this much, now we are alone. Your one
talent has been marrying a pretty woman."

"Monsieur!" interrupted Guillardin, turning purple. The voice proceeded
unchanged: "Ah well! This burst of indignation is a good sign. It proves
to me what all the world knows indeed; that you are certainly more fool
than knave. Come, come, you need not roll such furious eyes at me. In
the first place, if you touch me, if you make the least crease or tear
in me, it will be impossible to go to the reception to-day, and then,
what will Madame Guillardin say? For after all, it is to her that all
the glory of this great day is due.

[Illustration: p219-230]

It is she whom the five Academies are about to receive, and I can assure
you that if I appeared at the _Institut_ on her pretty person, still
so elegant and slender notwithstanding her age, I should cut a very
different figure than with you. Confound it, Monsieur Guillardin,
we must look facts in the face! You owe everything to that woman;
everything, your house, your forty thousand francs (sixteen hundred
pounds) a year, your cross of the Legion of Honour, your laurels, your
medals."

And with the gesture of a one-armed man, the green coat, with its empty
embroidered sleeve, pointed out to the unfortunate sculptor the glorious
insignia hung up on the walls of his alcove. Then, as though wishing
the better to torment his victim, to assume every aspect, and every
attitude, the cruel coat drew nearer the fire, and leaning forward on
his arm-chair with a little old-fashioned and confidential air, he spoke
familiarly, in the tone of a long-established intimacy:

"Come, old boy, what I've said seems to upset you. Yet it is better you
should know what everybody is aware of. And who could tell you better
than your own coat? Let us reason a little. What had you when you
married? Nothing. What did your wife bring you? Nothing. Then how do
you explain your present fortune? You are going to repeat again that you
have, worked very hard. But my poor friend, working day and night, with
all the patronage and the orders from government which have certainly
not been wanting to you since your marriage, you have never made more
than fifteen thousand francs (six hundred pounds) a year. Can you for
one moment suppose that was sufficient to keep up an establishment like
yours? Remember that the beautiful Madame Guillardin has always been
cited as a model of elegance, frequenting the richest society. Of course
I am well aware that shut up as you were from morning till night in your
studio, you never gave a thought to all this. You were satisfied with
saying to your friends: 'I have a wife who is a surprisingly skilful
manager. With what I gain, she not only pays our expenses, but manages
also to put by money.' It was you who were surprising, poor man! The
truth was that you had married one of those pretty little unscrupulous
creatures of which Paris is full, an ambitious flirt, serious in what
concerned your interests and unprejudiced in regard of her own, knowing
how to reconcile your affairs and her pleasures. The life of these
women, my dear fellow, resembles a dance programme in which sums would
be placed side by side with the dancers' names. Yours reasoned in the
following manner: 'My husband has no talent, no fortune, no good looks
either; but he is an excellent man, good-natured, credulous, as little
in the way as possible. Provided he leaves me free to amuse myself as
I choose, I can undertake to give him all he lacks!' And from that day
forth, money, orders, decorations from all countries kept pouring
in upon your studio, with their pretty metallic sound and their
many-coloured ribbons. Look at the row on my lapel. Then one fine
morning, Madame was seized with the fancy--a fancy of beauty on the
wane--to be the wife of an Academician, and it is her delicately
gloved hand that has opened before you one by one all the doors of the
sanctuary. Ah! my poor old fellow, your colleagues alone can tell you
what all these green palms have cost you!"

"You lie, you lie!" screamed Guillardin, half choked by indignation.

"Ah no! my old friend, indeed I do not lie. You need only to look
around you presently, when you enter the reception hall. You will see a
malicious gleam in every eye, a smile at the corner of every lip,
while they will whisper as you pass by: 'Here is the beautiful Madame
Guillardin's husband.' For you will never be anything else in life, my
dear fellow, but the husband of a pretty woman."

This time, Guillardin could bear it no longer. Pale with rage, he
bounded forward, to seize and dash into the fire, after first tearing
from it the pretty green palm wreath, this insolent and raving coat; but
a door opens and a well-known voice, tinged with a mixture of contempt
and mild condescension, opportunely awakes him from his horrible
nightmare:

"Oh! that is just like you, asleep at the corner of the fire on such an
important day!"

And Madame Guillardin stands before him, tall and still handsome,
although rather too imposing with her almost natural pink complexion,
her powdered hair, and the exaggerated brilliancy of her painted eyes.
With the gesture of the superior woman, she takes up the green-palmed
coat, and briskly, with a little smile, helps her husband to don it;
while he, poor man, still trembling with the horrors of his nightmare,
draws a deep sigh of relief and thinks to himself: "Thank goodness! It
was a dream!"

[Illustration: p224-235]





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